Music – Srimal’s passion in life | Sunday Observer

Music – Srimal’s passion in life

11 September, 2022

Srimal Weerasinghe lives and breathes music. And no wonder! At 24 years, he is Sri Lanka’s youngest orchestral conductor. Currently, he is the Chief Conductor and Music Director of Sri Lanka’s largest orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Orchestra of Colombo. Srimal also conducts the National Youth Orchestra and the Colombo Wind Orchestra.

It was at that hallowed school by the sea, S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, that Srimal was first introduced to music, the passion of his life. In Grade 6, Srimal was faced with the choice of selecting an aesthetic subject, and he opted for music, something he had always wanted to do. But at this stage, he never dreamt that music would become his life’s passion. However, with the first notes he heard, the young Srimal was certain that the world of music was his life’s realm. He immersed himself in it, and soon it became his be all and end all.

The Thomian Chamber Ochestra

Srimal started studying the piano under Priyanthi Perera at the age of 10. He joined the Thomian Chamber Orchestra as a recorder player. It did not take Srimal long to master the intricacies of the instrument.

Tutoring and mentoring

Fortune smiled on Srimal bringing him to the attention of Manilal Weerakoon, an experienced and highly talented horn player and conductor. Weerakoon was quick to recognise Srimal’s latent potential. He started tutoring and mentoring the up-and-coming young musician. Srimal is ever so grateful to Manilal Weerakoon for all the support he has given him and still continues to give him in his musical career. Srimal says that he is also indebted to veteran bassoonist, the late Dayananda Fernando for all the help and encouragement he had given him.

The National Youth Orchestra

Srimal joined the National Youth Orchestra of Sri Lanka as an oboist and they provided him with an instrument.

Srimal, with his talent for music and passion for it, easily overcame the challenges of playing and adapting to his new instrument, the oboe.

During his early forays into music, Srimal was attracted to the iconic music of great composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

Introduction to Mahler’s music

When Srimal was around 12 or 13 years of age he listened to the 2nd and the 6th symphonies of Gustav Mahler and promptly became hooked on the music of this Austrian composer. Srimal says that the music sounded very natural to him and that he felt an instant kinship with it. It would not be wrong to say that today, the sun of Srimal Weerasinghe’s musical world is Gustav Mahler.

In 2014, he left the hallowed portals of the college by the sea to enter the portals of the prestigious Royal College, Colombo, at his mother’s insistence. She was not in favour of the idea of him pursuing a musical career and preferred that he concentrate on biology to become a doctor. But Srimal did not waver in his determination to pursue music.

The Royal College Orchestra

Srimal was the catalyst in founding the Royal College Orchestra, which performed under the baton of Srimal himself.

The Royal College Orchestra was placed first in the island at the National Music Festival Competitions in 2015 and has retained this position to date. For its maiden performance, the Royal College Orchestra played Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances. Srimal greatly appreciates the efforts of Priyanthi Sudusinghe, the music teacher at Royal College.

Srimal still retains a great interest in the musical achievements of both his alma maters.

Srimal the oboist

As an oboist he was invited to perform with local and foreign orchestras, including the Krasna Orchestra, the Colombo Wind Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka, National Unity Orchestra, CMSC Orchestra, National Centre for Performing Arts and Royal Opera House in India.

A good window of opportunity came Srimal’s way when he met two JICA volunteers in Sri Lanka, Naomi Kunimoto and Sato Megumi. So impressed were they about the young musician’s talent that they personally funded Srimal’s musical studies.

Japanese tutors

Srimal also had the privilege of studying the oboe under Miyuki Funatsu and conducting under Prof. Naoki Sugiyama in Japan and Vienna. These two teachers also played an important part in shaping Srimal’s musical career, which fact Srimal recalls with great gratitude.

All the while, Srimal’s passion for the music of Mahler grew by leaps and bounds. Mahler’s music is complex and not easy to perform. Therefore, many musicians fight shy of playing this music.

This is not so for devoted Mahler aficionado, Srimal Weerasinghe. The challenges that the music poses only spurs him on. Some of Mahler’s works performed in Sri Lanka under the baton of Srimal Weerasinghe has been done so for the first time in South East Asia. Included among these works are Mahler’s Second Symphony, Urlicht, Rickert Lieder and the Fifth Symphony Adagietto.

The Gustav Mahler Society

In 2018. Srimal took a significant step in his musical career and his quest to popularise the music of Gustav Mahler. He, along with fellow musicians Vidhurinda Samaraweera, Rachel and Amanda Halliday, formed the Gustav Mahler Society of Colombo (GMSC) in June 2018. The quartet worked very hard, and in a short space of time, put together an eighty-member orchestra with Srimal conducting it.

Premier concert

The Gustav Mahler Orchestra premiered at the Navarangahala on August 28, 2018. The program comprised Mahler Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen, Mahler’s Urlicht from the Second Symphony and Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. This repertoire of complicated and difficult music caused the raising of many an eyebrow. People were sceptical that the fledgling orchestra could do justice to the music, especially the Enigma Variations, which had not been performed in the past few decades due to the extreme technical difficulties in performing and conducting.

Nothing daunted, Srimal as conductor led the orchestra from the front and the young performers gave a polished performance to rousing accolades. Srimal also takes great pleasure in performing works by Sri Lankan composers as well. Sachiththa Fernando, Lalanath de Silva and Lakshan Perera are some of the composers whose works have been premiered by Srimal.

The era of crises in Sri Lanka naturally disrupted the well laid plans of Srimal and the GMSC. However, they kept their music alive by having online performances. The GMSC orchestra became the first Sri Lankan Orchestra to have a live performance post crises. They performed at the Lionel Wendt on April 23, 2022. The concert featured violinist, maestro Ananda Dabare making a comeback as soloist for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

It is undoubtedly Srimal’s leadership that has kept the ship afloat in troubled waters and he has been ably backed by his talented and loyal team.

The Gustav Mahler Academy

Srimal has helped lead the GMSC’s educational outreach program island wide. The society established the Gustav Mahler Orchestra Academy coaching young musicians on orchestral performance. Principal players of the Gustav Mahler orchestra conduct these sessions.

Apart from being the Music Director and Conductor of the GMSC Srimal also lectures at the University of Performing Arts Colombo. When asked about the Sri Lankan music industry, Srimal bemoaned the lack of professionalism and facilities, even though some progress has been made.

Srimal hopes to fly to Japan soon to conduct some orchestras there. He will be conducting works by Mahler, Dvorak, Ives, Berg, Weill and Copland.