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Symphony Orchestra Of India | © National Center for the Performing Arts, Mumbai
Symphony Orchestra Of India | © National Center for the Performing Arts, Mumbai
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The Symphony Orchestra Of India: Western Music With An Eastern Edge

Picture of Sridevi Nambiar
Updated: 11 November 2016
India’s first and only fully professional symphony orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) turned ten this year. Based out of Mumbai’s National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA), the SOI has performed around India and the world, steering in a new era of orchestral music for India.

The SOI was founded in 2006 by Khushroo Suntook, the Chairman of the National Center for the Performing Arts, along with Marat Bisengaliev, acclaimed violinist. Bisengaliev, who is from Kazakhstan, has served as Music Director from the orchestra’s inception, with London-born Zane Dalal serving as Associate Music Director. Prior to taking the role, Dalal had served as the Resident Conductor – a role now fulfilled by Warsaw native Piotr Borkowski.

Combining talented musicians from India, Europe, the rest of Asia and elsewhere, the SOI offers a truly global musical experience to its audiences in India and abroad. More importantly, it gives an increasing number of Indian musicians the platform to perform along with accomplished global artists and in front of audiences around the world.

In the span of just ten years, the SOI has performed in several premiere musical platforms around the world, including at the Columned Hall of Moscow, the Royal Opera House Muscat, the Emirates Palace Auditorium in Abu Dhabi, as well as at the Tonhalle in Zurich, Victoria Hall in Geneva, and the Tonhalle, St. Gallen in Switzerland. The orchestra has also worked with renowned conductors from around the world, including the likes of Lior Shambadal, Alexander Anissimov, Yuri Simonov, Christoph Poppen, Charles Dutoit, Karl Jenkins, Adrian Leaper, Johannes Wildner, Mischa Damev, and Rafael Payare.

Among memorable performances by the SOI is Peshkar, a first of its kind tabla concerto with acclaimed Indian tabla player and musical producer Zakir Hussain. The concerto – which premiered in Mumbai in September 2015, belnding Eastern and Western musical traditions like never before – was a landmark event in global classical music. The SOI had also accompanied bassist Edgar Meyer and banjoist Béla Fleck along with Zakir Hussain at their triple concerto, Melody of Rhythm in 2013 – another groundbreaking event in the history of professional orchestra playing in India.

While the orchestra primarily performs in two series of concerts hosted in February and September every year, a core group of musicians are resident at the NCPA all year round. The SOI serves as the pit orchestra for the NCPA’s various opera, ballet and chamber music productions. Some of the large-scale productions – including fully staged operas by the SOI and NCPA – include Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. In Mumbai, the SOI also performs quite frequently at the famous Prithvi Theater in Juhu as part of the SOI@Prithvi series.

The SOI seeks to promote the professional pursuit of music by young people in India, and therefore has many of its musicians also working as teachers. The NCPA also hosts professional teaching programs for young musicians among its many educational initiatives.