e-ISSN: 2625-378X
p-ISSN: 2701-2689


Symphonies, Status and Soft Power: The Symphony Orchestra of India

Hannah Marsden

ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL 7 (2021)     pp: 19-36     2021-06-21

Stichworte/keywords: Orchestra, India, Mumbai, Soft Power, Cultural diplomacy

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Marsden, H. (2021). Symphonies, Status and Soft Power: The Symphony Orchestra of India. ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL, 7 , 19-36. doi:10.30819/aemr.7-2
doi = {10.30819/aemr.7-2},
url = {},
year = 2021,
publisher = {Logos Verlag Berlin},
volume = {7},
pages = {19-36},
author = {Hannah Marsden},
title = {Symphonies, Status and Soft Power: The Symphony Orchestra of India},

The Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) is India's only professional symphony orchestra. In this paper, I explore the roles and meanings of the SOI. First, I situate it locally within its home city of Mumbai, positioning it within discourses of social class, status, and globally-minded aspiration. I argue that local values and ideologies surrounding professional musicianship compromise attempts to embed orchestral musicking in the city. I then move on to place the SOI within discourses of nation building, questioning the role of the orchestra as a marker of national development. I suggest that Mumbai's transnational middle class and elite communities, as well as the SOI's multinational corporate donors, consider investment in an orchestra a part of India's wider political and economic development. I point to tensions that are created as India's local and national government resist the notion of the orchestra as a marker of modernity and instead champion Indian arts and cultures as foundational to India's nationhood. Finally, I explore the SOI's transnational networks, looking at its role within cultural diplomacy and soft power. I show that, whilst the SOI has made significant steps in 'reaching out' and finding a place within transnational cultural networks, its efforts are hampered by its failure to 'stand out'; to forge its own national identity as an Indian symphony orchestra.
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