‘Classical music must be more accessible’

The International Music and Arts Society and the Thumboochetty Foundation organised a concert, ‘Romancing the Violin’, in memory of Philomena Thumboochetty aka ‘The Indian Fiddler Queen’, a child prodigy and renowned violinist in British India.

The event featured French violinist Philippe Honoré, soprano Patricia Rozario, and pianist Mark Troop.

They performed at the Bangalore International Centre on October 15 at the Bangalore International Centre, Domlur. Metrolife caught up with the three musicians before the event for a little chat. 

How did you curate the playlist for the evening?

Mark: We got into a boxing room, and fought it out (chuckles). Patricia: We had to do a little bit of research. Philippe gave the list of French pieces, and I added in some English compositions. We are doing some Mozart, which works very well for the violin-piano-vocals combination, as well as works by Tchaikovsky and Medtner, among other composers. We will perform some violin-voice, violin-piano and piano-voice combination songs as well.

Philippe: It is an unusual combination of instruments, so we used that as the framework, and decided to create a repertoire that would suit this. I didn’t know many of the pieces we chose but they were suggested by Patricia or Mark. Once I heard them, I was sold.

Have you played together before?

Patricia: Philippe and I have played together in London. My husband, Mark, and I have also played together. I don’t think all three of us have ever played together before, though. 

Tell us more about ‘Romancing the violin’.

Patricia: There is this festival in Goa where we explore unusual combinations. That is where we got the idea for this event from. We tried the French horn and clarinet and this year it is the violin. Since we were already going to Goa, the dates just worked out. Phillipe anyway goes wherever we drag him (laughs). 

What’s happening in Goa?

Mark: We will be performing at the Da Capo Sammelan later this month. It is an annual music festival we organise. We collaborate with talented musicians between the ages of 11 and 15 years.

Patricia: We will be coaching them before the event, and they will all showcase a piece each. It is a great way for these aspiring musicians to display their talents. We will also have four singers, in their early 20s to mid-30s, who have performed with us before, joining us. We are hoping to get everyone to sing ‘The Hills are Alive’ and ‘Do-Re-Mi’ from ‘The Sound of Music’. 

When did you decide to pursue music?

Philippe: I had to make that choice when I was about 14. I had gotten everything I could out of what Léon could offer. The next thing to do was to go to the Conservatoire de Paris. It meant that I had to stop school and give music my whole. I remember thinking that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t give it a go. I have never looked back since. 

Mark: I started playing the piano when I was about nine, which is late by the usual standard. I just came to realise over time that I just couldn’t do anything else with my life.

Patricia: I think the career chose me. I went to study music in London, but I didn’t know anyone. I worked hard, but I wasn’t sure I would make it. Then I kept winning scholarships and competitions one after the other, and it all simply fell into place.

Do you prefer teaching or performing?

Philippe: I have been teaching at the Royal Academy of London for almost seven years. But it is the variety that keeps me going. If I only taught, I would go mad and if I only performed, I would be stressed all the time. 

Patricia: I was only performing when I started out because I didn’t have the time and I didn’t think I knew enough to teach. About 14 years ago, I decided to try this out. Every student is unique, and you have to be in tune with their personality and needs. I love teaching, but I need to perform as well. 

Mark: Teaching helps you as an artist as well and that is very satisfying. 

As classical musicians, what are the challenges you face?

Philippe: Our first job is as performers and we have to give all our energy to put up a good show. We are also always trying to make music more accessible.   

Mark: People think opera or classical music is only for the intelligentsia, which is not the case. It is definitely a challenge, and the one thing we could do is to do away with the trappings of classical music, making it more accessible without diluting the art.  

Thoughts about the western classical scene in India?

Patricia: There aren’t really serious full-time schools for western classical music here in India. There is the KM Music Conservatory, but they don’t focus so much on the technical aspects. In this field, no one really cares about the certificate, it is about having the skill, and we need schools that provide just that. I and Mark are also thinking about starting a full-time music school in India but nothing is decided yet.

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