miércoles, 29 de abril de 2009

Too much death, too many deaths

Difficult compositional period these days. Too much death, and too many deaths involved in my music. My second cantata which is supposed to deal with "Libertas" (hence the title) turned out to be depressingly pessimistic : instead of liberty, it deals with its deprivation. Mea culpa : I am using poems about dead heroes fighting for liberty. Even the word "libremente" (freely) was used by Luis Cernuda in his last phrase ".. permite a tus amigos , en un rincón pudrirse libremente" (allow your friends, in a corner to rot freely). It is a poem about the death of Federico Garcia Lorca and his anti-Franco colleagues (whose bodies, as you know, were never found) ! So there you get your freedom ... afterdeath. What a coinci.. I mean contradiction : it is commissioned for the celebration of Indonesia's Independence Day in August. I wouldn't have so much doubts if it hadn't been for this occasion. Anyway, that's how the music turns out.

My previous works lately were also closely involved with death. The film Romeo - Juliet obviously was, and my opera IBU (which I just finished a few weeks ago) is about a mother whining about her dead son AND husband, for more than half an hour, from beginning to end. And at the end of the day, though it's not my favorite theme, it just gets on my nerves. Perhaps I'm just too much attached to my own works. I dunno ...

I have also started sketching my opera, Damarwulan. I work with Eka Budianta as the librettist (whose poems I always deeply admire, and have set some to music) who concentrates in the version of Sanusi Pane (a great Indonesian writer during the first half of the 2oth century) who wrote his own interpretation of this Javanese legendary hero. In Pane's version, Damarwulan was executed in the end, and Eka Budianta is going to take it further with his libretto for my opera that it should be the Queen Kencana Ungu who was supposed to be blamed for the death of Damarwulan. She is this kind of femme-fatale : "If you don't love me, then you die. (And slowly and painfully.)" Wow, now THAT I like. Oh and I'm fascinated myself with the transformation of her feelings, from her love at first sight, obsession and fixation towards Damar turning into extreme hatred. Wow that's like real life, eh ?
We still differ in opinions about how Damar should be executed ; Eka Budianta would like it to be truthful to the past period with its strict Javanese tradition, while I'd like to bring the whole scene to the present (or even future ; what do you expect from a Trekkie, eh?). Let's kill Damar with a laser beam, shall we ? But what we have agreed upon is that Damar will undergo a lot of suffering before he is executed. So, I can realize my dream of writing my "Bolero" for his pre-execution scene. I've been wanting to write my own version of Bolero since I heard it the first time (you know when ? It was when I was a teenager in Indonesia, during a show "Holiday on Ice" of dancing ice-skaters. It was the first time that I heard music with just one melody and one rhythm, repeated again and again !).

Hey, am I exercising plagiarism ? Of course not. I am just taking Ravel's concept. Yeah, when you hear my Damarwulan later you might say that, but what if I write a sonata ? Am I copying Mozart and Haydn ?

Talking about plagiarism, there was a guy who aggressively criticized in his facebook page on our film Romeo - Juliet : "Hey, Yusuf (the director) is committing plagiarism. I know that story before ! Even the names of the protagonists were, as I remember, the same ones."
Gosh, I hope that guy won't come to see my opera .... "Opera ? Hey, that's not original! I knew someone has made a show called opera before ! I believe he was Italian !!"
You're mistaken, pal. It's a she, and she's American. Her last name is Winfrey.

viernes, 17 de abril de 2009

Personal inventory

This entry is in fact for myself. During this tranquil week, while I was writing my 4th Rapsodia Nusantara "en forme de variations" (which goes very well, in fact. I did 7 variations in 4 days) I scrambled through my manuscripts to --at least, that was the original intention-- throw away my "early pieces". But then I found some pieces, all dating from early 1990s, that I thought should be "ok" and not too shameful to be performed in front of an audience. So, after throwing away some rubbish, here are some rubb .. I mean, pieces, which I've decided to keep to be revised later when opportunity arises for them to be performed :

1. Whitman Landscapes (2 short pieces for wind quintet)
2. Piano Trio no. 2 16' (my longest "early piece")
3. Piano Trio no. 1 (only exists in its first 4 minutes. I guess this didn't work out then, so I began anew and did my no.2. Now with my more "accomplished" technique, I think I know what to do with this)
4. String Trio
5. 2 Songs for soprano, clarinet & piano (I'd revise them and perhaps add more songs later)
6. "Strings", a 5-minute piece for string orchestra
7. 4 Whitman Songs
8. Two short pieces for cello solo

miércoles, 15 de abril de 2009

Rectifying Rossini's Record

Whew ! At last I finished my "pocket opera", IBU, a few days ago. Just sent the score to the musicians last nite. Now I gotta immediately start composing my second cantata, LIBERTAS.

I've broken my own record of the shortest time period in composing IBU. I did sketch its formal, harmonic & rhythmic structures last year right after I received the text of the monologue from Seno Gumira Ajidarma himself, but practically I started writing its actual notes on the plane carrying me back to Spain on the 10th of March this year. Then there was a one-week "black-out" period, plus some small travellings until at last I wrote its last note on the 11th of April. So, about 4 weeks of intense composing IBU. In between, some notes and sketches of LIBERTAS had also been done, even a number has been completed (I intended it to have 9 numbers, each based on a poem by a.o. Walt Whitman, Hasan Aspahani, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Ilham Malayu, WS Rendra).

Not that I wanted to break Rossini's record being the world's fastest scribbler ; I did it because of the scheduled World Premiere which will be on the 7th of June ! It will be programmed for the Jakarta Opera's Festival at the World Theatre of the British International School. And Aning Katamsi, the one and only singer of the opera, would certainly like to have it as early as possible. If I were her, I'd kill the composer for doing this to her ...

Now to LIBERTAS. My second cantata (my first was Ars Amatoria, which I will conduct again right 1 week before the premiere of IBU in Jakarta) will have approximately the same duration of IBU : a bit more than half an hour, but it will demand bigger forces : a baritone solo, a mixed choir (Joseph Kristanto will be the soloist together with the ITB Choir conducted by Indra Listiyanto) accompanied by 8 instruments. Commissioned by Bimasena, it is scheduled to be premiered in August this year for an audience which will include the president of Indonesia and some ministers.

But gimme a break ! Another big piece to write ? No way. I wanna have some days of "relax composing" as I always say, which means writing something completely different and unburdened (does that word exist? Anyway, I wanna say no deadlines, no commissions). I have started doodling on a new Rapsodia Nusantara no. 4 this morning. Am excited about it for 2 things : 1. It will be in variation form, a form which I never had explored & exploited thoroughly or explicitly. I will just write 1 variation a day, and put them in order after I decided that they should be enough (let's see .. perhaps 7 or 8 variations ?). 2. I have promised my friend Henoch Kristianto to dedicate it to him. He is a fine & brilliant pianist whose playing I admire so much (he studied & graduated in the US, but hey .. nobody's perfect). In fact, it was his playing of the Saint Saens 6th Etude which inspired me this morning to write a "light" variation. My Rapsodia won't sound like Saint-Saens, but sometimes my secret love to a certain composer come to the surface ...

By the way, d'you have something to do next weekend (24th of April) ? If not, you might like to have a date with your loved one to go to the cinema (if you live in Indonesia) and watch Romeo & Juliet. You won't regret it. I don't say it because I wrote the music for that film, I just think it's a very fresh & original look at the greatest love story of all time.

sábado, 4 de abril de 2009


No, that's not a title of a new piece. It's what I have been thinking these days, writing my new opera.

Let's face it, my (and many of other artist's) taste is not (always) the common public taste. Nobody has heard even one note of my new "pocket opera" IBU (oh, by the way, this word means "Mother"), but many questions, opinions and even protests (!) have been sent to me regarding my article about my creative process (see my previous entry). Most of you expressed concern about this surrealistic idea of mine of writing "unfinished" arias in my new opera. And now that it is 99% finished, I can see that I am truthful to my original idea about "unfinishing" arias, recitatives, even its overture and instrumental intermezzi. Basically, most of your reaction is simply "Hmmm ...Andy, I don't think it's a good idea ..."

"Unfinished" is my way of symbolizing the underlying theme of IBU : What really happened to my son ? And it also expresses this kind of strange sadness. If you have an unanswered (and very important) question in your life, I guess that's what happened. Everything keeps hanging in the air. But one thing is symbolism, another thing is being artistic. Will the public stand an opera, sung by one and only one singer (Aning Katamsi will be spectacular in her singing and acting, I can assure you, but this lasts for 35 minutes non-stop !), singing broken arias all the time ?

But hey, writing with this technique could perhaps make an "Indonesian identity". You see, Indonesian public likes to clap (which is nice, I know. Imagine a public who does NOT like to clap !), especially between movements and even before a piece is finished. I always regret them clapping right before the coda of my song, "Dalam Doaku". This coda was very difficult to write, and I think I succeeded in its timing and placement. But Indonesian public never heard it because they always clap right before the coda arrives ! So, "broken arias" might be a solution to avoid them clapping, he he ...

I have done some "dangerous" artistic experiments in my life. Some failed, some succeeded, as usually happened in any kind of experiments. I lost count on the amount of music I wrote that ended up in my dustbin. The last time I did this kind of experiment was in the film "Romeo & Juliet" by film director Andibachtiar Yusuf, already received its world premiere at the Hongkong International Film Festival a few weeks ago, and due to be premiered in Indonesia on the 25th this month. Some say it's outrageous, some say it's brilliant, but I will let time to tell the ultimate truth. Which means that in a few years time, when I am older (and hopefully wiser) I will look at it again and see whether I did a brilliant thing or I was just exercising an idiocy.

Some artist friends always told me that the public is not my business. But then I believe, with several other artists friends, that I am part of the public. Whatever the truth is, for many many years now I've been holding on to this catchy phrase of my favorite painter Piet Mondriaan : "Art has to be forgotten, beauty must be realized".

World Premiere of "IBU -- yang anaknya diculik itu" will be held at the World Theatre of BIS ( British International School )
Bintaro Jaya Sektor IX, Jl. Raya Jombang
Ciledug, Pondok Aren
Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 4 p.m

Performers will be : Aning Katamsi, soprano as IBU
Elizabeth Ashford, flute
Ananda Sukarlan, piano
BIS Children Choir dan JCOM Children Choir
conducted by Elizabeth Ashford dan Mirta Hartono