THE MUSICAL MAHARAJA
Mysore’s last ruler Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar helped several western classical musicians survive. On his birth centenary, the maharaja’s family is celebrating his contributions
that time to put the Philharmonia Orchestra (currently one of the UK’s foremost ensembles) on a stable financial footing. With this kind of aid, Legge was able to appoint as conductor the great Herbert von Karajan. The young maharaja then made his mark on the European art music scene by making it possible for the orchestra to carry out the dying wish of legendary composer Richard Strauss, who wanted his Four Last Songs to be performed with a first-class conductor and orchestra and sung by the great Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad.
Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar had a reputation of being far-thinking. The little-known composer Nikolai Medtner, born in 1880 (Gregorian calendar), whose compositions were dense and complicated, slow to the point that they could almost induce a trance-like state, is a case in point. Medtner’s refusal to bend to popular opinion meant that he was never given his due. But his music found a response in the maharaja, perhaps because of his deep understanding of the music of other traditions, namely Carnatic. He was largely responsible for bringing Medtner’s works to the concert hall and recording studio, a debt that Medtner finally repaid when he dedicated his ‘Third Piano Concerto’ to him.
The young prince formed The Medtner Society in 1949 and continued his mission to spread awareness about the composer. Inevitably, one of the works to be performed at the centennial concert is Andantino from Medtner’s Piano Quintet. The entire programme, in fact, is reflective of the maharaja’s eclectic musical aesthetic, with works from the traditional (Mozart’s Symphony No. 29), the exotic (Albéniz’s Asturias), the modern (Dag Wirén’s Serenade for Strings) and the highly unusual (Karl Jenkins’ Air played on the bansuri). A highlight of the concert is set to be the virtuosic violin work, Paganiniana, by Milstein, that will be performed by SOI music director, Marat Bisengaliev.
Composer Nikolai Medtner dedicated his ‘Third Piano Concerto’ to the maharaja
THE MUSIC MAN (clockwise from top) A portrait of maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar; the maharaja in his organ room; Marat Bisengaliev; and a music session at the maharaja’s durbar