A YOUNG conductor made his debut with the Hallé last December in one of the most impressive appearances by a newcomer I can remember.
He was Harish Shankar, and he took just one piece in a programme mainly under Sir Mark Elder. But that item, Tchaikovsky’s tone poem, Fatum – fate – remains with me now.
There was power and intensity in the opening and close, refinement and beauty in the more lyrical episodes, and electricity in tone and phrasing as the music grew to its climaxes. Harish Shankar’s style, economic on gesture but highly effective, gave the orchestra what it needed.
Harish is appearing at the Bridgewater Hall again on June 30, again sharing the podium with Sir Mark. This time it’s the Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra performing, in their big end-of-year concert.
The programme is full of Italian favourites – Rossini’s overture to Semiramide, Verdi’s Prelude to La Traviata, and Respighi’s The Fountains Of Rome and The Pines Of Rome, which depict the Eternal City’s story in vivid, exciting musical colours.
Harish Shankar’s task, with RNCM piano soloist Jeremy So, is to offer contrast with Prokoviev’s piano concerto no. 2.
Harish is Junior Fellow in Conducting at the RNCM and has been living in Manchester for the past two years. Born in Malaysia, he has seen the world, as first his family moved to New Zealand, and he went on an exchange visit to Germany at age 16 and stayed seven years.
He’d begun playing the piano when he was six, and learned cello as well. After musical training in Lübeck he went to Peru to run a children’s orchestral project called El Sistema. “That was really where I learned most about conducting,” he says. “I taught chamber music and piano, too. I had probably the best time of my life there, but I’m a nomad and after a while in one place I feel the itch to move on.”
He returned to Germany, worked in opera and completed conducting studies in Weimar. Then he came to Manchester, to join the RNCM and be mentored by Sir Mark Elder and others. “I thought it was a vibrant city and a beautiful scene to plunge into musically, and Mark Elder’s mentorship is inspiring.”
Next he’s going to be resident conductor with Malaysia’s top orchestra – “An honour for me, and returning to the country of my birth will be fantastic.”