lunes, 16 de octubre de 2017

Forbidden Love, again... (article on Dali & Lorca last year on The Jakarta Post)

Sorry, I forgot to put this in my blog; it's been almost a year! So, here is the original article that I sent to The Jakarta Post : ............................................................................................................................................ The Power of Love, Metaphor and Death ............................................................................................................................................ 2016 is a significant literary year for Spain. This year marks two death anniversaries: the 400th of Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616) and the 80th of Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936). This is the reason why the Cervantes Institute with the support of the Spanish Embassy invited me celebrate this event in Indonesia by composing music based on works by these 2 great writers, to be sung by the rising young soprano Mariska Setiawan during the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, 25-30 October. ............................................................................................................................................ While Lorca has long been cherished by the hearts of Indonesian literature, Cervantes is still not, and that could be the indication of how Spain has missed the opportunity to use his name and works as a cultural asset during these 400 years. The Spanish language is not an excuse: Tolstoy, Goethe, Dante, even Rumi are more known worldwide while their languages are much less spoken on this planet. It is a curious coincidence that both Cervantes and Shakespeare died less than 24 hours apart: the Spaniard on April 22 and the British on the 23rd, 1616. Shakespeare has gone Hollywood several times, he is everywhere in classical music, ballets and operas and everyone on the streets quotes "To be or not to be, that is the question" besides his other famous quotes, while Cervantes' fame would only lie in Don Quijote. Needless to say, tourists going to the U.K. would make an effort to go to Stratford-upon-Avon to be at Shakespeare's birthplace, while Alcala de Henares has not established its name as a tourist destination as Cervantes' birth town, even if it's much more accesible since it is so close to Madrid than Stratford to Britain's capital city. ............................................................................................................................................ Lorca is a different case, and his dramatic death might contribute to his popularity. The two great Indonesian writers who studied, translated and were influenced by him were Ramadhan K.H (who translated the novel The House of Bernarda Alba in the 1950s and then followed by other works) and Sutardji Calzoum Bachri who explored the repetition techniques, such as in the poem Romance Sonambulo where Lorca used the word "verde" (green) repetitively in different aspects. ........................................................................................................................................... Green, I want you green. / Green wind. Green branches./ The ship out on the sea / and the horse on the mountain. / With the shade around her waist / she dreams on her balcony, / green flesh, her hair green, / with eyes of cold silver. / Green, I want you green. ............................................................................................................................................ It was Hasan Aspahani (b. 1971) in the beginning of this millenium that brought Lorca back to the Indonesian poetic scene. He translated his poems not to be published, but for personal studies although he uploaded them in his blog, which (accidentally?) became very popular. As Aspahani is not fluent in Spanish, he investigated several translations existing in English (made easier by the internet). He himself declared that he is a "traitor" : he didn't translate them truthfully, but he made his own rhymes. "If you want a translated poem to have beauty, you should be a traitor to the original poem". But the most Lorcian poet in Indonesia, according to Aspahani would be W.S. Rendra in his early works. Lorca has brought out the lyrical and metaphorical qualities in Rendra. They both fell in love with the landscape of hills, birds, trees, grass and leaves. Most importantly, they were very much attached to their own music: Rendra with the Javanese children's folk songs, Lorca with Flamenco dancers and musicians and even its instruments. Rendra also learned how the Spaniard used metaphors, such as in the latter's "The Six Strings" (one of his few poems about the guitar) that I set to music for this occasion: ............................................................................................................................................ The guitar / makes dreams cry. / The crying of lost souls / escapes from its round mouth. / And like the tarantula / it weaves a huge star / to catch sighs / that float on its black wooden tank. ............................................................................................................................................ This would then influenced poets such as Subagio Sastrowardoyo, and I am sure Sapardi Djoko Damono too, though he never mentioned it. ............................................................................................................................................ . An important aspect of Lorca's life would be his open homosexuality and his relationship with Salvador Dali, which complicated their lives during the Franco dictatorship. This contributed to his arrest and assassination by the right wing dictator in 1936 according to his biographer Stainton, although another biographer Ian Gibson stated that it was also as part of a campaign of mass killings intended to eliminate supporters of the Marxists. Lorca and Dali met when they were students in Madrid in 1922. Dali could not be open about it in their time, but he did admit their close friendship "although we never had sex" as he admitted more than once to his biographers. Yet there was the beautiful "Ode to Salvador Dali" by Lorca, from which I took 3 stanzas and set it to music too. It is a clear and poignant love letter to the Catalan painter, who responded it with a love letter recently discovered, with a sketch referring Lorca as "my St. Sebastian" who was tied up on a beach of Ampurias, where Dali lived. ........................................................................................................................................... In the music world, Lorca has inspired many composers far beyond the Spanish borders and of Hispanic backgrounds. Lorca himself was a musician; he studied music and even wrote some songs in his teenage years, considering a career in music and closely befriended the great Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, working together in some productions. His first prose works such as "Nocturne", "Ballade" and "Sonata" clearly drew on musical forms. Composers who have set his works to music include the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich, the Finnish Einojuhani Rautavaara, the Mexican Silvestre Revueltas and the American George Crumb (in more than 5 works). My "Two Songs on poems by Garcia Lorca" would be the most recent modest contribution to this list, based on Oda a Salvador Dali and Las Seis Cuerdas mentioned above. ........................................................................................................................................... (all fragments of poems are translated truthfully but unpoetically by me)

jueves, 12 de octubre de 2017

Celebrating Difference, Redefining Love (article about 100% Human Film Festival)

This edited article of mine appeared at The Jakarta Post, October 7, 2017. It's about the new movement, 100% Human (100 persen manusia) and their first film festival held in Jakarta, which you should not miss next time. I'd like to express my gratitude to its founder & programmer, Meninaputri Wismurti, for some additional informations that proved to be very useful for my article. So here is my original : ............................................................................................................................................ Celebrating Differences, Redefining Love ............................................................................................................................................ Recent events in the news suggest that the world is growing more insular and polarised. The tragic conflict in Barcelona during the Catalonian Referendum just last Sunday, with totally unpredictable results as well as that of Brexit exemplify how intolerance and divisiveness are spreading their tentacles in the northern hemisphere. Closer home, the brutal racial attacks in Myanmar and sporadic attacks in Indonesia also harbours deep prejudices. Ironically, as the internet have in some sense erased geographic boundaries, xenophobic tendencies are only growing more pronounced all around. Supposedly we connect with anyone from anywhere, but then we are more wary of the ‘other.’ Diversity and differences, in all its myriad hues, should in fact benefit both individuals and societies, but political parties and greedy individuals are trying to make sharpen them, and to trigger exactly the opposite to happen. ............................................................................................................................................ In the face of so much injustice nowadays, Indonesia's 100% Manusia ("100% Human") movement held a film festival in Jakarta, championing human rights, exposing differences and strive to prove that it is the element that unite us all and that's what makes us amazing. The festival raises awareness on racism, gender diversity, HIV/AIDS, physical / mental difabilities (this is the correct term for me; which stands for "different abilities") and other human rights issues. We who attended the festival deeply perceived their wish to convey that we still have a right to culture, peace and hope and not be afraid of it in the midst of the recent populist and "religious" movements in Indonesia (and everywhere else). It is time to heal the wounds and, in the words of Rain Cuaca, the director of the Festival, to "respect and appreciate plurality through the medium of art and culture such as film festivals, periodic film screenings, tours around the city of Jakarta and performing arts. This movement came about because we saw that the phenomenon of intolerance is increasingly felt in everyday life. Therefore, we want to create a platform of interaction to find the connections among the differences. We also believe that the sense of brotherhood is stronger than the hatred that stems from the inability of understanding each other and lack of empathy. This "100% Human Film Festival" is expected to foster a sense of tolerance between us." ............................................................................................................................................ The Festival was opened by Dr. Budi Wahyuni, Vice Chairman of KOMNAS PEREMPUAN (National Commission on Violence Against Women) on September 22nd at Goethe Institute, indicating that the violence rate against women in Indonesia is increasing drastically and we need a flexible platform to provide space for talking things out. The 100% Human Film Festival is supported by various human rights organizations, universities, difable communities, local & foreign cultural centers, film industry, dance companies. Its events took place at Theological College of Jakarta, Kineforum, 28th Pavilion, Kekini, Goethe Institut, Erasmus Huis, Institut Français d'Indonésie (IFI) and The British Council until its closing on October 1st at the IFI. Thanks to their contributions, all events at "100% Human" are totally free of charge. ............................................................................................................................................ Some movies received its Indonesian premiere at this 100% Human Film Festival. TAXI STORIES is a co-production film between Indonesia, China and The Netherlands and directed by Doris Yeung. PRIA (A Man) is about a village-boy who was forced to get married. Directed by Yudho Aditya, PRIA was selected in Melbourne International Film Festival 2017. KERETA SYURGA (Train To Heaven), directed by Mahesa Desaga told a story of two jihadist suicide-bombers that met on the train to heaven after finishing their 'task'. While favorite films screened include SOLD (USA, directed by the Academy Award-Winning Director Jeffrey D. Brown) which received the Audience Award at Palm Springs International Film Festival 2015. NOKAS (Indonesia, directed by Manuel Alberto Maia), selected in Singapore International Film Festival 2016 told a story how dowry still plays an important role in Indonesian marriages. DIE BEAUTIFUL (Philippines), directed by Jun Robles Lana won Best Film Audience Award in Tokyo International Film Festival 2016 opened the festival with Trisha's story on winning a beauty pageant for Transgender Queen and her obsession in make-up. All films were attended by representatives of the film and representatives of the Human rights organizations in Indonesia for discussion sessions. ............................................................................................................................................ Shanty Paredes, one of the Indonesian actresses who played in the film Taxi Stories that was already screened at various international film festivals felt proud that finally the movie is screened in Indonesia. "Today, where many consider diversity as a threat, the 100% Human Film Festival becomes an important platform in conveying the positive message of diversity and human rights issues through film media." ............................................................................................................................................ In the end, 1545 visitors in total attended the 54 films screened at the festival, according to Meninaputri Wismurti, founder and programmer of the festival. "100% Human" also held discussions and talkshows, art exhibitions by Oxalis Atindriyaratri, Eva Tobing, Alam Taslim, Emte and Leka Putra, as well as book discussions by writers Clara Ng and Feby Indirani. ............................................................................................................................................ Indeed, if we embrace a truly open outlook and are open to accepting differences, we realize that we find more commonalities with people from other groups, however, we may choose to define ‘group.’ After all, we all have multiple identities. Nobody is 100% heterosexual or homosexual. Nobody has "pure blood", as researches have proven that we are all Africans, and nobody is totally "left" or "right". Therefore, nobody is 100% "right" or "wrong". We are merely 100% human.

jueves, 5 de octubre de 2017

An Old Interview about "Inspiration" with seni.co.id (in Indonesian)

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose). Everytime facebook pops up a memory of an interview with me in any media and I re-read it, I realize how true Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was . So many new works have been written down since then, but I am still the same composer --and human. So, here is one from March 2016 at the online art website, seni.co.id . ............................................................................................................................................ Tolong sampaikan konsep dalam berkarya Anda secara khusus pada kami? ............................................................................................................................................ Ini tentu tergantung karya apa. Lagu yang panjangnya tiga menit kadang-kadang tidak perlu konsep awal. Misalnya saya sedang baca sebuah puisi yang bikin musiknya “bunyi” di kepala saya, ya saya langsung tulis. Tapi kalau opera yang panjangnya 1 jam lebih, ya harus terstruktur dari awal. Dalam kasus ini saya kerja seperti arsitek, semua saya rancang dulu: strukturnya, progresi harmoninya, kontras dan karakter tiap section dll, baru kemudian saya menulis not-notnya. Jadi kalau saya “macet” di satu section, saya bisa pindah ke section lain untuk nantinya balik lagi ke section yang “macet” itu karena saya bisa pegangan ke rancangan awal. ............................................................................................................................................ Kalau konsep secara menyeluruh, saya menganggap bahwa berkarya itu sebuah bentuk komunikasi tapi yang lebih abstrak (atau lebih keren: lebih dalam), karena apa yang ingin saya komunikasikan itu tidak bisa dilakukan lewat kata-kata. Tapi disinilah “jebakan” yang banyak seniman jatuh ke dalamnya: berkomunikasi itu berarti menetapkan karakter dan jati diri, bukan “menjadi orang lain”. Oleh karena itu saya sadar, seringkali musik saya tidak bisa langsung dimengerti, atau bahkan tidak disukai oleh beberapa orang. Sebab, saya ingin berkata lewat musik saya, “ya ini lah saya”. Musik saya tidak bertujuan untuk menghibur, atau memberikan apa yang dibutuhkan pendengar saya, tapi justru menyampaikan apa yang ada di hati saya lebih jujur daripada kalau dengan kata-kata, karena saya di sini tidak perlu “takut menyakiti hati”, “kata-katanya harus dihaluskan” atau bahkan “jaim”. Lewat musik, saya bisa bebas karena sama sekali tidak perlu jaim. ............................................................................................................................................ Dalam berproses setiap karya ada perenungan atau datangnya inspirasi seperti apa? ............................................................................................................................................ Lagi-lagi tergantung karya apa. Rescuing Ariadne untuk flute dan piano misalnya, panjangnya sekitar 7 menit, terinspirasi lukisan Titian di National Gallery di London, “Bacchus & Ariadne”. Sketch-nya saya buat di depan lukisan tersebut di museum itu sekitar setengah jam, tapi kemudian proses penulisan dan penguraian details itu makan waktu berminggu-minggu, diselangi oleh karya-karya dan proyek lain. Untung sekarang ada internet, jadi walaupun tidak diperbolehkan memotret lukisan itu di Gallery, saya bisa lihat fotonya di google kalau butuh. Walaupun kalau dari google itu saya biasanya sulit untuk “kesetrum”. Melihat lukisan aslinya itu yang bikin “kesetrum”nya kuat. Makanya walaupun saya suka habis berjam-jam di Google Art Project, kalau saya “tergelitik” dengan satu lukisan, biasanya saya datangi itu galerinya, karena saya butuh karya asli dengan segala dimensinya untuk bisa “menekan tombol PLAY” di kepala saya. ............................................................................................................................................ Kemudian ada ratusan karya saya yang terinspirasi puisi (kalau ini bisa saja saya dapat dan baca di Google), nah itu bisa tercipta dalam hitungan menit, atau kalau sangat kompleks seperti lagu terakhir saya “IRAS” berdasarkan puisi Adimas Immanuel, atau “La Ronde” dari puisi Sitor Situmorang, ya sekitar 3 hari. Lagi-lagi, karena ini panjang, butuh konsep awal yang jelas. He he .. iya, saya memang rada “control freak”. Saya kagum sama para pemain jazz misalnya, yang bisa sangat spontan. Saya pingin bisa seperti itu… ............................................................................................................................................ Anda sudah banyak karya-karya yang sudah dibuat, apakah sudah merasa puas atau belum? ............................................................................................................................................ Wah, sangat tidak. Kalau saya sudah puas, saya tidak akan menulis lagi dong! Menulis itu antara lain karena saya ingin membuat karya yang lebih baik daripada karya-karya sebelumnya. Makanya saya jarang mendengarkan rekaman karya-karya saya. Kalau saya dengar, itu terpaksa, karena: Pertama, Sedang dalam proses editing rekaman. Kedua, Saya ingin mendeteksi kekurangan saya apa di sana, dengan harapan semoga di karya mendatang saya bisa memperbaikinya. Ketiga, saya diundang oleh musikus yang main musik saya. Nah yang terakhir ini saya suka, karena dari tiap musikus saya belajar sesuatu. Setiap musikus yang baik itu justru melihat sisi-sisi yg lain dari karya saya, yang saya sendiri tidak menyadarinya. Itu karena proses musikus menginterpretasi karya adalah melihatnya dari berbagai sisi dulu, sebelum mengerti secara keseluruhan, sedangkan seorang komponis memulai dari satu sudut pandang, biasanya tanpa melihat sudut-sudut pandang yang lain kami teruskan deh menulis karya itu sampai selesai. ............................................................................................................................................ Tapi ada beberapa hal yang rasa tidak puasnya sih agak tidak sehat, misalnya waktu saya bikin lagu pop (pertama dan satu-satunya yang pernah saya bikin), untuk Judika, “Indonesiaku”. Coba deh cek di youtube, itu mungkin lagu pop teraneh yang pernah anda dengar, hahaha …. nah itu ranah yang saya ingin selidiki, tapi benar-benar sangat asing masih buat saya. Makanya saya sedang bereksperimen habis-habisan di opera saya Tumirah yang sedang saya kerjakan buat bulan Mei ini. Saya ingin menekankan satu hal: karya saya yang cukup “populer” bukan berarti karya terbaik saya (menurut saya pribadi). ............................................................................................................................................ Soal kualitas saya sendiri, saya bukan orang yang paling bisa menilai. Karya yang lebih kompleks juga belum tentu lebih baik daripada karya yang simple, walaupun saya sendiri menganggap Chamber Symphony (yang diminta pak Habibie sebagai pengabadian cintanya terhadap Ainun) yang super njelimet dan panjangnya 20 menit itu lebih baik daripada, misalnya, “Sadness Becomes Her” untuk biola & piano yang cuma 6 menit. Tapi “Sadness” jauh lebih populer, mungkin juga karena itu lebih “direct”. Saya juga menulisnya langsung dari awal sampai akhir, pas ada kejadian yang membuat saya sangat sedih, dan saya tidak meng”edit” bunyi yang ada di kepala saya; itu semua saya tulis 100% apa yang saya dengar. Tentu karena durasinya lebih pendek, jadi lebih gampang dicerna juga oleh pendengar. Karya-karya Anda itu memiliki pola khas sastra dikolaborasi dalam musik dan tumbuh dalam imajinasi yang liar. Mohon dijelaskan? ............................................................................................................................................ Saya memang doyan membaca, dan sejak adanya internet, bahasa Indonesia saya jadi mengental kembali. Sebelum 2004, musik saya yang berdasarkan sastra itu hanya dari puisi berbahasa Inggris dan Spanyol, dari Whitman, Frost, Becquer, dll. Karena ada beberapa penyair yang menjadi “favorit” saya — artinya saya sering membuat musik dari puisi-puisi mereka, seperti Sapardi Djoko Damono, Eka Budianta, Nanang Suryadi, Adimas Immanuel, M. Aan Mansyur — saya jadi sadar bahwa untuk tiap penyair itu musik saya jadi ada “style”nya sendiri. ............................................................................................................................................ Yang berarti bahwa saya jadi “mengerti” bahasa mereka kalau saya sudah terjemahkan ke musik, dan musik saya terbentuk atau “terkontaminasi” oleh bahasa puitis mereka. Saya menemukan diri saya sendiri melalui karya seni mereka, gitu deh pendeknya. Saya (hampir) selalu menuliskan proses kreatif saya di blog saya,http://andystarblogger.blogspot.com bukan hanya untuk mereka yang butuh mengerti musik saya (terutama para mahasiswa yang membuat thesis atau desertasi dari musik saya) tapi juga buat semacam catatan untuk diri saya sendiri untuk memantau perkembangan saya. ............................................................................................................................................ Anda tentu memiliki inspirasi yang menjelma dalam berkarya, siapa tokoh inspirasi Anda? . ............................................................................................................................................ Banyak banget, dan bukan hanya “siapa” tapi juga “apa”. Dalam mengalih-wahanakan seni bidang lain, misalnya puisi atau naskah drama, bukan hanya karya literer tersebut yang menginspirasi tapi juga penyanyi yang akan menyanyikannya. Biasanya penyanyi lebih menginspirasi daripada musikus lain, karena karakter serta kelebihan & kekurangan suaranya. Instrumen para vokalis itu ya mereka sendiri: pita suaranya, tubuhnya, karakternya. Semua keterbatasan seorang musikus itu buat saya malah jadi sumber inspirasi, termasuk disabilitas fisik. Saya telah menulis banyak karya untuk piano 1 tangan saja, atau beberapa jari saja… itu melahirkan bentuk musik yang justru unik dan bunyinya tidak kurang daripada musik untuk pianis berjari sepuluh. Misalnya seorang pianis punya jari 15 pun tidak berarti musiknya akan lebih baik. Karya piano saya Lonely Child itu ditulis, selain tentang anak yang autis, juga untuk pianis dengan 1 jari (atau 1 stick) di tangan kanannya saja.

miércoles, 20 de septiembre de 2017

Kata Pengantar untuk Final Kompetisi Piano Nusantara, Agustus 2017

Following my article for The Jakarta Post I posted a few days ago, here is my own writing for the program book of the Final Round of Kompetisi Piano Nusantara 2017. This is a competition held in several cities (as you can read in the previous entry) and the Finals are in Jakarta, where winners of the regional semi finals are given scholarship to Jakarta to join the finals and to join masterclasses. This is in Indonesian, so please use google translate. It's talking (and to be precise, lamenting) about the conditions of piano competitions in Indonesia that is wildly proliferating and, some of them, lacking qualities. ............................................................................................................................................ Dear para pemenang, ............................................................................................................................................ Kompetisi Piano Nusantara edisi pertama sudah sampai di penghujung, dan kami para penyelenggara ingin mengucapkan selamat kepada anda semua, para pemenang. Anda bukan hanya pemenang kompetisi piano, tapi pemenang dalam kehidupan. Soalnya, seorang pemenang adalah seseorang yang mengenali talenta yang diberikan Tuhan, mendedikasikan hidupnya dengan fokus untuk mengembangkannya menjadi ketrampilan, dan menggunakan ketrampilan ini untuk meraih cita-citanya yang nantinya akan berguna buat orang banyak (yang akan lebih baik lagi kalau bukan hanya untuk orang-orang terdekatnya yang berpendapat, berpandangan politik atau beragama yang sama). ............................................................................................................................................ Ini adalah kompetisi untuk membuat kita semua jadi lebih baik, bukan hanya ajang guru-guru rebutan murid atau berusaha membuat kelompok sendiri untuk menjatuhkan kelompok (baca: sekolah musik) yang lain. Kompetisi ini ditujukan untuk generazi Z yang katanya lebih tidak fokus daripada generasi milenial karena adanya social media dan gadgets, yang attention span-nya juga lebih rendah tapi lebih serba-bisa; lebih individual, lebih global, berpikiran lebih terbuka, lebih cepat terjun ke dunia kerja dan profesionalisme, lebih toleran dan tentu saja lebih ramah teknologi. Menurut saya, inilah generasi paling berpengaruh, unik, dan beragam dari yang pernah ada dalam sejarah manusia. Di generasi Z lah kita menaruh harapan bahwa musik sastra Indonesia bisa bersanding dengan musik negara-negara lain yang sudah lebih dahulu maju, atau .... yang tidak bisa mempertahankan supremasinya seperti di beberapa negara asalnya di Eropa. Generasi Z lah yang akan mengerti bagaimana mengimplementasikan musik sastra Indonesia untuk kemakmuran dan menaikkan kecerdasan bangsa di saat jurang perbedaan semakin lebar antara yang kaya dan yang miskin, yang progresif dan yang konservatif, yang terdidik dan yang tertinggal karena termakan tipuan atau iming-iming surga dari ajaran-ajaran agama yang sesat. Dan ini semua harus dilakukan di era social media yang merajai kehidupan kita serta media cetak yang besok lusa akan punah. ............................................................................................................................................ Sometimes we win, sometimes we learn. Dan di Kompetisi Piano Nusantara ini, we are all winners, tapi juga we are all learners, trying to be better than we are now. ............................................................................................................................................ Ananda Sukarlan, twitter & IG : @anandasukarlan

lunes, 18 de septiembre de 2017

When Winning is not Everything (Jakarta Post, Nov. 30, 2016)

As usual, this article that I post here is the original, unedited and uncut. But since this article was published, 2 more organizers held this competition: Nitya Music Studio in Surabaya and Melodi Musik at Semarang. ............................................................................................................................................ Indonesian problems need Indonesian solutions. This magic formula of mine has, time and again, proved to work in classical music. We can observe the bleak classical music scene in Europe from our country with a telescope, and imagine that it could be the future for us. And the good news is, we can enter a paralel universe where the future is finer. Where classical music is alienated in the society no more. Where it is a natural part of young people's lives. Where people could naturally differentiate it from pop music, just as they could easily differentiate tweets, facebook status from poetry and novels. But of course to create that future we should work on the present. ............................................................................................................................................ Nusantara Piano Competition (Kompetisi Piano Nusantara) is a new concept that could contribute to this future. It has the idea to prepare young pianists under 18 to join the "tougher" competitions. It suits very well for this country which is so spread out both geographically and culturally, and joining competitions can be a big financial issue, since the participants have to think about the plane tickets and accomodations, let alone adapting themselves to another city (in case of Jakarta, a bigger one with its traffic problems). The concept is that organizers in their respective cities organize a local competition, and then the winner of each city would be eligible to do the Grand Finale in Jakarta. Grazioso Music School (Makassar, 6-7 November), Nirai Music School (Jogjakarta, 17-18), Musicland (Bandung, 25-26) and Ananda Sukarlan Center (Jakarta, 27) teamed up and each organized a competition which happily resulted in approximately 200 young pianists participating, with the youngest being 5 years old. With this concept, someone from Semarang could just join in Jogjakarta, and the one from Palu could go to the nearest city, Makassar. And as I expected, hidden amazing talents have been spotted. The Nusantara competition is a very friendly one, unlike the Ananda Sukarlan Award, which is considered tough and designed for the very prepared pianists who are at the first steps of making a career. The idea is to show (very) young pianists that competitions are not meant to "kill" them. Everyone is a winner and they can prepare any kind of music they want. The 2 requirements they have to comply are: 1. They have to prepare 2 pieces, one by an Indonesian composer and the other by a classical international one such as Bach, Schumann and such. 2. The duration, which as usual there is a limit. The end of November marked its finalization in 4 cities of Indonesia. The first prizewinners of the advanced category (13-17 years) are : Vivienne Thamrin (Makassar), Ralf Vivaldo (Jogjakarta), and a double first prizewinners Michael Manuel Halim and M. Khidir Malik for Bandung. Nobody reached the standard minimum point in Jakarta for this category, so the First Prize was not awarded. Surabaya is postponed for now and the competition is looking for another local partner organizer. Other cities are welcome to join in for organizing one before the Grand Final in Jakarta in the mid of the year 2017 where the finalists have to prepare other 2 pieces with the same requierements but different from the ones played in the semifinal rounds. ............................................................................................................................................ Music competitions are the usual way of starting a musical career. In the piano world, one usually join competitions when they are under 26 or 27 years old. I never take a musician seriously if they never joined a competition in their lives. Even if one doesn't win, joining a competition proves that one is serious in pursuing one's musical career, or at least testing one's capability in music. For me, joining already means winning. Winning against yourself, winning against your own fear. If you don't fight for what you love, don't cry for what you lose. But the toughest competition is not against other musicians. It's against yourself. You are your worst enemy. ............................................................................................................................................ There are, then, the ones who win prizes. I have observed some traits of these prizewinners: 1. They know how to choose their music which suits their personality and contains depth of artistry, a wide range of pianistic techniques, colours and dynamics and a rich variety of contrasts and characters. A few of them fell into the trap of picking "easy listening --and easy playing" music which couldn't exhibit their artistry and virtuosity to full throttle. The contrary also happened: a few picked pieces of music which are too difficult or advanced for them. 2. They perform to express, not to impress. They communicate, not to show off. Some pianists can shine bright in fast passages but become so dull in slow parts, where melodies abound and beauty is exposed simply in bare passages without any virtuosic cosmetics. It is not easy to be simple; in fact, simplicity is the peak of sophistication. Those deep and quiet passages, instead of the ones full of exhilarating running notes and sizzling chords and octaves, are the ultimate test of the artistry of a musician. ............................................................................................................................................ Since piano competitions have now proliferated like mushrooms in this country, it is inevitable that there are positive and negative impacts. Unfortunately, there is still no standardization as well as the assessment of the quality of the judges (and organizers) so the participants often become victims, either intentionally or unintentionally. Indonesia is perhaps now the country with the most piano competitions in the world. There is one organized almost every weekend, although still mostly in Java. Some of them are controlled by business people, although claiming to "understand" or even having the basic techniques and knowledge in music, their aim is to amass money from the (some still) ignorant young pianists, their parents and piano teachers through backdoor business: secret agreements, commissions, nepotism etc. It is the ugly business of beautiful music. But we should be optimistic that quantity would ultimately give way to quality, and that participants of the future would be more selective in choosing which competitions they would join. ............................................................................................................................................ That is why transparency was, and will always be my basic requirement when "Nusantara" organizers (or therefore any other competitions) asked me to be their patron and the head of the jury in several cities. Each of the judges' comments and points are written down, signed by the judge, and handed to the participants after the competition is finished. If they (do not) like what the judges write, they are free to post it in social media. Indeed the social media should be a big help in this issue, since everyone is also free to record their performance and post it on YouTube. It is time for the participants to speak out against injustice in the competitions before it's too late. The judges' decisions are final, but everyone can listen to the performances and have their own opinions too. It is up to them then to speak out or not. Laymen of the arts are not eligible to judge in official competitions, and what they express could not alter the results of the competition. But as Desmond Tutu said once, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Experts are eligible, sure, but they should not contribute only with their expertise, but also with honesty. This latter is not written down in the contract, since it is almost impossible to prove in this artistic world filled with ambiguity. And this is the moment when you can be part of the rise (or fall) of classical music in our country.

martes, 20 de junio de 2017

The Voyage to Marege' , captain's log stardate 200617

The music on my computer at the moment is in fact not so different from Rapsodia Nusantara, although it's much bigger. The Voyage To Marege' is a 25-minute orchestral piece, to be performed in Jakarta on August 31st this year, and in Darwin International Festival next June 2018. It is a joint project & commission by the Australian Embassy in Indonesia and the Darwin Festival, and some other organizations have shown interest in participating or programming this work .... scarily enough for me, with yet listening to one note of it. ............................................................................................................................................ My mission, should I choose to accept this (oh, so Mission Impossible-ish, eh) is to study the relationship between the Makassar (Sulawesi) sailors and the Aborigins in the 18th century, where the Makassians sailed for trading spices with teripang (a kind of sea creature). I accepted it this challenge with huge pleasure, since this is an opportunity for me to study the real indigenous music of the Aborigins to be used as a material in my music. Which is not so different to what I did with Indonesian traditional music in my Rapsodia Nusantara numbers. And these last few days I am remembering my late and highly inspirational friend, the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014) and why and how he had been so successful in "stealing" instead of "borrowing" the indigenous musical materials. ............................................................................................................................................ The endeavours of Australian musicians in the 19th and 20th century prior to Peter Sculthorpe to make Aboriginal music accessible to the general public often displayed a kind of cultural imperialism: making corrections and rearrangements, and clothing melodies in European harmonies and rhythms, so that they "suit better with the ears" and easier to be adapted with western aesthetic sensibilities. In the book "Australian Aboriginal Music" edited by Jennifer Isaacs, Sculthorpe cites a fascinating example of this when he describes an item he found in the State Library of Tasmania entitled ‘Song of the Aborigines of Van Diemen's Land’, ‘arranged by a Mrs Logan and Done by Mifs (sic.)’. Sculthorpe relates that ‘the naked innocence of the chant is clothed in Mendelssohn-like harmonies, supported by an Alberti bass, and crowned with, believe it or not, a Viennese Ländler’ . .............................................................................................................................................. I have heard and studied some Australian composers' works prior to Peter Sculthorpe such as Mirrie Hill's Arnhem Land Symphony, or John Antill's Corroborree where they used the indigenous Aboriginal melodies, and found these traits : 1. the derived material may be so abstracted from its original form as to lose its recognizable identity. 2. in an attempt to accommodate this fact, the composer may contrive the musical expression to the extent that the derived material is caricatured 3. the material may be allowed to retain its recognizable identity and is ‘framed’ by rather than integrated into the musical fabric. ............................................................................................................................................ What distinguishes Peter Sculthorpe from his predecessors is that he was (in the 1980's) indirectly influenced by Aboriginal music, even though they did not employ direct quotation. Curiously enough, for most of his early career Sculthorpe had consciously avoided the use of actual Aboriginal melodies, instead making deliberate use of Japanese and Balinese melodies and styles. Despite Sculthorpe's acknowledged debt to Asia, his music actually ends up sounding closer to that of the Australian Aborigines in many of its attributes, such as the reliance on drones, rhythmic ostinati, percussive sounds and a certain static, endless quality. In Sculthorpe's music, indigenous melodies sound like essential components of his idiom rather than foreign objects. .............................................................................................................................................. I believe Sculthorpe has been more successful than many of his predecessors in creating a smooth synthesis of western and indigenous musical material, for two reasons: firstly, Sculthorpe has carefully chosen melodies that would easily conform to his style and that, in some cases, echo motives previously occurring in his music; and, secondly, he has consciously moulded his style around particular indigenous melodies that he recycles. ............................................................................................................................................ To sum up: Sculthorpe's adoption of Aboriginal beliefs and values could be viewed in two ways. On the one hand, his identification with Aboriginal attitudes could again be viewed as subtle exploitation, using Aboriginal culture to position himself at the spiritual core of Australian identity. On the other hand, the depth and persistence of Sculthorpe's attachment to Indigenous values arguably demonstrates a respect for Aboriginal culture. His attention to Aboriginal melodies has placed Aboriginal music in the spotlight, creating greater public awareness of the richness of indigenous cultures.

sábado, 6 de mayo de 2017

The Forms of Things Unknown

It was really a happy coincidence when Helen Gumanti, pianist and representative of Fazioli & Bluthner pianos asked me to do a piece for multiple pianos based on a section of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". My first piece for 4 pianos was based on the first two lines of "Richard III" : Now is the winter of our discontent.... . To do that I used Vivaldi's theme from his famous "Winter" of the Four Seasons and mixed it with contemporary riffs inspired by Michael Jackson (to be honest, I forgot which song in particular, .... or perhaps there was no song in particular of MJ?). ............................................................................................................................................ Since I wrote Vivaldi's Winter of Discontent I always thought of writing another piece for multiple pianos to complement it. For this new piece, it is for 3 pianos as Helen Gumanti requested, and I used part of Theseus's speech and took the phrase The Forms of Things Unknown as the title. I started sketching it in Jakarta and these days while I am in Surabaya I worked and finished it during the flight from Jakarta (we had 1 hour extra being inside the plane without taking off, waiting for the queue of other planes to take off at Soekarno Hatta Airport! To be honest, I was busy composing so it didn't feel like 1 hour) and in my hotel room. ............................................................................................................................................ The creative process for "Forms" is different from "Winter" : I took these phrases and use it as a method for composing : And as imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen / Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name. ............................................................................................................................................ Therefore the piece is built of small motifs that just develop themselves, among others by repetitions. But there is one motif that goes through transformation throughout the whole piece: 4 notes ascending, and then descending. Those four notes changed from whole tone scale into a pentatonic scale and even octotonic scale. ............................................................................................................................................ As usual in my "percussive" pieces, I use very strong rhythms. Besides, Chendra Panatan will do a choreography of this piece too, so the piece is definitely "danceable". For my rhythms, my orientations are always those rock groups of the 80s and 90s such as Pet Shop Boys, Queen and my biggest influence of all time, Michael Jackson. But after I finished "Forms", I realized that A-Ha's "Take on Me" is everywhere in the piece; I guess it was because I put it in my songlist during my flight to Surabaya. ............................................................................................................................................ Anyway, I am here in Surabaya as the judge for the Nusantara Piano Competition. After Surabaya, it will be Semarang in July, and then the finals in August in Jakarta. But there will be another round of semifinal in Jakarta, so those of you young pianists who didn't join it before, or joined it but didn't get to the finals, you can have another opportunity by joining it in Jakarta. You can check their instagram account at @pianonusantara. Anyway, good luck for all pianists and piano lovers!

martes, 25 de abril de 2017

Sadomasochism in (my) Music?

10 years after I wrote Rescuing Ariadne for flute & piano that I planned to be the first piece of a trilogy, today a message arrived suddenly when I was at the Kualalumpur airport from my highly esteemed flutist friend, Wendela van Swol who also champions many of my works for flute, saying that she would perform Rescuing Ariadne and Narcissus Dying (my second piece in the planned trilogy) at the Andalusian Flute Convention "Flautissima" in about two weeks time. I thought this would be the right time to finish the third piece, Ixion, Bound to a Wheel of Fire, and so on the plane back to Jakarta I started working on it again. After I arrived home I immediately tried it on my piano in my apartment, and after a few revisions, I sent it to Wendela directly. ............................................................................................................................................ This last piece of my Trilogy is inspired first by the painting of Jose de Ribera I observed at the Museo del Prado (Madrid) several times. The last time I saw it was during the summer of 2016, where somehow it electrified me more than the other times I saw it. Perhaps it was because I read Ovid's Metamorphosis about Ixion before I came to the museum. As with the other pieces in this trilogy, I can't tell you whether they were more inspired by the paintings or by Ovid's Metamorphosis which lies beside my bed already for so many years. ............................................................................................................................................ I quote the explanation of the painting from Del Prado's website: The father of the race of centaurs, Ixion was punished by madness for murdering his father-in-law. After he was pardoned he attempted to supplant Jupiter in Juno’s bed and was consequently condemned to be turned on a wheel for all eternity. Ribera depicts the wheel being set in motion by a satyr who has chained Ixion to it, allowing the artist to display his mastery of anatomy. ............................................................................................................................................ According to Ovid's "Metamorphosis", this is a wheel of fire, which also sparks the inspiration for my piece. This certainly is the most virtuosic of the pieces in the trilogy, and it should be played as fast as possible so that it lasts under 2 minutes. The crescendi and diminuendi are very important to be exaggerated since they depict the sparks of wild fire and the rotating wheel. The duration of the whole trilogy would then be around 12 minutes. ............................................................................................................................................ I dedicate this piece, affectionately to the flutist Roberto Alvarez , a member of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra who has performed many of my flute pieces. After I sketched the piece a few months ago, thinking to give it as a surprise gift to Roberto, it was just lying around for a few months since I sort of knew what I would write. Wendela's message also forced me to think about the general title of the trilogy. I've been tinkering with the title for a long time. The funny thing is that all 3 pieces have sadomasochistic aspects with these heroes. I thought of quite a naughty title, but I abandoned the idea (and I'm not telling it to you!) and succumbed to a simpler title, "Trilogia Mitologica". My trio for flute, viola & piano has already a naughty title, as you know, Menage a Trois , and I am not putting more naughty titles for the moment he he he .... The order of the pieces is Rescuing Ariadne, Narcissus Dying and Ixion, Bound to a Wheel of Fire. ............................................................................................................................................ Trilogia Mitologica as a whole, will receive its World Premiere at the closing of the Andalusia Flute Convention "Flautissima", May 7th in a matinee concert in Malaga. Performed by Wendela van Swol (flute) and Santiago Baez (piano). Each piece could, in fact, be played separately, but it would be rather strange to perform "Ixion" separately since it's only about 2 minutes long, right?