The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal bard in cellist’s hands
- London composer to perform at Victoria Memorial

Calcutta, Sept. 4: Victoria Memorial, in the summer of 2003. An evening of Tagore’s tunes is in store, but with a distinct difference. Replacing harmonium and tabla is the cello, and giving Rabindrasangeet a Western touch is a composer from the Royal Academy of Music, London, Philip Sheppard.

The 32-year-old cellist, who has worked with David Bowie for the Brit star’s latest single, Everybody Says Hi, wowed everyone — including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — with his brief but engaging performance at the inauguration of the British Council’s new Camac Street premises yesterday. Most stunning was his rendition of Tagore’s Bhora thak.

With singer-newscaster Indrani Bhattacharya in attendance, an offer came in immediately. Indrani will provide the vocal support for the Victoria Memorial function, tentatively scheduled for May 2003.

“The idea of bringing a western touch to Tagore’s songs, which borrow a lot from European music in the first place, is quite exciting,” smiled Philip, who has toured the world “picking up” musical traditions, techniques and tunes. He will also try to compose some of his own music, to be later set to Rabindranath’s verse.

Philip has already called his record label about recording an album of the Tagore renditions. “I heard a recording of Bhora thak on the Net, and I just thought of the cello. Even without language I could understand the nostalgia of the song,” observed Philip.

But he is clear about not confusing styles. “Classical pieces should not commercialised, but I always blend technique and mood to create new music.”

Post-copyright, the bard is in the safe hands of a true admirer. “People say Tagore is India’s Shakespeare, but he is so much more. I don’t think anyone keeps Shakespeare’s work as bedtime reading, but I can imagine doing that with Tagore. He is more emotionally direct.”

Philip’s brief stay in town also included a concert at the Calcutta School of Music. “Never have I travelled so far from London and felt like I hadn’t left home,” said Philip, who returned to England this evening for a performance at Colchester.

Hollywood has also come knocking on his door — to score the music for a “modest budget horror-thriller”. This will be the first time Philip, who has worked in television and short films, will write music for a feature film. “The project involves crew from Titanic and The Matrix. Another big-budget film may follow this,” admitted Philip.

But another trip to Calcutta is definitely on the cards. “I have always wanted to work with the Oxford Mission orchestra here, and now I may get the chance,” explained Philip, who travels to New York regularly to work with the East Harlem Violin Project, helping underprivileged kids explore music. This father of two has already taught one of the boys from the Mission who went to London for a workshop.

“I am just happy to be invited back. I would like to hold workshops with the children here, and eventually, set up a bridge between the orchestra and the Royal Academy.” Organising a “Bengali concert” is also something he would like to do. “My next-door neighbours are Bengali, and so are half the people in my neighbourhood,” chuckled the West Londoner.

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