MEMBERS of the audience in the Durban City Hall for the last concert of the summer season of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra (pictured) must have been surprised to hear familiar strains of Tchaikovsky presented as Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite tune.

Late changes in the performed programme were not reflected in the printed programme, which listed the first item as an arrangement of a Hindu devotional song. In fact, the concert opened with the well-known Polonaise and Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. Somebody had decided the original programme was too short, so these two items were included (and were well played under the skilful baton of the Chinese conductor En Chao).

The programme was arranged to mark the coming Brics meeting in Durban and it featured music from India, Brazil and Russia, with a compositional role for South Africa, and a Chinese conductor. The most unusual item was an arrangement for orchestra of the Hindu song Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Gandhi’s favourite. The song is seen as advancing the idea of the unity of religions.

The arrangement was made by Naum Rousine, a violinist in the orchestra and one of its resident conductors. He was born in Russia, but has lived in South Africa for 21 years. His arrangement turned out to be a deft fusion of Indian tonalities and rhythms with a traditional western style.

The result was an attractive atmospheric piece, quite gentle but rising to a big climax. The Indian influence was emphasised by the inclusion of a sitar, the many-stringed instrument that resembles a guitar, and the tabla, a pair of small hand drums.

The Pretoria pianist Ben Schoeman, 30, was the soloist in the Bachianas Brasileiras No 3 by the 20th century Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

This is another combination of two cultures, the folk music of Brazil and the baroque music of Europe exemplified by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is brilliant, clever, strong, direct, basic music, and the performance was excellent.

Schoeman is one of South Africa’s best pianists and he delivered Villa-Lobos’ rapid repeated notes and thundering octaves with aplomb and assurance. As an encore he played a delightful children’s piece by Villa-Lobos.

Finally, the orchestra gave a good performance of one of Tchaikovsky’s lesser-known symphonies, No 2, called The Little Russian because much of it is based on the folk music of the Ukraine, known in his time as “Little Russia”. –