Come February 21, and the various religious heritage monuments in Old Goa will ring out with myriad styles of sacred music from different eras as the fourth edition of the Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival will be held over four days, featuring artists from the world over.
“The festival was started back in 2016 with the idea of recovering the tradition of chorale music in India and especially in Goa. Held in the heritage, religious structures in Old Goa, it also gives people a chance to not just see the monuments but also experience the sounds of the place ie sacred music,” says Santiago Lusardi Girelli.
And although the monuments are Christian sites, with India being a multi-cultural country where Christians only form a small part, and with Old Goa also getting a lot of non-Catholics coming to worship St Francis Xavier, it was decided that the festival would have sacred music that was common for all religions.
A festival of co-existence
The challenge however, says Girelli, was to find a way to bring Indian musicians into the church, as pure Indian classical music is not allowed inside the church. “We had to find a way where all could participate. After all, although the idea was to create a festival for co-existence, it should not make anyone uncomfortable. And so we decided to write original music for the festival. We have performances where the prayers of St Francis are translated into Sanskrit, or where a Drupad singer can perform with a Gregorian choir and both can express themselves comfortably,” he explains
Emphasis on originals
Apart from this balancing act, Girelli also places special emphasis on creation of music for the festival. “A lot of festivals just offer a space where people can come and play, which is nice. But we need to move ahead, to explore, research, and to create music. Most of us listen to classics which are 200-300 years old. We need to connect with contemporary music styles,” he says. However, given that contemporary music is quite difficult to play and listen to, he states that a special composer is brought in every year to create music specifically for the festival. This time, Girelli himself has composed the music .The festival also engages in social outreach programmes where a few musicians visit some schools and orphanages and perform.
Sacred music from Goa
Goan music lovers have something special to look forward to at the next edition. The sacred music pieces written by late Goan musician Anthony Gonsalves have been recovered. “We got around 1000 manuscripts from the family and are hoping to premiere some of these never-performed-before pieces at the next edition,” reveals Girelli, adding that they are still trying to find choral music from the Portuguese era and are looking at getting access to the archives of the survey of India.
Girelli together with his GU choir, the Bangalore Men choir, and a tango ensemble will be performing ‘The Misatango’ on February 24. In fact the GU choir did the Indian premiere of this famous piece with the Carnegie Hall Resident Composer, Martin Palmeri together with the SOI –Symphony Orchestra of India at the NCPA in November 2018.
“The piece combines chorale music with tango which makes it interesting because the tango is very non sacred style, and is usually the music from the nights in bars. However, the tango is very passionate and thus it was all about finding the connection between the words of the Mass and the tango,” says Girelli..
One of the grand pieces composed by Girelli for the festival this year is the oratory ‘Passion Landscapes – Passio Secundum Marcum’ which will feature the Goa University Choir (which Girelli conducts), UK-based college choir Kings Barbers, Hindustani singer Vidya Shah, violinist Leo Rossi, soprano singer Natalia Lemercier and many other Western and Indian musicians. The ensemble will feature around 60-70 performers in all, says Girelli.
“The piece showcases the passion of Christ based on the Gospel of Mark, beginning from the Last Supper and ending the moment when Jesus is condemned,” says Girelli, adding that the piece combines classical styles with contemporary styles like minimalism and surrealism.
“The piece is interesting because it is not only about the music but it also describes the sounds, feelings and emotions. There will be shouting, speaking and making of noises. Here we use sound not only to describe but also to explain the situation,” he explains, adding that it is all done in a very operatic way.
Also, the piece is composed in a very repetitive way so it gives the audience time to connect with their emotions. It is also related to the Buddhist technique of Buddhist phenomenology and meditation. “Thus, the piece combines concepts from the East like Buddhist meditation, mantras and ragas in Western style and at the same time we use classical styles like the western choirs and chorale in Gregorian tradition with also an influence of contemporary music,” he says, adding that he began working on the composition about six months ago. He further reveals that in the beginning the GU choir was unsure of what to make of the piece. “They have to make sounds, shout, etc, which is not something they are used to doing in a church. But since it is a representation of the passion of Christ, they were okay with it,” he says. [NT]