Gurgaon boy hits high note in Viennese choir

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New Delhi: Joseph Haydn was a mentor to Mozart and taught Beethoven. Now, a 10year-old Gurgaon boy is under his `tutelage’. It has been a year since Rishan Bhatnagar entered Palais Augarten, the palatial school, boarding and rehearsal space of Vienna Boys’ Choir in Vienna, Austria, after being handpicked by its director at a hobby class.

Rishan is the first Indian in the renowned 500-year-old choir. He is on a four-year scholarship, and gets to perform all over the world.

While most of the 100 choirboys aged 9-13 years are Austrian, 15 are from other countries. They are grouped in four teams of 25, named after Austrian composers Bruckner, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. Rishan Bhatnagar, who is in the Haydn group, sings every Sunday at Church mass and has also travelled for three months to perform in 23 Chinese cities, besides venues in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

His mother, Shaheen Khokhar Bhatnagar, said she didn’t imagine his voice would carry him so far when she enrolled him at Lorraine Music Academy in Gurgaon.He had been training with Mozart Children’s Choir when one day he sought permission to join a workshop by a `prestigious choir group’. “After the workshop, Gerald Wirth, director of the choir, complimented my son’s voice and asked me if we would like to send him to Austria,“ said Shaheen.She thought it was an offer for a summer workshop but baulked when Wirth explained next day that Rishan would be trained as a singer, and taught German and other school subjects over five years.

“Rishan was only eight years old, and we couldn’t have sent him away . We refused initially, but the director convinced us to come to Austria for a week and decide thereafter.“ After two days in Austria, Rishan convinced his parents that he wanted to stay on. Now, he calls them up to assure them he is “well set tled“ and they shouldn’t worry about him.

Rishan’s aunt Reem Khokhar, who is part of Delhi choir Capital City Minstrels, said his big break has meant a hectic practice-andperform run.

“Rishan has a gruelling schedule. Apart from focus ing on studies and preparing for performances, the group also travels extensively .While it did take time for him to settle down, he has adapted well.“

Since the group tours three months a year, the boys have to complete their curriculum in nine months along with regular music practice.Their performances are among the biggest tourist attractions of Vienna. “Rishan tells us passers-by wave at them, and pose with them for pictures. While he doesn’t realise this, we know what a reputed group he is part of,“ said Shaheen.