Mano heralds the new year with a star performanceView(s):
Good musicians always know when Mano Chanmugam is in the house. They can hear him – his hearty “hear, hear!”, his demands for an encore – ringing unabashed over the reserved applause of Sri Lankan audiences. At Hunter’s End, Mano’s stately home in Piliyandala, artistes are guaranteed an even warmer welcome. Here, Christmas still lingers in the high-ceilinged rooms, a wonderland of trees, outsized stars and glimmering decorations that plunge down from the ceiling and pause, suspended and glinting, just over your head. Each room has its own colour scheme and no less than three nativity scenes are set with statues in porcelain and clay. As Mano points out wryly, “you have to be a little mental to do something like this.”
Our host is in fine spirits, already full of plans for the next star who will grace his living room. By the time the celebrated pianist Shani Diluka arrives, the pure white, 15-foot Christmas tree will have been taken down, the heavy furniture will have been moved and row upon row of chairs laid out. She will find not one but four pianos (and two organs) waiting for her here. There will be a private concert and then one for the general public, where the artiste will perform with violinist Gabriel Le Magadure and cellist Valentin Erben.
The first time he met Shani in Colombo, Mano had just refused to lend her his grand piano. There were issues with transporting it and she made do, but Mano wished she had had a finer instrument. So the second time around, he went one step further and arranged for her concert himself – only this time, he felt she deserved a larger audience. All this adds up, so that to Mano’s mind he owes Shani something of a debt. He’s determined to get it right this February, to produce an impeccable concert to match the stature of the musician he’s recruited.
Seated in a high backed chair, his grand pianos dominating the space behind him, Mano tells us that what impressed him first was the vigour and strength Shani brought to playing Chopin’s Preludes. It was drizzling the night they went to see her in Monte Carlo, and organisers of the outdoor concert provided all attendees with raincoats. He watched, enthralled, as she conquered the notoriously challenging set of 24 Preludes. Bringing to them the vigour and strength that some assume only male pianists can attain and then elevating them with a rich, soulful interpretation that was uniquely her own. Mano knows such skills are beyond technique – they call for true heart. “She has immense sensitivity…The question is always how much soul you can put into your
performance; Shani is just unbelievable.”
Mano’s dear friend and co-visionary, Neomal de Alwis agrees. Shani he says played “effortlessly,” wringing emotion and depth out of each note. The two men spend a minute discussing the way the artiste places her fingers on the keys, and her mastery of her instrument. Their critique is informed not just by a deep appreciation of Western classical music but by their own experience – both grew up in musical families and studied the piano from a young age. “In both our natures, music plays a big part,” says Mano. Any visitor will discover, as we did, that Mano
and Neomal are perfectly paired musicians. Manning duelling grand pianos, they flow from one tune to the other without any need for discussion. One begins, the other follows without missing a beat. You can see why they keep the grand pianos handy.
Whoever is behind the instrument, Hunter’s End is a wonderful space to perform. People always assume that Mano, known as an engineer and a designer, intended that it be so. Instead it is the result of happy coincidence. When he was made a Regent of the Symphony Orchestra, Mano considered it his duty to stage a few concerts here. Cellists, flautists, opera singers and of course pianists have since claimed it for their stage. Mano is a discerning curator, his success added to by the support he has garnered not just among individuals who appreciate art, but also from the likes of BMW who stepped in to support soprano Danielle de Niese’s performances in Sri Lanka and are now collaborating with him once again as platinum sponsor of this event.
This network fuels the work of The Mano Chanmugam Music Foundation, announced last year. The foundation is based on a simple idea: to expose young Sri Lankan musicians to performers of international calibre. (When Danielle de Niese performed, one hundred deserving children were invited to watch.) Along the way, Mano would like to help build up a discriminating local audience capable of supporting professional musicians. He knows he’s playing the long game – investing so that the next generation of musicians will have a warmer welcome.
At the behest of the Mano Chanmugam Music Foundation, pianist Shani Diluka will perform in Colombo on February 14 at the Cinnamon Grand.
sTickets are available at Cappello Salon, No 5, Havelock Place, off Havelock Road, Colombo 5 and are priced at Rs.10,000, Rs. 7,500 and Rs. 5,000.