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An interesting mix

A classical concert comprising musicians from Germany, Argentina and Italy performed in Alhamra

An interesting mix
String Quartet with Felix Matsura.

The Annemarie-Schimmel-Haus in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Pakistan and Lahore Arts Council, organized a classical concert by a German string quartet at the Alhamra. The group comprising six musicians from Germany, Argentina and Italy played violin, viola, cello, castanets & bandoneon.

After the concert ended, the resident director of the Arts Council came on stage and started to pontificate on the virtues of our musical traditions, our great musicians and instruments like the iktaara. He was ambivalent about the two-stringed instrument but knew about the sehtar or as it is called now the sitar, the implication being that the visiting musicians were passable but we had great violinists as well. He called for Ustad Kifayat who sidled on to the stage and started to play Indian and Pakistani film compositions on the violin.

When enquired from the organisers of the concert, one was told that the concert was meant for the foreign quartet and that there was no schedule for the local musicians to be playing any instrument, let alone the violin.

Of course, we all know that we have great tradition of music and it needn’t be compared to the western tradition, especially the classical forms. Both are part of the great traditions of music in the world. Instead of comparing ourselves with the Germans, what is required is a proper patronage of our music, especially the classical forms which are fast dying with very few top of the line exponents left. We all know that we treat our music very shabbily and the musicians even more so. What is needed is a proper system of music education, its transmission to the next generation and then its proper demonstration on public platforms.

There is no need for one upmanship — it all left a bad taste in the mouth and reeked of inferiority complex. We have good and great musicians; let us respect them and properly organise their programmes regularly, pay them well and educate the audiences about the classical forms as they have moved away to more polyglot genres. It is expected that two to three programmes of classical music be held at the Alhamra from now on as an indication that we take our music very seriously, are proud of it and not spring it as a surprise in the form of an appendage to a programme especially meant for visiting of foreign musicians.

The programme was an interesting mix of classical western music and many innovations that have been made in their music by the musicians and composers of Latin America. Tango, now a very famous music and dance form, is a creation of the Latin Americans (the Argentinians specialise in it). It was refreshing to hear the tango and the instrument most associated with it – the bandoneon, being played along with violin, cello and viola.

Other than Amadeus Mozart and Luigi Boccherini, well-known composers in the western musical tradition, the other two composers whose music was played are not that well-known in Pakistan and for obvious reasons. The music of Astor Piazzolla (based in Latin America) is a creative mix of western music and the musical forms more peculiar to Latin Americans, a togetherness of western instruments and styles with that of tango and jazz, more American in sound and cadence. Marcelo Nisinman is an Argentinian bandoneon player, composer and arranger. He learnt to play the bandoneon and his pieces are unique with their origins being in Buenos Aires. He takes motivation from different structures and procedures creating an individual style that breaks the customs and guidelines of the Musica Porteña (Music of Buenos Aires city). He works on a specific tango style, joining customary components with bright twists taking into account atonality and contemporary music.

According to the brochure circulated at the concert, the visiting musicians were qualified and experienced. The first violinist, Sebastian Schmidt, took his first violin lesson at the tender age of seven. He was accepted as a student at the University of Karlsruhe and then at the Indiana University in Bloomington. Recently, he has started teaching at the Hamburg University of Music and Theatre. For over 20 years, he has been focusing on orchestral compositions.

The second violinist, Sabina Bunea received her first violin lessons at the age of five, and completed her Violin Master´s degree in 2012 from the Academy of Music in Stuttgart and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. She has worked as a soloist in concerts following the path of Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Wieniawski, Piazzolla, but she is also working in an orchestra. Member of the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra, Martin Höfler on the viola studied violin and viola at Freiburg Academy for Young Musicians.

Celloist Bernhard Lörcher studied in Karlsruhe, received his education in chamber music and toured the length and breadth of Europe with his cello trio and won the 1st prize of the renowned national competition “Jugend musiziert”.

At the age of 7, Felix Malte Matzura started playing castanets in a workshop at his elementary school in northern Germany; playing concerts with the folklore group that originated from the school activity trying ways of using the castanets in different music styles, with other musicians and bands. After almost 20 years of playing, this was his first concert outside Europe in front of Pakistani audiences.

There is great tendency to mix and mismatch with little respect for the particularity of the form. One has seen and heard Mehdi Hasan being asked to sing a Muhammed Rafi film number, Fareeda Khanum to render a folk number. Similarly, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan to sing Heer or a Mahiya. Similarly, there is great eagerness to clap and verbally appreciate music which is very much a part of our tradition but western music, especially the classical forms, are heard in funereal silence.

Every pause does not mean the end of a number; encore comes at the very end. These responses were more than evident in the concert. Another recent tendency is to take photographs of the concert or a performance with mobile phones. People listen less, occupied more with either recording visually or aurally the music programme.

Sarwat Ali

sarwatali
The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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