Taking the lead

Taking the lead



Manvinder Rattan had his first tryst with conducting a choir when he was seven-years-old. The performance, he recalls, was put together by his first music teacher.“I remember my dad even made me a baton,” he recollects smiling. And years down the line, after learning the nuances of conducting with James Wild, John Coates, Jill Henderson-Wild, Peter Erdei and Laszlo Heltay, Rattan is today an accomplished choral and orchestral conductor. “People think that one can just go on to the podium and lead a choir. But it is important to learn the techniques of how to do it. After all, you can’t just pick up a violin and make music with it. It doesn’t work that way in conducting either,” says Rattan,. Rattan’s family hails from India. His grandparents migrated to Nairobi back in 1941, the country where he was born. However, his family moved to the UK a couple of years after his birth, and London is the city that he today calls home.

It was good music teachers, he says, that attracted him to Western classical music. “My first teacher was completely bonkers. But he inspired something in me. My subsequent teachers also helped ignite a love for music,” he says. Today, Rattan is the music director of the John Lewis Partnership Music Society, a post he has held since 1995, and is responsible for 15 choirs and orchestras. He is also a trainer of conductors.

In 2014 he formed his own professional chamber choir, Serafine, and chamber orchestra, Serafine Sinfonia, with whom he recorded ‘Oliver Tarney’s Magnificat’. 2014 also saw Rattan’s Royal Albert Hall conducting debut and 2016, his Royal Festival Hall and Indian conducting debuts.

In 2016, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by his Alma Mater York St John University in recognition of his achievements in music and conducting.

And given that the Indian community is omnipresent in every facet of life in the UK, people aren’t surprised to see an Indian conductor in Western classical music today, he says. “However it is unusual as there aren’t many of me and that makes me very distinctive,” he says.

And Rattan has been doing his part in giving back to the country of his origin by doing concerts in Delhi, doing a stint in guest lecturing, etc. Recently he was also in Kalimpong, in North est India, for a two-week training for teachers. “In fact I have just seen the first video of the children being taught by the people that I taught!” he says. And he is hopeful that there will be more such cases of people learning from abroad and coming back to India to guide musicians here.

Interestingly this is his first visit to Goa to be a part of the Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival. “My work often takes me  to Mombasa, East Africa. I have seen the Indian Ocean from there. And now I get to see it from the other side and that makes me feel very complete,” he says.

The Ketevan performance will see him being part of the show ‘XX Soundscapes’ ‘Bach Cantata’.

“Bach is often considered by many musicians to be the apogee of musical achievement. His music has the ability to engage human emotion to an extraordinary level. Bach is known to have written hundreds of cantatas virtually every Sunday of the year. What we will be performing is a medley of some of these cantatas,” he says and adds, “It is a great opportunity for me to be doing what I do and what I’ve learnt in my country and to bring it back to the country of my origin.”


(‘XX Soundscapes’ ‘Bach Cantata’ featuring Manvinder Rattan and Lux Vocalis Ensemble will be held on February 21, 7 p.m. at St Monica Church, Old Goa)