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 !