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Coming back to her roots

Kala Academy and Goa University under the Anthony Gonsalves Chair in Western Music will organise a piano concert by Goan origin, US-based Lara Saldanha. She will perform pieces from masters like Debussy, Liszt, Chopin, and Indian composer Param Vir. NT BUZZ chats up with her
Janice Rodrigues| NT BUZZ
Goan origin Lara Saldanha has been playing the piano ever since she was a little girl, and has now taken her talent to the US. Passionate about using her music for social causes, she also aims at making classical music more accessible to the public and involving more youth in it. Down in India for a family visit she is making the best of the trip and will be performing at three locations – Goa Bombay and Pune. Her performance in Goa is scheduled to be at Kala Academy on December 30 at 10.30 a.m.

Q. Can you tell us something about the performance to be held in Goa?
About six months ago, I had the idea of doing a performance or two while I’m in India visiting family for the holidays. I was so overwhelmed by the positive reception I’ve received so far. Playing in my country of origin is a very meaningful experience for me. It will be my first time in my 18 years of studying the piano that I’ve played for my family in India, so it will be a fun week of seeing them in the audience in Goa, Bombay, and Pune.
I will be playing works by Couperin, Debussy, Liszt, and Chopin as well as a miniature by Indian-born composer Param Vir. The first half is organised around the idea of the 18th century French dance suite. Couperin’s “orders” are the masterpieces of the era, and Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque is a beautiful re-imagination of the form from the turn of the 20th century. The second half shows how two of masters of 19th century piano music, Chopin and Liszt, turned poetry – Petrarch’s sonnets and the ballade – into music.

Q. When and how did you get attracted to music?
I started piano lessons the week of my sixth birthday and have not stopped playing since! I was fortunate to grow up in cities that have a rich heritage of the arts and was constantly inspired by live performances around me.
I spent my childhood with my nose buried in books and when I was 10, I started studying with a teacher who connected music with history, art and culture – all the things I loved to read bout. Music to me is endlessly fascinating because of its connection to almost every field of study –history, math, literature, psychology, economics, politics, and more – all while being such an organic and universal part of our lives.

Q. You’ve graduated in economics and music, how did you balance that?
Many colleges in the US, such as my alma mater Northwestern University, offer dual-degree programmes. This allows you to study music and an academic subject simultaneously. It is a tricky balance and a funny existence when you are running from music theory to developmental economics class, but Northwestern was very encouraging of it. As disparate as these two fields may seem, my degree in Economics has had an enormous influence on how I operate as a pianist and a unique insight into understanding how the music industry works.
Q. You’ve been studying music in The New School’s Mannes School of Music in New York City, and in the Geneva Conservatory of Music in Switzerland in the past, is there any difference between the two; maybe in the methods of teaching or the way the two function?
Geneva Conservatory was a pre-college programme which I did while in high school, while Mannes is a conservatory within a university. While Europe of course has a much longer history of classical music, many European musicians have immigrated to the US so teaching methods are not as different as one might expect. After all, the music is the same, regardless of the language in which it is taught. The major difference is that in Europe arts education is very heavily subsidised by the government while in the US it is much more reliant on private non-profit institutions such as universities.

Q. You’ve won a lot of competitions, which one do you consider your greatest achievement and why?
I played in a competition once with a sprained ankle (which made it hard to pedal) and on a separate occasion with a sprained thumb! Just making it through those performances was an achievement and I’ve learned to be very careful before concerts. Competitions are a great way to gain performance experience and exposure, but having a performance that is really true to the score and the composer’s intentions is to me the greater achievement.

Q. What are your thoughts about the western classical music in India today?
The classical music scene in India has seen really stunning growth in the last 5-10 years that I have been following it. In working with Kala Academy, Goa University, Furtados and Poona Music Society in the last six months to organise the three concerts I am playing, I have become even more aware of the interest, talent and potential that exists. My hope is that there is a more consistent exchange of talent between India and the United States. Now that I have a taste of what exists here, I am hoping to come back to India more frequently to help catalyse this.

Q. You’ve performed in various venues and lived in 10 cities across six countries; can you share some memorable experiences about any of them? Which place do you look forward to performing at for a future time?
In Geneva the prizes for the Geneva Conservatory Chopin competition were tickets to see Krystian Zimmerman, one of the greatest interpretators of Chopin, playing an all-Chopin recital in the General Assembly hall of the United Nations! As for future performances, I am interested in performing in places with growing classical music scenes – whether it is in Asia or parts of the United States which are underserved by the current classical music infrastructure.

Q. Your bio says that you are passionate about using the power of music for social causes. Could you please elaborate?
In high school I fundraised for the Snehasadan homes for street children in Mumbai by playing concerts in Cincinnati and Geneva. That is a simple example but there are amazing organisations around the world that use arts education as a way to lift children out of poverty. The focus and discipline that they acquire learning an instrument can decrease high school drop-out rates significantly. This is something that I would love to get involved with in the future as it grows in the United States and around the world.

Q. Can you tell us something about how would you work towards making classical music accessible to all people?
While I was living in Seattle last year, I started performing in Groupmuses or “classical music house concert-parties.” These are concerts that are hosted in apartments, with as many people as can fit sitting right next to the musicians. I love playing in traditional venues as well, but the great thing about these new formats of presenting classical music is that they are a much more laid-back introduction to this genre of music particularly for young people who may not frequent the symphony. This is by no means the only solution, but finding creative ways to make an art form that is hundreds of years old current is not only vital work, but very fun. I got to tell the stories behind the pieces I was playing and have a dialogue with my audience, all over delicious food and drinks!

(Lara Saldanha will perform in Goa at Kala Academy on December 30 at 1030 a.m. for further details contact Nandesh Naik – 7769092893. The programme is being organised by the Kala Academy and Anthony Gonsalves Chair in Western Music, Goa University)

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