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.