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Updated: February 13, 2013 17:09 IST

Mission music

Liza George
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Vijay Upadhyaya
The Hindu
Vijay Upadhyaya

The Vienna University Orchestra and Choir performs in Thiruvananthapuram on March 8. Vijay Upadhyaya, the man behind the event, traces the genesis of the concert

Come March, the city will tune in to strains of Western classical music. And the musician conducting the show is Vijay Upadhyaya, artistic director of Vienna University Orchestra and Choir. He was in the city on a music mission to do the ground work for the concert.

“The Vienna University Chorus has been planning a tour of South India for quite some time. Dr. Faith Ragland, a choir conductor from Coimbatore, introduced me to S.P. Thomas, conductor of Trivandrum Male Voices and Trivandrum Choristers Association. Thomas and I talked and things started falling into place for the programme on March 8. Next year, I would like to put up something more pedagogically prepared. I plan to send in teachers to coach or prepare something, which could then be made into a concert, or a series of concerts,” says Vijay.

A globetrotting baton wielder, Vijay traces his roots to Lucknow, where he learned to play the piano from his mother, Usha Chatterji.

Deeply inspired by his mother, Vijay decided to move to Austria after his graduation to pursue his dream of learning Western classical music. The musician, who is also trained on the tabla and in Kathak, is the conductor of the China National Symphony and of the Providencia Philharmonic Orchestra in Chile.

To promote Western classical music amongst the youth, Vijay founded India National Youth Orchestra (INYO) in 2010 with his sister, Sonia Khan. “There are so many young people learning and playing Western instruments across India, but there’s no sense of continuity to what they’re doing. Music is learnt in school or college, then they get into mainstream professions and the training gets lost. There are far too many obstacles – a lack of quality teaching, respectability, decent employment prospects – for any young Indian wishing to take up music seriously. India National Youth Orchestra is (INYO) a motivation. The orchestra has about 150 youth as members, now. Our last concert was in Bangalore with 95 musicians. There will be a few members of INYO performing in the concert in Thiruvananthapuram and Nagercoil and next year, I plan to hold the annual workshop of the INYO in Kerala,” says Vijay.

Vijay also hopes to start a youth choir in Kerala. “When one hears choir, one usually associates it with gospel music. Here, the songs performed will be secular,” adding that he plans to introduce Indian folk songs into the choir, as he fears that the folk culture is dying out.

“I would also like to bring in the tabla and the mridangam into the symphony. Today it is important to see art as something that builds bridges between religion and cultures. This was not a problem in India 20 or 30 years ago. In the INYO, one has youngsters from different religions and states performing on one stage. I hope for the same for the youth choir.”

The die-hard musician also intends to promote Western classical music in schools. He plans to tie-up with Goethe Zentrum Trivandrum and conduct small introductory classes on Western classical instruments, especially wood wind instruments such as the oboe, clarinet and French horn, and music at various schools. He might also start a small music class with teachers coming in from Austria to hold the classes. “But, before you find the teachers, you have to find the clients,” says Vijay signing out.

Music to the ears

On March 8, 70 members of the Vienna University Orchestra and Choir and 60 choir members of Trivandrum Male Voices and Trivandrum Choristers Association will perform compositions of Mozart, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Handel and Rachmaninov and a couple of Malayalam compositions at St. Theresa of Lisieux Church, Vellayambalam. The group will hold a concert in Nagercoil on March 7.

Kerala beckons

I have visited Kerala several times. It is one of the beautiful parts of India, if not the world. However, each time I come here, I am saddened by the increase in pollution and traffic. The students of Vienna University Orchestra and Choir will be taken on a tour of the backwaters of Kerala when they arrive.

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