miércoles, 31 de enero de 2007

35th anniversary of Tante Ann & oom Eddy

Today I chatted (to be precise : gossipped) with Ruth, from the Jakarta Conservatory of Music, telling me that it's the 35th anniversary of tante Anneke and her husband. Tante Anneke is our sweet (well, most of the time) managing director, but also doing all the other jobs at the administration office, all the scheduling ..... in short, everything but teaching ! So, congratulations, tante & oom Eddy .

As a gift, I want to write a love song, so I browsed again the poems of Sapardi Djoko Damono, with whose poems I am having a big crush on these days (please check my entry a few days ago). Found 2 short poems which I would like to set into one continuous piece of music for mezzosoprano & piano, "to tante Ann & oom Eddy for their 35 years of happiness". Of course I haven't got permission from the great poet, but I just hope that I could get his email and ask him ( cross my fingers that he will give his permission, especially in uniting those 2 poems !) . Anyway, I set a target of writing 35 bars of music to be scanned and sent by email to the happy couple, and I managed to write 37. Am not going to tell you now which poems they are ... for superstitional reasons . The piece has to be finished first . I wrote this post right after I sent the email to them with those 37 bars.

By the way, I have also finished setting Chendra's poem "Saksi" two days ago, but in such a different character ! The piano part is very, VERY virtuosic. There is a prelude which last for perhaps 30 seconds, which is quite scary when I look at the finished page. Completely black full of running notes ! Well, it's inspired by the storm, so, what else can I do ? The piece wrote itself !

Tomorrow Rohan de Saram will arrive and will stay at my place (with his Guarneri cello which costs .....half a million euros !!! (that was the estimation of his cello in the year 2000 ... so, it has gone up since then ..). Make sure you turn on the alarm and lock the doors at night, Andy ...) before we travel together to Madrid on Sunday. So, 4 days of rehearsals. No musing and toying with other people's poems. By the way, we are premiering a work (another Love Song ! Everybody's talking about love these days ... or is it because we already are practically in the age of Aquarius ??) by Jesus Rueda and a 3-movement work by Geoffrey King.

miércoles, 24 de enero de 2007

The rain in Spain DOESN'T stay mainly in the plain (wouldn't it be loverly !)

Ufff ! The storm has passed. Beautiful day today . Damage report : 47 dead in the UK and Germany. My kid didn't go to school 3 days ago. We stayed at home and it turned out to be really nice, since we watched again (me for the 1000th time in my life perhaps, and she for the 4th time since she got the DVD from Father Christmas) The Sound of Music. Isn't that work a masterpiece ?

In every adversity there is beauty. The storm triggerred this sound in my head (nothing to do with Peter Grimes' storm, by the way !) , and so I wrote it down immediately and figured out the exact notes and chords. One page became black with so many running notes ! That was 2 days ago. But I didn't know what to do with it, and how to continue. This was in fact the first time that I write music inspired by a natural happening. Apparently, the storm went from the continent to the north via England, and so Chendra experienced it some 12 hours later than I did. He then wrote a poem about it, and sent it to me last night "dedicated to AS"..... which might be a solution for my piece ! His poem is called "Saksi" (Witness), and it goes from the dark & turbulent storm to the dawn of a beautiful clear blue sky. I always like his poems, he certainly has a hidden talent for poetry (apart from his immense, incredible, impressive choreographic talent, which is pretty obvious by now !) . The storm in my piece starts getting clear .... so .... we'll see what should develop from this.

miércoles, 17 de enero de 2007

Email from Peter Sculthorpe

Oh, he is my idol , that great composer , dean of Australian composers ! It was always nice to receive emails from him , like today (although I remember the good old times when we corresponded through handwritten letters ; his handwriting is so, so beautiful. Perhaps he could win the award of being the composer with the most exquisite handwriting). So, he likes my CD with his piano music which was released this Christmas. Anyway, I am pasting the first paragraph of his email below . By the way, in 2 weeks time Rohan de Saram and me will welcome Peter's perhaps greatest disciple, Barry Conyngham, to Madrid where we will perform the Spanish premiere of his "Cathedral" (we premiered it last year in Edinburgh) . Barry is a great composer as well, just a few years younger than Peter, and Madrid is honoured to have him in town. Barry is nice to gossip with, especially because he was good friends with the late composers such as Takemitsu and Aaron Copland and Benjamin Britten etc.
Here is Peter's email :

Dear Ananda,

Thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Spirits of Place is a wondrous recording. The music is so beautifully performed. The CD is also beautifully engineered & I also like the simple way in which it is packaged.I must confess that when you first told me of the works that you planned to record, I was a little uncertain about the choice. While I write in many different styles, I think that the music is always recognizably by me. All the same, I felt that perhaps too many styles were being represented. You have made them come together & breathe in a unified way. The recording presents a clear & romantic portrait of me, & even a panorama of my country.Patricia & Juan Carlos regard the CD as their best to date. etc .. etc

all the best,

New love

Today I am in love. Madly, absolutely, passionately in love. I am in love with the poems of Sapardi Djoko Damono which I , embarrasingly have to say, just discovered. Well, not even discovered. It was Chendra who introduced me to his poems, sending me some thru the messenger. I then googled him, and apparently his surname is oftenly misspelled : Dharmono, Darmono, Darono, whatever.

Oh, I am so ashamed, being an Indonesian and never have heard about him. His name only rang a bell because he wrote the closing essay for the book Complete Poems by another favorite Indonesian writer of mine, Goenawan Mohamad. Today I had a deja vú, like the first time I heard a Sibelius symphony or read a Whitman poem, you know that feeling ? His poems trigger a kind of blue, melancholic feeling perhaps comparable to Vaughan Williams' most intimate music. But there is a certain majestic feeling in the way he expresses love. So luscious and broad ; perhaps it's Vaughan Williams mixed with Roy Harris or Aaron Copland .... anyway, very contemporary and yet so elegantly ... baroque ? Anyway, since I met Chendra I felt much more Indonesian, since he introduced me to some really beautiful things of Indonesia which I wasn't aware of before ...

Ah, yesterday was the birthday of Geoffrey King, a good friend and considered as my "composition teacher" although we never really had a proper lesson ; but our conversations are so valuable in moulding my musical mentality, or at least in finding my identity (if I have found it, which I doubt) which is VERY different from his . I revised an old piece from 2001 for violin and piano the day before, and gave it to him as a present. It's called The Sleepers, based on -- what else -- the 8th part of a Whitman poem of the same name which starts "The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed ..." . The piece is just under 4 minutes, and now will rest in its final version. But perhaps I will add some more pieces for violin & piano and make a suite out of it in the future ...

sábado, 13 de enero de 2007

My Top Ten list

Just came back from Belgium, where the Vlaams Opera invited me to do recitals. All went very well, nice public, nice acoustics (they have a special hall for chamber music concerts, unlike my last "opera" concert in La Fenice, that breathtaking opera house of Venice, where I actually played ON the stage of the opera, the same stage where Stravinsky premiered his "Rake's Progress" ...) . Some young people interviewed me for their magazine, and even asked me to fill up a questionnaire about my Top Ten favorites. Here is what I wrote :

My favorite Top Ten Movies

1. The Godfather I, II, III
2. Scent of a Woman (prefers the Al Pacino version)
3. Citizen Kane
4. And Justice for All
5. Dead Poet's Society
6. Cinema Paradiso
7. JFK
8. La Dolce Vita
9. Westside Story
10. Any films of Zhang Yimou, especially House of the Flying Daggers, Cursed Flowers, Hero .

My favorite Top Ten Symphonies

1. Shostakovich :Symphony no. 7 "Leningrad"
2. Beethoven : Symphony no. 7
3. Brahms : Symphony no. 4
4. Aaron Copland : Symphony no. 3
5. Sibelius : Symphony no. 5
6. Dvorak : Symphony no. 9 "From the New World"
7. David del Puerto : Symphony no. 2 "Nusantara"
8. Jesus Rueda : Symphony no. 3
9. R. Vaughan Williams : Symphony no. 4
10. Mozart : Symphony no. 40

My favorite Top Ten Pop Songs

1. Michael Jackson : Smooth Criminal
2. Michael Jackson : Thriller
3. Elton John : Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
4. Beatles : Come Together
5. Gary Barlow : Love won't wait , and also his latest "Patience"
6. Queen : Love of my Life
7. John Lennon : Imagine
8. Elton John : The Last Song
9. Queen : Bohemian Rhapsody
10. George Harrison : Within You, Without You

My favorite Top Ten Books

1. Complete Works & Sonnets of W. Shakespeare (OK, if I have to choose the top 3, it will be Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Richard III )
2. Complete Poems of Walt Whitman ( my favorite : The Sleepers, Hours continuing long)
3. Sun Tzu : The Art of War
4. Miguel Cervantes : Don Quixote
5. A.A. Milne : The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
6. Goenawan Mohamad : Sajak-sajak lengkap 61 - 2000
7. Ayu Utami : Saman
8. W.H. Auden : Collected Longer Poems ( my favorite : For the Time Being)
9. Alfred Lord Tennyson : Poems (especially In Memoriam)
10. Gabriel Garcia Marquez : Cien Anos de Soledad

My favorite Top Ten Operas :

1. Benjamin Britten : Peter Grimes
2. Benjamin Britten : Death in Venice
3. Igor Stravinsky : The Rake's Progress
4. Per Norgaard : Siddharta
5. Pietro Mascagni : Cavalleria Rusticana
6. Maurice Ravel : L'Enfant et les sortilèges
7. Oliver Knussen : Where the Wild Things Are & Higglety Pigglety Pop !
8. D. Shostakovich : The Nose
9. Georges Bizet : Carmen
10. Sir Michael Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage

My 10 most annoying persons :

1. George W. Bush
2. Tony Blair
3. Osama bin Laden
4. Donald Rumsfeld (oh well, he is sacked now, so he won't be too annoying anymore)
5. Karlheinz Stockhausen (a German lunatic who says he came from the planet Sirius and calls himself a composer )
6. Tom Cruise after being "married" to Katie Holmes and jumping on Oprah's sofa
7. Pierre Boulez (a Parisian conductor who likes to ban people's music while he would like to compose but couldn't ... for whatever reasons)
8. Anne Sophie Mutter (who now is looking for an over-80 male, single/widower and rich after the break up with Andre Previn who apparently lives longer than she imagined)
9. ETA, the Basque terrorists, .... and
10. me, myself, especially if I am writing music and got no inspiration

domingo, 7 de enero de 2007

Composer - interpreter : Friends forever ?

I found out today among the heap of letters received during my absence that my article is published in the December edition of "El Rapto de Europa" magazine who commissioned it. I wrote the article last October 2006. This is the translation in English :

We made history, and I didn't realize it at that time. That evening on the 9th of May 2006 in Auditorio Nacional, Jose Ramon Encinar and his Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid with me as the soloist premiered a masterpiece. It was David del Puerto's Symphony no. 2 "Nusantara", for piano and orchestra.

It has been a few decades since a Spanish composer wrote an important symphony or other big orchestral work that was accepted and became part of the repertory of Spanish symphony orchestras. Luis Suñen, the critic of "EL PAIS" hit the right note when he said that "Nusantara" should be programmed by all the Spanish orchestras : I personally consider "Nusantara" is for Spain equal to Copland's "Third" for America or Shostakovich's "Fifth" for Russia. Orchestras love to perform them, and these musical masterpieces "speak" to public and humanity in general. "Nusantara" is a very contemporary piece of music, dealing with contemporary issues and expressions (it was dedicated to the victims of the big tsunami 2004), groundbreaking a new sonic world and musical form but at the same time owing its existence to Scarlatti, Beethoven, Delacroix, Lord Byron, Cervantes and the popular culture of Indonesia.

One thing I noticed during the rehearsals was the attitude of the members of the orchestra. I have premiered many new concertos before, and many times I felt a kind of resistance from them, having to play passages (or even just noise effects) which are not well written their instrument, or simply that the music does not sound well due to sloppy orchestration or simply ignorance of the instrument from the part of the composer. That was not the case this time : the orchestral players were really happy -- and even proud -- to play this new work.

Although the separation between composer - musician is even more present today than, say, the 19th century, I strongly believe that a composer should still be able to master at least one instrument. Not necessarily performing in front of public, but being able to play pieces such as a Brahms intermezzo . It gives them the idea of "feeling well" playing music : the music turns into real sounds, and not just written as silent notes on paper. My experiences have proved this : Del Puerto or Santiago Lanchares who play the guitar, Polo Vallejo or Jesus Rueda who graduated from the conservatory as a pianist write the most effective, communicative and "musician friendly" music from Spain. They managed to take the thread which was cut by the avant-gardists after the death of Shostakovich, Britten or Stravinsky, and to continue the musical tradition. In fact it is expected, and fulfilled, from Jesus Rueda to become the foremost composer for piano in Spain, although it came totally as a surprise that Lanchares also has produced quite an amount of very high quality, virtuosic and musically as well as pianistically brilliant music for the piano and no guitar pieces at all until now except a 2-minute easy piece ! That only proves that no matter what instrument one can play, the act of interpreting (or using Stravinsky's term : executing) influences the way one creates.

I can't see the point of "complex" music just for the sake of being visually complex or even with the excuse of pushing the boundaries of the musician's ability. First of all, if the music is not good, there is no point of playing it, whether it's simple or complex ! And the excuse of "writing it for future musicians", well, don't the commissioning body give the composer a deadline and the date of the premiere ? OK, there were some cases in the past such as Britten's Violin Concerto that was pronounced by Heifetz as unplayable, but Britten certainly had no intentions to make it unplayable ; it just turned to be more difficult than the existing works. In fact, it was premiered just a few months after it was finished by Antonio Brosa, and in less than 10 years has become one of the key pieces in the repertory of the instrument .

A collaboration between a composer and a performer is the best thing that can happen in the creation of a new piece . It is not limited only in what could (not) be played in the instrument. The instrumentalist can introduce some works in the repertory to the composer which, again in Stravinsky's words, the composer can steal from. Therefore, Britten who couldn't play the cello wrote his masterworks for the instrument with a bit of help from Rostropovich, and one could say the same with Benny Goodman and his inspirational collaboration in creating the clarinet concertos by Stravinsky or Copland which inevitably turned out to be quite jazzy. It is amazing and satisfying to hear how Rueda's works are pianistically modelled from Chopin, Liszt or Ravel (his 1st Sonata is even titled "Juegos de agua", the Spanish translation of Ravel's title "Jeux d'eau"), and Lanchares from Bartok or Stravinsky. Yet, their music sounds very fresh and original. One thing I can contribute to them is my knowledge of Javanese and Balinese music. Therefore Rueda based his Second Sonata on the rhythms and contrasts between dense polyphony against unison sections of Ketjak Dance of Bali, as well as the pentatonic material of Polo Vallejo's "It's Snowin' in Bali !", brilliantly harmonized in a curiously original soundworld, or the pentatonic sections in Del Puerto's "Nusantara" Symphony intermingled with a mixolydian theme. No kitsch, no pastiche. Influences from other musical culture are assimilated impeccably into their strong musical language.

Another important issue is about repeated performances. Avantgarde music of the 50s-70s were usually so conceptual, that one can "get it" at the first performance . One does not receive anything new from the repeated performances. Playing string instruments behind the bridge, pizzicati on the piano, knocking on the body of the instrument ... they will always sound the same in any performances. It does not excite, nor give any depth, while a good old harmonized melody always changes if played by different musicians, or even the same musician in different concerts. There is, as Freddie Mercury said in his song, "a kind of magic" in good music, but not in good concepts. Concepts are just raw material which should still be developed into music.

I will have to close my essay with something personal and nostalgic. My father used to tell me that we are born to give and contribute to make the world a better place. Generosity is something which benefits us all ; by giving we don't lose, we gain . Avant garde composers have done exactly the opposite : they write (I should have used a past tense, but unfortunately lots of them are still around) for themselves, they don't care about the public (and even proud to be egocentric), and if they care, it's only to "épater les bourgeoise" . They give nothing to public, nor to society or humanity. And now, the result is becoming obvious. Concert halls are empty. Governmental subsidies for contemporary music, which were so generous in countries like Holland and Germany 10 years ago, have been severely cut. The message is clear : you don't give, we don't give. Maybe we should start believing in Piet Mondriaan : Art should be forgotten, beauty must be realized .

Back from Jakarta, going to Brussels

God, it doesn't stop ! Anyway, just came back home yesterday. What really struck me was that incredible Business, no sorry, Raffles Class of Singapore Airlines. My God the seats are so wide 'n big 'n cosy. They are just like sofas, with a big table. That's quite new, right ? As SQ is the richest airline in the world, it can afford refurbishing its business class with just 4 seats in a row (one seat every window, and two seats in the middle), and with those facilities, I won't be surprised if a composer could write a WHOLE symphony during the flight. Well no, since he has at least 40 movies to choose from and some sitcoms as well. Anyway I managed to sketch my new song on Goenawan Mohamad's poem for baritone and piano, AND read some short stories (very nice ones, by the way) by another favorite writer of mine Radhar Panca Dahana AND watched Woody Allen's new movie "Scoop" (the latter is rather disappointing, unfortunately) . Somehow those SQ people could make the passenger feel private and undisturbed, perhaps also because of the construction of the seat which is quite closed and self-contained. I still wonder what one can achieve with HIS own private jet ! Oh, and it has internet connections for every passenger, but unfortunately I didn't bring my laptop. My flight was Jakarta - Barcelona (obviously via Singapore), and when I stepped in the Barcelona El Prat airport it was like, well, welcome to the real, uncomfortable, unglamorous, spartan world of Europe. No business lounges, no free internet or calls (well there are a few, A FEW, hot-spots in the airport, but usually they are inside the restaurants).
Am leaving to Brussels on the 9th to play at the concerts in the opera houses in Antwerp and Ghent the following days, with music by Ravel, Haydn , Rueda, Stravinsky and Lanchares (what else ? They are too close to my heart !) . Santiago Lanchares will be travelling with his wife and will arrive midday on the 10th, and they will stay after the concerts for a break after finishing his new orchestral work commissioned to be played in the inauguration (by HM Queen Sofia) of the new concert hall in Valladolid next February. Just talked to him today by phone, he said it is a 7-minute orchestral work which contains the loudest and most exuberant moments of his career , so am certainly looking forward to hearing it. I just consider him one of the greatest composers of today.
Oh, I should have talked about my stay in Indonesia. It was hectic, but nice. I am glad that the recording with the soprano Binu Sukaman went very well. Also, Farman Purnama sang beautifully my two songs with me at the concerts. Bought some books, including Ayu Utami's "Saman" which was a bestseller like 5 years ago but I only got it now. Very inspiring. I immediately called her and we had a nice afternoon at her place with her boyfriend.
All right, back to work ! Have to re-practice Lanchares' Anandamania, among others. Those concerts in Brussels could be my 70th or even more performance of that great klavierstück.