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Symphony in Freedom Park

NCPA@The Park brings cultural events to Bengaluru in its first outing beyond Mumbai

A performance at NCPA@ ThePark in Mumbai in February.
A performance at NCPA@ ThePark in Mumbai in February.

The pandemic forced the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, to step outdoors. In early 2022, the cultural institution, which had, so far, restricted itself largely to auditoriums and other indoor spaces, found that most of its patrons were still wary of being in crowds indoors. “We had met with Ashwini Bhide (additional municipal commissioner, BMC), who encouraged us to explore outdoor spaces around Mumbai and helped us get permissions, etc. Finally, in March 2022, we organised the first NCPA @The Park show at the Bandstand Promenade,” recalls Albert Almeida, consultant, chairman’s office, NCPA.

Since then, the institution has organised seven outdoor shows around Mumbai, at venues such as Shivaji Park, Narali Baug and Bandra Fort. And now, it’s stepping outside Mumbai itself in its first ever “away” show—at Freedom Park in Bengaluru—this weekend. Starting tonight, NCPA regulars will present four programmes over the weekend, including a performance by the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), India’s only professional orchestra founded in 2006 by NCPA chairman Khushroo N. Suntook and violinist Marat Bisengaliev, with the latter also serving as its music director.

The other performances are by UnErase Poetry, which specialises in spoken word (Simar Singh, Priyanshi Bansal and Vanika Sangtani, accompanied by musician Abhin Joshi); Odissi exponent Ratikant Mohapatra’s Srjan performing neo-classical dance drama Deesha; and pop-rock band Darren Das & The Sixth Sense.

Freedom Park, where the two-day show will be held, is an iconic open-air venue in Bengaluru—the site of many political protests and formerly the city’s Central Jail. Although it is a hub of cultural activities, it has perhaps never hosted a full-scale symphony orchestra before. In fact, prior to the pandemic breaking boundaries in many ways, most of us would only associate a symphony orchestra with vast auditoriums and galleries, but making music accessible is something that the NCPA has always believed in, says Almeida. “In India, not many people listen to symphonic music, and awareness of Western classical music is low. However, each time the SOI has performed out of doors, it has been rousing and popular. It’s also because the orchestra plays everything from Mozart and Brahms to catchy and popular tunes that come as a surprise to the audience,” says Almeida.

What about the acoustics, though? Is it not difficult to get it right in the open-air, especially for musicians used to the acoustical environment of a concert hall? “Well it was challenging at first,” says Almeida. “But over half-a-dozen open-air performances in Mumbai, our technical and production teams as well as the musicians have figured out ways to recreate the magic of a closed space without compromising on the sound.”

As a free, non-ticketed event, NCPA @ The Park is collaborating with the Bangalore International Centre (BIC) and a few corporate sponsors, and is also associated with the launch of BLR Hubba, a cultural festival in Bengaluru. “We are pleased that NCPA’s first foray outside Mumbai is to delight the Bengaluru audiences. This is in sync with our desire to revitalise our common public spaces by making them come alive,” says V. Ravichandar, chief facilitator, BLR Hubba and former director, BIC.

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