Khushroo N Suntook has a passion for western classical music and proof, if it were needed, is the lead role he played in setting up the path-breaking Symphony Orchestra of India in 2006. He has an even greater passion for the place where the orchestra, the country’s first and only musical ensemble of the kind, is based: the remarkable and now venerable National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA).
Mr Suntook held several senior positions in the Tata group before joining NCPA as vice chairman in 2000. In 2008 he became chairman of the Centre, a cultural landmark of Mumbai and one of India’s premier institutions for the showcasing of art in all its variety and glory. Mr Suntook speaks here to Christabelle Noronha about NCPA and what it represents. Edited excerpts:
The tribute for setting up this premier cultural institution goes to Jamshed J Bhabha. When he died in 2007, he left almost his entire estate — a bungalow in Mumbai and a priceless art collection — to the Centre, but it wasn’t till 2015 that we received the money that lawfully belonged to us. It was challenging to run the institution, given the huge fixed and variable costs involved. We relied purely on fundraising during this period and some wonderful people came forward to help.
We are definitely highbrow where Indian music is concerned, but we have spread the net wide. We conduct jazz concerts and operas, we stage plays and concerts for youngsters, and we have a summer festival for children from low-income families. Our approach is balanced. We strive to maintain the dignity and status of NCPA as a standout centre for art and culture, even as we cater to populist tastes.
The direction we have taken ensures that NCPA has the best of quality in all the art forms that are presented at its facilities. I would say that in terms of quality we are on par with similar institutions globally. We have also started a school of advanced teaching, and the performances of our children are simply amazing.
Of course, the Tata group played a pivotal role in establishing NCPA. The Tatas had funded several institutions of national importance, but none of these was in the sphere of art and culture. That changed with the coming up of NCPA and we continue to be closely associated with the Tatas.
We have a huge amount of educational material in the performing arts, and I believe people are not taking sufficient advantage of it. Our libraries should be full of young university students. Our music library has 5,000 hours of Indian music by artistes at the top of their game and the acoustics is very good, and we have 11,000 LPs [long-playing records] in our collection.
We have been conducting classes in Indian music in 21 schools to make children aware of our rich musical heritage. Teachers visit the schools twice a week and provide a monthly report about the students’ performance. Additionally, we have schools participating in our western music programme.
The traditional guru-shishya [teacherstudent] institution is in decline, which is why we are trying to promote it by having 11 groups all over India for different instruments. We give scholarships to young and promising musicians, and children who are keen to pursue music can come to our advanced school to receive further training.