Western Classical Music: Remembering Our Greats!


Parsi Times brings you our monthly column promoting Western Classical Music by leading connoisseur, Khushroo Suntook, Chairman of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). Mr. Suntook re-acquaints you to the joys of this unparalleled form of music and invites us to relive its melodic splendour by taking us on a journey into exploring and falling in love with the great Western Classical Music form.

So far we have attempted in these columns to interest people into the love of music by way of the various methods suggested thr ough these musings.  It is, of course, necessary to document the various Parsis who have championed the cause of the great Western Classical Music, either in their capacities as teachers and guides or alternatively, institutions like the Gramophone Society, or better still the Bombay Madrigal Singers Organisation and the Time and Talents Club who ‘promote the cause’ by encouraging performers supporting the infrastructure necessary, and giving Mumbai at the least, the semblance of a music season.

Many veterans of these organisations deserve mention. The unique Bombay Madrigal Singers Organisation had a small office at 9 Oak Lane, Fort, which kept some of their office material and sold tickets and literally ran the organisation from this wonderful little cultural pocket in the middle of the busy commercial Fort area! It was managed by a bunch of extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable Parsis and a few very talented Catholic performers.

The heart of the organisation comprised largely people including Roshan and Naval Havaldar, Homai and Homi Bilpodiwala, Hoshi Vazifdar, their conductor Caesar Coelho, and many others who had the incredible passion (without any substantial means) in bringing artistes of the calibre of (hold your breath) – Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, Isaac Stern, Igor Oistrakh and many others, and as if that was not enough, some orchestras too!

How did they do it in those days when there was no internet; when the access of information was limited and communication was comparatively not as convenient? Two words sum it up – pure passion. It really can conquer mountains and chief among the mid’60s, or for a couple of decades, my admiration for this group is undiminished.

Oh, I forget! They even staged 4 or 5 operas at the Tejpal Auditorium, Gowalia Tank Road in the ‘60s with fine singers comprising local talents and some invited guests. Celia Baptista Lobo and Fay Ferreira were the local stars, whereas for the male parts, artistes such as Luigi Infantino, Paolo Silveri and David Parkar were successfully induced to come. The orchestra was a pick-up band of musicians conducted by Caesar Coelho, who also doubled as a prompter when required. Wonderful evenings, greatly appreciated!


Shirin Merchant
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