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Zubin Mehta’s laudable aim to bring classical music to the troubled province of Kashmir may have scored an artistic success on Saturday but by the following morning with one man injured and questions being raised at diplomatic level it was clear that not everything had gone according to plan.
The concert, at Shalimar Bagh, Mughal Gardens in Srinagar on the banks of Dal Lake, was given by Mehta and the Bavarian State Orchestra with Andreas Oettl (trumpet) and Julian Rachlin (violin). The performance included Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No 3, Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony plus a piece by Kashmir composer Abhey Sopori which included 15 local musicians.
Afterwards, Mehta was upbeat about the event. "We are not politicians. We cannot change boundaries but we can start a process of healing. Yesterday there was the beginning of some process of healing because Hindus and Muslims were sitting together in complete harmony," he told Indian television station NDTV.
The event was organised by Michael Steiner, Germany’s ambassador to India, with the avowed aim of reaching "the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement", but heavy security aimed at deterring separatist insurgents and a lockout of all but invited Embassy ‘guests’ gave the event quite a different feel. Paramilitary police in addition shot and wounded a motorist who allegedly failed to stop when challenged.
The following morning Mehta and Steiner went on TV to defend their decision but it was already becoming clear that members of the orchestra were unhappy with the arrangements that had been made. Nikolaus Bachler, the general manager of the Bavarian State Orchestra, complained that he and his colleagues had been under the impression they would be playing for the Kashmiri people, and not to the Embassy’s 2,700 invited business leaders, government officials and diplomats.
"We were misled by the German embassy,” he told Reuters. “We will raise this issue with the German government that art can't be exploited by anyone, be it governments or by embassies or any political groups. The musicians, all the 80, waived the fees for Kashmiri people and not for an elite event. We didn't waive the fees for an embassy concert. Be sure this will be an issue in Germany."
Mehta maintained that Saturday’s audience had represented a cross-section of Kashmiri society but stated his hope to return in which case he would only play in a stadium.