The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by then world renowned conductor Antal Dorati, came to Lahore in the summer of 1961 to give a classical music concert. I was then teaching at my former alma mater, Aitchison College, before appearing for the CSS examination. Although I have attended numerous concerts in a number of countries, this one in Lahore by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra under Antal Dorati stands out as being one of my most memorable. The concert was held in the Lawrence Gardens in an open amphitheatre. Its most notable feature was a magnificent rendering of our national anthem before the commencement of the programme.
Antal Dorati had carefully rehearsed the score of our national anthem. He brought to it intellectual depth, grandeur and several innovations. Dorati had given deft touches to the score. These touches made it phenomenal. The result was a powerful performance of the anthem by the huge 110-member ensemble. In particular, the trumpets were superbly handled.
Regrettably, there was no recording of this spectacular version of our national anthem. Such a recording and television coverage could have inspired the younger generations and beckoned them to an open-minded, liberal and tolerant era of Pakistan. Those virtues, very sadly, are no longer prevalent nowadays.
The programme of the concert was equally great. It opened with Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous Leonore Overture No 3. I recall the clarion bugle call by the horns which had been strategically placed by Dorati in the unseen background. They seemed to resonate in the entirety of the beautiful Lawrence Gardens. This was followed by a lively rendition of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks by the composer Richard Strauss. This tone poem was written in 1894-95. It chronicles the misadventures and pranks of the German peasant folk hero Till Eulenspiegel. It is relevant because it teaches us not to take conventions too seriously.
The main work was Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 opus 92 in A major. In this symphony, the fine orchestral players of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra excelled under Dorati’s baton. What a wonderful treat it was for the audience and what an inspiring beacon for posterity! The common thread of a carnival or festival ambience permeating this symphony has been considered to be a resonation of our universal human desire for a release from subjugation by an oppressive prevailing social order and a suspension of customary beliefs and norms as well as a joyous lifting of restraints. Its first performance in Vienna in December 1813 was billed as being for the benefit of the wounded Austrian and Bavarian soldiers. It thus fuelled the celebratory mood of the time.
The following day, the members of the orchestra went around Lahore, sightseeing in horse-drawn Tongas. I accompanied three of the musicians in one of the Tongas. There was no security concern at that time. What a contrast that was to the draconian measures deemed necessary now to ward off security threats everywhere, as, for example, to the Zimbabwean cricket team visiting the once peaceful Lahore. It was a different world altogether — emancipated, free and cosmopolitan. It would be desirable to revive those times in our present juncture. If another such opportunity arises for a world famous orchestra and conductor to perform our national anthem again, it would be a befitting addition to our aesthetics and sense of pride in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2015.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ