domingo, 19 de julio de 2009

Polit ... I mean, Peace and Prosperity

I just HAVE to write this even if I don’t want to, just because I was feeling like .. oh, why oh why ? Why do I keep receiving proposals to be involved in politics? I should tell you my own definition of the word “politics” : The ugly business of beautiful words. And those words are always the same : peace, prosperity, patriotism, … coincidentally all that equally begins with a “p”!

They are just crazy, all those who have invited me to join “concerts for peace”, or to take part of a campaign or even to be actively involved in a political party. Look, I could say that I hardly know how the Spanish politics work, but I just don’t know ANYTHING about Indonesian political parties and all that hillybillies ! Those offers and proposals appear more often before the elections, and in some cases after a disaster, like the one that happened a few days ago: the bombing of 2 American hotels in Jakarta. Isn’t that enough suffering already to be exploited further for an increase of personal fame and wealth?
Oh, and about my operas? You can say they are very political, yes! In fact they all deal with the victims of politics. I don’t glorify politics in my works, I insult them, I show how bad politics do in our lives, in case you don’t get the point.

I was always clear about my dreams since I started my career : to retire young. No, I am not like those guys who needs MORE money, MORE power, MORE fame, MORE this and that. Just give the opportunity to the younger generation. I am OK. By the way, you know what my real happiness is? It’s having lots of blank papers in front of me to be filled with those tiny black notes. That’s what I mean by retiring young : being boring and just get paid writing all those notes. And I have sort of achieved it. So let me work in peace, I mean, REAL peace, not a politically correct peace!

But let me rectify my refusal. I will take part in a political activity, only if he or she who proposes it to me has read Plato’s “The Republic” and would like to put at least 10% of it into practice. Until now, that is the only correct guide of how to run a country, in my opinion. And don’t tell me that I am old fashioned or I am 2000 years retarded. I can’t be argued about that. If you don’t agree, let’s just talk about something else, anything but politics.

domingo, 12 de julio de 2009

May the best win ... but what about the rest ?

In the early 90s as a young and ambitious pianist I was active in the competition world as a competitor, and I always wonder how would it feel to be on the other side, sitting as one of the judges. My parents were not so well off, they couldn't act as my producer, sponsor and manager for my musical career (they didn't even know anything about this crazy artistic business), so that was the only way I could earn money back then. Now already about a decade I've been sitting, watching, listening and judging various competitions, both in Spain and in Indonesia. Naturally since then I have heard and received, directly and indirectly, protests or just insatisfaction from those who don't win, or even don't pass the first preminilary round(s). Not only protesting against the result, but later on they attack the system, infrastructure and even the very existence of an artistic competition.

I've always expressed my disagreement about competitions for the arts. Naturally I don't protest when I won a competition, but I do think that competitions could pick the "survival of the fittest" only up to a certain level, which is the technical point. So it's just about making sure if a pianist can play the running scales and octaves in a refined manner, a violinist plays in tune all the way from beginning to end or whether a young composer's harmony and counterpoint reflects his good ear and that he's not just writing, as we say, "paper music". But after that, do we have the right to judge a good pianist's interpretation of a Prelude & Fugue by Bach ? If I do it differently, would MY interpretation receive a higher point than his or hers ? And imagine a competition where both young Shostakovich and young Stravinsky participated, to who would you give a higher mark?

But why do I join the "competition club" ? Simply because I cannot think of a better base for a young artist to build a career on. Now in Indonesia, where the number of pianists is growing (incredibly) rapidly, voices start to go around how competition is bad for the arts. It is obviously an old issue (but still talked about) here in Europe, without anybody finding its solution. Of course those critical voices in Indonesia come from those who have joined and "lost" (I hate that word), either in a national, regional competition or by those who have participated abroad and ... well, you know the result. Now I tell you one thing, folks. I was really lucky to have won my first competition, but I have had my share of losing a couple as well. It is not a rule that if you win in a competition, you'd win in another, and the same can be said about losing. You just gotta do your best ! And stop talking and stop criticizing ! A successful person is not the one who never failed ; it is he who can get up and do it again after each failure. And success, my friends, is built on many failures. And if competitions are so bad .... can you give a better suggestion to what a young pianist, or any other artists should do to start their career ?? Nothing Machiavellian, I mean.

If you can, that's great. Because I can't.

jueves, 9 de julio de 2009

Thanks, Alicia!

"When you give, you don't lose. You gain more by giving." That's what my mom always told me. I didn't understand it until many years later, and the latest example happened last week.

I judged a couple of piano competitions in a space of less than 1 month. The latter, in Bandung, used my new book “Alicia’s First Piano Book” as the obligatory pieces; hence each participant should choose one among the 35 solo pieces to be played in the semifinal round. I was touched how they treated my piece as anything BUT obligatory. In fact, after the competition finished, so many people (teachers, participants—including the ones who didn’t win any prizes, and people among the public) came to me and said how they enjoyed the pieces and thank me for my contribution to the piano repertoire for the young. And I discovered that many piano teachers have used them for teaching purposes, nothing to do with the competition.

Now, of course I am honestly happy that my book has sold hundreds of copies (in fact Chendra my manager is gonna re-publish a second edition of 1000 copies very soon). Another happy discovery is that apparently no Indonesian composers have done explicitly pieces for the young, so this is the first Indonesian “Album for the young”, “Children’s Corner” or “Mikrokosmos” or whatever you wanna call it. But the thing that made me happy the most is that I have given something which made those children enjoy playing the piano. And this is all thanks to my little daughter, Alicia. It was her who made me write all those pieces. In fact, one piece in that book called “12 Haiku” was commissioned by her … for 1 euro! (I think I wrote about this in this blog, you can check it out in my previous entries about 1 year ago). Apart from that, all the pieces are written without any money involved. That’s what you call, literally, “for the love of it”.

And I must confess, there is another thing that made me happy, but let me tell you one thing first. A few years ago, the ABRSM commissioned many composers from many countries a short piece to be compiled in their book “Spectrum”. I contributed a very short and easy (well, that was the requirement of the commission) piece called “Gentle Darkness”. Later on the commissioner told me that my piece is among the most popular & often played by students ….but none of them who played my piece is Indonesian!! Indonesian young pianists always choose other composers’ pieces from that book. So that shows my (un-)popularity in my own country ….and my narcissist instincts told me that it is not because my piece is inferior than the other pieces in that book!
But my book (or shall I say Alicia’s?) proved it wrong.

I have had fantastic performances of my music. Some of them sound even better than what I had imagined. But nothing, I tell you, nothing gives greater happiness than your own daughter playing your own music, especially music written especially for, and with her in our minds (or sometimes even sitting on my lap). And I have a hunch that she will inspire “Alicia’s SECOND piano book” (at least, there are already several pieces written for the next book).