From January to March and from August to October every year I am in Bombay, at the National Centre Performing Arts, in situ as Associate Music Director of the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI). This February season has seen great moments for us at the SOI – some of which, when we look back, I’m certain will take on historical significance. We performed an outdoor concert at the Kala Ghoda Festival for a lawn crowd of over 4000 people in a seminal moment of outreach to the community. We performed a Schools Concert for 1000 children in a seminal moment of education. We played two performances of Verdi’s Requiem in a seminal moment for our orchestra. It was a joy to host the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, whom, I think, joined in the spirit with gusto. The season ended with an opera gala. I’m reflecting this month on the extraordinary promise that all this took place to a high international standard, right here in Mumbai. We have come a long way in a few short years thanks to some visionary leadership of the NCPA.
Our concerts were, no doubt, crucially important, not just for the SOI’s connection with the Mumbai public at the KG Festival, but for the people’s sense of self-expression too. The outdoor audience was comprised of any man, woman or child who happened to be there, and some whom had never witnessed a concert, much less a full symphony orchestra. I was moved by the possibilities that might have for them. Similarly, I was conscious looking out at the sea of youthful faces at the children’s concert that we were reaching deeper and more lastingly than one might imagine. We were creating the tangible evidence for individualism and celebrating self-expression – in the making and receiving of music. Whether chosen to come and conduct or participating from the audience the children’s expressions were priceless.
However, I am reflecting in the wake of this bright shining, on the deeper purpose it all might serve. The whole of my hypothesis is dependent on an individual’s right to express him or herself as they wish. That’s what musicians do. That’s what artists do. That’s what we seek out and applaud in the confidence of our children. That’s what creates vibrant communities, prosperous cities and stable nations. The list is endless. The viewpoint is humanism at its core. Critical thinking and critical inquiry, or rather the freedom to think and the freedom to question – and for that matter, the freedom to ‘show up’ – are the only things that have led mankind to its quantum leaps forward.
Too often, however, the opposite sentiment is the controlling force. The repression of individual expression through dogmatic subjugation is evident all around us. It is more rife and unchecked then we might comfortably accept. Ironically, the cause of humanism in the liberal arts must be defended with unerring, unflinching, sacred fidelity. The concert of outreach to the community, the concert for the children, the performances of the Verdi Requiem, the celebration of individual creativity all speak of a future filled with promised treasure, communal achievement, human uplift and personal respect. Somehow, they are robbed of their integrity if we cannot promote and defend promised treasure, communal achievement, human uplift and personal respect in all things, in all places and at all times.