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Stringing her way to success

Late Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, famous for reading musical notes before he could learn to read words, said he tried to play “the way a cat jumps… completely natural.” Arrau’s statement comes to mind the moment you see Anthea Dias’ violin bow in action. Exuding grace and tenacity, Dias was the recipient of the silver award in this year’s edition of the International Piano, Violin, & Guitar Competition held by Progressive Musicians that gives her the opportunity to perform at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York. Having staged Pink Floyd as well as the New York Philharmonic, the venue is one of the world’s most valued for artistes.

The winners of the competition will take the stage on July 10 next year at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. Last month, they performed an online recital that is now available to watch on YouTube, across two categories: ages five to 14, and above 14. In the former one, Dias performed Preludium and Allegro ‘In the style of Pugnani’. “My parents and teacher Winston Collaco, have always encouraged me to dream big, and Carnegie has always been my dream. I started practising in February-end. I learnt the piece a few years back, and chose it as it perfectly fit the time limit of five and a half minutes,” she says, from her home in Margao, Goa.

Dias has been learning the violin since she was six but grew fascinated with it as a two-year-old. Her mother, Marianela, a chemistry teacher and a pianist, is also the founder of the Goan folk music troupe Goenchim Noketram, which has toured 19 countries. So, instruments aplenty were scattered around the house but the violin was what attracted the toddler.

“She insisted that she wanted to learn it and kept pressurising me to find a teacher. So, I knew she had an inclination but I don’t know what particularly drew her to it. She has very much exceeded our expectations,” Marianela admits.

Stating music as her lone hobby, Dias likes pieces that challenge her, especially ones that feature some kind of oscillation with sound and speed. She enjoys playing Mozart, Bach and Sarasate but can’t pick a favourite. For inspiration, she watches the performances of famed violinists Jascha Heifetz, Itzhak Perlman, Hilary Hahn and Ray Chen, keenly observing their technique. “It seems easy but it is not. The violin doesn’t have any frets and that makes it difficult to play. It is also hard to get the feel of a particular composition and bring out what the composer has written, she says.

Dias also practises religiously, shutting herself in a room for three hours every day (with breaks, of course), and devoting an hour to working on scales alone. “During the lockdown, I’ve got more time on my hands. I warm up in the morning with scales and études [compositions intended to work on a particular technique/skill] while in the evening I play pieces,” she says. One of her much-loved pieces is Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, which she describes as, “slow passages before suddenly turning mysterious — trying to keep the crowd in suspense.”

Balancing academics and music has never been a task for Dias. She maintains her parents and school have been the most supportive. “Although I work in the field of education, I’ve never pressurised my children with regards to studies. Anthea’s sister is a doctor but that doesn’t mean I want Anthea to pursue medicine, too. I believe that she has talent and so, she might as well do what she likes. There’s a lot of Indo-Western culture in Goa, and whenever we’ve had violin concerts in Panjim, I’ve made it a point to take her to watch them,” Marianela says.

Having played with Indian orchestras — namely the Indian National Youth Orchestra and the Bangalore City Chamber Orchestra — in the strings section, Dias’ goal is to study music at conservatories in Europe or the United States, owing to a paucity of education in western classical music in India. Her advice to kids with an interest in music? “Dream big. Nothing is impossible.” Yes, even performing at the Carnegie Hall.

Log on to Progressive Musicians’ channel on YouTube (to watch the online recital)

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