Indian violin icon and composer Dr. L. Subramaniam has collaborated with Carnatic music legends like Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, and M. Balamuralikrishna, as well as Western classical music, jazz, and pop stars, such as Yehudi Menuhin, Stéphane Grappelli, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Hancock, and George Harrison.
The Houston Symphony will now join that impressive list when it performs the World Premiere of Subramaniam’s Mahatma Symphony on Saturday, August 6 at the Hobby Center – in a co-presentation with the Indo-American Association, one of Houston’s longest-running Indian arts organizations.
The new work – and its occasion – are special for a number of reasons.
“This particular concert has great significance because we are commemorating the 75th year of India’s Independence in 2022,” said Radhika Day, a member of the Indo-American Association’s Board of Directors.
August 15 is India’s national Independence Day, marking the end of British rule in 1947 and its establishment as a free and sovereign nation.
The Mahatma Symphony musically traces the life and works of Mahatma Gandhi, considered the “father of India” who used nonviolent resistance to advance the Indian Independence movement – and one of the 20th century’s most influential political and spiritual leaders.
“The Mahatma Symphony was specially commissioned by IAA, and Dr. L. Subramaniam himself is presenting the world premiere in Houston,” Day said. “It is also the first time that the Houston Symphony has collaborated with an Indian organization.”
Day says IAA is “honored and proud” of the partnership, which will bring not only Subramaniam to Houston, but also his wife, the major Bollywood playback singer and classical Indian vocalist Kavita Krishnamurti (featured in the Mahatma Symphony), and guest conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl (Music Director of the Omaha Symphony).
That concert, Celebrating 75 Years of India’s Independence, also features performances by an Indian ensemble alongside the orchestra, the Houston Symphony Chorus, and Subramaniam as the soloist in his violin concerto Shanti Priya.
John Mangum, Executive Director and CEO of the Houston Symphony, calls the first-time collaboration – and the opportunity to work with Subramaniam – an “inspiration.”
“We wanted to partner with [the Indo-American Association] because of their commitment to celebrating the best in Indian performing arts and culture,” Mangum said.
The collaboration has given both organizations a chance to reach into each other’s audiences, he says, and to share music cross-culturally at the highest levels.
“We’re so excited to be able to present the world premiere,” he said. “Dr. Subramaniam has written for some of the world’s great orchestras – the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra – and we’re honored to join their ranks.”
Houston is only the first stop for the Mahatma Symphony, which will travel to European performances this fall – including concerts in Milan, Bologna, and Madrid.
Mangum thinks the work will resonate with audiences in Houston and, he hopes, around the world – perhaps especially in our current moment of international conflict and political tensions.
“It’s a wonderful way to celebrate Gandhi’s message of nonviolence, change through peaceful protest, and dignity and equality in music,” he said. “And it gives us a chance to come together and reflect on how his message is as relevant now as ever.”