Piano Men

She is all of 17 but her fingers run smoothly over the keys of a Steinway piano as she plays a piece by Bach.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: June 17, 2012 3:48 am

She is all of 17 but her fingers run smoothly over the keys of a Steinway piano as she plays a piece by Bach. With six months of practice and nearly a decade of training behind her,Chloe De Souza is confident of making it to the finals of the Con Brio piano competition. As she prepares to take up a degree course in music at a prominent European music school,she views the competition as a stepping stone. “Con Brio is considered among the country’s more serious piano competitions. The standards they expect need lengthy preparation and one competes against some of the best Indian pianists,” says De Souza,who puts in hours of piano practice every day.

In its third edition,Con Brio is an annual event of Western classical music and piano competition,hosted by Furtados Music in association with cultural organisations such as Alliance Francaise,NCPA and the British Council. The festival is dedicated to John Gomes — the father of Furtados Music’s current owners. In the ’50s,he bought the BX and LM Furtado stores in Dhobi Talao and turned them into the iconic music stores they are today.

“A representative of Trinity College of Music in India,he used to say that the only instrument he can play is the gramophone,” laughs John Gomes’ son,Joseph,who looks after the family business with his brother Anthony. “He was very passionate about music and supported it throughout his life,” he adds.

Furtados has been promoting music informally since years,but their association with pianos is well-known. The Gomeses had been wanting to host a pan-India piano competition that would be on par with the likes of the Tchaikovsky competition when pianist Parvesh Java suggested a festival to celebrate Robert Schumann’s 200th birth anniversary three years ago,says Joseph. The concerts were combined with the competition and the first Con Brio took place in 2009,with contestants from Mumbai,Pune,Bangalore,Delhi and Chennai,and with Java as the festival director.

The Gomeses are aware that Con Brio doesn’t compare to the prestigious Tchaikovsky festival but are hoping that it can nurture a culture for Western classical music over the coming years and raise the standards of pianists in India. “The festival is not for entry or middle-level pianists. The age limit is 35 years,but even the younger contestants are in advanced levels of training,and expected to perform difficult compositions by greats like Beethoven. Two of last year’s finalists were 10 and 12 years old,” says Anthony.

The festival gained credibility in its very first year with performances by international musicians,who also judged the competition. This year,Karl Lutchmayer,Mark Troop and Paul Stewart are part of the festival. The finalists get to perform on stage with them and are also rewarded with a three-day piano workshop. The semi-finals and finals this year will take place in Mumbai at the NCPA on July 14 and 15 respectively,and are open to the public.

The Gomeses believe that the last three to five years have seen a difference in reception of Western classical music in India,with people considering it as a serious career option. Case in point is Nadine Crasto who also auditioned for the competition this year. At 20,she is a piano teacher with five years of experience.

“Chloe’s elder sister Chelsea De Souza won the first Con Brio competition and is now studying music at Oberlin College,Ohio,” adds 28-year-old Java,who is also pursuing a music degree from Chicago College of Performing Arts. Unlike the case earlier with Western classical musicians of Indian origin,Java is keen to return and help develop the music scene in India.

Meanwhile,Furtados Music has opened five branches of their music school across Mumbai with trained faculty members. They now also have an institute to train piano technicians and tuners since there are very few of those in the country. “In 2015,Furtados will complete 150 years. Our father was passionate about music and kept his music business running even when India could not import musical instruments till the ’90s. We want to keep that spirit alive,” they say.

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