Enhancing her “little” world through melodies | Daily News


Enhancing her “little” world through melodies

It is a universally known truth that daughters are more attached to their fathers and tend to follow their father’s footsteps at most times. They consider their fathers as the soul inspiration for their success in life, and their best friend, and the role model of their lives. In the global context, we have seen daughters of many famous fathers pass on their legacy, and continue with their work.

In the Sri Lankan society too, this concept is not unfamiliar. Today’s interview is based on such a daughter who takes her father’s legacy and work forward, and maks an effort to pass them on to the next generation. For our interviewee today, the world’s best composers in the caliber of Bach, Mozart, Frederic Chopin, and Joseph Hayden were familiar names with the musical environment she grew up in under her father’s guidance and inspiration. Ever since she was four years old, it was music she heard, and music was the first language she learnt. She and her sister Anupa used to watch rehearsals and recordings, and gained an extensive knowledge of how to do music scores and performances. They eventually shared their father’s passion for music. Those who are into opera music may never be able to forget magical masterpieces such as ‘Manasavila’, ‘Agni’ ‘Pirinivan Mangalya’ and many more works of art done for popular films and tele- dramas. He was known as the maestro who revolutionized the Sinhala Opera scene. His works and spoke to the hearts and souls of the audience, filling them with a kind of spiritual awakening which was conveyed through music.

Gayathrie Khemadasa

Today, his daughters continue with his good work, for the benefit of the future generation. Gayathrie Khemadasa, daughter of the internationally acclaimed maestro, veteran Music Director and Composer, the late Premasiri Khemadasa, joins us for this week’s interview.

Gayathrie studied at Ladies College, Colombo, and is a classical pianist who takes after her father, the late Premasiri Khemadasa, she did her higher studies at the Prague Conservatory, and Masaryk University, Czech Republic. She began her first performance in public in 2005, to raise money for the victims of the 2004 Asian Tsunami. In 2011, she was awarded a Fulbright Professional Scholarship and became a visiting scholar at the Wesleyan University where she began writing an opera on Phoolan Devi. In 2015, Gayathrie became the first Sri Lankan woman to win a national award for Best Original Score with the film ‘Thanha Rathi Ranga’, at the Derana Film Awards. The following year, she won the award for Best Music Director at the Hiru Golden Film Award for the same film.

Sharing her father’s gift of music and composing, she has over 40 pieces to her name. She has a degree in piano performance from the Prague Conservatory; she also has masters for which she studied the harpsichord at the Academy of Early music. She loves Bach – for he composed over 10 concertos for the harpsichord.

Gayathrie recalls fond memories of her father, from accompanying her and her sister Anupa for piano classes to how he introduced them to Mozart and Bach. Having moved to Prague at the age of 17, feeling the excitement of a new experience and naïve , Gayathrie was exposed to Czech composers such as Doubrava, Kabelac, Pelikan , She tried out different ways of bringing out music from different notes, mixing traditional Nepalese and Indonesian instruments with strong percussion-like playing on her piano to create a unique sound. She is the Director of the Khemadasa Foundation, which also gives musical education to underprivileged children in Sri Lanka, founded by her father, the late Premasiri Khemadasa.

Some of her other works include ‘When Caged Birds Sing’ a gallery performance which includes poetry, music, singing and drama to talk about equality and to open the space between the spectator and the performer where they both become one.

Her other works include ‘Conversations with a fence’. She believes empowering women to pursue their dreams, being accomplished, and achieve their goals. Having done a successful contribution by composing music for the latest release, ‘The Newspaper’, Gayathrie spared some time for an interesting chat.


Q: Tell us about your latest progress in your music career these days.

My most recent work is doing music for the movie ‘The Newspaper’ which is screening in cinemas right now. I was also invited to be part of the Women of the World global music festival which was held a few weeks ago. I performed my music with the Khemadasa Foundation students. Given the current situation all the performances were held online.

Q: What were the main features you focused on when you composed music for ‘The Newspaper’?

In my first film was “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow” (‘Thanha Rathi Ranga’ directed by Nilendra Deshapriya). I received the awards for Best Music and became the first Sri Lankan woman to win in this category.

I also got the opportunity to work with both Sarath Kothelawala and Kumara Thirimadura so when they started directing ‘The Newspaper’ I was invited to do the music. My focus was on finding the right musical language that would best support the story musically and how to be subtle and loud both at the same time!

Q: What kind of impact did your father make on your musical journey?

My father has been a huge inspiration and an encouragement in my life, no doubt. What he has inspired me to do most is to create my own musical voice. Both my parents encouraged us to go abroad to study. That experience, musical and otherwise, has changes us and helped us in absorbing and understanding different cultures and their music. I entered the music field in Prague when I was giving performances and composing and then I won a Fulbright Schloarship to write an opera on Phoolan Devi which was premiered in the US.

Q: Share a few thoughts on having to move to Prague at a young age.

It was an amazing experience studying in Prague. I was quite young and naive and thought it was going to be so easy but it was far from being easy! Music like any other profession needs lot of discipline, studying and lots of practice. Now thinking back I am grateful to my parents, my sister (who was already there studying Engineering) and my teachers for being so supportive during those times. The knowledge I gained was mainly to never stop learning, never stop thinking and being creative. Always be humble and wise enough to keep striving to enhance your "little" world even more

Q: What was the inspiration behind your opera, ‘Phoolan Devi’?

I read Phoolan Devi’s Biography and was stunned by her story . All the atrocities that she had to go through as a woman, how she fought for justice from a tender age and her strength amazed me. She possessed strength not only to make things better for her but for others as well. I wanted to do an opera based on her and I got a Fulbright scholarship to do so. The response in the US was fabulous. I was at the Wesleyan University CT and there were amazing people like Prof Neely Bruce (who himself has written 12 operas) and so many others who came to work with me. We had amazing sponsors who came forward to help us. Putting up an opera is not easy or cheap task.

Q: What kind of difference do you see between in Sri Lanka and the international arena when it comes to opera and orchestral music?

Opera and orchestral works have been a part of the European history dating back to more than a few centuries ago. When my father did the first Sri Lankan opera ‘Manasavila’ in early 90s there was so much criticism and backward thinking saying that this is not our culture. Now I think there is a lot of interest. It was the same with symphonies. I remember father saying that when he first performed his symphonies, there were more people in the orchestra than in the audience! That has changed now as well. I also think these kinds of genres should not be limited only to a crowd in Colombo or only to an expat crowd. ‘Manasavila’ and all his other operas and symphonies are being listened to and appreciated by the whole of Sri Lanka for decades. I want to request the audiences of Colombo to request orchestras to perform Sri Lankan music by Sri Lankan composers. That is one of the ways we should move forward with the rest of the world.

Q: What kind of recognition a female composer gets locally and internationally?

I feel great about being a female music composer! Getting opportunities as female composer, I think, is totally different story! Unfortunately the industry is not as broad minded as we would want it to be. When it comes to films, most directors are male and their choices also tend to be predominantly male perspective. It is a little bit different internationally but we have a long way to go.

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