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Finding her soul in keeping score

Published : Dec 3, 2017, 12:40 am IST
Updated : Dec 3, 2017, 12:42 am IST

Her immense talent, fortitude and patience led her to carve a niche for herself in the august halls of opera houses the world over.

Maria Badstue
 Maria Badstue

Born in India, adopted in Denmark, Maria Badstue’s music came to India for the first opera at the Mumbai Opera House, the renowned conductor shares more.

A baby girl was born in an orphanage in the pilgrimage village of Pandharpur in Maharashtra. Today, she stands self assured as a orchestra conductor, setting tempo, with the most wondrous musical symphonies ringing out in Denmark. Destiny took Maria Badstue towards a Danish life and music. The incredibly talented Danish conductor who conducted the first full-length Italian opera, Domenico Cimarosa’s comedy Il Matrimonio Segreto at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai is a world renowned classical conductor. Maria Badstue, 35, was adopted by her Danish parents at just five months old through an Indian agency, and her prodigious talent has since shone from Thisted, her village, across the world.

A quirk of fate led Badstue back to her birth country, when the original conductor for the Mumbai Opera’s first operatic showing was unavailable. Suddenly the Danish girl was helming the show held in July this year. “I was assistant conductor for Esa-Pekka Salonen in the Philharmonic Orchestra in London. While assisting, I met Patricia Rozario and Mark Troop who run the Giving Voice Society. They invited me to India. Suddenly, it all happened. I came to India and it was amazing, fantastic. I am forever grateful for the opportunity. The musicians, singers and whole atmosphere was incredible,” she says, a deep Danish lilt resounding over skype from her home in Copenhagen. Maria started playing the trumpet at 12 for a local Christian scouts organisation, and realised that this was her calling, a precocious thought no doubt for one so young.

Her immense talent, fortitude and patience led her to carve a niche for herself in the august halls of opera houses the world over. An inherent understanding of the innumerable scores, symphonies, she has the dedication of a perfectionist, and it is this sheer belief that saw her win her first award. “I was the finalist at the 5th Lovro von Matatic Competition 2011 with the Croatian Radio and Television Orchestra. It was the most meaningful as I had just started my studies in conducting, I had never been in front of such a big orchestra. I got immense attention but it was not easy as you need to do something special to be recognised,” says Badstue who made her official Danish debut at the Tivoli Festival with the Copenhagen Phil in 2013. Her’s is a refined, effective and gracious style of conducting. Gothenburg Symphony, Malmö Symphony, Helsingborg Symphony, Kristiansand Symphony, there is a commendable list in her repertoire.

Maria Badstue in the midst of a musical performanceMaria Badstue in the midst of a musical performance

Maria is consumed by music, and as a conductor, the intricacies of various musical arias have kept her deep into music for days on end. What has emerged is a thoughtful and intuitive style. Ask her to explain and she metaphorically steps into the limelight, baton in hand, transported into scores, prempting strains, inclusive, almost like cell memory. “It is difficult and complex, working in the now, you have to be ahead of time, navigate different planes. Studying is extremely important. I need to know every melody and voice in the orchestra. Preparation is tantamount but it’s 80 per cent psychology as you have to understand the energy and mental efforts around,” she adds. A piano plays in the background, it’s her husband, Yens, a viola player clankering about.

It might seem a mammoth task to conduct at such a young age as 17 was when she started, but Maria does not think so, “When I was 12, I found out that I wanted to do this, professionally. I started practicing intensely, learnt Italian, read about composers, dove into the world of classical, all on my own. Music has always been a very private endeavour. All the study was something I did rather alone. It is important to know how to play instruments, you need have mastery of an instrument. I play trumpet professionally, and piano to some level and even viola, not professionally, though. As a young conductor, all these experiences both in conducting, and in life, shape you. So, in a way, when you are 50 or 60, you are flourishing,” she explains.  

Since no one in her family is into music, she spent a lot of time mulling about her origins early on, and looking so different from the rest also made her look inward, “I am sure that my musical interest and genes somehow come from India, since my family are not really interested in music. I gave that a lot of thought when I was younger, but not so much at the moment,” says Badstue, who hopes to conduct in India again, “I hope I can come back to India, I would love to. There are some talks, but nothing I can talk about as India needs more classical musicians too,” she says, adding, “Of course, I have been thinking about India frequently, thinking should I go, should I not? I’ve also tried quite successfully to fit into my Danish home,” she explains.

Ask her about her parent’s and she says with an unmistakable Nordic robustness, “They are normal people, my father is a carpenter and my mother cooks for the mentally ill.” Her origins are safely placed in a briefcase, for when she gets the time to explore, and travel to the village she was born in — till then, those papers hold her lineage in their inked depths. On her website, we spot a very portly rounded Maria conducting, and we realise she was pregnant at that time. Today, the 18-month-old Iben is the centre of her world. Work is all encompassing, and one realises that she almost enters a different reality when she ensconces herself into her beloved music, searching through inexhaustible repertoire.

Prod her on how all music, no play might make Maria, a bit dull and nerdy, she is fast to reply, “I have fun, friends. I must say I have no hobbies (laughing), I think you are right, music is time consuming and learning is endless. I don’t feel the need for hobbies. I have to read music, and I am very good. I think it is fulfiling enough to have music in my life,” says the mother who tries her hand at cooking, admitting to not being much of a cook. Now, her days are filled with her daughter Iben and her delightful gurgles, which have taken the conductress mama into unfamiliar territory, but it’s something she is fast musicalising. “Iben means dark and strong — it comes from the word Ibenholt, a wood from which string instruments are made. My husband, a viola player, and I found it meaningful for us to name her after Ibenholt, an extremely strong wood. It’s quite nice now, as I get to sing children’s songs (she laughs) and to play and harmonise them for Iben, it’s funny. In a way, it’s good as I have a tendency to get totally absorbed in my music.”

She loves her mother’s dessert, citronfromage! Travelling for music, she hopes the youth can open their hearts and minds to classical, as it’s so enriching. For her, her life’s work is searching the galaxies of scores for repertories, and it’s a part of what she has chosen, to practice, study, pouring over endless musical notes — intense. That is her normal, something she wouldn’t change for the world!

Tags: royal opera house, maria badstue, mumbai opera house