May 1, 2019 SASF Editorial

And What the Orchestra Says

A very special experience at the South Asian Symphony Orchestra 2019!!! This project took to life from Ambassador Rao’s love of music which than flourished under the baton of our Conductor Viswa Subbaraman and all the musician from 8 countries!!! A special pleasure meeting Bass principal Saadi Zain ,Krisanthy Desby principal Cellist,Rohan Ramanan principal Oboe and of course Nivanthi Karunaratne principal French Horn !!!

Razef Khan


This past week with the South Asian Symphony Orchestra (SASO) will forever be beyond description. I performed with musicians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what a spectacular performance we 70+ strangers would give last Friday—after a mere handful of rehearsals.

The concert was dedicated to the victims of the recent bombings in Sri Lanka, as well as the late violinist Sanya Myla Cotta, who was to perform with SASO. I think you all understand why this sort of intercultural exchange is so vital, particularly in the wake of such tragedies. With all the countries named above, you can imagine how many languages were on that stage, but that created fewer barriers than one might imagine. One of the Afghan musicians came up to me after the concert, chattering away and hugged me tightly. Her smile conveyed everything our lack of a mutual language couldn’t 🙂

I am so moved by this experience. I think Viswa Subbaraman described the aftermath best when he called it “post-performance depression.” Beyond its staggering success, I don’t know that I’ll ever again work with so many musicians of South Asian descent, and that was so special to me. In fact, the Sri Lankan musicians claimed me as one of them!

Special thanks to Ambassador Nirupama Rao for realizing her dream and inviting me to join in this momentous occasion (and for asking me to perform a solo at the Asia Society); to Viswa Subbaraman’s magic on (and off) the podium; to Rohan Ramanan, Lauren Braithwaite, Saadi Zain, Razef Khan, and most of all, my mother Karunaratne Kumudinie for flying out from the US to see me. May this inaugural SASO concert be the first of many!

Nivanthi Karunaratne


Dear Friends,

I spent a week in Mumbai last week Supporting the South Asian Symphony Foundation, performing to advocate for cultural diplomacy in South Asia and beyond.

The day after I landed in Mumbai on Eater Sunday while I was in church, I got the message about the bombings in Sri Lanka…

My mind flooded with memories from the past… stomach sick and other feelings that are both physical and emotional ran through my body, mind and heart. It was surreal…

I felt that I didn’t want to smile, I didn’t want to sing or make music or anything that brought joy…
I am morning a mass funeral.

Next morning, I woke up and fought with myself as I forced myself to get off the bed, eat my breakfast, warm up my voice and practice.

Then, I put on a smile and I left for rehearsal as if nothing had happened…

l WILL NOT let this darkness have victory over me or my people. I will mourn and grieve. But I will not be blinded by its power or let the light be put out from my heart.

I sang this song on a pre concert presentation at the Asia society of Mumbai on Friday. My body hurt when I sang. I sang for the children who died and for the mothers in mourning . I sang for the parents who left their children behind and for everyone in Sri Lanka…those who lost their lives and all who survived.

I sang because that’s what I am called to do. I will Continue to sing and I will smile. My voice alway be an instrument for those who have been silenced.

“Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners… Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking… and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Music: Lee Hoiby

Tharanga Goonetilleke


I’m not sure what other musician friends do for post-performance depression. Chiragh was such a long time in the making, and suddenly in a week of rehearsals, it was over! Watching musicians from such diverse backgrounds work to find common ground and develop friendships was worth all the time and effort it took to get there. Ambassador Nirupama Rao and her husband Sudhakar Rao did yeoman’s work to get this orchestra of 70+ to Mumbai. A blog post is in the offing as I continue to unpack what this meant to me. But at minimum it meant a great week with amazing old friends and new.

Viswa Subbaraman


Having grown up in India surrounded by Indian Classical music and being trained in Carnatic Classical vocal during my childhood years, I didn’t have much exposure to music beyond Indian Classical, Bollywood and Rock. Listening to music was very entertaining of course but I can’t say that it went much beyond that for me. It was during my mid-thirties that I got introduced to Western Classical music once Anusha started to take interest in learning the violin in Boston, USA where we lived then. After we moved back to India in 2010, due to the fear that we may not be able to find enough opportunities for her in Western Classical, I made some efforts to introduce her to the Indian Classical violin by taking her to classes. Being the fiery and independent thinker that she is, she wouldn’t heed to any of my views. And why would she? She had Jo Sadler as her teacher who gave her early morning lessons once a week from her Boston home over FaceTime. Not only did Anusha come out of each lesson with Joanne refreshed and inspired, in spite of the 13,000km distance between them, she also developed a disciplined practice schedule over the years.

Sometime during Anusha’s eighth year of life, I learnt my lesson as a mother – that the best way to support her musical journey was to get rid of of my fears and enjoy the journey with her. And that’s when I started listening to Western Classical music in a serious way. Anusha and I often used to listen together to master pieces by great composers, orchestras and soloists in the car during our long drives or in our bedroom cuddled together. Slowly I picked up some of the language of Western Classical music and even started to have some “mildly” intelligent conversations with her about it. Subbu also developed his own Western Classical music related rapport with Anusha, so to say. I realised that I felt a deep emotional connect with this genre of music – especially orchestral music. I started listening to more orchestral music on my own, not just for entertainment but also to live the emotions of the great composers. Each time I listened to a piece, I used to feel a deep emotional shift happening within me.

When a great orchestra comes together to create music, it is a surreal experience listening to it. Every musician in the orchestra is an expert in his/her own right and when they play together with the rest of their section, with each section of the orchestra transposing the other sections, only the conductor and the audience can experience the complete effect of it. And what an effect it can be! It can transform you both emotionally and spiritually!

So, it was with a great sense of anticipation that I attended the debut performance of the South Asian Symphony Orchestra which Anusha is a part of. If you have followed some of my earlier posts, the orchestra was started by Ambassador Nirupama Rao. The orchestra not only hopes to promote the message of peace and collaboration among the South Asian nations but also build deep connects among the musicians in the orchestra who are from these nations, paving the way for long lasting associations among them.

The debut concert was held on April 26th at NCPA Mumbai after a week of practice together by the orchestra. What a surreal experience it was! It moved me to the core of my being. Listening to great orchestral music, played so perfectly and beautifully by the orchestra while simultaneously seeing musicians from the neighbouring countries that are often in conflict politically, on stage together, I was often filled with tears during the 2 hour performance. Ever since we returned to Bangalore, we’ve been bingeing on the audio recorded versions of the concert both at home and during our drives in the car. Each time I listen to a piece, I can feel the deep emotional shift happening within me and I feel energised after that.

I wish The South Asian Symphony Foundation and Ambassador Nirupama Rao great success in the future, playing great music and building bridges in the South Asian region. As a mother, I give my sincere gratitude to the universe and all the people who made it possible for Anusha to have such a mind-blowing experience – Her teachers Jo Sadler and Anthea Kreston, The Bangalore School of Music Chamber Orchestra, Nirupama Rao, conductor Viswa Subbaraman and many more who have played a vital role to make her the passionate musician she is today. I look forward to witnessing many more such concerts live!

Gayathri Tirthapura whose daughter Anusha Madapura was a member of SASO at its debut concert.