“The timing seemed right,” according to Xerxes Unvala, whose instinct for timing has been more than reliable. He returned home to Mumbai last summer to take a position with the National Centre for the Performing Arts, leaving the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where he’s been working since he graduated. “I’d long felt that I would like to get back to India for a while,” he added, and he’s enjoying living near his family, though his younger brother Rohaan Unvala ’17 moved to Granville to start his first year at Denison just as Xerxes was returning to India.
It never occurred to him to major in music when he came to Denison in 2005, but he took a music class his first year, and liked it so well that he signed up for more his sophomore year. The door really opened after his first year when he met Lorraine Wales, and she took him on as a student intern for the Vail Series. “Meeting and working with all the Vail artists was one of the best things about my time at DU. Every year when the Kennedy Center announced the upcoming season, I would mentally check off which artists had already been to Denison.”
Still, Unvala didn’t really consider a career in the field until his senior year, “when I could no longer delay thinking about life after graduation.” Vail guest artist Yo-Yo Ma counseled him to apply for a summer guide position at Tanglewood, which was unfortunately already filled. But that got him thinking, and he applied for several internships with arts institutions. He won a four-month position with the press office for the National Symphony Orchestra, where he worked on numerous events, including the Kennedy Center Honors.
As his internship was coming to an end, he became aware of an upcoming Kennedy Center festival of India, which piqued his interest. He made an appointment to speak with the V.P. of international programming, who hired him. “Ironically, I learned more about Indian arts working in D.C. than I knew from having grown up here.” The India festival was followed by another festival celebrating the Nordic countries, which really expanded Unvala’s point of view. “The intersection of cultures, genres, and art forms is what really interests me.”
Now with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai, Unvala works primarily with the Symphony Orchestra of India. “In a way, the challenges for this music are similar to anywhere else in the world,” he says, “trying to build audiences.” But Western classical music is still a relatively unfamiliar form in India. “I think there is a curiosity and an interest in it though. We’re working on expanding our orchestra’s programming to many more educational and outreach activities.” Unvala looks back over the past few years and recognizes “an element of being in the right place at the right time.” He also sees a logical progression, adding, “certainly the path traces back to the Vail Series.”