When the music is written by French composers, sung by an Indian choir group which is led by a Swedish baritone and conductor – it’s a complete package. Especially when Jonas Olsson, founder of the said choir, Bangalore Men, says none of them speak French. Yes, the verses are in French and this unique celebration of French choral music titled Vive la France’, is a testimony of what passion for music can lead to; as well as Google translator.
Olsson is a Bengaluru-based Western classical trained singer who has been juggling his day time job at Volvo with teaching music at the Bangalore School of Music. He started the all-male voices ensemble to focus on Western classical music across a time period ranging from medieval to contemporary times. Olsson first performed French choral music about 25 years back at the Gothenburg Cathedral in Sweden. “French choral music is not so well-known in the choir music scene,” he explains. “It is a bit melancholy and the pieces that I have selected are fairly modern, dating back to the late 1800s and the mid 1900s.”
The fact that the audience in the city are more aware of composers like Mozart and Beethoven prompted Olsson to showcase the music composed by Gabriel Faure, Maurice Durufle and Francis Poulenc, a selection which will set the music from late 1800s to 1949. “Their music is too beautiful to be left alone,” he notes. The pieces will range from quietly meditative to joyous and triumphant, as the note accompanying the invitation promises.
The 18-member choir took about a couple of months to practise the pieces but that’s only because, Olsson stresses, they have been consistently practising singing every week for the past three years. “That makes it easier to pick up new pieces.” The Bangalore Men has previously performed Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Simply Schubert on Franz Schubert as well as A Cappela Through the Ages focussing on renaissance and early Baroque music.
Their choir singers are from diverse fields; doctors, engineers, architects and IT professionals hailing from across the country and religions. “Music is unifying,” Olsson truly believes in this as he has, over the years, introduced the city audiences to unique repertoires including British composer Gustav Holst’s Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda. “Music lovers from all over the world are on the same page. They feel the rhythm and pulse of good music.” But they have the responsibility to educate themselves in all styles of music as well as take their heritage forward. Olsson talks of his exposure to Carnatic music through two of his students and hopes to have some sort of collaboration with them. “It will show that as far as our music goes, we are not that far away from each other.”
As far as Olsson’s personal taste goes or his go-to music, he sees himself relaxing with classical music. “But I enjoy all music,” he says. His passion for music was instilled young, growing up in Sweden which, according to him, has a diverse musical scene with easy access to music conservatories. He talks of an astonishing number of people taking to choral music in Sweden. About 1 million people go for choral music rehearsals every week. “It is that popular,” he laughs. Elsewhere, it is the enduring quality and richness of classical music that has kept the genre alive. “The pieces we will be performing are about a few centuries old,” he says. “They have survived so far and will continue to do so.” It is his aim to bring music that’s from the classical genre yet outliers so that the audiences are challenged as well. If even one person from the audience goes back and looks up choir music, it will gladden him. “Experience of the moment is one thing,” Olsson says, “but sparking their curiosity about the music played is a huge accomplishment.”
Since Vive la France will be performed in a church, Olsson believes that the enjoyment will be two-fold. One doesn’t need to know French to enjoy the music and nor does one have to be of any particular religion to enjoy the beauty of the church. “The French choral music will make an everlasting impression as it did on me when I first performed it.”
What: Vive la FranceWhen: Apr 7th, 6 pmWhere: Saint Andrew’s Church, Cubbon Road