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Schubert in Saligao, Ravel in Delhi


Japanese pianist Kumi Matsuo looks forward to her first concert in India.

Winter is here and so is western classical music. A talented vocalist-pianist pair from London set off on a concert tour of India.

Come December, and a pair of rising young talents in their mid-twenties will serenade India, putting to rest the notion that western classical music is the preserve of white-haired folk. The melodies of Bach, Lizst and Ravel will float through Delhi and Goa as Indian soprano Joanne-Marie D'Mello and Japanese pianist Kumi Matsuo set out to prove that the future of this exquisite form of music is in safe hands.

Both musicians are studying in London. D'Mello, 23, from Saligao in Goa (the village of the great artist F N Souza), is studying voice at the Royal College of Music, although she maintains that microbiology, which she has a degree in, is her first love. "It was either music or science, " she says. "I could not have my feet in both boats and try to be as good as I would like to be in both fields at the same time. Singing is a full-time job and if you really want to achieve a high standard you must give it all your attention."

D'Mello, who is known for her versatility (she plays violin and piano and sang briefly for a symphonic metal band apart from representing Goa at the Republic Day parade as a cadet), has performed extensively in India. However, this will be the first tour for Kumi Matsuo, who is justifiably excited at the prospect. Matsuo, 26, is an accomplished concert pianist who has played along with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, as well as given a recital at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

D'Mello draws a line between an instrumentalist and a singer. "As a singer, you are left entirely with what you were born with, " she says. "It's all the more difficult in London as a singer is useless without his/her voice, and hence the importance of keeping colds at bay. You must guard your health like a fanatic. It's easy to pick up viruses from millions of people passing through London. Singing is a very personal thing. You have no object to cling on to, no music stand to hide you. You have to face your audience and bare your soul! It can be nerve-wracking ! It takes a great deal of effort and practice to be able to do that. " The pianist and the singer met by chance when D'Mello wanted a pianist for an audition some years ago. "Since then, we have done countless recitals together - at college and outside. She has accompanied me at auditions, competitions and my exams. She's a very intuitive pianist who is very sensitive to my singing and understands my ways. " Matsuo also painstakingly translates the text of the each song before performing them. As a result, she puts the poetry into each and every phrase and that's what brings each song to life. For all these reasons and more, "it was the logical choice to invite Kumi on this tour", D'Mello adds. Both the concerts will feature Matsuo doing a solo part.

For D'Mello, the Goa stop of the tour will be the special one. "I am really looking forward to our recital at the Kala Academy on December 11. For me it's home ground, having studied music there for so many years!" Yet, despite choosing music as a career, she remains practical about its prospects in India. "I know that currently performing western classical music in Goa is not a career option. Whereas in Europe you could freelance with any of the hundreds of orchestras, choral societies, and make a living out of it. " So is it easier there? "No", she says;"There's a lot of competition and it can be quite a struggle, especially during these dark economic times where huge cuts are being made and the arts are suffering. The only way to save the arts is through private sponsorship and efforts are being made to turn the situation around. But more needs to be done and soon. "

The concerts will be held at Kala Academy, Goa on December 11, and at the Alliance Francaise, Delhi on December 14.

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