Nikhil Sardana: What is the Gharana Music Festival? How did you come about conceptualising this?
Daniel Linden: The Gharana Music Festival is an opportunity for music lovers and music students in Nepal to attend world-class concerts, workshops and masterclasses given by Nepali and international artists of the highest level. Over the course of a concentrated five-day span – audiences, students and those looking to become exposed to new sounds and musical concepts experience a diverse variety of classical and traditional music from around the world and get a chance to work closely with some of the leading artists in their field.
Since 2009 I have spent the majority of my time in Nepal and became immersed in the Kathmandu music scene as a teacher and a classical guitarist collaborating with a variety of musicians. Music is everywhere in Kathmandu, and there is a fantastic, well-established Eastern classical music scene. But opportunities to learn about Western classical music were almost non-existent. I had students who were genuinely seeking such an education, and I sensed it was the right time to create a platform were classical traditions from all over the world, including South Asia, were presented by very high-level musicians within one artistic and intellectual space.
NS: How has your background helped shape your festival and where is it headed?
DL: I am a classical guitarist with an education from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and because the guitar is extremely popular and accessible in Nepal, it was a very convenient way for me to start creating a link to classical music on a broader spectrum. When forming the lineup for the first Gharana Music Festival in 2015, I quickly thought of a few guitarist friends, some who I had gone to college with, and a former teacher of mine who had a big impact on me. I was able to incorporate some local musicians trained in Eastern classical music as well, but it was primarily a classical guitar festival. Even at that time, though, I knew I wanted to branch out far beyond guitar, and for our second festival I was very pleased that we presented a total of twenty-seven musicians from seven countries performing, primarily as chamber music ensembles, with instruments including guitar, violin, cello, piano, didgeridoo and a wide variety of Eastern classical instruments and Nepali folk instruments. This is the direction in which I envision the festival to develop.
NS: What is the present performing arts scene in Nepal? Are audiences interested in classical music?
DL: Great strides are being made in the arts as a whole in Nepal, including the performing arts. Jazz has been coming up for many years now, and there continues to be an increasing interest is the revival of traditional instruments. There are several outstanding theatre groups as well, and one of them recently formed an international collaboration with world-class vocalists and musicians, together with aspiring students, under the direction of San Francisco Opera director Jonathan Khuner in order to produce the Nepal’s first fusion opera, Arjuna’s Dilemma. There is a newly formed string quartet in Kathmandu, which I think is also a first, and a string orchestra of thirty members. So people are becoming increasingly interested in classical music and we were very pleased with the attendance at our concerts this year. The reaction from audiences is overwhelmingly positive too, so that inspires us to keep moving forward.
NS: Why is music and its education important?
DL: It might be a cliché to say this, but music is the international language, and I have to say it because I have never found anything to be truer. There are also, of course, the more technical reasons, like how it helps brain development and concentration in other areas academically, but the connection it forms between people is far deeper. I have always struggled to describe this, because I didn’t want to pretend that music can magically save the world, but then I heard something very profound at our festival from classical guitarist Paul Cesarczyk. Dr. Cesarczyk, who said he was paraphrasing Leonard Bernstein, said, “Music doesn’t change the world, but music changes people, and people change the world”.
Another brilliant guitarist, Brendan Evens, described how too many of us, as humans, feel that we are all different from each other, in the sense that we are part of one group as opposed to another, but how there is simply no place for this concept in music. It simply doesn’t exist, and I feel that in itself proves the immense value of music education. I have final example I believe highlights the importance of music education, and it also helps address concerned parents who feel that studying music will not lead to professional success and is therefore not as important as other subjects. I heard a conversation between an older non-musician and a musician, and the non-musician asked something along the lines of what do you say to people who feel music education lacks importance because of the difficulty in succeeding financially through music? The musician did not pretend that making money in the music industry was simple, but he expressed something far ore important. He stated that for most people music is a form of communication, not a way to earn a living, and he noted how when we all learn to speak, we are not taught that we are doing it so we can make money. We simply do this by instinct in order to function as human beings in society. I believe music does not lag far behind spoken language in terms of its importance in shaping how we relate to each other.
NS: Where is this festival headed in the near future?
DL: The leap in scope from our festival in 2015 to our festival this year was huge, and we will see even more variety in the future, with a continued focus on chamber music. Another challenge for us now is to expand the festival into other parts of Nepal, in addition to Kathmandu, and we are already looking into possibilities. It’s also important to note that the Gharana Music Festival is not only an annual event, but it is the culminating celebration of the Gharana Music Foundation as we begin to develop sustained music education initiatives in Nepal. This summer we launched a classical guitar program at Kathmandu’s Early Childhood Development Center, a home for children of incarcerated parents founded and directed by CNN Hero Pushpa Basnet. The kids are truly amazing and we are so proud of the progress they made in just over one month, and of their very impressive, first public performance at our festival!