At the outset of Canticle of Joy — a package of classical, semi-classical and contemporary music at Museum Theatre designed to welcome the Yule spirit and, at the same time, to enthral classical music aficionados — the president of Madras Musical Association (MMA), Ravi Santosham spoke about the roots of The Poona Musicale and the MMA, which performed with the accompaniment of The Chennai String Ensemble. Ravi said the MMA was born in 1893 and the Poona Musicale in 1993, exactly a hundred years later.
Besides the vast chasm of time, another feature separates these groups. While the MMA choir always has a core of regular singers, the group from Pune battles a constant exodus. Having to train a new-look choir every year is a challenge no conductor will be excited about. The secretary-cum-conductor of Pune Musicale, Daniel Manoharan mentions this in a note on the programme-booklet: “Every year we get a new crop of singers and it becomes a really challenging effort on the part of the conductors to train them in a short span of four months. This is because most of the singers are students who come to Pune from Nepal, North-East India and Myanmar for their studies.”
The major part of the concert was a commentary on how well The Poona Musicale — accompanied on the piano by Ruth Fox and Jesu Daniel — has overcome this limitation. As hosts, the MMA choir gracefully let the Pune choir take centrestage. When the two joined to render a few songs, the MMA choristers stood in the wings.
Under the seasoned Daniel Manoharan, Pune Musicale set the mood of the soiree with a string of timeless songs, which included J. Haydn's “Achieved Is The Glorious Work” and J.S. Bach's “Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring”. As soloist, Young Joo beautifully sang Ennio Morricone's “Nella Fantasia” in Italian — set in the classical mould, the song paints the picture of a world where peace, freedom and joy reign.
There was a sense of the Christmas spirit descending on the audience, as the co-conductor of The Poona Musicale, 19-year-old Jasmine Irani led the choir through “The Night Of The Father's Love”, a cantata by Pepper Choplin that is brilliantly dramatic in its portrayal of events leading up to the birth of Christ. The cantata with its eight parts is filled with expectancy, awe and hope. For this reason, the singers of this cantata have to infuse emotions into their voices and the Pune choristers rose to the challenge.
A session of string magic followed this performance, as conductor Augustine Paul — who was introduced by Ravi as “the man I call music” — led the Chennai String Ensemble though Mozart's “Divertimento in D”. MMA choristers joined their counterparts from Pune for the final part of the concert. With “Sing Ye To The Lord” from the Oratorio ‘Israel in Egypt' (conductor: Augustine Paul) and the “Hallelujah Chorus” (conductor: Daniel Manoharan), the evening ended on a divine note.
When the audience stood in customary respect for “Hallelujah Chorus”, it also appeared to be a gesture of appreciation for the two-hour performance that was not flawless but was whole-hearted.