MMMF: Classical music in Mumbai has a savior

MMMF: Classical music in Mumbai has a savior

An intrepid all-lady committee at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation makes sure Mumbai families know their Bach from Beethoven
Mehli Mehta Music Foundation
Maestro Zubin Mehta with the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation children's choir.

Round Kemps Corner is a building called Banoo Mansions, home to the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation (MMMF). 

In its two apartments there's the sound of music in one form or another. Violin strings being tuned, the stop and start of piano keys as a piece of music is mastered and young voices are trained to hit the right notes.

Mumbai has a dearth of courses or structured classes on Western classical music. So far that's been the domain of private one-on-one lessons mainly within the Catholic and Parsi communities, which makes the MMMF's small, but growing, contribution to creating interest in Western classical music all the more significant.

Established in 1995, the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation (MMMF) is a not-for-profit organization that promotes Western classical music in Mumbai.

Mehli Mehta, father of world renowned conductor Zubin Mehta, was the founder of the Bombay String Quartet and the Bombay Symphony Orchestra and was an inherent part of Mumbai's classical music scene in the years between 1930 and 1954, before he emigrated to the United States. The foundation honors Mehta as a pioneer of Western classical music in India. 

Braving it in Bollywood land 

Among music aficionados the MMMF is known for its work in bringing top quality classical music concerts to Mumbai.

In March 2009, pianist Lang Lang, the spiked hair Chinese sensation, along with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Conductor Zubin Mehta held audiences spellbound over two evenings. Even Bollywood actor Aamir Khan was spotted in the audience.

Mehli Mehta Music FoundationWho thought we'd ever see Placido Domingo singing outdoors in front of a capacity crowd in Mumbai?

To mark the centenary of Mehli Mehta in 2008, the foundation staged a series of five special concerts including one outdoors at the Brabourne Stadium for over 5,000 keen-eared Mumbaikers.

The queue at the NCPA when the box office opened was already snaking round the corner towards the Oberoi hotel. People practically camped there overnight and by the end of the day, the five concerts were sold out.

Because you'd otherwise have had to travel quite far to see conductor Zubin Mehta, conductor-pianist Daniel Barenboim, violinist Pinkas Zukermann, tenor Placido Domingo and soprano Barbara Frittoli perform live. 

The other event MMMF organizes is Sangat, an annual Chamber Music Festival, which brings together musicians from across the world for a series of high quality concerts every December. It will be in its 15th year in 2010.

Sangat has become an established feature in the year's calendar and has built up a dedicated following. Annual regulars like the De Souza brothers, Ralph and Harvey, both originally from Mumbai but who've made it abroad, form the core of Sangat.

You'll even notice Bollywood orchestra players among the local talent they pull in. They value the top quality workshops and masterclasses that Sangat musicians hold during their time in the city, which would otherwise be unavailable to them.

Mumbai's best children's choir

When its not wowing local listeners with live music, the main thrust of the foundation is to educate Mumbai's young and to bring Western Classical music into the homes of people in Mumbai. Music theory and history is taught here and instruments can even be taken home on loan to practice.

Mehli Mehta Music FoundationSangat musicians play top quality chamber music concerts in Mumbai every December.

Recently in collaboration with the Palau de la Música Catalana a choral concert was held at the Tata Theatre in which over 300 children from the MMMF choir and various schools in Mumbai participated. Scores of children have passed through its polished wooden doors imbibing music not available to them in curricula of regular Mumbai schools.

Nine-year old Shireen Gamadia has attended the choir classes for the last two years. Training under Coomi Wadia she has the confidence and poise of a veteran and has taken part in several of the concerts the foundation has held at the NCPA and elsewhere.

She started young, with Discover Music (a course for toddlers and parents), then the Singing Tree children's choir and is now a member of the senior choir.

"We learn lovely songs and I would not have this opportunity as my school has a choir only in the senior school," Gamadia says.

In addition to being a member of the choir she says she has "been learning the piano for several years and her teacher, Tanushi Deb is kind and patient."

Mehroo Jeejeebhoy, an accomplished pianist herself, is the moving spirit behind all activities and is the face of the foundation.

In a city so alien to Western classical music she and her intrepid all-lady committee have garnered the support of sensitive corporate houses (with extreme difficulty) and battled infamous bureaucratic red tape to keep the foundation's flag flying.

B/2 Banoo Mansions, Cumballa Hill Road, tel. +91 (0) 22 2382 3644/2380 1379. Email

MMMF presents The Joy of Music Festival

October 18-21
National Centre of Performing Arts (NCPA)
Tickets via NCPA box office; tel. +91 (0) 22 6622 3737

Having studied medicine at Bombay's oldest medical college, Deepika focuses on passions she could not study.
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