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The Symphony Orchestra of India

Icons At The NCPA

A photo essay of the prominent artistes that have performed at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in its 50-year-long history

March 2020     |     518 words     |     2-minute read

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“A strong cultural sector would reflect the character of a nation," says NCPA chairman Mr KN Suntook. "It defines who we are, and it reflects to the world the manner in which we present ourselves; it is a civilising influence and is an essential element of society if a nation is to achieve greatness."

These ideals reflect in his founding of the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) in 2006 with legendary violinist Marat Bisengaliev as its music director. The SOI — a full symphony orchestra that plays both orchestral and operatic pieces from the complete Western classical music repertoire — has musicians from different corners of not just India but from around the globe. Touring opportunities are now open for both the SOI and Indian musicians.

But the SOI is just one of many artistes and groups to have graced the stage of the NCPA over its 50-year long history.

NCPA chairman Mr KN Suntook, music director (SOI) Marat Bisengaliev and assistant music director (SOI) Zane Dalal share a light moment
Musicians practicing backstage before a SOI concert in September 2019

In its earliest days, the NCPA's one-of-its-kind auditorium at Akash Ganga was primarily designed as a recording studio where the artists performed before a live audience. Taking Dr Bhabha’s dream of the archival project forward, legendary artists who recorded here included Ali Akbar Khan, Ahmad Jaan Thirakawa, Parveen Sultana and others. Dancers like Damayanti Joshi and the Jhaveri sisters performed here.

A performance of La Bohème — Giacomo Puccini’s beloved opera — with live sound by the SOI at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre in February 2017 (left); scene from Shakuntala, a play featuring Archana Joglekar, directed by Vijaya Mehta, Tata Theatre, 1985

The list of eminent artists who have performed at these prestigious venues is endless. Amongst them are Kishori Amonkar, Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Girija Devi, Zubin Mehta, Carlo Rizzi, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Mallika Sarabhai, along with plays by Vijaya Mehta, PL Deshpande, Adi Merzban and others.

The Piramal Gallery (1987), a later addition, holds frequent exhibitions and workshops on photography, while various films and screenings from performing art institutions and art galleries from across the world are held at the Godrej Dance Theatre regularly.

Kathak exponents Aditi Mangaldas (left) and Birju Maharaj. Mangaldas performs with her troupe at the Charishnu dance festival, conceptualised and directed by Bharatnatyam maestro Leela Samson at the JBT in August 2019; Maharaj in a performance at Tata Theatre in 1980
Odissi danseuse Sonal Mansingh in performance, Tata Theatre, 1980 (left); a performance by contemporary dancer and choreographer Astad Deboo for Rhythmn Divine II (Contemporary Dance Season) Experimental Theatre, December 2014
Zakir Hussain with his father Ustad Allah Rakha in a jugalbandi performance
Vocalist MS Subbulakshmi with her tanpura, Tata Theatre, 1983
Ustad Bismillah Khan playing the shehnai with his troupe, Tata Theatre, 1980 (left); violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, one of the earliest Western musicians to perform at the NCPA

Photographs and text by Tejal Pandey

This is the second and final part in a two-part series on the 50th Anniversary of the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Read Part One here.

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