'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Spot Of Chamber Music

I saw a note in the local newspaper - 'Seenu Singh performs the works of Frederic Chopin on the Piano at the Poona Music Society'. Entry was free; and so was I for the evening.

I reached well before time and watched the audience trickle in - building up to a total of around 150. The Poona Music Society is an interesting gathering of people - the only language one hears is English, the dresses are western, the ambience even more so (the only vernacular I got to hear was a few words of Marathi spoken to an attender by the doorkeeper). And there was a remarkably high number of very elderly people in the audience - including some who looked in their nineties.

The artist, Seenu Singh, has an interesting Indian name but looked at least partially European and spoke with what to me was a crisp-as-toast French accent. And he spoke well, beginning with - "A request to the audience: Please remember to switch your cellphones *on* after the concert is over". Then he gave verbal descriptions of the various genres of piano compositions Chopin produced and went on to play nearly a dozen of them. The audience maintained a very prim silence during the concert; they would applaud each piece very formally. And the end of the concert, there were some appreciative voices: 'Encore!(*)'; Singh obliged, playing an extra piece. The only 'odd event' during the concert was when an electronic version of one of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' suddenly - and very briefly - rang out from somebody's cellphone.

All the piano pieces played by Singh sounded sweet, highly atmospheric and intricate(**). But I still don't think I can tell a Nocturne from an Etude, a Barcarolle from a Scherzo. Hope I can, at some point!

Even more than the sheer novelty of the music, this Concert was an intro to an interesting aspect of the culture of the very richly diverse city that Pune is. Although I have attended several Hindustani concerts here, this was my first exposure to Western Classical; and the difference in the 'audience culture' was huge. At the 'Sawai Gandharva', thousands of people come to listen and socialize and turn the concert into a colorful Mela and family picnic (sometimes they overdo the socializing - a constant gossipy chatter in the background can be pure torture when one is trying to concentrate on an intricate 'alaap'); and Sawai has a very local, Marathi-dominated setup. The Music Society crowd is a world apart, comprising "Semi-Firangees, quasi-Firangees and pseudo-Firangees", as someone rather uncharitably (but not entirely untruely) remarked; indeed, they have still not even switched their name from the anglicized 'Poona' to the local 'Pune'(***). Simplistically speaking, these two social formations tellingly illustrate the centuries old 'Pune Core City vs Poona Camp' divide. Of course, I observe and enjoy both from my outsider's vantage point.

(*) - I had thought of 'encore' as a *repeat performance* of a popular piece - sort of a response to cries of 'Once more!'. Here is the rigorous definition (wikipedia): "The encore is an additional extra performance of a musical piece at the end of the regular concert, which is not listed in the event setlist,... The artists usually perform an encore when the audience requests it by long applause or standing ovations in order to thank the audience for their appreciation." In other words, "Encore!" means not "Once more!" but "One more!". The Poona Club audience, of course, knew what is what.

(**) - Indeed, Seenu Singh remarked playing Chopin's pieces could stretch the fingers and ligaments joining them to the limits and beyond - trying to reach the right keys at the right time; I noticed later, Singh himself has large palms and lengthy fingers which were quite out of scale with his rather short-statured, slight constitution.

(***)- At the end of the concert, a young lady went on stage and garlanded Singh; and that was Desi all right - no bouquets and stuff!


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