Tanya wants to mentor young musicians back home
Dr. Tanya Ekanayaka brought her listeners to their feet in a standing ovation when she made her debut at the Kennedy Center in May this year. Not only was the audience one of the largest on record at the venue, the number was expanded exponentially by those who tuned in from around the world to listen to the Center’s live internet broadcast. Now fresh from her triumph, Tanya is set to perform at the upcoming Colombo Music Festival and says she’d like to find ways to support young pianists in Sri Lanka.
Tanya is distinguished not just by her interest in music, but her accompanying dedication to the study and teaching of linguistics. In fact, since 2007 she has worked part-time as a lecturer in both the music and linguistics departments at the Edinburgh University in Scotland. She’s unusual in other ways as well – her style of playing is built on her ambidextrousness (she can write with either hand) and her composition is influenced by a mild synaesthesia (when she sees a colour she associates it with a sound). The latter was one of the things she didn’t want to advertise when she was younger – “I thought people would think I was mad,” she says, laughing. She also kept quiet about her forays into composing on the piano – this time because she was shy. “No one knew. I would make sure I was alone,” she says.
However, beginning with her debut performance at age 12, she’s had to overcome that natural reserve. With the help of her teachers – her mother Indira Ekanayaka and later Mrs. Bridget Halpe – she progressed rapidly. It’s been six years since Tanya left to study and work abroad, but she has kept her Sri Lankan passport and returns home regularly. We meet her in her sprawling house in Pitakotte and from where we sit on the verandah we can see her piano in a pride of place in their long living room. Even now, she may spend three hours or more a day practising on it but it’s more than a matter of discipline, instead it is absolutely essential to her wellbeing. Music remains a vital part of her life, and the perfect expression of her individuality.
This is never more evident than in her original compositions. She debuted ‘Adahas: of Wings of Roots’ – at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London in 2010. It was the first composition by a Sri Lankan to be featured at the prestigious venue where Tanya gave a solo recital as part of their ‘Pianists of the World’ series. More recently, at the Kennedy Center, it was another world premiere but this time of two pieces – Labyrinth; Vannam Lent, an adaptation of the Hanuma Vannama and Dhaivaya: Alter(ing) Hue, which was based on a familiar Sri Lankan hymn, both drawn from Tanya’s love for the music she grew up with. Tanya is pleased to have been invited back to perform again at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Count in the performance at the Asia Society Concert Hall in New York in June and you’ll see her calendar this year is all but splitting at the seams – she’ll be visiting Sri Lanka again in November and has another concert scheduled in Hong Kong as well as a possible concert in Edinburgh.
Still, she’d like to make the time to mentor young musicians in Sri Lanka. Growing up in Kandy, she always felt far from the action in Colombo. She knows the challenges would-be concert pianists face – the expense of classes and equipment, the lack of proper guidance, the dearth of opportunities to perform, a feeling of isolation from an elitist community, she ticks them all off. She’d like to do her part by throwing open her studio to students of music. She plans to hold piano performance workshops in August for groups of 10-12. “I hope to hold about four workshops in total,” she says.
In the meantime, local audiences will have the pleasure of listening to a part of the programme she played at the Kennedy Center at the Colombo Music Festival. “One of the pieces will be my composition ‘Dhaivaya: Alter(ing) Hue’,” she promises.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further details or visit her website www.tanyaekanayaka.com. Catch Tanya at the Colombo Music Festival on the 24th for ‘Classical Works’ at Water’s Edge.
The event will also feature Ramya De Livera, Soundarie David, Ananda Dabare and Sureka Amerasinghe. Tickets are priced at Rs.3,000, Rs.2,000 and Rs. 1,000 and are available at Park Street Mews / Harpo’s Dutch Hospital/ Hilton/Galadari/Dwellings/Water’s Edge.
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