Soulful strains of some of the most popular and best known western classical music compositions reverberated in the majestic backdrop of Zabarwan Hills when Zubin Mehta, world famous conductor, performed before a mesmerised audience in the Shalimar Gardens on the banks of Dal Lake here this evening.
In a unique setting in the 400-year-old Mughal Garden with its magnificent chinars, some as old as 300 years and more, Mehta and his Bavarian State Orchestra played its full cast of works of Ludwig Van Beethoven, Franz Joseph Haydn and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in front of an invited audience of 1,500 guests.
The concert kicked off with the maestro leading the orchestra in concert with Abhay Sopori's troupe with traditional Kashmiri instruments and ended with a fusion of Kashmiri folk tunes and western classical music to thundering cheers from the packed venue.
The concert, 'Ehsaas-e-Kashmir'(Feel of Kashmir), assumed political overtones following opposition by separatists and civil society, which saw it as an attempt to present a picture of peace in Kashmir which had witnessed so much bloodshed in recent decades.
The city remained mostly shut at the call of hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani against the concert.
Setting the tone for the concert, the 77-year-old music maestro started by saying in Hindi, "Hum bahut khush hain, hum bahut khush hain (I am very happy). I have waited and dreamt of this moment practically all my life and every person on the sub-continent will agree that this is where it (concert) should be held.
He promised to hold the next concert in a stadium which will be open for all Kashmiris free of charge.
"The wonderful soloists who will perform for you this evening, they are those whom we have heard inadvertently. Music sabke liye hona chahiye (Music should be for everyone) and it should not be for a select few.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah started by quoting the famous couplet by Amir Khusrau "that if there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here. Shalimar Bagh once again comes alive with the sound of music.
"We hope that the music from here will lift our spirits and lighten our souls for a better tomorrow," the chief minister said.
German Ambassador in India Michael Steiner, who hosted the concert, said, "The distance between Munich and Srinagar is 7,756-km. Today, the distance reduces to zero. German and European cultural heritage bow to Kashmir, to its history, to its beauty and to its difficult reality and journey."
"The world is looking at you, Ehsaas-e-Kashmir," he said, going on to quote Kashmiri poet Habba Khatun and German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.
While acknowledging the support of the state government and the Chief Minister, Steiner said, "I thank you all, but most of all I thank you all Kashmiris".
Holding of the concert fulfils a long-cherished wish of the Mumbai-born Mehta, who brushed aside the controversies surrounding it, saying that he was extremely happy to be performing here. "I did not choose Kashmir, Kashmir chose me."
Among the audience were Jammu and Kashmir Governor N N Vohra, Union Minister Farooq Abdullah, BJP leader Jaswant Singh, industrialist Nusli Wadia, a number of celebrities and envoys of several countries.
The high-profile event was telecast live by public broadcaster by Doordarshan for the first time in Hi-Definition format, which was watched by millions across India and 50 European countries.
Mehta played Symphony No.5, a composition of the famous German composer Beethoven, a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in western art music in the early 19th century.
The other well-known compositions that were played this evening were Concerto for Trumpet by Haydn, the late 18th century Austrian composer regarded by many as "Father of the Symphony", and the Violin Concerto by Russian composer Tchaikovsky, one of the most celebrated musicians of the 19th century.
Mehta, who had worked with several international orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and Israel Philharmonic, wove a magic spell and kept his audience in thrall unmindful of the controversy generated by separatists and others objecting to the concert.