The sound of stars
Pulsars are mysterious heavenly bodies out there in space. A highly magnetised neutron star, the pulsar is a little heavier and larger than our sun, and beams out radiation that is received as pulses of sound when these beams cross the earth, the same way light beams from a lighthouse cause flashes in the night sky.
The sound of neutron stars is mysterious. It goes like a grand cosmic percussion ensemble in space. Now what could all this have to do with a violin recital?
Well, if you are a highly gifted and star-struck violinist like Sara Michieletto, then it would make for an ideal backdrop for a violin recital, especially this year, which has been declared by the UN as the International Year of astronomy. The pulsar stars made for a riveting backdrop to Sara’s violin recital, as much for their sound as for the thoughts they elicited on space. Pulsar stars, among other astronomical entities, have long been a passion with this young violinist. “But it was Dr N Rathnasree of the Nehru Planetarium, Delhi, who first gave me this idea,” she informs. The sounds of pulsars have been mixed and edited by Sara’s friend back home, Dr Luigi Parise. The concerts that she is currently presenting across the country this year takes ideas from stellar evolution.
This violinist, whose concerts are famous around the world, is currently living in India to carry on the project ‘The Strains of Violin in India’, under the patronage of Venice-based La Fenice Theatre. A double headed project, La Fenice Theatre seeks to achieve two things through this project. Firstly, to introduce us Indians to the very rarely heard and even much less understood Venetian classical music; and then, there is a more creative and thoughtful initiative — to get unprivileged children in slums in Chennai to get a taste and feel for Venetian chamber music, experience it, and thereby be moved to express out their untold thoughts and feelings. Music induced catharsis? Incidentally, Sara has also worked with Indian women to help ease them out of the stifling walls of ‘correctness’ that has been ingrained in most of our women, and get them back in touch with their emotional selves.
So, here she is, living in Chennai for the good part of the year. In between holding workshops with slum kids in dingy rooms at Chennai’s Gandhinagar slum where she plays the violin to vociferous kids, she flies off to Mumbai, Delhi and other cities to play in hushed, carpeted auditoriums. “I have to go back to Venice for the next two months, though — it is concert time there, you see,” she informs.
Sara studied under the guidance of Maestro Giuseppe Volpato, a disciple of the famous Venetian school of violin, and later under Salvatore Accardo and Franco Gulli, two other wizards of Venetian music. As vocalist Bhai Baldeep Singh who was part of a jugalbandi at Mumbai with Sara, (with the pulsar stars, of course, for additional company) puts it, “Sara represents the lineage of class.” At Goa, she played at Panjim’s famous Church of the Immaculate, where she was gracious enough to acknowledge, “This Church with all those marvellous steps has been standing here in the heart of this wonderful city for longer than the oldest music I am playing tonight.” Sara’s recitals include rarely heard pieces like those composed by Tomaso Albinoni, three of the 12 famous capriccios of Francesco Guarnieri, Giuseppe Tartini’s ‘Allegro Assai’, besides contemporary pieces like Nildo Sanvido’s ‘Sur Place’.
Since 1998, Sara has been working in Venice, in the first violins for Venice’s grand Orchestra ‘Gran Teatro La Fenice’, where she has also collaborated as principal assistant. Very fond of chamber music, she has — on and off — formed three ensembles on her own: The Kairos String Quartett (1991-1997), the Michieletto-Penzo violin and piano duo (1990-1996) and ‘La Fenice String Trio’ (from 1998). Having given recitals across the world — Japan, China, India, France, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, England, Spain, Hungary, Denmark, Palestine, USA, Mozambique, Kenya, Eritrea, Brazil — how does it feel to be performing in India? “Fabulous,” she says.
She also finds many similarities in Indian and Italian classical music. For instance, she finds that certain strains of Si and Fa (Italian equivalent of Indian ma and nee) are similar to our Raag Narayani. But on a holistic perspective, she feels that Indian and Italian classical music differ on the moods they evoke. “I feel that Indian music is tuned more to spirituality, while western music is more passionate. But then, that is a generalisation, and generalisations are often inaccurate,” she hastens to add.
She is also adept to analyze just why Indians play the violin sitting down while westerners play it standing up. “Indian music demands a lot of variations (by this, she refers to our gammakas). This calls for extensive finger movement down the entire longitudinal stretch of the string, whereas western music is more of the resounding type, with more emphasis on moving the bow across the four strings.” She did try learning carnatic music, but gave it up as “it seemed unfair to give so less time to it when it demanded much more.”
For Sara, it was more exciting to play before kids who have never heard the violin or seen it performed. At Chennai, her workshops with slum kids have been a heady experience so far. There is an interpreter around to help Sara communicate with these kids. But then again, her music is perhaps a better understood language.