Sandeep Gurrapadi, an Indian-American operatic tenor, composer, theatre performer, and educator made headlines when he performed in Berlin with a 100-piece orchestra as part of A R Rahman's tour. A graduate of Bio-technology engineering from Warangal, Sandeep's artistic life is interesting. Starting from his classical vocal training at A R Rahman's KM Music Conservatory in Chennai to receiving a degree from Middlesex University in London and further studies in Music and performing arts at Trinity College London. It's not his educational qualifications that we are talking to him about in this interview, but about his upcoming musical performance, Continuum: An Evening of Opera, Chamber Music, and Sculptures at the Royal Opera House on January 13.
Organised by Avid Learning in association with Royal Opera House, Sandeep with his quartet of artists Lars Fischer (Tenor), Antonia Thwaites (Soprano), Martha-Maria Mitu (Violin), and Chiara Naldi (Piano) will put on a spectacle of operatic chamber music coalescing with the elegant three-dimensional artistic creation of Sculptor Raj Shahani’s sculptures from his Continuum exhibition. The musicians will perform some of the most famous Western classical pieces that cover a period of 500 years of musical history.
“We're hoping it will be an incredible evening of celebrating art, sculpture and music through sharing some of our favourite pieces with the audience, and perhaps by the end we'll manage to entice some people to further explore this beautiful musical sound world,” begins Sandeep, who along with other artistes is on India tour to perform in Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai.
Sandeep says that performing in India offers him endless possibilities for a career and discovering new avenues. “There's an incredible energy in India and performing here is always exhilarating. There's a sense of possibility and enthusiasm like you'll never see anywhere else. I see a wonderful confluence of sounds and art from diverse influences being created, that’s also uniquely Indian at its core,” says the artist and clarifies that performing Beethoven and Mozart is the same in India and abroad as people think it's a very serious matter. “And a sense of weight falls upon the listener and the performer. This is also true in India. But it's important to remember they were also incredibly witty, silly and sometimes absolutely absurd! So we're hoping to showcase how mischievous and fun their compositions were,” he says.
When asked if a place or a country makes a difference for him as a performer, Sandeep confesses that every space changes the dynamics of performance. “This is especially true for unamplified art forms, such as opera, art song and chamber music. Every space cradles the sound in a different way, and the audience hears and experiences it in a different way each time,” he explains and adds that he enjoys working in all sorts of performing arts. “I really believe that every space has a certain quality, and you are actively working to shape the sound and performance out of it,” says the theatre practitioner, who has extensively been working on musicals and recently did an Opera show, Silver Spoon, a story of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed's love story.
Passionate about the intersectionality of music and theatre, Sandeep in his performances augments reality elements as an experiment. He has been working with students across the country in various institutions doing various workshops, devising labs, masterclasses and much more. He spent a little over a year in India working with students to devise an entire musical together back in 2016-17. “I think there's immense potential and that India is ripe for new innovations to take place. Think about a musical or operatic drama on the level of 'Hamilton' with an entirely live orchestra, written by an Indian creative team and for an Indian audience, but with global reach. Now, that’s something I'd love to be involved with,” shares the London-based singer.
With quite an eclectic musical journey, starting from an engineering degree to being in Berlin to perform with a 100-piece orchestra and performing with major opera companies and festivals such as the Welsh National Opera, Aldeburgh Festival, the Southbank Centre in London and Beijing National Stadium, Sandeep says he wonders how did that all happen? “There can be a long-winded answer filled with philosophical soliloquies of life's twists and turns, but at the end of the day, it was much less flowery and came down to being in the right place at the right time along with lots of dedicated work. I also think that as you involve yourself within a field, your area of play starts to expand, which in turn brings new opportunities to explore. So for me, reconciling my Indian and American identities played a big part in helping me understand how to negotiate my own musical journey,” muses the performer and hopes to come back to India to perform some more interesting and unique repertoire and also to work with students and collaborate.
Being an educator, Sandeep aims to carve out a new genre by sharing knowledge through teaching or by performing in India and abroad. For him, re-evaluating the fundamentals of his practice and the ability to enter a space with a collaborative spirit are the keys to being a good educator. He shares that in the west, there's a much clearer sense of artistic growth that he has but due to the type of devising and performing arts (opera, movement, devised music theatre) that he pursues - it becomes a niche within India and inadvertently someone in his position becomes a focal point for sharing knowledge. “Performing and teaching are noble pursuits. I am still trying to understand what's the best way to facilitate something unique in India without going down the route of a colonial endeavour, instead of only sharing the western view,” says the singer as he signs off.
Sandeep will also be a trainer for one-day Creating Musical Theatre workshop.
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