Based in the United Kingdom, flautist Meera Maharaj leads a busy performance schedule in multiple chamber music collaborations across all genres. Her group Meraki Duo were recent finalist in the Royal Overseas League Competition in 2019.
MA: Hello Meera - where are you these days?
MM: Hello Mike! I’m currently at home with my family in Warrington, UK (half way between Manchester and Liverpool). I had just moved from London to Manchester before the lockdown and lived there for a grand total of five weeks but then found myself back at home when the gigs had stopped (along with the income!).
MA: Tell us about your last live concert with an in person audience before the lockdown?
MM: Ah it seems so long ago! My last concert before the lockdown was on March 13th and this was a recital alongside my pianist duo partner, Dom Degavino. We played for a lovely series in Brighton with a programme of Prokofiev Sonata and Bach E major Sonata. The intention behind this concert was to build up our programme in advance of a Scottish tour (through the Tunnell Trust). We were due to play five concerts throughout Scotland, however these were cancelled just days before we were planning to set off and a week later, the UK was in lockdown.
Prior to the concert on the 13th, I had been on a tour of the South West of the UK with my flute/guitar duo. Given that the virus was on the rampage back then, it seems laughable that we were traveling around visiting concert venues, schools and care homes! The fact that everything changed so quickly, following awful government guidance, explains why the UK has suffered from so many Covid cases.
(*here is a recent live streamed concert of Meera's from September 20th 2020: here)
MA: You have been busy these past few weeks with live concerts presented online - can you tell us about the different programs you have just recently performed?
MM: In July, I did my first live-streamed concert and this was a flute/piano duo recital. Dom Degavino recently set up his own series of online concerts, so our programme was the second event in the series. The programme consisted of Schumann’s Three Romances, originally written for oboe but arranged for flute by Rampal, alongside the Prokofiev Sonata (because we had to perform it at some point!). To end the programme, we premiered our set of arrangements, inspired by the recent focus on the BLM movement. Two of the arrangements were for alto flute/piano, namely, ‘Deep River’ (a spiritual, which I first encountered in Tippett’s ‘A Child of Our Time’), and a Swahili love song called ‘Malaika’ (our version was based on the recording by Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte). The final arrangement was Lord Kitchener’s calypso, ‘London is the Place for Me’, which was particularly poignant for me as Kitchener was a Trinidadian calypsonian and my grandparents migrated from Trinidad to London in the 1950s, as part of the Windrush generation. It is no secret that there is very little diversity in both the classical music world as well as within the repertoire, so I was keen to include music of Afro and Afro-Caribbean origin in our programme. However, these songs are not classical pieces and it’s refreshing to have a concert which includes of a mixture of genres.
(*this concert is still available to view: here)
My flute/guitar duo, Meraki Duo, recorded a concert which was streamed by the International Guitar Foundation as part of their Young Artist Platform. We hadn’t played together for 5 months before that, so it was a very happy reunion! We played music by Serbian guitarist Miroslav Tadic, James’ arrangement of the 5 Leçons de Solfege by Messiaen, a fun Afro-Cuban number by Andy Scott and a tune by the Brazilian super group ‘Quarteto Novo’.
Meraki also put together some online musical stories as part of our work for Live Music Now. LMN is an organisation that was set up by Menuhin in the 70s and after winning a place on the scheme in 2018, James and I have enjoyed doing sessions in special educational needs school, care homes and community settings various.
Here’s one of our stories: ‘The Music Pirates’
MA: What other groups do you play with throughout the year and what instrumentation are they?
MM: During the last month, I began a new endeavour ‘Taika’, and this is a duo with a harpist. I realised that the middle of a pandemic is a bizarre time to start a new ensemble but it’s been refreshing to work on something new during this strange time. This duo is with harpist, Sophie Rocks and as Sophie is Scottish, we have enjoyed learning some Scottish folk tunes. We are collaborating with a bassoonist over the next few months and whilst flute/bassoon/harp isn’t the most common instrumentation, I think it’ll be really exciting to work on that project.
I have done some work with a cellist, Sarah Gait, in which we have performed completely improvised concerts. This was a fascinating process as the preparation needs to be strong, even in a free improv setting: Improv Indigo.
Regarding style and genre, my flute/piano duo is the most standard in terms of repertoire. However, we have enjoyed exploring lesser known works such as the Mel Bonis Sonata, David Matthews’ ‘Duet Variations’ and the Sonata by Jongen. Meraki Duo (flute/guitar) lends itself to South American repertoire and we have ended up playing a lot of Brazilian music, as both James and I enjoy exploring this style (both Bossa Nova style and more contemporary Brazilian stuff). I have played a fair amount of contemporary stuff but I would like to learn much more new music.
I do play with orchestras occasionally too! The orchestral classics of the likes of Beethoven and Brahms are always exhilarating to play! Flautist Wissam Boustany set up his own orchestra, Pro Youth Philharmonia and I had a wonderful time on 2 PYP tours. I have orchestral work with Chineke! coming up, as well as a contemporary opera project. Covid dependant of course!
MA: What do you do away from music? What else has kept you busy?
MM: Certainly! I really like the outdoors and I enjoy getting out to walk. I’m a bit of an adrenaline addict (on and off stage!) so I also like rock climbing. Less adrenaline related interests include reading (recent gripping reads include ‘Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin).
MA: You execute a variety of repertoire overall - can you share with us how you balance your focus between the different styles and groups? Is it just a pure love for music making?
MM: It is a bit of a juggling act but that’s the life of a musician really! Each ensemble requires a slightly different approach in terms of learning, the flute playing itself and the rehearsal process. However, I think you’re right in saying that it mainly comes down to a love of music-making in every setting. I am so lucky to play with such brilliant musicians and friends so I am constantly inspired by them. As musicians, we are all lucky to live a life in which we love what we do and that we can share this love with fellow musicians as well as audiences.
© Michael Alampi - Unblocked Musician