Music

Cultural crescendo

A melodic evening.

A melodic evening.  

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It was a magical experience at the annual Monte Music Festival in Goa, which saw a confluence of Indian and western performances.

In its ninth edition, the Monte Music festival in Goa has lost none of its magic, this year drawing an even larger audience. Always held in the first week of February at the spectacularly located Chapel of the Monte in Old Goa's world heritage sites, the Indian and western classical music festival is beginning to draw back a devoted fan following. This year over a 1,000 people, mainly western tourists, winter settlers and local Goans, climbed the gently sloped stone pathway to the 16th century hilltop chapel, to take in the outdoor sunset views and enjoy the classical concerts.

It's no ordinary hilltop, but one that totally justifies its promise of offering a panoramic view on a landscape that appears timeless and undefiled by the march of modernity. The Mandovi runs past the hill's wooded base, curving like a dull silver ribbon right into the horizon, carving out, as it meanders, the lush green landscape and hills into several islands, on the opposite banks of which stand the erstwhile colonial capital of Old Goa, with its cathedrals, basilicas and towers. It's all very majestic and humbling and one suspects that regulars beat a path to the festival year in and year out, simply to make this connection — between music, nature and the grandeur of built architecture coming together to create something ethereal. “The concerts never disappoint either, they are always very good,” says Shelley Madden, who's never missed a festival in the five years since she bought a house and moved to Goa. We are standing in the orderly queue to board the shuttle buses that negotiate the narrow winding road that keeps the Monte isolated and off the beaten tourist track.

Artists are as enthused. Ustad Chhote Rahimat Khan who has performed at every single festival since its inception in 2002 sums it up when he says, “I love performing here. It's an incredible location that lifts the spirit of both the performer and his audience to great heights.” This year, Khan conducted the Kala Academy's Flute and Sitar Ensemble through an electrifying performance. Even if one wanted to, one couldn't stay disconnected from the magic and spirituality that pervaded the courtyard as the ten sitarists, single flute and tabla artist played the twilight raga Yaman as the sun sank down into the distant horizon behind them, the sky awash with the reds and oranges of a Goan sunset, its glow cast on the freshly whitewashed chapel before them. As the sky slowly darkened, a harmonious rendition of Rag Mishra Khamaj, kept the packed courtyard spellbound and rooted to the seats.

In tandem

It was a similar story the day prior, when Mumbai couple Raul and Mithali D'Souza performed a Bharatnatyam and Odissi duet, creating poetry on the outdoor stage, set up at the cliff's edge. Raul D'Souza, often seen playing Krishna in Hema Malini's Bharatanatyam dance ballets, chose to perform a solo Bharatanatyam rendition of Christ's annunciation, but it was really the couple's tandem dances that set the stage alight. No pair of eyes could stray from the stage as the final dance picked up tempo, and the gentle movements of Mithali's Odissi dance perfectly blended with the flamboyant gestures of Raul's Bharatanatyam.

Later that evening, Mumbai's Paranjoti Academy Chorus filled the chapel interiors with their rich and varied tonal voices. Beginning with a Konkani song, “Poili Santa” arranged by Paranjoti's late founder Victor Paranjoti, the 30-strong Acapella choir demonstrated their full melodic range in the 15 compositions that followed.

Standing ovation

Paranjoti's iconic conductor Coomi Wadia's arrangement of V. Narayanswamy's “Asathmoa Sat-gamaya” in Sanskrit set the tone for the rendition of “Cantate Domino” in Latin, and “So-jaa re, so-jaa” in Hindi. Soprano Cynthia Thyle's voice soared to the vaulted ceiling, the structure's acoustics inside negating any need for amplification as she sang William Dawson's “Mary had a baby”. By the time the choir got to “Joshua fights the battle of Jericho” and the final “He's got the whole world in His hands” they had a standing ovation and an appreciative audience that called them back for two encores. While the Paranjoti's prowess is well known, the surprise at the festival came from the young members of the Goan Koronatus String Quartet, who banded together in 2010, after performing in Moscow and Japan with the Symphony Orchestra of India. The strains of the violin as they played a prelude from Bach's English suite No 3, drifted out into the open courtyard, where people informally gather their chairs to avoid the crowds that throng the chapel's interiors.

“It's very strange to come from Salzburg and hear Mozart here. Mozart was born in Salzburg,” a lady in the audience said to me. While she much preferred the Indian music performances, she's been a regular at the festival, staying on for the western classical concerts as well, which this year included a vocal recital by British octogenarian Tony Gatward, Belgian violinist Hans Versmeersch, Bangalore School of Music's Baroque Ensemble and the Os Musicos do Tejo from Portugal who performed on opening night.

It's a comment that would please the organisers — Fundacao Oriente (the Oriente Foundation) and Cidade de Goa — who are precisely aiming at a mix of cultures while curating the festival. The intention they say is to find a confluence of Indian and western music and dance, of home-grown talent and the nationally and internationally acclaimed, of young and old, new and experienced.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 5:15:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/Cultural-crescendo/article15451048.ece

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