The composer Param Vir was born in Delhi in 1952. As a child he learned the tabla but not for long. Only on beginning to learn the piano at the age of 9 did he show any enthusiasm for music. He got to know music in the western Christian tradition in going to a catholic school, then at the age of 14 began composing and met the German composer Hans-Joachim Koellreuter, who at the time was living in Delhi. Koellreuter taught him counterpoint and harmony and familiarised him with 12-tone music.
As regards his musical background, Param Vir says: ´I had come across the Karajan recordings of the symphonies whilst browsing in the Goethe Institute. Ragas, talas, plainsong, Palestrina, Strauss, 12-tone rows and Greek ecclesiastical modes all meeting in the mind of a teenager in post-colonial Delhi? This was surely a fortuitous conjunction of influences.´
Since he saw no professional future for himself as a composer in India, Param Vir gave up studying music at the end of school and turned to studying history and philosophy at Delhi University. After completing his studies in 1974 he came back to music, which he then taught in Delhi at a secondary school. He there developed unusual forms of musical education, analysing for instance western operettas and musicals. In 1979 he founded the ´Music Theatre Workshop´ to carry out music-theatre projects for Delhi children.
In 1983 he studied composition under Peter Maxwell Davies, Bernard Rands and Robert Saxton at the Dartington Summer School of Music in Devon and began studying in London under the composer Oliver Knussen.
In Europe Param Vir´s works soon won acceptance. In 1985 he won the prize for composition from the Guildhall School of Music; in 1986 he was a fellow in composition at the Tangelwood Music Centre in Massachus etts and won the Kucyna International Prize for Composition in Boston, following which he won the Bemjamin Britten and Michael Tippet Prize for composition. In 1988 a Homi Bhabha Fellowship from Bombay enabled him to stage in Delhi the opera ´Krishna´, which he had worked on with his Music Theatre Workshop. In 1989 he studied computer-music at the IRCAM in Paris and his work ´Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva´ for six solo voices (1988) was premiered at the Donaueschinger Musiktagen. Since the autumn of 1992 he has been teaching at the Oberlin College in Oberlin in Ohio.
Param Vir became known internationally through his second opera ´Snatched by the Gods´ and ´Broken Strings´, commissioned by Hans Werner Henze for the 1992 Munich Biennale, where he won the prize for the best composer.
Asked if he thinks of himself as an Indian composer with works belonging to Indian culture, Param Vir replied in an interview: ´The world today is an extraordinary meeting-point for divergent identities, cultures, languages, thought forms and ideologies, all jostling together in some amazing dance, the secret purpose of which has yet to be revealed. We are in the Hall of Mirrors - and can use the distorting mirrors of Otherness, of Difference, to see ourselves better, with greater self-knowledge.´
(Source: ´Komponisten der Gegenwart´ (Composers of Today), published by Hann s-Werner Heister and Walter Wolfgang Sparrer, edition text und kritik, Munich)
Author: House of World Cultures