Musical Narrative Music

‘The Journey’ — Dedicated to all that is human

Ganesh Kumar’s album sings the story of seeing light at the end of the tunnel — a journey of despair and hope

It will be a historic moment when Chennai-based Ganesh B Kumar’s ‘Spirit of Humanity’ is released worldwide on June 26. Because he will be the first-ever Indian musician to compose a Symphonic Poem. A Licentiate of the Trinity College of Music London, Ganesh has evoked the theme of ‘Optimism and Humanitarianism’ in this album. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ganesh and his team over a video call to discuss the meaning, nuances, production process and the inspiration behind this album.

To start, I think the most important question would be ‘What inspired you to become a composer’?

I studied music from Mr. Abdul Sarkar back in the early 1980s when I learned the classical guitar. We used to also have concerts wherein they would ask the best students to perform. While I was performing I realised that it was not me that was communicating to the audience but the soul of the piece. I was merely the medium and this is what inspired me to become a composer.

The creative team: (From left) Georgina Margarite Ezra, Ganesh Kumar, Prem Venkatesh, Anand Madhavan and Muthukumaraswamy

The creative team: (From left) Georgina Margarite Ezra, Ganesh Kumar, Prem Venkatesh, Anand Madhavan and Muthukumaraswamy  

The making of this album started when Dhahara Vidhya Foundation, a non-charitable Trust from Chennai, commissioned me to write two orchestral works. It is the sweetest thing for any composer to have someone acknowledge their talent and believe in their abilities.

There are many things I hope to achieve through this album, not least of which would be to bring peace and harmony while also evoking the passion of human nature and the spirit of humankind envisaged through the inspiring life stories of the legendary composer — Ludwig Van Beethoven and ‘Maharaj’ Jam Saheb Digvijay Singh, ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Nawanagar, Gujarat.

The album cover

The album cover  

You are the first Indian musician to compose a Symphonic Poem. How does that feel?

The world knows of Oscar Schindler's humanitarian act. But when I came to know the sublime act of the Maharaj Jam Saheb Digvijay Singhji, who was responsible in saving not just hundreds but thousands of lives during the Second World War, I felt it was my duty to bring out these lesser-known historical facts to the world and reinstate the truth that India was, is and will always be a nation with the highest humanitarian values. To represent this musically, I sought the help of the Symphonic Poem form and I am happy to be a tool in this great venture.

What is the story behind your Symphonic Poem: THE JOURNEY and what is the message you wish to convey?

The stage for this symphonic poem is set against the background of World War II. The story was brought to my attention by my patron Anand Madhavan. Germany and the USSR wished to wipe Poland off the world map and divide the territory between them. All the hostages were taken to Siberia. Following which there was an altercation between Germany and USSR over the land that had been previously occupied by the Polish.

This is where our story starts, with the Maharaj Jam Saheb Digvijay Singhji, who was the first ruler to open the doors to thousands of Polish refugees and saved their lives.

The magnanimity of the Maharaj and the riveting tale of displacement, despair, migration, and resettlement of Polish refugees from the Soviet Union in India is what inspired me to write this Symphonic Poem. It makes a powerful case for pacifism on the 75 anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied forces, in 1945, thereby ending World War II in Europe.

Tell us about the different sections of ‘THE JOURNEY’

‘THE JOURNEY’ begins with a melancholic aria, ‘Lost Souls,’ penned by my wife Georgina Margarite Ezra, depicting the desolate condition of Polish children. The pinnacle of this composition is the inclusion of a timeless Tamil poem from Purnanooru, ‘Undaal Amma Ivvulagam,’ written by the ancient king of the Sangam era, Kadalul Maaindha Ilamperuvazhudhi.

The first section is called ‘The night of the Journey,’ which speaks of the state of mind of the refugees. The second section is called ‘Arrival of Trucks’ and this is followed by the third section called ‘The Journey Through Different Territories’ travelling through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to name a few.

Here is where we deal with the darker, the sadder, and the most desolate parts of the story. The fourth section is called ‘Misfortune Strikes,’ where lives were lost due to trucks veering off the path and starvation, and the fifth section is called ‘Pathos and Grief’ which is the emotional result of all the trials and tribulations that they underwent. This section is only played with strings. The sixth section is called ‘Desolation,’ where the refugees reach the lowest of low with their emotional, mental, and physical health. Where they are questioning if they will ever see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We now proceed to experience the feeling of hope in the seventh section ‘Ray of Hope’ where the refugees are finding themselves almost at their endpoint. This is followed by the eighth section which introduces the king, ‘The Maharaj Jam Saheb Digvijay Singhji.’ The ninth section is ‘The Warm Welcome,’ where both the Maharaj and the refugees greet each other joyfully as a father would his children. The final section is ‘Extolling the Virtues of the Maharaj’ where we depict the humanitarian values of the Maharaj and how because of good people like this, the world will never cease to exist.

‘RISE: Symphony in D Minor’ is your first time composing a symphony. What was your inspiration behind it?

When I was looking for motivational and socially impactful themes that would benefit mankind, I was reminded of the famous quote of Confucius, “The greatest glory in living, lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” This to me felt like it was especially apt to describe the life of Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the greatest musical geniuses and someone who used his music to rise after every fall. This symphony is a tribute for Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary and includes, among others, reminiscences of Beethoven's most popular themes, such as the opening motif of the composer’s Fifth Symphony, but consciously introducing a rising figuration (as against the falling 3rds of the original) signifying positivity and perseverance.

It is written in the traditional form of the symphony with three movements — ‘Allegro con brio,’ ‘Andante’ and ‘Allegro con moto.’

I have tried bringing out this dichotomy in the symphony RISE, with the descending phrases depicting the various falls in Beethoven’s life, while the consequent victorious emergence is pronounced through the ascending phrases, invoking the spirit of positivity and perseverance.

Your pieces will be performed by the Staatskapelle Orchestra, Halle, Germany, Conducted by Bernd Ruf, and Choir of the Opera Halle, conducted by Markus Fischer — your thoughts on this...

Both the works have been performed and recorded by the Staatskapelle Orchestra, Halle, Germany, under the baton of the renowned conductor Bernd Ruf, comprising 91 instrumentalists, along with 31 singers from the Choir of the Opera Halle, conducted by Markus Fischer. It was a delight and honour working with them and we are very happy with the outcome after collaborating for the past 18 months. We even had linguistic guiding tracks made courtesy of V. Muthukumaraguruswamy, our spiritual guide, scholar, and Chief Linguistic Consultant so that they were able to sing the entire song in Tamil.

What is the significance of the bonus track ‘Undaal Amma Ivvulagam’ — a capella in Tamil?

‘Undaal Amma Ivvulagam,’ the timeless poem from Purananooru, has been sung by Shalini Singh Balaji and Keshav Vinod Kumar, thereby giving an Indian twist to conclude the album.

Please do introduce the team behind the making of this album

First and foremost, I would like to mention my patron Anand Madhavan, the backbone of this project. The culmination of this project was supported by a dedicated core team, which includes Dr. Prem Venkatesh, the dynamic Project Lead from Scotland, Muthukumaraguruswamy, Mrs. Georgina Margarite Ezra, Songwriter, Translator, and Linguistic Trainer.

Our record label Navona Records, the U.S. and its parent company PARMA Recordings who when we presented the idea of the album they were attracted to the concept and were delighted to release this album. For an Indian composer to get international recognition is something remarkable. My earnest thanks goes to Dynamedion and GENUIN for helping us in the production and recording of our album.

(‘Spirit of Humanity’ will also be released in digital format on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music and ArkivMusic)

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 10:20:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/the-journey-dedicated-to-all-that-is-human/article31801535.ece

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