The country’s big names in music rate Carol George as the country’s best Western violinist. K. Pradeep catches up with Carol for a tête-à-tête.

The country’s big names in Western music rate Carol George as the country’s best Western violinist. The violinist talks about his career

The Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) was performing at the finale of the prestigious Fifth Festival of the World’s Symphony Orchestras, Moscow. It was their international debut. At the end of a magical show they got a 10-minute standing ovation. That This was the moment that Carol George, the only Malayali in SOI, had dreamed of.

With no tradition to draw from on, with hardly any study materials to bank on, this young violinist from the island of Nayarambalam, near Kochi, was living a dream. According to stalwarts like Rex Isaac and Suresh Lalwani, Carol is today easily the ‘best Western violinist in the country.’

Like most young violinists, Carol started off with basics of Western music, got into competition mode, played for recordings, choirs. He then took a different route. It was a quest to find a place in a professional orchestra. “The dream was to keep learning, improving, playing Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Paganini…,” Carol says.

He started learning the guitar first, at Om Music Club, near his home. Here he saw and heard K. P. Joseph Master on the violin. He loved the shape of the instrument, its tone. He knew then that this was what he wanted. Joseph Master became his first violin teacher.

University record

For the next few years Carol was the toast of Lobelia English HSS, Nayaramablam, and later St. Albert’s College, Ernakulam. He was a sure shot winner at school and university youth festivals. In fact, he set a record of five straight wins in Western strings at the Mahatma Gandhi University festival.

Carol turned ‘professional’ while still at school. He was busy playing for film recordings, ganamelas and choirs. But he knew that there was so much more. “I must have played for almost all the popular music directors in Malayalam and a few in Kannada too. It was good but there was this urge to do something more.”

It was Edward J D’ Nazareth, a veteran violinist, who virtually turned Carol’s life. “He introduced me to a whole lot of new aspects and most importantly drilled into me the need to break away from all that I was doing and concentrate on Western classical music.”

Information on Western classical was hard to find. But Carol was persistent. “There used to be a programme on TNT television channel dedicated to Western music. I used to get the show recorded, listen to it and try playing those pieces. Edward Master had a lot of books which helped, so too was his method of teaching. I was unlearning all that I had learnt earlier.”

Bangalore stint

And Carol was on his way. His persistence paid off when he joined the Bangalore School of Music. “That was the time when Jody McComb was in charge. This was good learning experience. I completed the course with a diploma in violin from the Associated Board of Royal School of Music, London.” Carol went on to teach here for a while.

Searching for positions in orchestras across the world, Carol chanced upon SOI. He decided to try his luck there. SOI was having a concert in Bangalore and he was asked to meet Marat Bisengaliev, the world-famous violinist and founding music director of SOI. “I met Marat Bisengaliev at a hotel. The audition was done there. He asked me to play and I played a Paganini piece. He invited me for the concert and to meet him after that.”

Carol remembers the first-ever concert he heard. “I was in another world. You cannot explain this experience. I had never heard anything like that before. I was then asked to meet Marat in Mumbai. They sent me tickets, I reached Mumbai and was almost immediately playing second violin in SOI. My debut was at the NCPA. I played two more concerts and returned. They told me that the next season was to start in two months and asked me to join them permanently. It was unbelievable.”

That was in 2007. For the past five years Carol has been an integral part of SOI. A few Malayali talents joined SOI, stayed for a while and left. For Carol this has been a wonderful journey. “The SOI is a big family of 80-90 musicians from all over the world. We are paid a salary and provided other facilities. From ten in the morning till five we practice. There are no fixed training hours. Even when I came down this time, for my wedding in fact, I brought all the music with me.” Carol counts his parents (the late A. M. George and Ramany) as his biggest source of support.

The SOI has been a sort of classroom for the young man. It also provided windows to showcase his talent. He played for a couple of Bollywood films and was judged the brightest young classical violinist in the country at a competition held in Goa. “I won the famous all-India competition held by the Guitar Guild Goa last year. This is open to violins only once in three years. There were many violinists. We went through many rounds, played pieces ranging from Bach, Sarasate to Tchaikovsky, and were judged by an all-German jury. To win this was huge.”

Carol now plays the first violin in the SOI. Preparations are on for the forthcoming season that begins third week of February. “I’m looking forward to it. There’s going to be a special concert featuring SOI, Zakir Hussain, the banjoist Bela Fleck and double bassist Edgar Meyer. The work, The Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto has been composed by Zakir Hussain. We are also gearing up to perform Beethoven’s 4 and 7 symphonies and works of Tchaikovsky.”