The Orchestra man

The Orchestra man

Zane Dalal,resident conductor of India’s first professional symphony orchestra,talks about the western tradition’s presence in Indian culture.

Zane Dalal,resident conductor of India’s first professional symphony orchestra,talks about the western tradition’s presence in Indian culture

AT the very outset of the conversation,Zane Dalal,resident conductor of Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI),attempts to explain the essence of the orchestra and its fundamental difference with respect to Indian classical music. While the latter shines in scope for improvisation,driven by artistic will and impulse,the glory of western classical music lies elsewhere. “The beauty and joy lies in making music sound as close as possible to those exact,precise notations of previous works,sometimes as old as Beethoven’s,” he says.

The September concert season of the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) and SOI,a biannual event,this time in commemoration of 60 years of Indo-German diplomacy in association with the Goethe Institut and the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce,opened last Thursday on September 20 at the Homi Bhaba Theatre at the NCPA. It is to be followed by performances on September 25 and September 30. The repertoire being featured are naturally those of the great German masters,Beethoven,Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler. Noted German conductor Christopher Poppen and Zane Dalal will conduct the performances,while it will also feature violinist Lena Neudauer and baritone Anooshah Golesorkhi.

The SOI,founded in 2006 (by NCPA Chairman Khusroo N Suntook and international violinist Marat Bisengaliev) as a part of NCPA’s western musical ambitions in the country,has been India’s first professional symphony orchestra. And since the year of its inception,Dalal has been the organisation’s resident conductor,someone who has brought in his vast experience of working with the best in the US. The presence of just eight Indians in a nearly 100-piece orchestra,he says,is driven by sheer professionalism.


“We can only take people who are good enough,and honestly,very few made the cut,” he says. The reasons,according to him,are not just the lack of western music education in the country,but also the youth’s dwindling attention spans triggered by digital revolution.

The audience has ranged from the uninitiated curious to the discerning and mature,who often surprise him by asking questions he didn’t expect them to. “Mumbai probably has a better audience for a symphony orchestra at the moment. Many come because they just want to check out what the whole buzz is about; but there are also many who’ve surprised me with their knowledge and taste in western classical music,” he says.

To bring his music closer to the audience,Dalal’s brief talk plays prelude to every performance of SOI. It enriches the experience,he says,apart from helping the audience lesser accustomed to western classical music. “It certainly helps break the barrier between the audience and the music,since background knowledge helps them appreciate it.” The Los Angeles-based conductor also held a music appreciation lecture on Gustav Mahler’s life and music on Friday.