martes, 29 de mayo de 2007

Birthday of the romantics tomorrow

Strange that I idolize the romantics, while I can't find anything romantic in myself !

And it is quite a coincidence that two of my romantic heroes have the same day as their birthdays, almost 2 centuries apart.

It's the birthday of the great poet Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892) tomorrow . I have set to music some of his poems, such as "Hours continuing long" as well as his poems related to animals, The Dalliance of the Eagles and A Noiseless Patient Spider, for soprano & piano. You know Vaughan Williams' great Second Symphony "A Sea Symphony" ? It's also based on his poems, obviously relating to one of his favorite themes, the sea. Ned Rorem and Oliver Knussen also did some music based on his music, as well as Leonard Bernstein in one of his songs from "Songfest". I still don't know what attracts composers to his poems ; it's just something natural, I guess ....

And also tomorrow will be the birthday of one of my favorite composer, very much alive, Jesus Rueda. He turns 46 . Exactly in 2 weeks time, I will give the world premiere of his Sonata no.2 , "Ketjak", inspired on the rhythms (and noise !) of the Ketjak dance of Bali . Jesus Rueda is one of the most admired and loved composers of Spain today, and certainly the most important composer for my instrument, the piano, coming from this country. I simply love, LOVE his music ; his Third Symphony was just premiered last month and am literally DYING to listen to it. He also has 3 string quartets, and the third is definitely a masterpiece . All of them have been recorded by my friends the Arditti Quartet ; in fact, it became historically important, since it was the last recording of the Ardittis with Rohan de Saram as their cellist. It is a double CD, where I also played with them his Piano Trio and Piano Quintet, as well as 4 of his Love Songs with the fantastic viola player of the quartet, Ralf Ehlers. I think Jesus Rueda has achieved in continuing the thread which was broken after the death of Britten and Shostakovich .

Happy Birthday to all those incurable romantics under the sign of Gemini .

lunes, 28 de mayo de 2007

24, episode 2

One week after our adventure. Meanwhile, about 10 of us Ryanair victims have exchanged emails. Some have submitted their complains to the company, but still no signs from them until this very moment. I guess it's pretty normal for Ryanair to use passengers as escorts to the pilots and engineers, and that they can fly anywhere bringing all the passengers.

Anyway, we stayed in the Valladolid airport lounge for about 2 hours, until midnite. During that time, we tried to ask the Ryanair staff for their conscience ; we thought that they were not so coldblooded enough to just let us sleep at the airport waiting for uncertainty, not knowing our destiny. Unfortunately the airport is in the middle of nowhere, unlike Madrid or New York where we can just buy tickets for the next plane to London. We are under the mercy of Ryanair !! (2 b continued)

martes, 22 de mayo de 2007

24 , episode 1 (don't worry, it won't be 24 episodes)

Kiefer Sutherland ? Well, I don't even think that he could solve the problem me and other 153 passengers had during our flight (to be precise, NO flight) with Ryanair, the cheap but ONLY direct flight from Santander to London.

It happened last Sunday, when we had all fastened our seatbelts and the doors were securely locked. Thus spake the Captain : "L & G, welcome to Ryanair. Unfortunately we have to take an engineer to Valladolid to repair an airplane there, so our arrival in London will be delayed for approx. 1 hour" . Eeehh ??? 154 passengers had to escort our Very Important Engineer, Esq. to Valladolid, which is reachable by car in less than 3 hours ???

But anyway, since we are nice people (and helpless), we just obeyed the orders of the captain. Half an hour later, after landing in Valladolid airport, came another order from the captain "...unfortunately, now it is OUR plane that has something wrong. So, we would have to wait for around half an hour". Almost instinctively, all of us picked our mobile phones up and told the people who are supposed to pick us up at London airport to come 1,5 hours later. And half an hour later, the captain spoke again, the second sentence of those phrases above. And half an hour later, again . In total, we were IN the body of that plane from 7.20 to 10 pm (remember this, it's very important for the next episode of the story) . During that time, I remembered a passenger badly need for sugar, and another for a glass of water, and they were told "That would be 1.50 euros, sir". (sorry if I got the price wrong , maybe the water was 1.25 and Coke was.... I forgot) . In the end, 2 British children was hospitalized in Valladolid for asthma attack and another reason.
At 10 pm, at last we are told to disembark to the airport lounge after telling that we could not take off that evening due to weather conditions (it was a thin shower, but if a pilot couldn't deal with that, to be honest I'd have to question his credibility...) , and contact the Ryanair staff there. Which turned out that .... they didn't receive any instruction what to do.

Anyway, I cannot continue now, since I have a lunch appointment (yes, I am safe in London now), but if you read Spanish, you can check Diario Montanes, which is the local newspaper of Santander) of today's edition . Ah, this is the exact address of that news :

viernes, 11 de mayo de 2007

Answers: contemporary piano music

Another question I have been very frequently asked : 1. What, in your opinion, are the great piano pieces written recently ? 2. Which great composers (dead or alive) who haven't written any important piano music you would like to ask to write one ?

Let's limit the word "recently" to the last 25 years, which means starting from 1982. On top of my list is still David del Tredici's "Virtuoso Alice" from 1984. And then comes Oliver Knussen's Variations, op. 24 from 1989 . Then there are these pieces which I couldn't put in order of my preference, so I'll order them alphabetically on the composer's surname : Geoffrey King's "Pithecanthropus Variations", Santiago Lanchares' "Anandamania", one or more of the sonatas of Luca Mosca, David del Puerto's Alio Modo, Jesus Rueda's Sonata no. 2 "Ketjak" from 2005 (as well as his First, from 1991), Toru Takemitsu 's "Les Yeux Clos II", Rob Zuidam's "Spank". And then there are works which are limited in their piano techniques --mostly percussive, the trend of this era -- nevertheless they have great depth and understanding of the instrument and its sound & specific colours ; but hey, each of Chopin's Etudes are like that, right ? I am thinking of John Psathas' "Jettatura", Gareth Farr's "Jangan Lupa", Peter Sculthorpe's "Mountains" and Louis Andriessen's "Trepidus" . I am not sure of the dates of Peter's and Louis' pieces, but they are from the 80s ... let's be flexible, right ?

Answering the second question, I don't think we miss a great piano work by Gustav Mahler, Edward Elgar, Jean Sibelius or Richard Strauss : they are great composers but they very much specialized in orchestral work. The world of music is thankful enough for their orchestral & lyrical masterpieces ! Some of them did write some piano pieces, but they are just "nice". And I personally don't really like the piano works of the lyrical composers I usually highly admire such as Giancarlo Menotti or Ned Rorem. But a peculiar case is about Samuel Barber : he didn't put any of his highly lyrical gifts in his most important piano works : his Sonata and Concerto. He treated the piano as it is : a piano, a percussive instrument, and those two pieces are indeed masterworks by a genius. But I do wish that Benjamin Britten would have written a big piano work : he was a great pianist, and unlike many musicians, he "descended" from Schubert. Also a pity that we don't have one from Leonard Bernstein. And from a composer today, a big piano work from the "Hollywood" composer John Williams would be great, as well as from John Corigliano, Rautavaara, Krzystof Penderecki or Peter Sculthorpe.

By the way, you guys know the piano concerto of Andre Previn ? It is F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C . Although nothing can be compared to the beauty of his Violin Concerto "Anne-Sophie" . That's just pure beauty, of the first degree.

Answers : About my relation with gamelan

Among questions regularly asked to me are these ones by a graduate student in Yale. There is no easy answer, but I will try however. He asked :

... what I am really interested in is what your reaction is when you hear gamelan music. Do you have an emotional connection to themusic, even though it isn't 'current'? Does the sound of gamelan conjure up particular associations for you? And can you compare it at your experience of any kind of western music - like listening to aBeethoven Symphony or a Miles Davis recording?Also, how do you think your education in music shaped the way that you experience music - both when listening to gamelan and when listeningto any other kind of music?

My answer : Of course I have a STRONG emotional connection to gamelan. Not only because of memories of childhood, but also due to the fact that I know it is a culture which is dying, for lack of government (and popular) support. If you love someone, you love him/her more if you know that time is running out, right ? And funny enough, now the music of gamelan penetrates strongly to my mind if I am composing ; hence some "gamelan" sections in my most recent music (maybe because my recent music deals with Indonesian poets and issues and way of thinking). Those gamelan "sound" just appears, and of course I have to work it out in integrating it with my own musical language, which has, I have to confess, nothing to do with Indonesian traditional music but more with Stravinsky or Britten or Bach. So, that sound comes in and out, sometimes explicitly, sometimes just being there without being noticed. Perhaps I can compare my music (although far more inferior in quality !) more with David del Puerto's "Nusantara" Symphony or Sir Michael Tippett's Triple Concerto than to Britten's Prince of the Pagodas or Poulenc's Concerto for two pianos : in del Puerto's, Tippett's or mine there are no clear "gamelan sections" (in fact, many Indonesian non-music lovers cannot really detect the gamelan influence in our music ; yet they can immediately recognize when the "gamelan section" arrives in Britten's or Poulenc's music.)
Yes, I feel differently when listening to gamelan as to other kinds of music, but it is as different as listening to Beethoven compared to Oscar Peterson to Ravel to Copland to Scottish ballads to Elton John . What do I feel ? Ooops ... I can't say it with words . It's even beyond happy and sad.
But funny enough, I don't feel closer to gamelan than to other kinds of music. I think because I listened to different kinds of music when I was a kid : Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Queen, gamelan, Rachmaninov, even avant-garde music (not anymore after I realized that most of them are just faking due to the lack of compositional techniques and musicianship) . But one thing is the music I love, and the other thing is the music that influence my thinking and my composition. I love Chopin, Rachmaninov and the romantics, but one cannot find their traces in my music, no romantic whooshes and big emotional expressions. I hate most of twelve-tone music, but I realize that something good has come out of it ( I am talking only about the music of its inventors : Schönberg, Berg & Webern : what happened afterwards was just monkey-ing and photocopying what has been done before), and I am fascinated by how Berg treated the row ( note the word "fascinated", not "like") . One can use whatever method he likes, but first and foremost he must be a "real" composer with high musicianship and accomplished technique.

jueves, 3 de mayo de 2007

Paths and highways

Am enjoying immensely practising the complete ballet of "Castor & Pollux" by one of my favorite composers, Santiago Lanchares. It is a work for piano & percussion (I will do it with my friend, the number one, second to none percussionist Miquel Bernat), 40 minutes of brilliant, exhilarating, inexhaustibly driving rhythmical work. We will do the complete work (12 episodes) for the first time in 3 weeks time in Portugal, and during the next season we will do it several times with the famous choreographer Dani Panullo in Madrid and several other cities.

The combination of piano and percussion produces a fascinating sound world ; especially in this ballet Lanchares uses 90% only marimba and vibraphone. The range of the character of the sound it produces is so wide, from the dark low register of the marimba to the ear-piercing resonating sounds of the combination of the piano and vibraphone. The dynamic range is also astonishingly wide, as well as their colourful sound palette and textures. Sometimes Miquel Bernat plays those two instruments simultaneously, each with one hand (that's a technique that he has developed through the years). You can hear the results of Miquel playing both instruments in , if you search for Santiago Lanchares' name , where "Lamento de Pollux" is shown with the film by another friend of us, Chendra Panatan.

There is of course the problem of balance of loudness, since those percussion instruments are by nature louder than the piano, but Santiago Lanchares could deal with it in a clever way . He is, I consider, the best composer for piano coming from Spain of today together with Jesus Rueda. But Rueda takes his influence from the romantic tradition broken after Rachmaninov (although Rueda has many highly imaginative works for percussion ; in fact Miquel and his group "Drumming" will record a whole CD of his percussion works next year), and Lanchares follows the percussive path of Bartok and Britten. So, two composers each walking on their own paths, and the artistic result is equally valid and of the highest quality. Meanwhile, there are some music dictators out there who are "metaphorically killing" (a quote from Times magazine) future generation of composers who didn't follow their (presumably one and only) path. Even some of those dictators just ORDER other people to follow their path, while they themselves don't walk through it ; they don't compose, just dictate !!!
It reminds me of the period of Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia, when they built one highway to connect two cities. One HAS to pass through that one and only highway if you want to arrive at his destination. And of course he has to pay the toll . Now, what can Suharto do now with all that money ? I wonder ....