| Pictures by Aranya Sen and Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
At 2 in the dark dewy morning, the half-moon-shaped Nazrul Mancha is a sea of people. Old and young, the silk and chiffon brigade and the jeans and kurta-clad, the elderly with walking sticks by their side and the blonde foreigner glued to her handycam. Some with eyes shut, experiencing an ecstasy, some nodding in a daze and a few dozing off.
Some bleary-eyed music addicts have slipped out for coffee and a smoke on the lawns that resemble a mini mela. If a group of five is discussing the nuances of an alaap, a family has gathered in a corner of the ground for a post-midnight home-cooked meal. The biggest crowd though is in front of the Bedouin stall, which is dishing out everything from crispy fried chicken to golden prawns, biryanis to chicken kebabs, long before a January sunrise.
Night birds all, on the viewless wings of Indian classical music. Apart from the best of musicians on stage, the magic of The Dover Lane Music Conference also lies in the rustle of Kanjeevaram silks, the aroma of biryani, the nip in the air and the general mood of celebration off stage.
Over the past 54 years, the conference has travelled several stages ' from Singhee Park to Hindustan Park to Vivekananda Park ' before finally settling down beside Rabindra Sarobar, at the 3,500-seater Nazrul Mancha.
But wherever it has gone, the Dover Lane podium has been graced by the stalwarts of Indian classical music. 'We would listen to the music lying in cars outside till the wee hours. It was such an experience,' reminisced vocalist Ravi Kichlu after inaugurating the 54th edition of the conference on January 21.
'I performed with my father (Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan) at Dover Lane in 1959. Since then I have been playing off and on. Gradually my sons Amaan and Ayaan have also started performing. So, we feel emotionally attached to Dover Lane,' said a nostalgic Amjad Ali Khan, the last performer on the final night.
The five-day Dover Lane Music Conference 2006, presented by Desh, hosted the most star-studded line-up in recent years ' Ali Akbar Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Parween Sultana, Shahid Parvez, the Gundecha Brothers, Rais Khan, Rashid Khan and the next generation represented by Amaan Ali Bangash and Kaushiki Chakraborty.
Yesterday meets tomorrow
Fighting the early morning chill, a long queue snaked in front of 3, Dover Lane on January 7. Season tickets pegged at Rs 250, Rs 330 and Rs 450 ' which allow entry on all five days ' were sold out in seven days flat. 'Barring the 1,000 members, we can sell only 1,380 out of 3,500 tickets. The rest are distributed as complimentary passes' The rush for tickets this winter resembled the craze of a One-Day cricket match,' said Dover Lane Music Conference general secretary Nupur Mukherjee.
Almost three months before the conference, calls start coming in from musicians wanting to perform at Dover Lane. And about a month before D-Day, The Dover Lane Music Conference office starts getting calls for tickets from across the world ' from the probashi Bangali in the USA and Germany, Chennai and Delhi, to foreigners learning Indian classical music and tourists planning an India trip with the soiree as the focal point.
New members are registered against non-renewal of membership. The phenomenon to watch out for is the growing request list from the age group of 20-30. One of the recent entrants is a 14-year-old girl, revealed Mukherjee.
Though more young listeners are coming in, the general secretary rued the lack of young blood at the organisational level. 'We get volunteers during the few days of the conference only, but what we need are young people involved in the running of the Dover Lane conference.'
At the Nazrul Mancha galleries though, teenage faces were not an uncommon sight. Class IV student Sruti Debnath, a budding sarod player accompanied by her father, was charmed by the spirit of Amaan Ali Bangash. The elder son of Amjad Ali Khan has become a regular here and is now quite a draw, especially among the young.
So, does it take young performers to interest young listeners' 'I think it works both ways' Young people relate to us better. But listeners in general have become very receptive. The interest in classical music has increased as there are more forms of music now,' felt Amaan, who took the stage for a sarod recital with his father in the audience on Night II.
'The youngsters who are performing or singing are very dedicated. Seeing the distractions that are there today, I feel my sons are facing a bigger challenge than what I had faced' The audience is also very committed. One has to forego the lure of so many TV channels to come and listen to us,' stressed Amjad Ali Khan.
| SHIV KUMAR SHARMA
All a musician wants is dedicated listeners and Dover Lane has the best of them. So it is very special for me. I think the quality of music has also changed for the better. Its popularity is growing… The other speciality of Dover Lane is that it’s an all-night programme, which is rare in today’s times.
AMAAN ALI BANGASH
Young people relate to us better. But listeners in general have become very receptive. The interest in classical music has increased as there are more forms of music now.
AMJAD ALI KHAN
I performed with my father at Dover Lane in 1959. Since then I have been playing off and on. Gradually my sons Amaan and Ayaan have also started performing. So, we feel emotionally attached to Dover Lane.
A reason to be there
''Eto gooni manusher modhye ami ekjon agooni.' As Ali Akbar Khan rose to leave the podium after a two-hour recital, a standing ovation and a deafening applause greeted the biggest performer of this year's meet.
If the thousands were enthralled by the octogenarian's enduring magic, the maestro was no less charmed by his audience. For Dover Lane has always leant a discerning audience to the melody makers.
'All a musician wants is dedicated listeners and Dover Lane has the best of them. So it is very special for me,' smiled Shiv Kumar Sharma, as he strummed and tuned his santoor in one of the green rooms. 'I think the quality of music has also changed for the better. Its popularity is growing' The other speciality of Dover Lane is that it's an all-night programme, which is rare in today's times,' added the exponent, surrounded by a bunch of disciples.
The five-day line-up was a real treat for old-timers like Swapna Barman. 'It's difficult to say who's played better than whom. Each of them is a master in their own right' But I missed Pandit Jasraj,' said the housewife in her fifties, having sat through all five nights till break of dawn braving arthritis in her bones.
The presence of Ali Akbar Khan has ensured a rich flow of foreigners this time. For Gudrun Roos and Sam Coenegrachts, both jazz singers from Belgium, 'watching Ali Akbar Khan perform is an experience to remember'.
'Listeners come not only from Calcutta, but small towns and villages and also NRIs and foreigners from across the world. So, all Indian musicians want to perform at Dover Lane,' said Amjad Ali Khan.
Symbolising the foreign connection in the audience were Mitsuo and Miyo Okuda, a middle-aged couple, from Kyoto in Japan, for the fourth year in a row.
The bond has turned out to be even stronger for Naoki Tomioka, a regular at Dover Lane for the past 15 years. 'Dosh bochhor aage aaro bhalo hoto,' said the Japanese sitar player, more at home with Bengali than with English.
'But even if we don't understand the language, we can enjoy the music,' piped in 20-something Hiroki Nakayama, in broken English. Music apart, the first-timer at Dover Lane has also lapped up Bedouin's biryani.
'I like the ambience... People relaxing and enjoying the music all through the night, till the sun comes up,' smiled golden-haired Casey from California, digging into a plate of desi fried rice and chilli chicken before rushing back for the next recital.