Two years of musical achievement | Sunday Observer
Gustav Mahler Society Colombo

Two years of musical achievement

12 July, 2020
The GMSC orchestra in action
The GMSC orchestra in action

 Four young Sri Lankan musicians joined hands to form the Gustav Mahler Society of Colombo in 2018 to promote, offer opportunities for Sri Lankan music lovers to enjoy the music of Austro-Bohemian composer Gustav Mahler and to develop the widely overlooked Western Classical Music sector in Sri Lanka. They completed two very successful years on the backbreaking work put in by the four founder members Srimal Weerasinghe, Vidhurinda Samaraweera, and sisters Rachel and Amanda Halliday paid off handsomely. 

Inaugural concert

In August 2018, the Gustav Mahler Society had its inaugural concert at the Navarangahala, Colombo 7. The Orchestra comprised over 80 members of all ages under the baton of its young Chief Conductor, Srimal Weerasinghe. Reputed Sri Lankan violinist Ananda Dabare gave of his knowledge and experience to the new orchestra by being their Concert Master.

The vocal music spotlight fell on young mezzo soprano Rachel Halliday who made her concert debut on this occasion, premiering Mahler’s Gesellen lieder and Urlicht from his second Symphony.  

The evening’s program consisted of veteran works by three famous composers, Mozart, Elgar and Gustav Mahler for the first time in Sri Lanka and a great ovation was given by the large and appreciative audience.  

The formation of the Gustav Mahler Society has given a much-needed boost to the Sri Lankan Western Classical scene and has drawn young blood to the musical arena. It quickly received much support from classical music lovers, orchestral musicians and students who perceived it as a strong initiative, not only to promote Mahler’s music but also to enhance the knowledge of and familiarize Sri Lankans with the treasure trove which is western classical music. With Music Director and Chief Conductor Srimal and founders leading from the front, the old and young members put their heart and soul into their musical mission. The GMSC’s contribution to western classical music in Sri Lanka has gained wide international repute among other Mahler institutions worldwide and the GMSC has done much to place Sri Lanka on the global western classical music map.

The Gustav Mahler Orchestra is an integral part of the Gustav Mahler Society. With over 120 members comprising professionals, amateurs and students of varying ages from the four corners of the island it has the distinction of being Sri Lanka’s largest western classical orchestra. The present Concertmaster Sachiththa Fernando is well recognized as a violinist and composer. 

The orchestra has held seven major concerts within two seasons – a praiseworthy effort indeed and has premiered many of Mahler’s work among its wide-ranging repertoire.  

The GMSC has focused on Sri Lankan composers and has featured work by Sachiththa Fernando, Lalanath de Silva, Harsha Makalande, Shannon Jacob and Lakshan Perera in the Gustav Mahler Orchestra’s concerts.  

A major component of the GMSC’s activities is its educational program which covers training in orchestral instruments, workshops, special master classes, lectures and other similar activities. These activities are conducted by musicians of the Gustav Mahler Orchestra. Through this program, students and undergraduates are also given the chance to play in the Gustav Mahler Orchestra paired with an experienced musician. This initiative is spearheaded by the Principal Second Violinist, Manoj Wijayawardana, who has been appointed as Head, Educational Program. Most recent master classes were by the star Lithuanian violinist Barbora Valiukeviciute, who also performed with the Orchestra at the BMICH in February.  

Stream performance

Even though the coronavirus pandemic has dampened the physical activities of the GMSC it has not deterred them. They stream performances weekly on #GMSCPlaysOn thus making music accessible to those who have been deprived of music due to the pandemic. The GMSC has also organized online classes with Barbora Valiukeviciute, British Operatic Soprano and pedagogue Barbara Segal and Conductor Srimal Weerasinghe for students who have been deprived of regular lessons due to the lockdown.  

According to Music Director, Srimal, GMSC hopes to announce its 2020/2021 Season soon on the theme ‘Music for All’. It will be a Season of Music for all ages and all types of music lovers while focusing on creating awareness about western classical music. Highlights of the season will be a Bhakthi Geetha performance in May 2021 at the Nelum Pokuna and the South Asian premiere of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

Like  all arts institutions globally, the Gustav Mahler Society is in need of  your support during this critical time and any kind of support is  welcome. The GMSC can be reached on [email protected] Weerasinghe.