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Evgeny Bushkov plans to introduce his musicians to newer sounds

Symphony Orchestra of India's latest conductor Evgeny Bushkov talks of introducing his musicians to newer sounds while he discovers poha and medu wada

Evgeny Bushkov with wife Lialia — architect and painter — and daughter Michelle. Pic/Sneha KharabeEvgeny Bushkov with wife Lialia - architect and painter - and daughter Michelle. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

It's a dull afternoon when we meet Evgeny Bushkov at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Nariman Point. In that moment, we are stirred from the dreariness triggered by the gloomy weather. We can't say what has got our attention more - his colourful puzzle-print shirt or that he shares an uncanny resemblance with English rocker Mick Jagger. When he regales us with an amusing vignette about a recent visit to Elephanta Islands and how the locals accosted his family for photos, we have to let him know that he could have simply been mistaken for a superstar.

But, the 70s rockstar look aside, Bushkov is also a leading doyen of Western classical music. In his home country Russia, where he has served in different capacities with the State Symphony Orchestra 'Novaya Rossiya' and Saratov Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Bushkov spearheaded programmes that were considered unconventional, if not path-breaking. With the 49-year-old completing six months as resident conductor for Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), the unusualness of his programmes are already the subject of chatter at the NCPA. Just last week, he introduced Classics, a one-of-its-kind concert for children and their families.

Evgeny Bushkov with wife Lialia — architect and painter — and daughter Michelle. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Evgeny Bushkov, daughter Michelle and wife Lialia at the NCPA. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

As the SOI readies for a new season in September, Bushkov won't deny he is inching closer to his first big test. His challenge, however, is two-fold. "There is a lot of wonderful European music, which is completely unknown to the connoisseurs of Western classical music in India. And, I think it deserves to be performed," he says. Bushkov's other task involves acquainting the resident SOI musicians - with whom he practices for five hours daily - to newer pieces. "It's a good period to work with them, because they are very curious to perform all the works being suggested," he says. Having said that, Bushkov doesn't believe in imposing his will on musicians. "I understand that many of the demands that I express, are unusual for them. You have to be patient, because, for many of the local musicians, this language is seen or heard differently here. So, my test is to ensure that they fully comprehend why things are done in a certain way."

At this point, Bushkov's wife Lialia joined us. Dressed in a lime yellow sari, Lialia, the architect and painter, effortlessly strolls around the room in Indian garb. "That [the saree] is specially to please you," Bushkov jokes.

The couple and their 13-year-old daughter Michelle, who is down for the holidays, have been soaking in the Mumbai experience with childlike curiosity.

"Everything we see and do here, we haven't experienced before - whether it's the bright colours and smells on the street, the sarees or the beautiful view of the ocean. My pleasure is that I share it with my family, and because we do everything together, it's exciting," says Bushkov.

Here, Lialia is quick to mention how they only insist on eating Indian cuisine. "We deliberately refuse to take a European breakfast. But, we don't order our meals, so we never know what food they will bring on the table. It adds some kind of intrigue," says Bushkov. "Though we love the flavours of Indian food, we don't know the ingredients very often," adds Lialia innocently.

She describes the poha as "yellow rice with condiments", and calls the medu wada, an "Indian-version of bagel". "The good thing is that we can manage the spice, at least for the time being," says Bushkov. One of their favourite, however, is the Mexican paneer wrap at an American food chain. "And, we know it's an Indian wrap because there is no paneer in Mexico," Bushkov laughs. The family also tries to attend every Indian performance whenever Bushkov makes time out from rehearsals.

In January, when they first moved to Mumbai, the couple watched Feroz Abbas Khan's grand musical Mughal-e-Azam. "It was very impressive," he says. "We also went to some Indian music workshops at the Little Theatre and were mesmerised by the kathak performances."

When Michelle happened to attend one of the shows, she instantly made up her mind to take up dance lessons. The teenager, who studies in Moscow and attends both regular and music schools, where she learns the violin and piano, came down in May to learn kathak under choreographer Sanjukta Wagh. "We didn't force her. She even got ghungroos for herself," he says.

Bushkov, who has worked with orchestras across the world, and his family, are now used to living the nomadic life. "Usually, a visiting conductor comes a week before the performance and leaves after. As resident conductor here, it's a new feeling for me to not leave right after a concert," he says.

Right now, his focus, however, is to bring a new wave of interest among concertgoers, families and children. "If the audience for this music multiplies, it would be the best reward for my work."

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