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India at last

Why is it that we seek the endorsement of the western world before we can recognise and give credence to one of our own? Before our achievers go beyond Indian shores, we ignore them. Till they receive a certificate of merit from a foreign hand.

One such achiever is pianist Pervez Mody, who has been performing in India this past week and will be playing for Calcutta between December 1 and 3.

Mody lives in Germany and has carved out a huge reputation for himself in Europe as an interpreter of Chopin and, more creditably, Scriabin. But for 13 years, he’s not been back in India where his folks are, simply because nobody has asked him.

It happened in an augenblick, as the Germans would put it. The world famous pianist Martha Argerich was approached by the National Centre of Performing Arts in Mumbai to come to India to perform. Argerich, an Argentine, who is recognised as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, was magnanimous in her refusal, saying that she could suggest, more appropriately, a pianist of high repute, origin India, to play in his home country. She had heard him perform the very difficult and quirky Russian composer, Scriabin, and thus recommended him highly to us Indians.

So we will now see and hear the brilliant young man who has lived the better part of his life in Germany and Russia, both countries having moulded him in his musicianship.

In an interview with Mody, I found him to have a somewhat spiritual approach to music. “If one focuses on one’s inner self, the universe answers automatically. People live their lives in thoughts, we get what we want practically,” he said.

However, the musician in him happened because of his “extremely musical” parents in Mumbai, with father playing the accordion and mother having a great voice.

But mostly it has been the fact that he had his early training at the Moscow Conservatory, which saw the influence of the Russian school, palpable in the clear touch and tone and his superior musical interpretation. “Both Russia and Germany have moulded my future in a very special way but the most important part that moulded me was me and myself,” he said.

For those who are not entirely au fait with Scriabin, he was a Russian composer and pianist of the early 20th century. He is said to have developed a highly lyrical and idiosyncratic tonal language, inspired as he was by Chopin. He subsequently influenced composers like Prokofiev and Stravinsky. He was both highly innovative and extremely controversial, with the Great Soviet Encyclopedia saying of him: “No composer has had more scorn heaped or greater love bestowed”.

Not only has Mody performed Scriabin with aplomb, but I gathered from Dickoo Nowroji, president of the Calcutta School of Music, that he has the unique distinction of actually playing on Scriabin’s piano on two occasions for a select audience.

We will be privy to a few Scriabin pieces, although what he performed at the opening of the concert hall at Karlsruhe was a masterly rendition of his 24 preludes, deux poems, depicting fleeting pictorial miniatures, and Vers la Flamme, one of the most atonal of the works of Scriabin.

But we will mostly hunger for his interpretations of Chopin in this city, which has been celebrating the bicentennial of the composer for months now. The Inter School Music Crescendo Competition which was organised jointly by the Calcutta School of Music and ITC, saw a student from Modern High School for Girls’ acquitting herself so well in the piece she played that she received a week’s trip to Poland with workshops, master classes and concerts and sightseeing, too. The year of Chopin in India also saw the composer being demystified for children, and a programme Universal Chopin, where we recently witnessed a synergistic exchange between dancers from Bangalore and a piano maestro from Poland with his masterly rendering of polonaises and mazurkas.

Says Mody of his approach to Chopin: “Yes, I definitely have a very special way of playing his music. Not because I feel I must play him differently. It is because he has his secrets that I have started discovering of late. Many pianists don’t realise what a wealth of hidden thoughts lie between the notes. My approach to Chopin is therefore something that would be too intimate to share openly. It is more like a conversation between lovers.”

The city awaits his renderings, and his observations, some of them very frank. Mody feels that the teaching standards in this country are pathetic, as teachers do not give their students the freedom they require. He recollects his teachers Feroza Dubash Labonne and Farida Dubash in Mumbai, and quotes the latter as saying that “to be a good musician, one needs the hide of an elephant and soul of an angel”.

Calcutta audiences will surely scramble to discover the soul of Chopin from Mody in his initial concert at the ICCR on December 1, followed by a recital at the Calcutta School of Music on December 2 (Chopin and Scriabin) and a set of master classes at the school the following day for accomplished musicians of our city who want to get that extra edge from a close encounter.

But, as Mody says, “What India desperately needs is a full-fledged conservatoire system that is built just like our school system. Once this falls in place then there is no stopping…”

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