Some give, some take for Mexican pianists

New Delhi: They are veteran Mexican pianists, but James Demster and Fernando Garcia Torres are just beginning to savour the delights of Carnatic and Hindustani classical music and dance on their maiden tour to India. It has bred in them a desire to collaborate on a fusion project.

"I am curious to know how the emotions expressed in Mexican music can be interpreted in the language of Indian classical dances," Demster, a Mexican symphony conductor, pianist and music teacher, told reporters.

"We are being introduced to Carnatic music and Hindustani classical dance and musical genres. I would like to see how some Mexican songs and piano music can be improvised to accompany Indian dance."

The duo, who played in the capital late Thursday evening, said "they were interested in fusion tracks with Indian musicians".

Demster and Torres performed in an hour-long concerto to commemorate 60 years of diplomatic ties between India and Mexico and celebrate 200 years of Mexico`s independence. It was presented by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Embassy of Mexico.

They played a combination of classical and blue-jazz concerto music by composers like Angel Agustin Lara, Manuel Ponce, Ricardo Castro, Frederic Chopin and George Gershwin.

Demster is a vocal coach and professor of music at the Superior School of Music at Bellas Artes affiliated to the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City. He is also director of the Harmonica Opera Company of New York - with which he has conducted the premieres of more than 35 Japanese operas. The conductor-musician teaches classical piano music to more than 1,000 students in Mexico City.

Torres, an acclaimed concerto soloist and chamber musician, is a Ravi Shankar fan.

"I have heard him play all the three times he has visited Mexico City. I would love to make collaborative music with piano and sitar themed on the ragas," Torres said.

Torres has worked with the American string quarter, the Latin American string quartet and the Woodwind Quintet of the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra. He has lectured in master classes in the US, Europe and Mexico.

Tracing the history of the piano in Mexico, Torres said "it came to Mexico with the Spaniards in the form of organ music in the 16th century".

"The travelling music companies of Europe popularised the music. But the contemporary avatar of the grand piano became popular in the 1870s - with elegant private recitals. The piano as a musical instrument arrived in Latin America around the same time as it came to Europe. In the 19th and early 20th century, the piano was played as salon music," Torres said.

The culture of opera in Mexico has seen the spread of piano as a popular instrument. "Every city in Mexico has a colonial-style theatre to host string quarter operas. Piano is a common accompanying instrument. These theatres promote piano recitals and concertos," Torres said.

"The cult of opera in Mexico and Latin America began with a curious trend in the 19th century. Every year, just after the opera season ended in Europe, the opera musicians would board a boat to Mexico and Latin America for another round of performing season," Torres said.

Besides the concertos, piano festivals also ensure survival of the genre. The spotlight is on classical music.

The hub of piano music in Mexico is its National Conservatory.

"Till the late 1970s, piano had an elitist tag to it in Mexico. Girls from aristocratic homes in prim frocks played it in the seclusion of their homes. But the niche quality of classical piano is fast being replaced by a populist slant with the music reaching out to the masses. Hundreds of Mexican youngsters learn classical piano by the day and listen to rock`n`roll at night," Demster said.