Play it again, for Mumbai

Jul 18, 2012, 07:37 IST | Ruchika Kher

While Western Classical music remains an integral part of Mumbai's performing arts calendar, piano recitals are witnessing increasing adulation from music aficionados, resulting in a rise in the number of live performances by Indian and international artists. Ruchika Kher explores the key behind this trend

“The piano keys are black and white, but they sound like a million colours in your mind”, is how short story writer Maria Cristina Mena described the power of the piano. This adage might hold true for Mumbai audiences who seem to have fallen in love with the piano keys. In the last couple of months, the number of piano performances in the city is testament to this trend, perhaps.

Pianists playing to a packed house at the Con Brio Festival this year

Key note for the city
The National Centre of Performing Arts (NCPA) has been instrumental in bringing down international artists including noted pianist Terry Riley and Spanish piano talent Eduardo Fernandez while French pianist Maciej Pikulski will grace the stage, come August. Other venues like The BlueFrog are happy to play catch up.

“There is definitely a growing interest for piano performances in the city, with numerous schools promoting its study as a result of which several talented musicians have emerged up on the scene. At BlueFrog, we attempt to showcase talented musicians whenever possible, hence we decided to bring piano performances for our people,” explains Malini Hariharan of BlueFrog.

1} Spanish pianist Eduardo Fernandez, who performed at the NCPA, earlier this month
2} A pianist at the Con Brio Festival, which is organised every year to give a platform to piano players
3} Sharik Hassan, who performed at the BlueFrog last night. Sharik takes part in piano performances in the city at least twice every year
4} A piano recital at St Xavier’s College.

Recently, the venue hosted two piano performances — by Canadian import Berenika and leading pianist Sharik Hassan. Hassan, who has been performing in the city for a couple of years now, admits that he has noticed an upward trend in the number of people coming in for such gigs. He believes that getting a platform works as great encouragement for artists: “For a few years now, there seems to be a steady, interested crowd that attends such performances. Then of course, some people get exposed to it when they happen to come by and begin to like it along the way. That’s how the crowd tends to grow,” elaborates Sharik.

The pianist also feels that the trend is here to stay, and is not a short-term phenomenon. He adds, “I don’t think it’s (the trend) going anywhere. Even if other forms of music take over the mass appeal, there will always be people who love this kind of music. That the audience is growing, is more encouraging.”

More concerts, more crowd
For Parvesh Java, director of the Con Brio Festival, an annual piano competition and festival held at the NCPA, this festival has been giving several young Indian musicians a platform to learn and perform alongside international pianists, he feels that interest in piano recitals is like a chicken and egg case.

“When you make these performances available, more people will be willing to come and watch them. You don’t wait for the interest in people before you organise them. Since there are several concerts being organised, an increasing number of people are coming in,” he believes. Java also tells us that because of such a sustained interest in piano recitals, youngsters are taking up piano as a profession.

“The interest in performances makes piano seem like a feasible profession. Ten years back people felt it was a ridiculous idea to take up the piano as a profession. But now, people are quite interested in giving themselves to music full time. Many young, talented Indians are taking it up full time,” he shares.

Boon for piano lovers
Piano teachers and students are happy with this development as well. While for some witnessing live performances by piano greats is a better source of knowledge for others it’s a great platform that they can hope to use in the future.
Piano teacher Adwait Biwalkar, who has been teaching students for a decade, now, gets four to five times more students these days; he believes that he owes this rise to the increase in the concerts in the recent times.

“As a teacher, I always encourage my students to go for piano performances because most of the learning happens there. When you see someone playing live, it helps you understand music more. You get to gauge several different ways of interpreting music,” informs Biwalkar, who takes classes in Andheri’s Lokhandwala area.
“The amount of people who want to learn to play the piano has showed a marked increase. Previously, I would get between 10-15 enquires a month to learn the piano; these days, it has gone up at least 4 or 5 times,” he adds.

Demand and supply
Anthony Gomes of Furtados, the over hundred-year-old music store that retails pianos puts things into perspective. Though the demand for the instrument has been going up every year, this hasn’t been a recent trend. “I don’t believe that there is a sudden increase in piano performances in the city. Piano recitals have been a healthy trend for years. However, it’s true that audiences in Mumbai are more knowledgeable now. Maybe because of the fact that we have more intelligent audiences now, we notice that more artists are willing to perform here, backed by more supporters who are willing to present these performances. This could be the reason why it seems that so much more appears to be happening in this sphere, suddenly,” he elaborates.

Piano play list
> An Italian, Bartolomeo Cristofori, invented the piano in 1698.
> The name "piano" is an abbreviation of Cristofori’s original name for the instrument: “piano et forte” meaning soft and loud.
> There are over 12,000 parts in a piano; of these 10,000 are moving.
> There is approximately 18 tons of pressure being exerted by the stretched steel piano strings. In a concert grand, it is close to 30 tons of pressure. The average string having about 160 pounds of tension. There are 230 strings inside a typical piano.
> The world’s largest piano is a Challen Concert Grand. This piano is 11 feet long, has a total string tension of over 30 tons and weighs more than a ton 

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