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Nikhil Sardana: Please share your background with us.

Marat Bisengaliev: I was born in Almaty, the ex-capital of Kazakhstan. I spent my childhood there and went on to study at the Moscow Conservatory where I met my first future wife. I spent over 25 years with her in England before we parted ways. Now I live in France with my second wife.


NS: When did you visit India for the first time?

MB: Like many things in life, it was down to pure chance. On the other hand it could be karma, something meant to be. I was performing at St. James’s Church in London and Khushroo Suntook happened to be passing by and decided to listen. He visited the green room where we met for the first time, and he invited me to come to India.


NS: What year was this?

MB: This was in January 2004.


NS: What did you discuss with Mr. Suntook?

MB: We discussed bringing my orchestra at the time – The West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra – to Mumbai. At present, I am the director of the Almaty Symphony Orchestra in Kazakhstan and the Music Director of the Symphony Orchestra of India.


NS: How did you come up with the idea of putting together the Symphony Orchestra of India? 

MB: This idea came jointly with Mr. Suntook in London while having a cup of tea in one of the trendy cafés in Piccadilly. We discussed the future and came to the idea of starting the first professional Symphony Orchestra in India.


NS: How did you make this into a reality?

MB: This was made possible with the enthusiasm and financial support from the chairman of the NCPA at the time – Dr. Bhabha. I remember in 2004 and 2005 there wasn’t much happening in this space. Look at it now – there are regular concerts and updated posters everywhere.

The Symphony Orchestra of India was started in 2006 with my players from Kazakhstan and Indian players that I auditioned. We have come very far in terms of quantity and quality. And this is the reason I am here – to scout for more Indian players.

Suntook with SOI 1

Mr. Suntook with the Symphony Orchestra of India © NCPA Mumbai

NS: How did you go about auditioning Indian players for the Symphony Orchestra of India?

MB: A lot of musicians find me themselves and I listen to hundreds of players. I also try to search for them myself. For example – I found Prabhat Kishore playing in a hotel lobby here in Mumbai and Carol George, who attended my concert in Bangalore, played for me in my hotel room.

In April 2016, I had the opportunity of selecting a variety of players thanks to the India National Youth Orchestra run by Sonia Khan. This is a great environment as the selection from India’s best young talent has already has been made by her. For me, it was time to pick.

The future of Western classical music in India lies with the proper education and its appreciation. We opened a special music school here at the NCPA and follow the Russian tradition of schooling, which is the most popular and successful form of teaching. We have had this program for over three years now and I think we already have good results. This guarantees the future of trained professionals, many of whom are destined to end up in the Symphony Orchestra of India.


NS: What is the future for the Symphony Orchestra of India? By when would it consist of all Indian players?

MB: I do not think it will ever be a fully Indian orchestra as that is not the goal. If you look at orchestras all over the world, even in Japan and China, they still have players from abroad. This is because we are living in a global world. We are not in the 19th century when the Berlin Philharmonic had players only from Berlin or the Vienna Philharmonic had players from within Vienna. That is not the case as globalisation has changed the world completely.

I do think the Symphony Orchestra of India would achieve the status of an orchestra with a majority of Indian players over time.