Thursday, December 02, 2021

War Horses and their Orchestral Manoeuvres

The Indian Naval Symphonic Orchestra staged one of the more extraordinary concerts in recent times

Written by Suanshu Khurana |
February 13, 2017 12:05:04 am
The Indian Naval Symphonic Orchestra performing in Delhi The Indian Naval Symphonic Orchestra performing in Delhi

The age-old bugle call, trumpet sounds that have been used to signal the start and recall of a military charge — the shrill sound that would rise above the chaos and clatter of combat drum rolls that would recall the soldiers to their barracks or guide the infantry on the battlefield, the quaint ditties popular in the World Wars, patriotic pieces and the clarinet and trombone combinations used for the entertainment of the soldiers in war zones, all of them came alive at Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi on Friday in one of the more extraordinary concerts in recent times.

The Indian Naval Symphonic Orchestra, which is an internationally-acclaimed 80-piece orchestra and has acquired apex status among the other Indian military orchestras, regaled and enthralled the audience with a wide repertoire of stirring martial music, arrangements of western classical, Indian classical and other forms of contemporary popular and folk music. It is notable that the same band was the highlight of this year’s Beating Retreat Ceremony.

Conducted under the baton of Commander VC D’Cruz, the current Director of Music for Indian Navy, the concert, after a short fanfare piece titled Man of war, which was played to announce the arrival of President Pranab Mukherjee, went into The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, one of the most frequently performed operas in the world. A comic opera, it had the oboes, bassoons, the clarinets, the trumpets and a cello find a balance with the scuttling strings that created an explosive burst of energy. This was followed by Joyful skeleton, which literally had an officer dress up like a skeleton and match the notes with the orchestra on a xylophone. A piece by WG Lemon, the moment the “skeleton” began to hit the wooden bars with mallets, it created a fun moment that had everyone laughing.

The music, however, remained precise even in the fun moments. The one percussionist on the bass drums played with much gusto. The young man smiled, laughed, exchanged looks with his rather serious co-performers while playing faultless high-speed beats for 90 minutes of the concert. This was followed by Glen Miller’s iconic swing piece, In the mood. It opened with the repeated arpeggios on the saxophones and triumphantly climbed up with the trumpets and trombones. It was interesting how D’Cruz kept the original harmonies intact, not playing around with any bar anywhere. “Inserting one’s own harmonies into the works of the masters isn’t an idea that works well. So we generally do not touch the iconic pieces,” he said.

After a short attempt at Chariots of fire, the theme piece of the popular British drama, the orchestra played a piece called Fusion, based on the Carnatic classical raga Shanmuga. It had the trumpets, the saxophone and cellos work together with a flute, mridangam and the tabla. Every note was cradled carefully and given to the audience with much finesse. The flute didn’t work as well as the saxophone, but overall, the piece was lucid. This was followed by Tagore’s Ekla chalo re, dressed simply despite strong brass instruments playing it, but made sombre with a tabla and a manjeera. But it was the rousing tribute to Raj Kapoor that had much to admire. Opening with the violin prelude of Mera Naam Joker’s Jeena yahan on a saxophone, it was followed by many other ditties of the showman, and had the audience swaying along. This was followed by John Brown’s Body that was purely martial music, which in older days was used to make the soldiers return to their barracks.

The best, however, was saved for the last. Just before the tri-services song, comprising the three anthems of the three forces, a host of musicians with snare drums and multi-tenor drums marched onto the stage and drummed up a storm. The ferocious drumming, a reverse moonwalk and some dance moves had the audience applauding.
The evening concluded with Kavi Iqbal’s Saare Jahan se achha and the national anthem. Military bands are sometimes, now, referred to as colonial remnants, playing music to nourish the morale of the forces. But there is something more there. There’s the spirit, like that of the bass drummer, there’s precision, like that of the entire brass section and there’s music, not just the ruffles and flourishes, but the kind that lets the military overcome the darkest of times.

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