Conversations in Western classical music

2Karl Lutchmayer’s concerts offer context, helping audiences connect with the music

Art exhibitions and museums often have audio-guides to assist visitors in understanding and contextualising what they are viewing. On one such guided-tour, British-Goan pianist Karl Lutchmayer found that it isn’t possible to offer listeners an audio-guide for Western classical music. So he created Conversational Concerts, an attempt to make classical music, oft termed a high-art, more accessible.

The last such show to be performed in the city was in May 2015 at the Prithvi theatre. And this evening, patrons get another chance to witness something new, part of Prithvi’s collaboration with the Symphony Orchestra of India, a monthly-event called SOI@Prithvi.

Speaking to The Hindu, Lutchmayersays, “Through this programme, I try to offer context and aural sign-posts to audiences, through relaxed but informative spoken introductions.” This, he says, heightens the experience, not only for the audience but also for the performer, and by breaking down its intricacies, allows the listener to connect more closely with the music.

Growing up in a musical household — his mother played the piano for him — he began formal lessons at the age of six. His aptitude for the instrument quickly became apparent, eventually leading to his entry into the Trinity College of Music’s junior department, at age nine. By the time he was 18, he was determined to become a professional pianist, having secured a place at the Royal College of Music, London.

Despite his parents’ desire for him to pursue law, the then-young pianist, persisted in his musical convictions. However, he says, triumphantly, “My parents stopped trying to convince me to choose a more stable career when I became a professor at the age of 28.”

Lutchmayer is now 47, and a professor at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, London; he also lectures at reputed music schools like Juilliard, New York. “I am particularly drawn to the eloquence and rhetoric of Liszt’s music, the evocativeness of Beethoven, and Haydn’s quirkiness,” he says. And he’s inspired by Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni, who was a key figure in the transition of piano music from the Romantic era to the 20th century. He will be performing a great deal of Busoni for his 150th anniversary this year, in Europe and the US. He also is engaged in assembling a recital of 20th century composer Leopold Godowsky’s works.

In his earlier concerts in Mumbai, Lutchmayer has presented important 19th and 20th century piano works, including an Indian premiere of Le Jardin Parfume, a masterpiece by Parsi composer Kaikhosru Sorabji.

Despite his Western musical influence, Lutchmayer has enjoyed listening to Indian classical music since childhood, and has been especially fascinated with the tabla players he saw in concerts in the UK in the 70s. “I am quite certain that had I been born in India, I would have studied tabla rather than piano,” he says. However, it was only later that he heard maestros such as Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. “When I finally got to meet Hussain in December 2015 at the NCPA, I was quite overwhelmed and star struck.”

Speaking of teaching and performing, “The two are exactly the same,” he says. “In performance, you use your experience, knowledge and imagination to bring a set of instructions — the music score — to life by drawing out all its possibilities. In teaching, you use the same three components to bring the pupil to life, musically, in drawing out his/her full potential.”

Unlike many classical musicians, Lutchmayer, loves commercial and alternative genres of music: “I formed a progressive rock band a little over a year ago: The Connoisseur.” Progressive rock, he says, is a genre that is classical in many ways, but with different instruments.

What’s on his wish list? Playing with fusion band Shakti is one. And also playing with English electronic music group The Prodigy.

Conversational Concerts, 8 pm, Prithvi Theatre, Juhu. Tickets Rs 300;

Published on The Hindu