The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Budding classical musicians take the stage once again

As the Junior Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka tunes up for their third annual concert, Smriti Daniel speaks to conductor Ananda Dabare and some members

With their annual concert just around the corner, the Junior Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka appears to have established itself quite successfully. In the three years since their first concert, they’ve become a rich pool from which new members for the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka are identified.

Taking on a challenging programme: The young players at rehearsals. Pic by Athula Devapriya

Of course, for many of these budding musicians (the youngest are only 12 years old, while the oldest are 25), the orchestra is also about enjoying good company. “We don’t normally get an opportunity to play classical music as a group,” says the orchestra’s 18-year-old leader Sulara Ferdinand Nanayakkara, pointing out that young people who enjoy such music can feel isolated. “We have lots of things to learn when it comes to playing classical music,” he adds, sharing his hope that the activities of the orchestra will generate more interest in classical music among a new generation of Sri Lankans.

The Junior Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, Ananda Dabare was himself introduced to the violin at the age of 8. An accomplished artist, he is also a dedicated teacher and says he enjoys nurturing the musicians who make up this orchestra. “A number of children come from outside Colombo,” he says, pointing out that the orchestra’s concerts represent a rare occasion for them to perform onstage in an ensemble. Of course, it’s not without its challenges. They’ve been practising since January, but they still lose members to academia as exams loom. This hasn’t stopped Mr. Dabare from being ambitious in his choice of compositions. Though the musicians are relatively untested, they’re expected to perform technical pieces that the Symphony Orchestra itself might choose.

“We’re playing music from the Baroque to the Romantic,” says Mr. Dabare, listing the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Peter Schubert, Franz Lehár and Aram Khachaturian – the man considered one of the three titans of Soviet music. Audiences can also look forward to an excerpt from the score of ‘The Sound of Music’ by Richard Rogers. The selection of 8 pieces is likely to generate an approximately 90 minute long performance for the orchestra, who will open with the ethereal Air on G-string by Bach. Sulara, who plays violin, says mastering Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite has been a challenge.

Composed in 1944, it has five movements, beginning with a waltz. “You have to practise a lot,” Sulara says, candidly. “Even though it’s the Junior Symphony Orchestra, the music we play is very difficult and advanced.” According to Sulara, the younger musicians in particular must work hard to improve so that they can master some of the more demanding compositions. “Automatically they learn a lot musically and technically.” Backing them up are a few guest performers and some like Sulara, who are themselves already members of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka. Over the years, the orchestra’s numbers have swelled and now they have nearly 40 musicians among their membership today. Having begun with just a string section, they’ve welcomed players of woodwind and brass instruments and are today a full orchestra.

The third concert of the Junior Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka will be held on July 11 at the Lionel Wendt from 7 p.m onwards. The purchase of the programme which costs Rs.200 serves as your ticket. Contact the office of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka, Tel: 2501209 for further details. Sponsors of the event are the Norwegian Embassy and Concerts Norway.

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