jueves, 29 de marzo de 2007

Chendra and sculptures

These are photos of Chendra Panatan related to sculptures. The black and white one is himself in one of the 20 images designed to be projected with my music "The Sleepers", to be premiered in Madrid next July. Photograph by Dian Rosita.

The other one was taken by me during our trip in Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, two days after Chendra's triumphant performance in Madrid. The dog is still not completely covered with flowers, since spring is coming rather late, thanks to the global warming (or global freezing ?)

miércoles, 28 de marzo de 2007

Chendra the Champ

Many things happened last week, which include many new notes coming from my pencil during my travels.

My new CD of David del Puerto's Symphony no. 2 for piano & orchestra "Nusantara" was released and presented in Milan on the 20th. The CD is produced by Stradivarius , and I recorded it with the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid conducted by Jose Ramon Encinar . Another great piece in that CD is del Puerto's Violin Concerto with the same orchestra & conductor accompanying the celebrated Spanish violinist Manuel Guillen . I am so proud of this CD (not only half of it ; the Violin Concerto is also indeed a great work. In fact, many people believe that it's the greatest violin concerto coming from Spain during the last 50 years or so) . So, if you happen to be in Italy these days, just enter a CD shop and ask for it. It will be distributed in Spain starting in April, and in 30 other countries starting in May .

Two days later I travelled to Madrid meeting Chendra Panatan & David del Puerto (we stayed in the latter's house). The great occasion this time is the presentation of Musica Presente (an article in the Spanish newspaper "ABC" describes us as "The dreamteam of Spanish music". If you read Spanish, you can visit our website at www.musicapresente.com ) to some VVIPs of Madrid, which include some performances either by Musica Presente members or artists invited by us. One of the guests is my idol Jose Luis Cuerda, the film director and producer, among others of "The Others", a film that was shot in Las Fraguas, near my house in Cantabria starring Nicole Kidman. David del Puerto, Jesus Rueda and Javier Arias Bal have written music soundtracks for his films. Other guests include some high politicians, senators of the Socialist Party, and Carlos Llamas, the popular radio presenter who became the successful Master of Ceremony that night.

At that event Chendra danced to the music of the fourth of movement, "Samudra", from Del Puerto's Nusantara Symphony . 7 minutes of spectacular solo dancing, completely being one with the dazzling orchestration which employs among others the gamelan pentatonic mode, played by a huge orchestra of the best virtuosos in Spain . His show was certainly the absolute highlight of the night. I cannot recall anyone who wasn't impressed by his interpretation of the music, his dance technique and rich vocabulary of movements. His dancework is an embodiment of the virtuosic western "ballet" technique and the profoundness and grace of the Balinese traditional dance, achieving a sense of both defying and defining gravity with precise meticulosity and spontaniety. Simply impressive, nothing short of spectacular.

lunes, 19 de marzo de 2007

Happy Birthday, O captain ! My captain !

Yes, today (March 20, although it is still one day earlier here in Spain) is the birthday of Indonesia's great poet Sapardi Djoko Damono. I was about to quote the poem of Walt Whitman, O Captain ! My Captain ! but unfortunately, I cannot say that "Our fearful trip is done", since I haven't finished my music (and it IS quite fearful to me ) ! And also, he is still very much alive and creative. So, let me quote some other lines from uncle Walt to describe him :

"I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the soul. ...

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men. ...

I chant a new chant of dilation or pride
I am he that walks with the tender and growing night ;
I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night."

Happy Birthday, Maestro Sapardi Djoko Damono ! We all wish you many, many years to come to you to continue giving us the beauty of your poetry, the poetry of earth. We know you will never stop, because we humans can never destroy beauty, no matter what happens. Art can die, but beauty continues. We humans can be killed, but nobody can kill the passion inside us .

The poetry of earth is never dead :
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead ;
That is the Grasshopper's -- he takes the lead
In summer luxury, --he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed. (John Keats)

viernes, 16 de marzo de 2007

Article by Erza Setyadharma

Got the email with the article by Erza Setyadharma (founder of Indonesian Opera Society) in the "Kabar" magazine of last February. He is a big fan of my vocal music, and is busy at the moment in mounting Menotti's "The Telephone" in Jakarta for next month. Here is the article , cut & pasted from that mag :

Ananda Sukarlan, The Spider and Silence
Erza Setyadharma meets two of the most talented people performing in Indonesia at present: pianist Ananda Sukarlan and dancer and choreographer Chendra E. Panatan.
Ananda Sukarlan returned to the stage this New Year with A Trilogy Concert, a series of performances that took him from Bandung to Bali and back to Jakarta, where I was fortunate to witness Indonesia’s premier pianist in action.
As with many of his previous concerts, simplicity was the key to both performance and staging.
Opening the concert in a lively fashion with the funky rhythms of Igor Stravinsky’s Tango & Piano Rag Music, Ananda followed this catchy piece with his own composition from last year, Kama, with Farman Purnama as the tenor soloist. Based on the poetry of Ilham Malayu, written while he was in Bangkok prison on drug charges, Kama is truly unique; not only the words but also the musical composition, which draws on gamelan influences.
Later, another Ilham Malayu poem was the inspiration for a world premiere of Ananda’s new work, Spider’s Ballad, again with Farman Purnama as the tenor soloist. This is a piece that brought a wide grin to my face; the song is about an imprisoned man who experiences a moment of joy while watching an industrious spider as he creates his web. Ananda injects brilliant comical tones into the ballad, with the evocative arpeggio increasing in volume and speed as the spider weaves and weaves…
The David Del Puerto composition Alio Modo was truly intense. A piano piece created by David Del Puerto and dedicated to the victims of the Bali bombing on October 12th 2002, the song was visualized by Chendra E. Panatan’s contemporary choreography with dancers from Sumber Cipta Ballet. It started in silence, with empty chairs on stage. Dancers rolled in, dancing in silence. Ananda and Farman Purnama were also part of this life installation. The dance captivated the audience absolutely until suddenly the silence was broken with the first note of the piece. The movement thus became assimilated with the music; a very powerful collaboration.
Freedom from fear was the overriding theme of this collaboration. “The dancing movement in Alio Modo is about how to be free from being scared and worried,” Chendra tells me the next day when I meet him and Ananda in suite 1809 at the Shangri-La. “The chairs have two functions; partly as stage décor for the second half, partly to represent and symbolise the place of human existence. I would also like to emphasise the emptiness of terror or fear caused by violence acts. Through my choreography, I want to evoke visually the ambience of the music itself.”
Chendra’s choreography uses silence as its core and this is what inspired Ananda to adapt it to his music compositions. Chendra finds that Ananda’s music has the same background as his choreography. “For us the idea and concept should come first, music will follow. That’s why I always work in silence. I believe that silence is the mother of sound.”
Ananda describes his own music as “eclectic.” “It will always have elements of rhythm and certain chords that reflect my musical characteristics. If you notice, my music and singing always separate in order to create a different texture. It’s like a mini opera where they have recitative, interlude, instruments and the aria. It’s different to usual songs where the lyrics and music are all together.” He has been writing his own compositions since 1991 when he wrote a piece for string quartet. Not until 1998 did he feel that he had become truly fluent with composing.
“For me, composition is what to write, not only how to write. The depth and content are very important, not only beautiful notes and melodies.”
Indonesia itself is an important influence on Ananda’s work. “As a composer, I want to be more Indonesian, whether it’s the music or my inspirations. I think it is important to have a national identity as a composer.” His next project will be an opera that relects contemporary Indonesian life. “I am trying to define Indonesian opera and that is why everything in my opera will be Indonesian: Indonesian musicians and bahasa Indonesia as the language.”
Ananda is also keen to change people’s misperceptions of contemporary music, which he says often gets confused with a rather less accessible genre, avant-garde music. The basis of avant-garde music is atonal, meaning literally “not tonal”, a genre introduced by Arnold Schoenberg around 1912. Atonal music is that in which the composer systematically avoids reference to tonal centers by avoiding harmonic and melodic formulas. Contemporary classical music, on the other hand, keeps changing and evolving through time. “The current perception of contemporary music is that it is hard to understand, but it is not. The tendency of contemporary music these days is to go back to what classical music used to be. People often get mixed up between avant-garde music and contemporary music.”
So apparently contemporary music and dance are not scary or difficult: they are enjoyable! Bravo to Ananda Sukarlan and friends, this was really a delightful start to the year.

lunes, 12 de marzo de 2007

Answering emails

While writing this, am listening to the classical radio broadcasting an unknown (to me) work for cello solo by Jean Sibelius, in d minor . It's always nice to discover new things. It is not as impressive as Bach's or Britten's Cello suites, nevertheless I am moved deeply by it.

Today an article appeared in Kompas about my collaboration with SDD, and so tens of emails arrived through my website, from just giving best wishes to asking (too much for now) details about Ars Amatoria, from close friends to complete strangers. And I just hope that the yahoo people will invent how to forward a bunch of emails in one go, since Chendra had to forward those emails one by one to me. Maybe by ticking in front of each emails and then put a button "forward" ? Anyway, to save time, and quoting Walt Whitman, "To what you said, passionately clasping my hands, this is my answer" :

1. The forces for which I am writing Ars Amatoria is not completely correct in that article. This is the right forces : A pair of dancers, 1 Soprano, 1 Baritone, children's choir, male choir and a small group of instruments.

2. Influence / model : Perhaps Ars Amatoria can be closely compared to Benjamin Britten's Church Parables (without its religious content) in its structure. Perhaps I was also influenced by those parables in employing male and children chorus without female voices, although the soprano soloist will play an important role .

3. There will be no narrator, neither one who recites the poems. All the poems are to be sung by the singers.

4. I haven't asked nor thought of specific performers for the premiere, except the choreographer & dancer (who will also direct movements for the singers and choreograph the dance episodes) Chendra Panatan, who first introduced me to SDD's poems (well, this is not the reason why I ask him ; I collaborate with him already in several works lately and they have been very successful) .

5 I still don't want to publicly announce which poems I am using. One thing that I can say is that I am not using the death-related poems of SDD for this work (yes, I know that love and death are very closely related, but somehow it depresses me just thinking 'bout it ! )

6. And yes, I have plans to work with other Indonesian poets after I finish this project, but SDD's poems will always be especially close to my heart, and every once in a while I will get back to them.

7. And no, THANK GOD, I will NOT sing and neither will the dancers ! By the way, I can tell you that Chendra is an amazing choreographer but a terrible singer ; he is even worse than me and never gets one note right ! My involvement is that I will conduct its first complete performance (at the Jakarta New Year concert 2008, not the one in JCOM Fest in August) from the piano . Don't think that all composers are like Samuel Barber who could sing his own works !

These are the details I can reveal for now. Thank you very much for all your enthusiasm and support !

domingo, 11 de marzo de 2007

Music for the people .... again !

Today, exactly three years ago, was a most horrific day for Spain and the whole world. The terrorists blew several trains coming in to Atocha station in Madrid. What was even more terrifying was that the government at that time (Partido Popular or PP) immediately used it to gain votes for the elections which was about to happen 3 days later, by lying to the pueblo español that the terrorists were ETA (the Basques) . They didn't want to say that it was Al Qaeda, since PP, contrary to 97% of the Spanish people, participated in invading Iraq (it was the diabolic triangle : Bush, Blair & Aznar ) . Those politicians ... how could they be so insensitive ?

Apropos insensitivity of people, I believe even deeper in art for the people. Yes, yes, I am still talking about Sapardi Djoko Damono and his masterworks. I have decided today that I am not going to play myself in the first performance of some episodes from Ars Amatoria at the JCOM Festival in August in Jakarta. I am going to give the piano part to my friends, some of them still students. So, I do have to care about the difficulty and accesibility of the piano part, and therefore discipline myself to do it all the time in the future. One doesn't have to be a virtuoso to play my music ; as SDD said, "once my poems are published, they belong to people. They are free to interpret them according to themselves". Which, dangerously enough, can lead to misinterpretations, but that is the risk we should take. Sorry to be old-fashioned, but I deeply believe that we artists should contribute more than we take, with our art. Art should not be used to cheat the audience, or boasting that I am cleverer than them (either by telling that I am writing music for the future or that I come from another planet, far more advanced than the planet earth), or sucking the most of taxpayers money through the governmental subsidies for art. I also will not demand a complex electronic laboratory or helicopters to perform my music : I just need instrumentalists with their instruments and some singers. Back to Bach !

sábado, 10 de marzo de 2007

Grey matter

I always believe that a composer uses a part of his brain which is not normally used. That part has very strange nerve systems that lead to unknown paths. These days while I am highly active composing, memories of childhood flashes vividly to me together with some words from the poems which I am setting to music. I suddenly recall clearly last night the room where I woke up one afternoon during my siesta, when I was perhaps 8 or 9 in my house in Senen Raya, Jakarta, where I heard the ice-cream vendor on the street in front of my house, sounding his small gong . Curiously enough, I was reading a poem of Goenawan Mohamad, Sajak untuk Bungbung, which has nothing to do with that scene. So, the music wrote itself, incorporating that atmosphere ...

Another thing was, reading one of Sapardi Djoko Damono's poem about rain, I remember about the big tree in the park of the military hospital at the back of my house. At another moment a few days ago, I could describe vividly the pattern of the carpet in a classroom of the music school I went to when I was about 13. It was in Room 4, with a ....white Yamaha grandpiano !
Am just worried that somewhere in my grey matter exists a space that stores memories from my past life ... I just hope that my mind doesn't wander to that place ......

jueves, 8 de marzo de 2007

What am I doing ?

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. (Walt Whitman)

Well, I am not sure how large I am, nor how many multitudes I contain. But just these last few days I had my ideas about what I am writing, and now I see that things change.
Music for the people ! That's what I am striving to write, music which is technically accessible to be played by even some amateurs. But again, with themes about rain, lake and other water elements of Sapardi Djoko Damono (SDD), I canNOT write something easy for the piano ! Imagine Ravel writing easy pieces of Jeux d'eau or Ondine ... so again, millions of notes on the piano accompanying the long and winding tunes of the singer ...

But what am I doing ? I am composing a cantata, based on poems of SDD. If I don't contradict myself in a few days, it will be called Ars Amatoria (stealing from the title of a book by Ovid) . The blueprint with its structure and content is finished, and now comes the hardest part : writing the actual notes . But I have finished some poems. I am not writing the cantata from beginning to end ; I set poem by poem according to "my inspiration", since I know where I am going to put each poem in the context of the cantata.

Well, the biggest problem is (or was) selecting the poems : they are ALL so great. I have 200 poems of his now in print. And sometimes I feel like setting music to his poem which will not belong to Ars Amatoria cantata . So, I think I will make a "satelite" work out of it, just a collection of songs based on his poems. This collection of songs will have no structure ; I just add one song whenever I feel like it, taking a break from such a big undertaking in writing the cantata. And it has nothing to do with Ars Amatoria.

Nothing to do ? Am contradicting myself again. In fact, I have established some leitmotives on his themes. So, there is a "rain" (or whatever which is wet, like the river) motive, there is a "love" motive, and there is a "joke" motive. I am consistent in employing those motives in my work, both for Ars Amatoria and for the song cycle. I also foresee a "death" motive, but since I am not including his death-related poems, I'll leave it for the moment.

miércoles, 7 de marzo de 2007

Music for the people

One thing Sapardi Djoko Damono (SDD) wrote in one of his emails is (freely translated by me) : My poems , once they are finalized and I decided to publish it, belong to the people. They are free to interpret them and do whatever with them. They are not mine anymore .

A short but very brave and profound statement. His poems are of incredibly high quality and sublimeness that they can achieve a certain level of simplicity and beauty which speaks directly to the heart of any human beings without any necessity of being understood or analyzed. I haven't been able to feel the same with my music, and God knows if I could someday. That, I think, is the dream of any artist. I only wish that my music belong to the people, but I can recall all the rehearsals I go and tell the musicians how they should interpret the music exactly as I want it to sound. Exact speed, exact nuances, exact articulations, exact phrasings, exact balance between instruments, exact dynamics. What a control freak !! And for many years I didn't care too much about how DIFFICULT is my music to be played ; I demand only virtuosic and technically highly accomplished musicians to play my music . Am working hard on it, believe me, to achieve greater simplicity in my music.

I am just amazed that I can learn more about music composition from a poet. SDD is the one who struck the right chord in me. Something which I always knew but only now can understand. Just read his poems, or listen to Mozart's music and you too will understand. Less is more. Much more.

lunes, 5 de marzo de 2007

Sabbatical month

Performed my last concert before my sabbatical period 2 days ago (Sat March 3) in Santander, which include the first complete performance of David del Puerto's Notebook for Children (Cuaderno para los niños) . Also that Saturday the video of our performance's of David del Puerto's "Alio Modo" was launched at YouTube, which has now, only two days later, received more than 200 visits . It looks very nice : you can check it at : http://www.youtube.com and you can search under my name or Chendra Panatan's there .

Meanwhile, I have been immensely enjoying my correspondence with my new idol, the great Sapardi Djoko Damono, who writes emails as if they were poems ; I promise you I´ll never throw any of his emails away ! Of course, now in this sabbatical period which last until May I will set many, many of his poems to music. I´ll reveal my plans in a few days.

Also I have read other poems by Nirwan Dewanto, Joko Pinurbo, Goenawan Mohamad, Debra Yatim, Eka Budianta ( I mention my favorites ) .
Bought some CDs last week : the ones I like are : a new version of Copland's Third Symphony with New Zealand SO (the one with New York Phil & Bernstein is still beyond comparison), Songs by Ferruccio Busoni, Britten plays with Colin MacPhee his "Balinese Ceremonial Music" and the suite from "Prince of the Pagodas". Only now, in the 21st century, that we can really appreciate the greatness of those 20th century composers !
Also read, and finished a very bitchy memoir of Ned Rorem (after all those bitching around I still consider him one of the greatest of modern composers as well) "Knowing when to stop". My favorite quotation from this book :
[Carlos] Chavez, whose own Sinfonia de Antigona and Sinfonia India, so stark and spare and diatonic, were close to my heart. Indeed, just as New Orleans today summons up the plays of Tennessee Williams more powerfully than it imposes its proper identity, so the music of Chavez evoked Mexico more than Mexico evoked itself. Nature imitates art, .....

Japan already has Toru Takemitsu, Australia has Peter Sculthorpe, Elgar, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Sir Michael Tippett etc have found "Britishness in music" and the music of Bernstein, Copland, Harris are so, so American. They all produced their masterpieces only in the last century. Will we find, in the near future, music that can evoke Indonesia more than Indonesia evoke itself ?