Shehani and Sanduni Stellar violinists | Sunday Observer

Shehani and Sanduni Stellar violinists

13 August, 2023

Shehani Fernando and Sanduni Vishaka Amarakoon in the fresh bloom of their youth have achieved the prestigious position of Concertmaster or Leader of the Orchestra. Both were recently appointed to this position in the Gustav Mahler Orchestra of Colombo.

The title of iconic sitar maestro Ravi Shanker’s book, ‘My music - My life’ would be very apt to describe these two young violinists with stellar performances for whom drawing the bow across the strings to create sweet music is a passion in life.

Founder of the Gustav Mahler Society,Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Gustav Mahler Orchestra, Srimal Weerasinghe said this about the post of Concert Master. “A person aspiring to this position must show exceptional proficiency on the violin and must also possess excellent leadership qualities and the ability to work and interact as a team with fellow players”.

Both Sanduni and Shehani are founder members of the Gustav Mahler Society of Colombo which was founded in 2018.


Shehani has been playing with the Gustav Mahler Orchestra since its inception. She made her solo debut in August 2022, playing Cesar Franck’s ‘Sonata for Violin and Piano’ along with pianist Dr. Dilan Angunawela.

Sanduni had her solo debut at a GMSC concert in July 2023.

She played works by Kreisler, Elgar and Massenet.

As a founder member she too had been playing with the GMSC orchestra since its inception.

Shehani was invited to join the Gustav Mahler Society by Srimal Weerasinghe, Chief Conductor and Musical Director of the Gustav Mahler Society and Vidhurinda Samaraweera, Associate Conductor of the GMSC, who had known her since her early days as a young student.

Sanduni was introduced to the GMSC by Ananda Dabare.

The Gustav Mahler Orchestra has 150 members.

Sanduni and Shehani certainly showed their worth by meeting the stringent standards of the orchestra to achieve these positions.

Violin lessons

Both girls currently study the violin under violin maestro Ananda Dabare, the Founding Concertmaster of the Gustav Mahler Orchestra.

Shehani started lessons with Dabareat the age of seven.Sanduni came under Dabare’s tutelage around the age of nineteen.

Shehani Fernando (22) is an alumna of Ladies College, Colombo 7.Shehani is not only an outstanding violinist but she is also a pianist, choral singer and a conductor. Earlier this year, she created history in the Sri Lankan musical world, when she became the youngest female conductor in the country with her appointment as the Music Director of the Gustav Mahler Academy Orchestra.

Shehani serves as a visiting instructor in piano, orchestration and chamber music at the University of Visual and Performing Arts.She also gives private lessons in her free time.

Shehani was introduced to the world of music as a toddler. She was only four when her mother Janeshi enrolled her for piano lessons with Ryanthi Kumarasinghe. After a while, Shehani moved on to study under Astrid de Costa. At present, she is studying piano under Zahara Mohamed.

Sanduni Visakha Amarakoon (24), an old Visakhian,is currently majoring in violin at the University of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo. Sanduni plays an active role in both the Western Classical Music and contemporary music industries in the country.

She is a Faculty Member of the Gustav Mahler Music Academy and has held the post of Associate Concertmaster of the Orchestra. Even at her young age, Sanduni is a greatly sought-after recording artist for the violin.

Her solo debut was when she performed a public violin recital in July, 2023.

Sanduni was born to a world of music as both her parents are musicians. In fact, they are lecturers at the University of Visual and Performing Arts.

Her mother Indrani Edirisooriya is a lecturer on the North Indian Violin while father Chandralal Amarakoon is a tablist and lectures on the North Indian tabla and both serve at the University of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo.

As a toddler of three years Sanduni was in Varanasi (Benares),India with her parents.

They were there to sit for their Master’s degree.It was at this time that toddler Sanduni had her first introduction to the violin. At an auspicious time, Professor V. Balaji placed a violin in the tiny girl’s hand in a symbolic gesture of what was to be a passion for life.

Though she herself is an exponent of the North Indian violin, her mother Indrani wanted Sanduni to study Western violin music.

Her early tutors were Thushani Jayawardene, Sanath Sathischandra and Lakshman Joseph de Saram.

The two young violinists spoke enthusiastically about some of their favourite composers and their works.

Some favourite composers

Both are ardent fans of Gustav Mahler and both felt that his work reflects human emotions realistically. Shehani added that even back when she was not aware of the background of the pieces, she could picture the situations and emotions when she listened to Mahler’s music.

Another favourite of Sanduni’s is Antonio Vivaldi. She said he is a violinist virtuoso and that his music was challenging. She especially likes the Four Seasons.

She says she has not had the experience of going through the different seasons but Vivaldi’s music in the Four Seasons makes them come alive for her. Another favourite composer is Felix Mendelssohn and she cherishes his Violin Concerto in E minor.

For Shehani other than Mahler, Bach is a favourite. She says that his music has elements which are way ahead of his time, the Baroque period.

Both Shehani and Sanduni agree that the path to becoming a professional violinist is rocky.

Shehani says that it is difficult and can have many frustrations, but hard work and perseverance will overcome all of them.

Sanduni says that one must have much courage and strength to become a professional violinist.

Sanduni and Shehani spend many hours a week practicing. They manage their time to fit in practice sessions amidst their other activities such as their personal studies, performing and teaching.

Apart from their passion for music, what do these two stellar performers do for relaxation?

Sanduni loves to spend time with her pet cats and dogs and has to intervene in cat and dog fights at times. She also loves gardening.

Shehani too is an animal lover and has cats for pets. Along with father Duleep, mother Janeshi and sister Janindri she takes in injured animals such as, dogs, cats, squirrels and also birds and treats them, looking after them till they are well.

Shehani loves to listen to movie music and write arrangements for them too.

Shehani and Sanduni, two stellar violinists are sure to make waves in the musical arena in the future.

Pix: Thilak Perera