viernes, 26 de diciembre de 2008

Book of faces, Midori and my string quartet

Today, officially the tickets for Java New Year Concert in Jakarta, January 4th are completely SOLD OUT. I would like to congratulate the whole team of JNYC for this. Chendra Panatan, my manager, choreographer, and head of the team of JNYC, has experimented a new method for the publicity for this concert : we don't spend any cent in publicity on newspapers or other mass media. He does it all through the internet, especially facebook. And I must admit, I hated Facebook up till a few weeks ago. Chendra convinced me of facebook a few months ago, by saying that my greatest idol with the great baritone voice, Barack Obama has done a most successful presidential campaign through Facebook. If he does it, then it must be correct.

Preparations are going well. The young pianists who will perform are at their best stamina. My flute and piano piece, "Rescuing Ariadne" was the last piece I rehearsed with. The players will be the English flutist Elizabeth Ashford and the young pianist from Bandung, Alfred Young Sugiri. This 5-minute piece was inspired by the painting of Titian, "Bacchus and Ariadne", hang in the National Gallery of London. Why the title ? Well, because Albert Roussel's Third Symphony (great piece, by the way) is titled as the painting, and I don't want to make a piece with the same title.

The soprano Bernadeta Astari has arrived from Holland, and we performed today at the Federasi Teater Indonesia some of my songs, including the one based on a poem of WS Rendra, Tidurlah Intan. We chatted with him afterwards.

Several days ago the Japanese legendary violinist Midori played my short string quartet "Lontano" with 3 other young musicians (from Singapore, Australia and USA) at the residence of the ambassador of Japan in Jakarta. Her foundation, Music Sharing (based in New York) commissioned it last year and I already finished it before summer this year. After this performance they then toured it to Jogja and Medan, and then to Japan. I didn't have time to rehearse with them beforehand, so I was rather nervous before the concert (and they played Debussy's --which is my all time favorite, adored, admired quartet-- as the last piece, which was the first time I heard live). But then they played so marvellously that they took my breath away. Still, nobody could beat the greatness of Debussy ; I admire that Frenchman more and more thru the years. What a f***ing genius !!

After the New Year Concerts, I will face my biggest challenge : writing music for solo guitar, commissioned by the fantastic Spanish guitarist Miguel Trapaga.

lunes, 15 de diciembre de 2008

From A to A (that makes us the A-team, eh?)

If one wants it, then it's done. Among my busy periods recording for the film "Romeo*Juliet" as well as rehearsing & preparing for the "Prelude" concerts for the New Year Concerts, I managed to write 4 short pieces : one choral work commissioned by ITB Choir to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of their prestigious university, and 3 songs for baritone & piano. The ITB Choral work is a festive one, based on Sapardi Djoko Damono's breathtaking & majestic sonnet (also commissioned for this event) called KITA CIPTAKAN KEMERDEKAAN (We Create Freedom). Its sketches were done on the plane from Bilbao to Jakarta and Jakarta-Surabaya-Jakarta in the last days of last month, and then it was written out completely and finished 7 days ago on Chendra's computer whose Sibelius program had gone mad. Until this minute I still haven't heard one note of that music, which will be the explanation if suddenly one or more chords would sound "avant-gardish".

The three songs for baritone & piano were done on Friday and Saturday 12th and 13th, between two concerts of mine. I wrote them for my good friend, the always F-word (I mean fabulous & fantastic) singer Joseph Kristanto "Akis" who celebrated his 39th birthday on the 15th. To those 3 songs I added 2 more older songs, one written in London during one of my stays with Chendra last spring when one day suddenly it snowed, and another piece already written for Akis one day after we rehearsed. So, this new cycle for baritone & piano is called "A untuk Akis, Alam dan Angkasa" (translated (in-)correctly it will be : A for Akis, nature and the universe). The songs are :

1. Kesetiaan Pohon (Sapardi Djoko Damono)
2. Masa Kecil di Pegunungan (Eka Budianta)
3. Salju di Musim Semi (Chendra Panatan)
4. Selokan (Sapardi Djoko Damono)
5. Berkicaulah Burungku (Eka Budianta)

I am always touched how Akis loves nature. Apart from his love and dedication to music, of course. He always thinks of his fish, and once we rehearsed at the Jakarta Conservatory and he pointed out a peculiar tree which had been there, unnoticed by me, during these years. And this is a guy who lives right in the middle of Jakarta, the most unfriendly city in the world, full of bricks, mortars ... and greedy corruptors. So, what other birthday present is more appropiate than a songcycle about nature ?
And I am so grateful to his dedication to my music ; he practically has sung, beautifully, 90% of my music for baritone ( I wish he would sing the 10% of the rest), and memorized them (no matter how strange they are) . These 5 songs is my gratitude and my celebration to his artistry and to our friendship that I highly cherish.

PS : Thanks to Akis' sister Ita for her help in its "special delivery" after lots of hassle with the printer. And another PS : just 1 day before his birthday, his fish whom I baptized under the name Nijinsky died. Requiescat in pace ...

miércoles, 3 de diciembre de 2008


So I keep my promise ! Rather late .. but hey ...

Who would have guessed that my first music for the film would be for a film about football ? I was baffled when the Indonesian film director Andibachtiar Yusuf approached me earlier this year to ask me to score the music for his "Romeo*Juliet". Yes, you got it right. But instead of Montague and Capulet, it is the Jakarta against the Bandung football fanclubs. The confrontation between them goes back to many decades, and when it happens, they are notorious for being violent. People got killed during their fights. So, you can guess how the story goes ...

... which reminds me, inevitably, of WestSide Story. It IS difficult not to have that masterpiece as a reference ! But Yusuf's film is not a musical film, so my job is a bit easier. Oh, I forgot to tell you that he wanted me and only me for this job, because of his huge crush on my duet from the cantata Ars Amatoria "Dalam Doaku" (In my Prayer). Definitely that song became an important part of the film ; in fact, the film revolved around that song. Yusuf was (is, and always will be) a great fan of rock music, and he has never fancied any kind of classical (read : soft, boring) music. But I am dubiously flattered when he discovered through my music that classical music is not that bad! Something is definitely very wrong with my music, or ... ?
For the film, I used other songs ("Kasih" and "Ketika Kau Entah Dimana", which happens to be my favorite amongst my songs) of mine, recently released in the CD "Ananda Sukarlan Vocal Works" for that film as well, besides writing quite a lot of new materials purely instrumental. So you can hear the voices of Bernadeta Astari and Joseph Kristanto in that film once in a while blasting from the cinema loudspeakers. The motifs I use for the whole soundtrack are taken from the hymn of both football clubs, and I just make some variations out of them, according to the situation which it accompanies.

This version of Romeo*Juliet is very Indonesian. I mean, the unromantic oriental type of love. Passionate, but unromantic. There is even no balcony scene in the whole film! I was quite confused when I read the script, but when I received the rough cut of the film, I honestly was pretty impressed. And I was quite inspired after I watched the rough cut. I decided that I don't have to escape from my musical style ; the film is very, very Indonesian in many ways, so that my "western" musical style would just compliment it without "stealing the show" as they say. As Aaron Copland said about writing music for films : "The best film music is the one you don't notice". In other words, you can hear it, but you don't listen to it.

The film is due to be shown in cinemas 21 throughout Indonesia starting late March 2009.

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2008


Sorry that this entry is a quickie one. Anyway, this is just to tell you that :

1. I am in Jakarta at the moment, although I will leave to Surabaya on the 28th, to be back in Jakarta beginning of December.

2. I have been very busy composing & recording for the film soundtrack "Romeo*Juliet" directed by Andibachtiar Yusuf. I will write about this further next week (unfortunately I have a habit of a presidential candidate : I don't keep up with my promises !)

3. Facebook : now, this is a problem. Since I have reached the limit of 5000 "friends", I cannot accept anymore friends, so I am VERY sorry. As you see, this is not my decision, but our big brother's, the facebook guys. But we have created the "Ananda Sukarlan's friends" group at facebook : you can search for it, and be a member. And yes, you STILL can send me messages through facebook ! But please do not suggest more friends for me ; you can, instead, invite all your friends to join the "Ananda Sukarlan's friends" group, once you become a member. Just click this : .

4. And I would like to confirm : YES, although it is still not finished, I am writing a new choral piece for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Institut Teknologi Bandung, one of the oldest and highly prestigious universities in Indonesia, celebrated in March next year. It is based on a new sonnet by Sapardi Djoko Damono, also commissioned by that mentioned choir.

viernes, 14 de noviembre de 2008

I, too, have a dream

Next week, a new CD of my works for voice(s) is gonna be released. I am so happy and honoured to have the soprano Bernadeta Astari "Deta" and the baritone Joseph Kristanto "Akis" record my vocal works. Apart from the fact that they are the two singers who have specialized in almost all my music involving the human voice and have worked with me intensely in performing them, they are magnificent musicians with impeccable techical abilities, sensitive artistry and profound musical understanding.

My interest in the human voice dated back in the 1980s when I heard Benjamin Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings during my student years. That was the first vocal work that has made me weep, literally weep, during its performance. Since then, I started my collection of all Peter Pears' recording of Britten's whole ouvres, so my first vocal works were just bad copies of Britten and justly enough they all ended up in my dustbin. In the 1990s, it was the poetry of Walt Whitman, William Blake and Longfellow that have helped me find my own path. Still, I was feeling uneasy for not being able to feel at home in setting words of my own language. Ilham Malayu's poems during his stay in Bangkok prison were the first poems in Indonesian that I set to music, but it wasn't until very recently that I had a huge crush with the poetry of Sapardi Djoko Damono. And then came along other great Indonesian poets : Goenawan Mohamad, Eka Budianta, Hasan Aspahani, Nirwan Dewanto, Ook Nugroho and so on. Ah, and that fascinating miniaturist lady, Medy Loekito. And with my inspirational singer friends around, my Indonesian songs just came along and took shape naturally. I feel that my best music ("best" is according to my, and only mine, not other people's standard) are written inspired by people or their artistry.

I have a dream (this is not because of Obama reminding the famous phrase of MLK), that one day Indonesia will have virtuosi of all instruments, so that they would and could inspire me to write concertos for each of them : a violin concerto, clarinet concerto, up to ... bassoon concerto, harp concerto, tuba concerto and --why not?-- a percussion concerto. And yeah, my next Concerto for piano and orchestra should not be written for myself. There are many, many highly talented young Indonesian pianists around. They will prevail. And very soon.

sábado, 8 de noviembre de 2008

O BAMA, O Captain, My Captain

Many things have happened these last 2 weeks everywhere in the world, while I am just sitting around at home writing the music for the film "Romeo*Juliet" by Indonesian director Andibachtiar Yusuf.

Barack Obama became the 44th president of the USA. Now THIS is history. I won't comment anymore about it, we are all very happy not only because of that, but because the era of tyranny and stupidity of George Bush is gonna end soon. Please, Mr. Bush, just take a nice vacation during these 2 remaining months ! You don't have to make anymore decisions, nor do anything else. Just relax and enjoy your life ! That way you'll make this world a much better place, I tell you ! Jay Leno, David Letterman and all the American comedians have been very grateful to you for having provided them a wealth of materials for their shows these 8 years.

But around the same time, the Parliament in Indonesia passes the "Anti-Pornography" bill, which has almost nothing to do with anti-pornography. In fact the anti-pornography legislation could be easily misused against Indonesia's minority Christian and Hindu communities and threatens the country's pluralistic culture. And it will crush our economy (which has been mostly destroyed by corruption) that depends a lot from tourism. Not only that, it will eliminate the rich culture of Indonesia, since all the performing arts would be categorized pornographic. I "almost" don't mind if Verdi's Aida, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice or Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes were banned for being "pornographic" in Indonesia ; they have the rest of the world to keep existing, but to wipe out traditional dances, centuries-old sculptures, masterpieces of Indonesian painters ?

I wish George W. would become president in Indonesia. He wouldn't like to make constitutions such as the Pornography Bill. He would just invade other countries, worsen our economy (won't be much damage, though ; we always have deficits and no surplus), and enlighten our days with phrases like " I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully" or "Natural gas is hemispheric. I like to call it hemispheric in nature because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods."

A small step (forward) for mankind, a big step for the United States, and an enormous leap of setback for my dear country ...

sábado, 18 de octubre de 2008

Schumann, paintings, dance and young people

As I always say, I am inspired by people. And apparently, since I get older now, I realize that the element of youth inspires me more and more. Well, one always wants what one doesn't possess, right ?

But people's creations and people's opinions, love and friendship are the things which have been and still are really inspirational to me. I just finished my "noisiest" work, Schumann's Psychosis. It's written for 3 pianos with 2 pianists at each piano, therefore there are in total 12 hands with 60 nimble fingers, and a friend just revealed to me that this is the first original work written for that formation. Without realizing, I just wrote history !

In fact I agreed to write it in the beginning because it was asked for the events where three Steinway replicas from 1853 will tour South East Asia in the beginning of December. But it took me a long time to even just begin writing the first note. I realized, after weeks of remaining blank pages, that I was thinking of the pianos, those dead instruments. Beautiful, historical, but dead !

Then I started to think of how I enjoyed being with those young people during the Ananda Sukarlan Award piano competition, and thinking that 6 of them will be playing the piece. Meanwhile, Chendra, the choreographer who will do the dance for the piece, sent me thru email a painting of Asep Berlian. That painting triggered an association with Schumann's "disease" (if you can call it as such) of split personalities. With all those elements in mind, mmediately the piece sounded in my head !! I could almost sketch it from beginning to end. OK, OK, you'll say that it's like cracking a rock ; looks as if it's broken on one hit, but in fact it broke because of the 100 crushes before. So, it might have been the result of my thinking and doodlings of the past several weeks. Maybe it's true, but it just proved (even only to myself) again and again that I am not like those people such as Debussy or Turner who were inspired by landscape or nature to give birth to their arts.

Schumann's Psychosis will have those elements : joyful rhythms, but screwed up just like Schumann's multiple personalities. You'll hear it, or to be precise see it (since I think, just visually it would be quite stunning to have those 6 pianists, and I am sure Chendra will make a spectacular choreography around those 6 young musicians) at the New Year Concerts in Jogja and Jakarta, 1st and 4th of January next year respectively.

martes, 23 de septiembre de 2008

How to introduce Indonesian classical music when we do NOT want it to be introduced

I was interviewed by several magazines in Indonesia due to the Indonesian Independence Day last August and I had to say that the one thing we lack now is patriotism. But I don't wanna talk about politics, nor social issues. I just wanna relate it to the field I am working with, classical music. A few months ago I wrote about Indonesian public's "high" taste for foreign musicians. Now, let's talk about our own musicians. How many Indonesian classical musicians like, love or even just feel the obbligation to perform music by Indonesian composers ? Just check out the concert programs in Jakarta, and it's all filled up with Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, up to Copland, Rutter, Britten. Great music, of course, but where are our own composers ? Why aren't they played by their own musicians ? Is it because Indonesian composers are not "prestigious" enough and so we can't be proud of them ? Not cool, not hip ? Not virtuosic ? Not attractive ? Or simply not good (according to whose criteria?) ?

Let's compare it to 100 years ago, where Indonesians wanted to be independent. They would even die for their country. Is it the case now ? I am not the one who should answer it.

Back to classical music, obviously our musicians do not care (or are we ashamed ?) of our own composers. Government ? Ministry of Culture ? Forget them, they are busy with other things. So, what to do to enliven the creation of classical music in our country, if nobody wants to play it ?

An easy(-er) solution, small but by no means meaningless, would be to ask foreign musicians to play it, or at least we should trust our national treasure to them . Let them listen, let them check some scores. This can be done perhaps by approaching the foreign cultural centers in Jakarta. Everytime they invite foreign artists, why not at least send them some scores of Indonesian composers ? Perhaps by letting them play music by Indonesian composers during their visit to Indonesia would touch the conscience of our own musicians ?

lunes, 25 de agosto de 2008

RIP, Soetarno Soetikno

Do you believe in destiny ? Premonition ? I'm not the one who could answer it, since I still can't differentiate those words with just pure chance. Or, is that the real point I miss ? As in I-Ching, chance IS destiny, right ?

Look, for some of my concerts in my 40th year I have programmed a piece which I always love, that A major Sonata of Schubert (no, no , not the big one. The "easy" one, as people say. I'd tell those people, try to play it and see what's so easy about it). I studied it for the first time with my former piano teacher, Soetarno Soetikno, back when I was a teenager in Jakarta. I programmed it this year more for nostalgic reasons, as I am reaching 40, than for other reasons.

Just like the concert I did in Santander, the nearest town where I live now, last Saturday. I programmed that piece again, together with other pieces by Beethoven, Liszt and myself. My concert started at 9 p.m CET, which means 2 a.m on Sunday in Jakarta . Soetarno Soetikno died about 4 hours afterwards in Jakarta. He was in his 70s.

Soetarno Soetikno was what you call that real, authentic teacher. He dedicated his whole life to his students. What you call "maestro" in Latin, or "guru" in Sanskrit. We often confuse that word with someone, a celebrity as we say, who performs all over the world, highly praised, having lots of affairs in his travels, having a flashy life with having apparently so many friends (especially in high places) but in reality having very few (or none at all) real friends he can trust. All those "friends" he has are just people waiting for the right time to stab him from his back.
Soetarno Soetikno, the real Maestro, was not that one I just described. He is a real one. And a teacher, as I always say, is the most underestimated, underpaid, underpraised and overworked job on earth. No, I am not talking about those pedantic university professors who earn a lot teaching how to do all those mental masturbations to the would-be intellectuals. I am talking about one who worked in a developing ( are we really ?) country with no social security and other facilities from the government. And he taught his students how to be artists, not intellectuals. And what he had suffered from his envious colleagues (some millionaires included) are just undescribable. I've seen it with my own eyes, back about 25 years ago. That's the price he had to pay for being honest and truthful to his job.

Requiescat in pace, Soetarno Soetikno. Without you, I (and many other musicians in Indonesia) wouldn´t be here now. Indonesian classical music world is deeply grateful to you (although we haven't treated you so well).

domingo, 3 de agosto de 2008

I Sit and Look Out, con molto tristezza

During these days post-Ananda Sukarlan Award, I had nice times hangin' around with many of the winners and finalists. Most of them are teenagers, with their dreams to follow, and most of them just had experienced their first love – or first break up. Anyway, I enjoyed immensely being around those young people. You can see love in their faces, in their eyes, in their mirada ; and it brings back memories – and therefore, inspiration !

Back to the present, or not so distant past. Sometime around 2004, lying in bed of a hotel room somewhere in Italy I watched on TV the re-election of George W. Bush, coincidentally with Walt Whitman poems with me in bed. I remember my feeling depressed, affirming to myself that WE choose our destiny, which sometimes means our destruction. D’you know, by the way, that most of the Jews voted for Hitler back in the 30s ?
Well, history repeats itself. And Bush continued his massive destruction : killing millions in Iraq and everywhere else, legalizing tortures, drowning the world economy etc etc. What Whitman wrote in his dark poem “I Sit and Look Out” is not so different than the situation during this first decade of our millennium. That horrible news on TV had triggered most of the notes and chords in my song. But then I had to head back home, and it remained unfinished – and forgotten …

...Until a few weeks ago. My friends, Bernadeta Astari “Deta”, Joseph Kristanto “Akis” and myself (well, no need to mention a nickname for this latter) talked about recording my songs. They are, in fact, new friends of mine. I met Deta just about 3 or 4 years ago, and Akis even more recently, through a common friend the conductor Tommy Prabowo whom I knew since I was a teenager (both Tommy and Akis will be involved in my opera "Mengapa Kau Culik Anak Kami"). Since then, those two have inspired me a lot, both as great musicians and as wonderful, humble, down-to-earth humans they are. I wish all those "superstars" around us would possess their technique, sensitivity and artistry !
At last, 24 from about 70 of my songs will be in that first CD. Now with the hope of Barack Obama for the next president I suddenly remembered my poor Whitman song, and thinking of Deta’s voice that has always, and will always inspire me, I looked for it among the heap of my manuscripts … and finished it. And we’ve recorded it in Jakarta a few days ago. So, it will be the only song in English in that CD. The rest is all my Indonesian songs … well, I’ll tell you later the titles. So, that 4-minute lament is doubly dedicated to Deta, and to myself looking forward to the end of GWB’s pestilence and tyranny. Still four months to go !

Here’s the complete poem of Whitman's "I Sit and Look Out" :

I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done;
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill’d, to preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
All these—All the meanness and agony without end,
I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.

miércoles, 30 de julio de 2008

Brill ? Young ? Local ? Thanx, but no thanx !

(a reflection on the Ananda Sukarlan Award 2008)

Congrats to those brilliant young Indonesian pianists who won prizes at the Ananda Sukarlan Award 2008 : Inge Buniardi (1st), Edith Widayani (2nd) and the three Thirds all tied : Handy Suroyo, Randy Ryan and Stephanie Onggowinoto. As a curious note, both Randy and Stephanie are both under 14 years of age. Not that we, jury members, put special attention to the early teens, but still it is amazing how they could compete with other pianists under 25.

I must say, I don't like music competitions ("oops ! Shut up, Andy !!" - "Do i contradict myself ? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes" (Walt Whitman)) . But this is the system from which we built all our musical careers, and since I couldn't think of a better way, so well, here we are. There are at least 2 participants which I personally felt they should enter the final round (I think each of the jury members had one or two of their favorite(s) who didn't manage to enter the finals), and I must admit the jury had difficulty in determining which 10 "best" pianists should enter the final round. We had 4 highly reputable jury members, and especially I am glad to greet a new friend, Henoch Kristianto as one of the jury. He is a wonder boy, graduated from Missouri who just recorded Chopin's 24 etudes. Fantastic.

But let's talk about another thing, which is my favorite theme to talk about : public acceptance to our own local music (classical) talents. There was a good audience (both quality- and quantitywise) during the final round, but I failed in one thing in this competition : to get reporters and celebrity friends to attend the final round on the 26th. Well, I shouldn't complain. Many of them have flocked at my Birthday concert at Alila Hotel held the week before the competition, and they have contributed a lot (both in publicizing and in financial aids) for the Ananda Sukarlan Award. But I would like them to hear the young local talents. Why ? Simply, coz they are really brilliant. They are the future of our country (if we have a future, with all those corruptions around). Guys, you should check the winners name I told you above. Remember them, for just a few years ahead. What else do they have to prove, besides their virtuosity and artistry ?

Can I tell you one thing, guys ? Now, most of the international piano competitions throughout Europe are won by Asian pianists. And I see that the Indonesians are catching up. The artistic world is like the stockmarket, guys. You should bet on one when it's still not high up there yet ! Are you going to let go of this opportunity ?

viernes, 18 de julio de 2008

Every language creates its own music

I had a really nice concert 2 days ago. Aning Katamsi and Joseph Kristanto "Akis" sang sooo well, and perhaps that's my best birthday present up till now. Nothing gives greater happiness to a composer than listening to his music so well performed. I am so grateful to those two friends.And thank you for all the emails, sms, and the attendance of 120 VVIP people in the concert ! This is an entry to respond to your answers and comments.

1. What is an Indonesian opera ? Well, this relates to the question "What is Indonesian classical music" (classical in the "western" idiom), and this kind of question was asked already about 100 years ago by the Americans, and starting about 50 years ago in countries such as Japan and Australia. Basically it was answered not by mere sentences, but by the creation of music by composers such as Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Toru Takemitsu and Peter Sculthorpe. I believe that Indonesian music is simply music written by an Indonesian composer. Therefore, my music is included, even if I live already more than 20 years abroad and carrying the (heavy) influences of European music such as those of Benjamin Britten, Stravinsky or Sibelius. Or am I wrong in self-declaring my music as "Indonesian music" ? Is it not Indonesian enough ?

2. As my opera "Mengapa Kau Culik Anak Kami" is postponed (whew ! What a relief ! The music is completely, 100% finished, but surely with all the things happening, we won't be able to stage it in this period), we are trying to fix a date for its premiere for the beginning of 2009. Of course the singers will be the same, my brilliant friends Aning and Akis. And now that I get to know Akis' voice better (this is the first time that we worked together -- with more than satisfactorical results --), I would like to revise some parts of my opera. I wouldn't like to kill him now with all my falsetti ; I still want him to sing in all my operas (God grant me a long and prosper life) of the future !

3. Now about "Songs of the Night" (Nyanyian Malam). I will have to contradict myself saying earlier that it is written for any kind of voice, male or female, as long as they are within the register (Oh yes, I would like to stress again the fact that I usually conceive a song in its exact tonality -- perhaps due to my absolute pitch--, so I always feel uncomfortable to have my songs transposed to suit the registers of the singers. Sorry for being that fussy !). There are some songs which I couldn't imagine sung by the other kind of voice, such as :
- Tidurlah Intan, for female voice (medium - high)
- Di Depan Sebuah Lukisan, for male voice (and falsetto in the end !)
- Meninggalkan Kandang, for female voice (med-high)
- Kasih, definitely for male voice and DEFINITELY with all those dangerous falsetti for the last 2 pages ! Many thanx, Akis, for those beautiful, beautiful ones you did. I know you have worked a lot for it. My appreciation is never enough !
Apart from those songs, the rest can be sung by either male or female voice.

The next few days will be completely occupied by the Ananda Sukarlan Award, a national piano competition here in Jakarta. Chendra my manager has created a new blog containing all the infos about this event ; check it out at . Yes, it's with the www in front, I don't know how Chendra did it. Anyway, let me use this opportunity to thank Chendra as well ; he's the person behind the scene of all those events, and I just don't understand how he managed to organize all of this. These organizing business is all Greek to me. My job is just writing all those notes, which I must admit, is 10 times easier than controlling our office with 7 people working simultaneously. I don't think I can even manage writing a 7-part fugue !

sábado, 21 de junio de 2008

Songs of the Night (Nyanyian Malam)

I have a hunch that this new cycle of mine will consist of dozens of songs. These songs were written throughout these years, and they have one thing in common : they were all written during the darkest hours of the night, and mostly when the composer was feeling lonely and miserable in a hotel room at any corners of the world. It was always the time where everybody's asleep and that there was no internet connection in the room, so my only true friend at that time were books. And most of the time, book of poems. And somehow, music just flow from those poems, so I wrote them down. Some of them can be sung by either male or female voice, so I just indicate whether they are for high, medium or low voice. Some of them even can be transposed comfortably, well, just a few, so please try to consult me first if you wanna do it anyway.

Last week I was going through my manuscripts recovering them, since I will have the honour and opportunity of premiering them with my fantastic singer friends, Aning Katamsi the soprano and "Akis" Joseph Kristanto the baritone (photos ; I especially like Akis' photo in front of my favorite "fachada" of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. And I found Aning's photo somewhere after googling ; that's another facet of her life, being a choir conductor) in a concert to celebrate my 40th birthday at Hotel Alila on July 17th. 5 numbers of "Songs of the Night" will be premiered in this occasion, together with my other "greatest hits" such as some songs from my cantata Ars Amatoria, the song cycle Senyap Dalam Derai and some piano pieces. This concert is a birthday gift from Chendra my manager, and from Alila Hotel, and it will be preceded by a Gala Dinner. Mmmm ! And the organizer told me that I can just be myself in that concert and I can do whatever I want. I think it's quite dangerous to suggest such a thing to me ....

If you fancy coming to this event, please contact Chendra at 0818 891038 or

martes, 10 de junio de 2008

Four O, Four O, the Hobby-Horse is NOT forgot

Does that work, that pun I did from Hamlet ? Not really, eh ? Anyway, I just passed that danger zone. I am now f***ing FORTY !! Some said life begins at forty, others talk about that famous crisis of the forties. My deduction : Life begins with a crisis . Ooops ...

Many thanx for the hundreds of birthday wishes arriving through emails, friends. I love you all! You're the greatest !

Last year, the great poet Sapardi Djoko Damono gave me a special present for my birthday : Four Sonnets, beautiful ones for me. You (if you read Indonesian) can read them in this blog, in my entry in June, last year. They were even chosen as one of the 100 best poems in Indonesian (those awards are irrelevant especially when you read the few other poems by other authors included in those 100 which are sort of ...hmm, shall we say, OK); you just read those sonnets and see how moved you'd be. This year, I have received --and am deeply touched, moved and grateful-- some poems as presents from my literary friends (which I'll publish in this blog later this month), but I think a more suitable poem --at least for today --would be an existing one from Walt Whitman (obviously, not written for me, and I'd be the only one in the world who says that this is one of the 100 best poems of the galaxy or whatever) :

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;

Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;

Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

Have I contributed my verse ? Have you ? I guess this is the poem which has made me going thru these years. Certainly I identify myself with the one who answers. I am not such a pessimistic person, though I do ask those questions from time to time. One can't help it when he turns 40! But I guess what Uncle Walt means with "you will contribute a verse" is exactly that : YOUR verse, MY verse . Not anybody else's. Not going with the flow. And I think I have been doing that all my life. And I always will.

I remember an advice from my parents : "Kid, I don't have the secret of success, but I have the secret of failure, and that is : trying to make everybody happy. You just CAN'T make everybody happy."

You just can't.

lunes, 9 de junio de 2008

"This Boy's had a dream" ; In memory of Prof. Dr. Fuad Hassan

Piano, piano. I've been quite pianistic these days. Writing 4-hand piano pieces for my daughter Alicia, started a two-piano piece and several etudes for piano solo. An email came last week from the Faculty of Psychology of Universitas Indonesia, asking me if I could contribute something for a concert commemorating our former minister of education, Mr. Fuad Hassan. He was the one who helped me with a scholarship to go to the Royal Conservatory of Den Haag, back in 1986. So I wrote the piece quickly (I was unusually inspired !), and wrote this program note :

A piece of music of mine to cherish the memory of our dear Prof. Dr. Fuad Hassan would be, inevitably, autobiographical. He was the person responsible for my musical education abroad, back in 1986, when things were really difficult for me. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am now. Sitting down writing the piece, my mind automatically travelled back to those years, when I was a teenager --to be precise, an ungrown-up boy. I had only dreams to follow, those kind of dreams where one could achieve anything if one really wants it. That, mixed with the uncertainties of a teenager, understanding (or not?) love for the first (few) times, the sentimental feeling of travelling far far beyond his birthplace, etcetra. Those things would sound unreal now, but were more than real in those days. Hence, "This Boy's Had a Dream" was born with an un-typical sentimentality that normally can't be found in my music. This, I feel, is the music this boy would write 20 years ago but didn't have the musical skill to write it down. Again, I hold Mr. Fuad Hassan responsible for the physical birth of this music, embedded in me for 20 years. It is unabashedly romantic, reflecting the Whitman-esque teenager not a bit tamed, untranslatable, sounding his barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world. And Mr. Fuad Hassan understood my dreams, and realized them. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Fuad Hassan.

domingo, 25 de mayo de 2008

Rainy Saturday with apple pie

What do one do in a rainy Saturday ? Of course, with youtube, DVDs, satellite TVs etc. that's a stupid question. Anyway, we were planning yesterday to go out for lunch at the beach, but obviously it had to be cancelled. So, Raquel my wife stayed and baked an apple pie. Just like any other conservative family (and then I am against the Republicans !), we stayed at home. Meanwhile Alicia Pirena, my daughter, asked me to teach her how to write music, so with nothing else to do we both did a short one, a bit more than 1-minute long. It is for 4-hands, and since the recipe of "Apfelstrudel" was there in the kitchen, she decided to call it .. well, Apfelstrudel.

Oh, by the way, about the Haiku which was "commissioned" by Alicia. I did 12 of them and decided that that's it. So, there are 12 Haiku for Alicia, ranging from 3 to 12 bars each. From very easy to moderately difficult. Maybe I'd do the same with Apfelstrudel ; I'll write a series of works for 4-hands, with 2 hands easier than the other ones. No commissions this time, not even 1 euro ! Any technical suggestions welcome, fellow pianists and piano teachers.

sábado, 3 de mayo de 2008

My first opera : "Mengapa Kau Culik Anak Kami?" (Why did you kidnap our son?)

Now that I almost (just a few bars left to be orchestrated !) finish the writing of my first opera (it will be a long time before I will write my second ; I am totally exhausted and running out of notes!) , I dare to share with you more details about it. I wrote a bit about it last January, in relation to the death of our former dictator/president Suharto if you want to read more stuff.

It is based on a play by Seno Gumira Ajidarma which was done already (and had a huge success) in 2001 in Jakarta. The setting is in a living room of a married couple whose son, Satria, had been lost for a year, most presumably kidnapped during the Suharto dictatorship. Satria was a student and an activist, and it is unknown whether he is still alive or dead. For the world premiere, the father will be played by Joseph Kristanto (baritone) and the mother Aning Katamsi (soprano). Satria will come and go as both a flashback and in an imaginary situation in a torture chamber, being interrogated. Satria's role will be played by Chendra Panatan, who will also choreograph and direct the whole opera. Oh, and don't worry, he's not going to sing ! He will, however, undergo all the violent tortures (yes, it will be quite realistic, so don't bring under-age children to the opera) by two additional dancers.

In addition to the fantastic artists above, Tommy Prabowo will conduct an ensemble of 9 musicians which include : a string quartet, a woodwind trio, a keyboard and one percussionist. This opera is the result of a commission by the Indonesian Opera Society, and the world premiere will take place at Usmar Ismail Hall on a date that is easy to remember : 8 - 8 - 08, at 8 pm. That is the eighth of August this year. There will be another performance the day after.

Apart from the arias, there are some highlights from the opera that could be performed as separate numbers in the future. Those include a 4-minute string quartet when Satria is being interrogated and reaching out in futile to his parents, and a 2,5-minute bassoon solo piece "Satria Sendiri" (Satria alone) where Satria was alone in jail, frightened, blindfolded, but with a spirit that has not been broken.

jueves, 17 de abril de 2008

Alicia's first commission

I was deeply immersed writing my opera today when my daughter Alicia came and said "Daddy, I want to commission you a piano piece for me to play. I want my own piano piece". The commission fee : 1 euro. Well, I certainly cannot reject a commission of this importance. By a very important commissioner. And hopefully without being cut by tax this time.

So, I wrote a very short piece in just 5 bars for her. But then I thought, this could be the beginning of a series of "haiku" for piano. It would be fun to write those sketches, one every day, after finishing my main work, the opera. In fact, those haiku can be used as a material for some bigger pieces, each concentrating on a certain colour. Let's see if this is realistic and I'll have some really tiny "mikrokosmos" for piano, for my dearest Alicia to play.

sábado, 12 de abril de 2008

My vocal score "Tembang Puitik" almost sold out

I couldn't believe it myself. My manager, Chendra Panatan told me that my score of 25 songs for voice(s) and piano "Tembang Puitik Ananda Sukarlan" (see my entry in February 08) have been sold about 900 exemplars. 1000 ex. were printed for the first time last December. Ok, ok, this is far from the amount sold of Harry Potter or Da Vinci code, but for vocal works by an Indonesian composer this is quite unbelievable. To be honest, I am quite surprised, proud, and thankful to the mostly Indonesian singers who have bought my score. And also very grateful that you don't make photocopies out of it !
So, Chendra is considering making a second printing of another 1000. Will he succeed in selling another 1000 ? We sold that amount (no, no, we sold just under 900) in about 4 months. Yeah, this year I will be celebrating my 40th birthday, and many events are being organized everywhere to celebrate it, so there will be opportunities to sell them. Anyway, I know Chendra works miracles, so I told him to go ahead and boldly do it.

Since the score was released, I had written about 20 more songs, for all kinds of voices. And of course, some excerpts from my opera I am writing now can be arranged for voice(s) and piano. So, I am thinking of including them in the new score to be sold. Anyway, thanx guys, for your appreciation for my music ! May God bless you all singing my songs over the rooftops of the world !

lunes, 24 de marzo de 2008

First love never dies

I know, I know that I have to really sit down and finish my opera. But instead, today I spent 2 hours sitting and connected to the internet. Because ....

Today I saw my very first person I fell in love with in my life. In fact, it wasn't with a person, but with a frog. And it wasn't a female frog. His name is Kermit. And I saw him today at youtube, a snippet from the Muppet Movie. I remember the first time I felt that moment when I fell in love with him, and that very film exists exactly in youtube : . Tears fell from my eyes today, so before doing anything else, to immortalize this day, I write this entry in my blog to share it with you. And to let you know a very important moment in my life.

I watched it when I was about 13, in the island of Belitung, where my sister lived as a doctor. That was the moment, the minute, the second when I decided that I definitely wanted to become a musician. Now, 25 or so years later, I listened to it again. So, it wasn't Glenn Gould playing Bach or a dance performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring or Puccini's Madame Butterfly who inspired me. It was a green creature called Kermit the frog singing The Rainbow Connection.

miércoles, 19 de marzo de 2008

Why no "Sukarlan plays Sukarlan" ?

My manager Chendra Panatan has always been bombarded with this question (especially by many, many young pianists) : Why doesn't AS record and play his own piano music ? He's always answered with "Later perhaps", but now I will tell you the exact reasons why.

1. There are still not so many pianists who play my pieces, so I do not want to dictate them how to interpret my own music. Ok, ok, Rachmaninov as a pianist or Samuel Barber as a baritone were the best interpreters of their own music, but how many composers could claim it so? I am always surprised in listening to other people performing my music ; I always found new things which I even didn't realize before in my music. The good musicians always find new points of view in looking at the music. Don't misinterpret me as an idiot ! It's true, I tell you. It has happened also in the opposite way, when I am interpreting someone elses music. Sir Michael Tippett, Peter Sculthorpe and many others have expressed this to me (and in case of Sir Michael, God bless his soul, spoke it out loud on BBC Radio 3!) when they listened to my playing of their music.

2. You must understand that composing is one thing, being an interpreter is another thing. My interpretation of my own music doesn't make it more "authentic" than other (hopefully better) musician's interpretation. As a pianist, my position is exactly the same when I am playing Beethoven or when I am playing Ananda Sukarlan. The composer/conductor Andre Previn told me once that good music is always better than its performance. Therefore, nobody yet can achieve what Beethoven really wanted his music to sound. His music is still far better than any interpretations of it. In my case, it's the contrary : I am counting on my musicians to make my music sound BETTER than I wrote it !

3. I prefer at the moment to record music by other composers who I esteem highly. Especially now I am focusing myself on my Indonesian composers colleagues. Almost nobody cares about their music, and those who care, cannot play the piano ! Some of our senior composers such as Amir Pasaribu and Trisutji Kamal deserve to have recordings of their piano music NOW (to be precise, it's been long overdue). In case of the late Yazeed Djamin, there is also a feeling of friendship besides admiration. I am proud of their music, and I wish that Indonesian musicians could be proud of their composers. Who else but us, Indonesians, can introduce those composers ? They are not even known in our own country.

martes, 18 de marzo de 2008

Accents in Silence

We had a rehearsal with the ITB Choir last Sunday the 16th with my piece they commissioned, "Jokpiniana no. 1". It was great fun (except for the bloody traffic jam on the way to the rehearsal) and everybody learned a lot (oh, well, I hope THEY did, because I really did. Every rehearsal of my music is like looking at the mirror & knowing myself better).

The ITB-Choir consists of mostly amateur musicians, but their dedication to music and the way they work surpasses most of the "professional" (classical-) musicians in Indonesia. Its director, Indra Listiyanto is doing a great job in developing the choir, and their contribution to Indonesian classical music is invaluable.

Now, I can spot some weakness in my music. Unfortunately I will have to humbly tell these things to those of you who are playing my music, so that you can make my music better than it really is ! Certainly I am not Mozart whose music can survive in any conditions. So, these are the most "vulnerable" elements in my music (especially the choral ones) :

1. Speed. Remember the film "Top Gun" ? I feel the need, the need ... for speed !! Sometimes I write heart-pounding speeds in my music ; without it, the rhythms and "drive" would become quite sissy and soft. There is this element of "macho"-ness that could be lost when one performs it in lesser velocity than I indicated in the score. So, commander, set to Warp Speed 9 and ... ENERGIZE !!! Let's boldly go where no man has gone before !

2. "Just do it", or "Don't even think about it". Now, those speeds are scary (especially with so many rhythmic problems going on !), but once you set the speed DO NOT SLOW DOWN. Imagine a moving bullet or airplane, you know what happens, right, when it slows down ? One should maintain it ABSO-bloody-LUTELY strict (check it perhaps with a metronome?). Just think that you are Sandra Bullock driving that bus in the film "Speed" : if you slow down, then ... tick, tock, tick, tock .... BOOM !!

3. The highly dangerous silences on down (or strong)-beats. Those syncopes, I mean. This makes any performer enter rather late in hitting the note afterwards, especially in that speed. The trick of doing it is giving oneself an imaginary accent in those silent down-beats, as if a note (and a fortissimo one !) existed in that strong-beat silence. Don't take a breath in those silences, otherwise it is guaranteed that you will sing that next note later than it should be.

Anyway, especially for Jokpiniana no. 1, perhaps the secret of its successful performance can be resumed in two words : FUN and FUNKY.

I write my music in the beginning of the 21th century, and I hope it reflects and expresses our contemporary situation : bitterly ironic, rushing everywhere, highly anxious, agressive, and .... unfortunately still very much macho-dominated (no matter what Hillary Clinton declares to earn votes from as many women as possible). But I am a highly optimistic person (and composer), so no matter how bleak things look like outside, life is still fun and funky for me. Certainly, some 80% of my music (including Jokpiniana no.1) has a male character. No offense to the ladies, it's just how my music turns out after I composed it ... I couldn't help it myself !!

viernes, 7 de marzo de 2008

Americans in Pyongyang (and everywhere else)

What a funny feeling it is, being home for the whole month, writing practically just one piece of music (well, in fact, I interrupted my opera once with writing a short choral work based on dang-dut rhythm-- see some entries below). But I am enjoying it immensely, and I start to appreciate my nice and big garden, my cactus trees and the already blossoming spring flowers -- and thanx to global warming, the nice spring weather in February! And my house ! At last I have been to all the corners of my house.

Around the time of the Oscar ceremony, another event happened, this time I consider really sickening if not immoral. The New York Philharmonic went to perform in North Korea. Certainly everybody has been talking about how bad they played under Lorin Maazel, but this is not the issue I am gonna talk about here.

According to the American newspapers, this visit " is a late postlude to a long- planned Asia tour, organized with the backing of the U.S. State Department'' and that they had put in a request that “the concert would be open to the average citizen.'' Now, let's google North Korea and Kim Il Jung, and I found this :
Human-rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, estimate that some two million North Koreans out of a population of 23.3 million have died of hunger; officials admit to 250,000.

I saw about 20 minutes of the concert on TV, and saw that it was packed by the officials of the government, many of them with bored faces (sorry for the subjective opinion). Frankly speaking, I am unable to differentiate those from the “average citizens”, if any. Anyway, a broadcast of the event around the world already means a victory for the regimes (I mean both regimes, of Kim Il Jung and of G.W. Bush), and an insult to the democracy. Honestly, all this americani-- sorry, globalization-- business is making me sick. It was fortunate for countries like Japan, New Zealand or Australia and the Latin-American countries to have been able to develop their own high quality and character of classical music before this “global”-ization era. They had managed to establish their own composers, with their own voices, and produce great musicians. But countries like Indonesia is lacking behind – and we are not able to climb up from the trap we have fallen into. Indonesian audience still flock to any concerts of white-skinned musicians (or any white skin, musicians or not), and the local musicians wouldn't even think of the existence of –let alone trying to establish-- Indonesian classical music. They only want to perform music by white-skinned (and even better, dead) composers. The “global” guys have managed to convince us that they are better, they are superior, and we have to give them our money. It's not worth spending money to listen to our local musicians : classical music is not our culture, therefore we know nothing of it. The message is too clear : just trust the global guys, that's where classical music comes from, and let's spend our money to support them.

Music is the loser in this battle, and unfortunately its biggest enemy is its own troops : the musicians.

martes, 4 de marzo de 2008

And the winner (and loser) goes to.....

God, I can tell you one thing about writing an opera : it is an E-N-D-L-E-S-S task . It reminds me of the saying (I think it was by Woody Allen) : When you embark on a big project, you have the enthusiasm of making the greatest thing in the world. When you are deep inside it, the only thing in your mind is f***ing finishing it ! But things are taking shape, and I should not complain.

Anyway, I watched the Academy Award ceremony last week, and there were three things I would like to remember :

First of all, all of us involved in the arts in Spain would like to congratulate Javier Bardem as the first Spanish actor awarded an Oscar. We are all proud of our colleague, and the achievement of ANY artist means a boost for the whole culture and arts industry of the country, which means, all of us. At the end, we all win. I wish Indonesia's classical music world would realize that someday, and stop stabbing each other (especially at those considered "successful") from the back ...

Though being correct in awarding the Best Supporting Actor to Javier who I personally think really deserves it, being rather cynical, the Academy failed in giving one award to the Best SupportED actress. It should go to Senator Hillary Clinton, who, just for the last 3 weeks has played ALL the roles quite convincingly. She changed characters all the time !!! The only role she hasn't played is herself, but being oneself doesn't count to be nominated for Oscars (neither for being a good politician).

And the third thing, which I really regret about the Oscar night was that they excluded Brad Renfro in their obituaries. BR died of heroin overdose last January, and one can perceive that Hollywood wants to disavow all knowledge of his death. He was (and still is) my favorite Hollywood actor, incredibly talented but being in the wrong place at the wrong time (is there any right time for Hollywood?) he became the tragic victim of this "artistic" world. Your artistic legacy will always be remembered, Brad. Requiem aeternam.

martes, 26 de febrero de 2008

Desperate housewife

Oh, dear ! Why this sudden change of tone against Obama ? She's being hysterical !! Hey, senator Clinton, please remember : There ain't no secret for success, but there is ONE sure formula for failure : Trying to please everybody .
Unfortunately, we all take credit for all that we have done ....

And needless to say, Barack Obama is the first politician who could make me believe that YES, a politician could be someone who has morals and beliefs besides power and money . He won't have an easy job, resuscitating the United States after having the worst president in its history .

And ... he has a nice baritone voice ...

miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2008

"It takes a thief"

(a non-musical note about Rapsodia Nusantara no. 1)

For you who were born after 1980, you won't understand the title. It's the title of my favorite TV series starring Robert Wagner.

Now, so many of you young pianists who are playing my newest piano piece have asked "on which folksong did I base my Rapsodia Nusantara no. 1? Is it Jali-Jali ? Or Kicir-Kicir?" . The answer is : both . And my answer is "no" to the other frequently asked question "Do you use other themes beside those two folk-melodies?"

Now, you can read my previous entry about my choral piece "Jokpiniana" and hopefully it could help you understand my compositional method. You might also like to google "cubism" and see how it works in painting, because that's exactly what I am doing in many of my pieces. Picasso (and other cubist painters) always needed a model for his painting, and then they distorted the model. Well, now you get it, right ? I took those two folksongs, and I mixed them, distorted them, 'make them my own' so to say. "Good composers don't borrow, they steal", thus spake the great Stravinsky. I don't know if I am good, but I know that I steal.

So don't worry if you can't really "get" the tunes. You hear them, but you don't hear them. They are there, but they aren't there. I am writing my own music, not folksong arrangements. You can even play games with your colleagues, because sometimes I turn the original folk-tune upside down, and also reverse it : if you play a melody which doesn't really sound like the folksongs above, try to read it from right to left, perhaps you'd recognize it.

lunes, 4 de febrero de 2008

The Voice Inside me (can now be found in this book)

This was published last month, but I just got the photo of the cover a few days ago by email. It's the score of 25 vocal works by me, based on Indonesian poems by Goenawan Mohamad, Chendra Panatan, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Joko Pinurbo and Ilham Malayu. You can order it through Chendra my manager (whose poems can be found in this book as well) at or 0818 891038 if you live in Indonesia.

Some of the songs in this book (about 80 pages or so !) can be listened to at ; search under my name Ananda Sukarlan. All songs are with piano accompaniment (except two solo vocal pieces), and are for soprano, tenor and baritone solo and duets . It includes the song-cycles "Senyap Dalam Derai" (soprano & piano), "Gemuruhnya Malam" (baritone and piano), Canda Empat Penjuru (baritone & piano) as well as individual songs such as "my Aids song" Dalam Sakit for tenor & piano. All those beautiful poems are printed in the first few pages, and there are some program notes by me as well (mostly taken from this blog).

Lots of blogging today, eh ? Ok, ok ... back to writing my opera ...

More on Jokpiniana and its influences

ITB (the commissioner of my last choir piece, see my entry below) has asked me for more details of the work I just made for them. All I can say is that certainly it couldn't have existed without my fascination for cubism, which once in a while "appeared" in my works. What I did was, perhaps, translating the visual creative process of Picasso to music, therefore changing the concept "space" into "time". Living in Spain, I can't help admiring Picasso every day !

In "Jokpiniana", the way I use the motifs is by experimenting with its distortion, just what Picasso did with, e.g., Demoiselles d'Avignon, representing apparently solid objects as radically fragmented. This innovative approach broke down the components of the musical elements (originated from the poetic elements of Joko Pinurbo) into a number of individual facets, presenting several different aspects of one object (it could be a melody, or harmonic progression, or rhythmic pattern) from a variety of angles, simultaneously. I also juxtapose different, most of the time contrasting, moods (again, originating from several poems of contrasting moods) back to back with each other. What I want to repeat again and again, especially to those reporters and critics who always misunderstand my way of creative thinking, is that I am not just reading the poems word by word and make a melody out of it. I concentrate on the mood of the poem as a whole. Once I get the music, the words (or phrases) become (a little bit) less important. Nevertheless, I never use a phonetic element outside the poem : for example, the words "dang" and "dut" do exist IN the poem itself ! I just take it out and establish it as an independent element, treating it purely as sound and not as a word that has a meaning. I always consider a great poet as a great painter : they know how to choose the exact words for the "paint" as a material to create their picture. So, don't get me wrong : individual words are of primary importance for me in the beginning of the creative process, but they become secondary in the RESULT of the musical work. A great painting is not made with only primary colours, right ? Its greatness lies in how the painter mixes the colours, and how the result could express what he would like to communicate with the observer.

As I mentioned in the subtitle, Jokpiniana is an etude. The "real" manifestation of this technique I use in the opera I am writing now. Its duration is 70 minutes (plus break between the two acts), and I must say that this is an exciting experiment (whether it works or not, it's not really exciting ; it's terrifying for me ! That's why I keep on taking breaks from its composition, due to self-doubts, and write other short works). Its results have worked before in my pieces, so I hope it works again now !

lunes, 28 de enero de 2008

Jokpiniana I : A reflection on dangdut

Work on my opera is going quite well. Haven't made up my mind about the dialogues & recitatives, but I have done some arias and choreographical music. I decided a few days ago to take a break from it and compose my short (4-minute) choral piece commissioned by the ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Indonesia) Choir for their tour to Italy.

The piece will be for SSAATTBB choir.For about one year I have been fascinated by the (very) short poems of Joko Pinurbo "Jokpin". You can find them (if you understand Indonesian) in . I have been toying the idea of putting several poems into one short piece, and writing for the choir has provided me the opportunity to do so. So, Jokpiniana will be a series of choir pieces, or shall we say "choir etudes", and this one for ITB will be the first of I-dunno-how-many-will-there-be etudes for choir. In this piece I concentrate especially on his fantastic poem "Dangdut" which provides me the ostinato, but I will treat it antiphonally. Dangdut is a very popular rhythm that is very close to the heart of most of Indonesians. One always say that it belongs to the low-class people, but hey, all the diplomats at the Indonesian embassies around the world always organize dangdut parties. They even have dangdut artists TO BE FLOWN FROM INDONESIA for their "cultural" events. I must say that they are more representative of Indonesian culture than, let's say, me or my colleagues of "classical music" who are pretentious enough of searching things such as "What is Indonesian classical music ? What is Indonesian opera?" and other useless soul-searching questions. Dangdut IS our identity !

sábado, 26 de enero de 2008

Suharto is dead. So ... ?

Well, well, well, I couldn't believe that our former dictator could fall ill ... and then die. In fact, I have been thinking a lot about him, since I am writing this opera about a family who lost one of its members during Suharto's dictatorship. It has a lot to do with methods of kidnapping and torture.

But let's talk about Suharto - "The Smiling Dictator". Does this news mean that his family will now be liberated from all the charges ? I think so. It has happened before, and unfortunately it will always happen with all those "happy" dictators in every part of the world. "Live long and prosper", full of privileges, possessing absolute power (he and his entire family). Why is this ? How many people has he killed ...ooops, sorry, I mean, made disappear ? Even the magician David Copperfield couldn't compete with him. I won't speculate how many victims of Suharto there were, since I can't know it for sure (and neither did he, I suppose. He didn't even care ... or perhaps the numbers of victims were important to boost his ego ?) .

So, now not only is he f***ing rich, but his death is boosting his fame as well. He'll be the most bankable dead celebrity, after Elvis. A pity for him that all that money and wealth can't be transferred to the next world. The wealth earned with so much blood of innocent people ...

miércoles, 23 de enero de 2008

Alio Modo, new CD

Just came out ! This is my new CD with the complete piano works of David del Puerto (Spain's National Music Award 2005, Spain's most prominent composer and .... one of my best friends!). But not only that. In this CD one can listen to all his works for accordion as well, played by Spain's greatest accordionist, Angel Luis Castaño, who has brought his instrument into a higher level. Why this combination ? Well, some reasons : 1. Because David del Puerto's piano works only add up to about 35 minutes of music, so the accordion works (which add up to about 30 minutes) is a nice couple for the CD. 2 . Because there is one piece in this CD that is for piano AND accordion. "Diario" was written for us, and this is one of the very few pieces in the world that are originally written for the duo of these instruments. And from those very few, I dare to say that for me this piece is the best of all of them. Just check out how Del Puerto exploits the resources of each instruments, and how he combines them, and all those exciting rhythms ... ah, it's such a delight to play, and even more exciting to listen to !
It's in all the CD shops in Europe that sells classical music CDs (or through it's distributor, , and in Jakarta you can find it in the 3rd floor of Alun Alun, Grand Indonesia, or just ask my manager Chendra Panatan ( or 0818 891038) how to get it .
Does this sound like commercials ? Yes, but two things that differentiate this from other commercials. 1. I don't receive money from the sellings ( I got paid in advance !) , and 2. I do this because I am so proud of this CD. David del Puerto is Spain's valuable national asset and am also proud to have something to do with his music, especially "Alio Modo" which is now considered a masterpiece of Spanish piano music of this century.

lunes, 21 de enero de 2008

It ain't that easy ....

Am deeply immersed in the writing of my first (hopefully not the last) opera, Why did you kidnap our son ? . As this will be the first opera ever that uses "real" Indonesian language (not a poetic one), I am having trouble in some parts of it, especially the recitatives. I have no models to follow! (by the way, no complains to the script writer whose work I heavily edited -- not changed! -- , Seno Gumira Ajidarma ; he wrote a fantastic script !)
I've been watching a lot of operas by Mozart, Wagner, Britten and Bellini lately (oh, and Shosty's fantastic Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Enjoyed it sooo much but I don't know if it helps, since I don't understand any Russian. What one should be aware while composing is that the music should be communicative enough to people who do not understand the language of the vocal parts.) to see how they solve the problem of doing their dialogues. It's such a difficult language, Indonesian. I mean, I have written more than 50 songs based on Indonesian poems, but again, it's totally different from doing recitatives. An opera is not just a series of arias. Ohh... Being the first to do one thing is always a problem !

The arias are quite ok, the ensemble part is quite enjoyable to do (especially with Chendra's collaboration for the choreography ; basically all the movements, characteristics and durations came from him, so I am having an easy job on this), they don't pose many problems ... but uugh, those recitatives ! In Indonesian ! Can you imagine ? What shall I do with this bloody language ??? HEEELLLP !!! Aaarrrghh !!!

Another thing is that there is much violence in this opera, that somehow my "dark side" has surfaced ... and made me rather worried . I think this opera will be rated PG .... and all this after writing my new song-cycle "Love and Variations", and my sweetest, delicious, loveable cantata Ars Amatoria that includes a children choir !

lunes, 7 de enero de 2008

Love and Variations

Just wrote the last note of "Kekasihku", a song based on Joko Pinurbo's poem, and that is the last note I wrote for "Love and Variations". This is a multi-lingual song-cycle (or perhaps a mini-cantata, if you like) based on 8 poems from 5 countries (Spain, Mexico, the USA, the UK and Indonesia) and from 3 centuries (the newest is Laksmi Pamuntjak's, written in 2001, and Joko Pinurbo's in 2003) . I've been promising to write about it for a few weeks, so here it is.

This is a piece commissioned by the American singers Kathryn Mueller (soprano), Nathan Krueger (baritone) and the Indonesian pianist Aryo Wicaksono. They all live in Arizona and are going to give the World Premiere of the whole cycle on the 25th of April this year, which will be the first of a series of performances throughout the US of this piece. Each of them sent me recordings of their previous performances which, I must say, are excellent, so I did think a lot of their characteristics while composing these songs. This is a piece I enjoyed very much in composing, since they are basically not strenuous to write (I wrote the songs one by one between breaks of concerts or composing other big works), and I was given freedom to choose whatever poems I like and suited my musical language. The first song was written already in October last year, and as I said, I finished the last song a few minutes ago. "Kekasihku" is a very light-hearted and witty song, and who else but Joko Pinurbo could capture that ironic yet profound atmosphere, inexplicable by words.

Each song can be performed separately, but if one wants to perform them as a whole, this is the order I would very much prefer :

1. Snowflakes (Henry W. Longfellow) -- ouch, the soprano starts by hitting a high note!
2. Glass Conservatory (Laksmi Pamuntjak)
3. Amor Eterno (Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, in Spanish. This is dedicated to my good friends Leticia Martin & Ruben Rodriguez for their wedding present last November)
4. Hours Continuing Long, Sore and Heavy-Hearted (Walt Whitman) -- soprano and piano, and could be sung by a tenor as well
5. Kukirimkan Padamu (Sapardi Djoko Damono, in Indonesian) -- baritone solo, but couldn't be sung by a female voice !
6. So we'll go no more a-roving (Lord Byron)
7. Kekasihku (Joko Pinurbo, in Indonesian)
8. Si tu me dices ¡Ven! (Amado Nervo, in Spanish)

viernes, 4 de enero de 2008

Ars Amatoria and New Year .... and what am I doing ??

Whew !!! So Ars Amatoria has at last been premiered. I was soooo glad that the performance went very well during the New Year Concert. At least, it wasn't raining and flooding, which is always our greatest fear every year during the rainy season. The publicity wasn't aggressive (Chendra's attention was divided in the managing, choreographing, stage directing, lighting, and dancing himself ; nevertheless, he did such a great job as usual), but some 800 people went to the concert ; not bad for a day where people in Jakarta wake up very late after partying the whole night .... out of town !!! Got a standing ovation after the cantata was over, which was quite a rare thing for the public of Jakarta to do so, therefore I am indeed very honoured.

Artistically there are many good things, and still some things to be revised for future performances and to leave the the definite score. First of all, the structure of Ars Amatoria works very well (it wasn't easy to make a 40-minute work, I tell you ! This is my first piece above 20 minutes). But some instrumentations and practicalities should be revised, especially because this piece is designed to be conducted from the piano. There won't be some heavy revisions though, and many have been done during the rehearsals ; they just haven't been copied to the score. I hope I can do it in just one day .

But not now ! I have to really, really sit down and start working on my opera. Yeah ! It's a commission from the Indonesian Opera Society, and it's about the tragedy of a kidnapping during the Suharto dictatorship era. The libretto is based on an existing script with the same title ("Mengapa Kau Culik Anak Kami?", or Why did you kidnap my son?)by Indonesia's famous writer, Seno Gumira Ajidarma. Chendra Panatan will do the stage directing, and also will dance as the kidnapped son, Satria (since he is interrogated and tortured but keeps silent during the process, there is no point of giving this role to a singer ; hence I give it to a dancer instead !) .

The World Premiere of this opera prima of mine is fixed to a date which is easy to remember : 8-8-08, at 8 p.m , at the Usmar Ismail Hall in Jakarta. Hope that date brings good luck .

But first, I have to finish a 15-minute song cycle "Love and Variations" for a premiere in Arizona in April. It´s almost finished, and I am going to write about it here when it's definitely finished.

Happy New Year and Happy New Ears to all of you music lovers !