Violinist Michael Makhal talks about his musical legacy and tells Vishnupriya Bhandaram it’s time to teach people the many nuances, subtleties and beauties of western classical music
Residents of Lotus Enclave at Srinagar Colony are perhaps familiar with Vivaldi and Bach, if not by education, then simply by hearing the music. At the house of Michael Makhal, the prodigal Bengali violinist who made Hyderabad his home, the walls are lined with images of Luciano Pavarotti, Zubin Mehta and Itzhak Perlman and a picture of his father Ananta Makhal — whom he considers to be his only guru. Ananta Makhal was a violinist and conductor of the Calcutta Chamber Orchestra. “My father gave his whole life to the orphanage where he grew up, the Oxford Mission Orphanage, where he taught till he breathed his last,” says Michael.
The burden of his legacy never made his shoulders stoop; in fact, he embraces his inheritance and strives to make his father proud. Michael started playing violin at the age of five. He studied western classical music from the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music and obtained a first position in his higher grade music examination from Royal College of London. He shares his musical qualifications with the likes of Ilayaraja and A. R. Rahman. Growing up, however, like any rebellious child, he didn’t follow the serious western musical styles. “I used to love playing Hindi songs. I can hear a tune and play it myself. My father never objected to that but he would insist that I learn the nuances of western classical music first,” he says. Michael confesses to having many an expensive bow broken on his back!
A filmi journey
Michael’s eyes fill with slight regret as he talks of how he defied his father and refused to teach and went to Mumbai in search of an opportunity. “We had different outlooks when it came to music. I felt the need to perform and not teach. Now I am at a place where I also want to teach,” he says. Opportunity came not in Mumbai but in Hyderabad, where he played for Jayam, a Suresh Productions film. Money hasn’t always come easily. “I had come here with four of my friends and we survived on Rs. 40. I played the violin for music composer Chakri and I earned Rs. 3000. We went to a fish market and bought ourselves a huge fish but we didn’t have a vessel big enough to cook the fish in, and on a kerosene stove, it took us 7 hours to cook the whole fish,” laughs Michael. Success followed and Michael gelled well with the Telugu film industry. He mentions that musicians Hemanth Kumar and Amar helped him and his friends find a firm footing.
Michael has composed music for the Telugu film My Heart Is Beating Adola. Currently, he is composing ‘contemporary symphony scores’ for a Hindi-English International Animation project by ARD Media. He is excited about this opportunity and feels that he will finally be able to compose quality soundtracks using the ‘chamber and waltz’ orchestral instruments. Michael talks of the brief period when electronic music dominated the film circuits. “Acoustic musicians were almost done for. Things are looking bright again because people are recognising the value of true talent over ease of technology.”
While commercial film music keeps him busy, he has a visible love for western classical music. He talks animatedly about the gradually increasing tempo of the Vivaldi concerto Four Seasons — Summer. He pulls out his violin and renders an original composition, his bow creating a sound that lifts the spirits; before you know it your eyes close and your head sways to the gentle melody.
With the passing of his father earlier this year, Michael thinks it’s the right time to set up a complete national symphony orchestra. He has already formed a Chamber and Improvised Symphony Orchestra, one of the firsts in India, he says. The orchestra performs serious pieces by Mozart and Bach, but also light classical, waltzes (for ballroom dancing), songs by the Beatles and Elvis Presley, and theme songs from Love Story and Titanic, which make for enchanting and varied performances.
Michael, however, wants to form a symphony with Indian musicians. The National Symphony Orchestra of India formed by the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, has very few Indian members. “I want to bring up my orchestra with Indian musicians. There are so many western classical performers who leave the field because they don’t find work. I don’t understand why they need to hire masters and soloists from other countries when we have a pool of talent here.”
Michael is devoted to making people appreciate western classical music and plans to open a music school. “I want to open the doors of western classical music, Mozart, Beethoven and Bach and also the admired composers and song writers of the Modern Period, namely, Elvis Presley, Tagore, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Trevor Jones, Yanni, ABBA and The Beatles to people,” beams Michael. “We have great Carnatic and Hindustani musicians in the country and the way things are going, we’ll have Pandit Johns and Ustad Thomas. Why shouldn’t we then charge across and create Beethovens of our own?”