Sounds of Stuttgart

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 26 March 2019

The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra will be performing in the city on Thursday. Its director Markus Korselt gives us details about the concert, which will also see the world premiere of Sandeep Bhagwati’s work — Vistar

In 1945, soon after the Second World War ended, Karl Münchinger formed Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, an ode to his war-raved home city, Stuttgart. For seven decades now, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (SCO) has held a prominent position in the international orchestral world. Münchinger, who was principal conductor of the orchestra for over 40 years, was able to attract a small group of élite players in the early days to realise his vision of a completely new and exemplary way of interpreting works by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Viennese classicists. 

The orchestra is currently on its India tour and will be performing in Pune on Thursday evening at Susie Sorabji Auditorium. Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan Pune, in collaboration with the Poona Music Society, is presenting the live concert. It includes a variety of classical masterpieces under the direction of concertmaster Bogdan Božovi and will feature works of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach — Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048; Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043; Johannes Brahms — Symphony for Strings No 2 in G major, Op. 111 and Sandeep Bhagwati — Vistar (world premiere). 
We catch up with Markus Korselt, director of SCO to know more details...

Can you tell us how the formation of orchestra changed the image of Stuttgart? How did the residents react to it then and how do they do it now?
Quite soon after its first concert in September 1945, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra became an essential part of the artistic life of Stuttgart. As the first Western classic orchestra and also the cultural ambassador of Stuttgart, it travelled to many countries such as China, Nepal, formerly Soviet Union. 

People in Stuttgart became proud of their orchestra and its international success under chief conductor Karl Munchinger. They perhaps felt a little re-established after the Second World War. Today in Stuttgart, SCO is widely accepted as a ‘musical heritage’ and also as the most innovative orchestra in town. Concerts with artificial intelligence, developing musical computer gaming and creating virtual reality recordings of performances are a few of the recently established projects beside ‘normal’ concerts.

Has improved technology helped you in retaining the original sound/s?
We studied original lectures from the period of the pieces we play. There you get an idea of how to play this music. We also use historic equipment of the respective period like baroque bows.

Can you tell us about the composition of the musicians in the orchestra? What is the selection process?
The orchestra consists of 17 musicians from various nations like Germany, Hungary, Japan, China, Poland, The Netherlands, Turkey and Spain. If we have a vacancy, we announce internationally and then hold audition. If about 130 people apply, we invite 30 of them with interesting CV’s to come to Stuttgart. In Stuttgart, they have to play the whole day and after this we decide who was the best player.

Can you tell us about Vistar by Sandeep Bhagwati? How was his work commissioned?
We asked him to compose a work which combines Indian and Western influences. In his own words: “Vistar is a pair of compositions for string orchestra that can be performed separately or simultaneously. Vistar (Tanpura) can be played even by amateur musicians — it yields a rich and ever-changing drone. Vistar (Prakriya) is for a professional orchestra — a cosmos of melodies that slowly unfold. Both scores, while written out, also depend on significant creative contributions by the performers — what I call ‘comprovisations’.

“In 2011, I learnt that my friend and mentor Dr Ashok Da Ranade, India’s eminent musicologist, passed away. In a spontaneous outburst, I wrote a collection of melodies inspired by various ragas, a piece called ‘Alaap for Ashok’. On the score sheets, I arranged these melodies in a non-hierarchical fashion, so that musicians performing the music could freely switch from one to another, go back, jump ahead. Each melody was also labelled to evoke a particular behaviour of improvisation: ...Remember melodies should incorporate well-known older melodies that mean something to the player. Melodies should be improvised in an experimental way that extrapolated their inner quirks into a new mode of playing etc.”

Many versions of this score have been performed, by Indian performers such as Dhruba Ghosh and Sameer Dublay, and also by cellist and ensembles of Western music. Vistar (Prakriya) is a new version, a new unfolding of this multivalent score, the composer’s version for string orchestra, so to speak. Vistar (Prakriya) “means Elaboration (Process)”, and the score elaborated upon is the ‘Alaap for Ashok’ —  re-imagined and notated for this occasion.”

Will you be commissioning works of other artists as well?
We play every year some commissioned works. It’s important to be state of the art and not to play only repertoire of the past.

Will you be including any Indian sounds during your concerts here? 
Actually, Vistar is strongly influenced by Indian classic music. And we prepared a special encore, which is in fact a Bollywood song …

You have nearly 90 concerts in a year. How’s life-on-the go?
Last year we had 101 concerts, it was really tough. We play and rehearse very intensely because we share so much time together. It puts some pressure on the orchestra but at the same time it really helps in developing a unique sound.

Do you collaborate with other musicians during your travel? 
We do a lot of social and education concerts. We collaborated with orphans in Kolkata, which was very touching. In Bengaluru, we took part in the unique social programme of Bosch company. They take care of thousands of underprivileged children. In Mumbai, we will play with young musicians from Mehli Mehta Foundation and Songbound Choir.

ST Reader Service
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra - Live on March 28, 7 pm at Susie Sorabjee auditorium, St Helena’s School

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