THE MUSIC OF EVGENY BUSHKOV
Like most European conductors of renown, Evgeny Bushkov is highly peripatetic. Over 20 years, he’s led orchestras in his native Russia, as well as in France, England, Switzerland and the US. He now adds India to that list, having moved to Mumbai to take up the baton for the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI). “I think that for many musicians, their work is their life, no matter where they are,” says Bushkov, a slim, dynamic man who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger. “For me, it was not such a drastic change to move to India. I am not interrupting my connections with the European orchestras.” In March, Bushkov kicked off the concert season at Mumbai’s Experimental Theatre with a programme that clearly revealed his eclectic musical vision, choosing works that spanned centuries of Western art music and ranged from Bach to Bernstein. A series of performances slated for June look to be equally exciting.
An acclaimed violinist until focal dystonia in his left hand ended his career, Bushkov turned to conducting in 1999. Known for introducing audiences to new music by conducting world premieres of works like Podgaits’ Strange String Fairy Tale, he’s an interesting and encouraging choice to lead such a young orchestra— especially one that plays for an audience most comfortable with staples from earlier centuries. “We will try to find a balance between the known and loved music and something new,” he says. “If, as a musician, you come across a chance to widen horizons, to gain more audiences and to bring some music that you love to new audiences, you should take it.”
A ‘Russian connection’ was responsible for luring him to India. SOI co-founder Marat Bisengaliev was a fellow student of the violin at the Moscow Conservatory, and has been a friend of Bushkov’s for over three decades. He told National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) chairman Khushroo N. Suntook they’d be lucky to get Bushkov as resident conductor, and pitched the job to his old friend as an opportunity to do something fresh. Still, he says, “for me it was very surprising that he agreed.” Mumbai is not such a hardship posting, but the status of Western classical music here cannot compare to its importance in London, Moscow or New York—where in certain circles conductors enjoy a rock star’s mystique. For Bushkov, though, that was part of the appeal. Chief among the reasons he took the job was “the possibility to expand the territories in which I make music, and to share it with younger generations”.
Founded a little more than a decade ago, in 2006, SOI is also coming into its own as a world-class orchestra. It features a core group of musicians based in Mumbai and additional players from around the world. Bushkov will be closely involved in developing homegrown talent. As a former virtuoso, he’s well suited to the task. But he’s also perfect for the job of pushing Western classical to a broader audience.
Bushkov hopes his concerts will attract younger audiences to the NCPA’s Western music education programme. For that reason, a concert by the smaller Chamber Ensemble of the SOI later this summer is “dedicated to a young audience”, he says. He’s inspired by India’s own rich tradition of classical music. For him, the two forms complement each other. Western classical, he says, “is born mainly to move the soul and agitate the motions”, while Indian classical “has a meditative character, and helps to balance and bring peace to the mind”. Embracing both will give audiences “food for both the mind and soul”.
With his Beethovenesque mane of hair, his wonderfully mobile face and his fiery stage presence, the conductor will no doubt capture some hearts, too.
YOU WILL NOT BE BORED EVGENY BUSHKOV