lunes, 21 de septiembre de 2009

Buzzing Rueda, buzzing Rueda, you'll come a-buzzing Rueda with me

Still warm, my newest CD released by NAXOS with (almost all) piano works of Jesus Rueda is creating a buzz. Honestly, perhaps this IS the CD that all piano lovers in Spain (and many abroad) have been waiting for these years. Anyway, I'll keep it short this time, since you can check it out at : . And I'll paste my article in the booklet of that CD here. Hope you enjoy the new 21st century pianistic adventure !


Jesús Rueda (b. 1961)
Piano Music

A recording of Jesús Rueda’s piano works is long overdue. Rueda is today unquestionably the foremost living Spanish composer for the piano. Although he has never been a performer, his understanding of the resources and potential of the piano is nevertheless broader than that of most. His pianistic masterpieces would not have existed—as he himself openly acknowledges—had it not been for his intensive studies of the pianism of Chopin, Liszt, Ravel and Prokofiev; but it is his highly individual language that makes his music not only so new and radical, but highly expressive and communicative. He has successfully produced a mesmeric blending of ‘classical’ and contemporary elements: his compositions might ask the instrument to whisper in utmost secrecy or, in Walt Whitman’s words, to sound its “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”.

This ‘Rueda’ pianistic soundworld was launched with his First Piano Sonata, composed in 1990–91. Entitled Jeux d’eau, the sonata is clearly influenced by Ravel, its nine-minute gorgeous wash of sensuous music evoking radiating light, sweeping surges and powerful torrents of water. This is Rueda the master draughtsman at his most shimmering and seductive. The subtle use of pedal should always be observed by the pianist in order to take full advantage of the extensive palette of colours.

More than a decade separates Rueda’s first sonata from his Second, entitled Ketjak. This time—even more virtuosic than the first—the influences are jazz and Balinese Kecak dance rhythms, and I am so profoundly grateful for the honour of being its dedicatee. The motif of the whole piece is introduced in the very first bar, roaring in the lower registers of the instrument. This motif develops in many different ways throughout the piece, trembling with a textural density spanning from hollowness of unearthly splendour to dense cascades of pummelling electric charges.

The 24 Interludes are sophisticated short pieces which immediately engage us. The majority stem from true life experiences, and they contain the most ravishing musical expression Rueda has hitherto articulated. Their wealth of expression ranges from the most poignant anguish to the most ecstatic rapture and even ironic wit. Some were conceived and developed in Rome—where Rueda lived 1995–2000—evoking impressions of the city (Movimiento, Niebla, Grazioso, Corrente, Sospeso, Dibujo). Others are musical gifts for the new-born babies of close friends (Canción de cuna, Berceuse, and for my own baby daughter born in 1998: Il filo di Alicia sull’acqua). Rueda does not hesitate to look back in time, and in some numbers he indulges the inextinguishable romantic urge: Chopin is directly inspired by Prelude No. 16 of the great Polish composer; Vision is a Lisztian study borrowing the title from one of his Transcendental Etudes; Prokofiev’s ghost appears in Toccata; and Rueda was possessed by Scriabin’s spirit while writing Campo de Estrellas. Notturno in Bali depicts the fearful 2002 night when the terrorist bombs exploded in Bali; Seikilos is based on an old Greek epitaph; and Rueda conjured up impressions of his close friends in Retrato, Omaggio, Registros separados and Corale. These exquisite pieces sometimes also serve as studies or sketches for a larger future work.

Mephisto (1999) is one of the pieces originating from my invitation to a number of Spanish composers to write a ‘hommage’ for the seventieth birthday of Luis de Pablo, who had once been Rueda’s teacher. The piece’s gestation took place while Rueda was travelling in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Modelled on Liszt’s famous first waltz, it is certainly a terrifying tour-de-force for any pianist, fiercely erupting in a Dionysian catharsis in the third—and final—section of its five-minute countdown to the apocalypse.

Being a great composer, Rueda understands the piano so well that he can write—as composers of the past have done—(very) simple and highly attractive pieces for children to play. In 2003 he started writing these Inventions, dealing with basic piano techniques and ranging technically from the very simple to the moderately difficult. In this recording we hear nine of them. Bouncy Black is for black keys in intervals of a second, and Inner Piece is its counterpart for white keys. Then there is the Ligetian “blocked keys” technique in Watch Your Steps, the unending cascade of notes in To Be Continued and amusing rhythmic games in The Happiest Seconds. Rueda continues to add attractive short pieces to the approximately fifty he has already written; Inventions is thus an essential contribution to the musical education of the young.

Ananda Sukarlan

viernes, 18 de septiembre de 2009

Yeah the title isn't mine, but the music is !

Just realized I haven't blogged for over a month, eh? So here I am again. When I was in Indonesia last month I got another negative comment about my Rapsodia Nusantara : the usual phrase that it is not my music but an Indonesian folk-tune instead. Well, it is ! Let me tell you how it works, for the n-th (and hopefully the last!) time :

The idea of "Rapsodia" (let's call it RN since now, although it sounds like another flu virus spread by Donald Rumsfeld's company) was first mentioned by my late friend, composer Yazeed Djamin. He wanted to do a series of RN (the title was HIS idea) for me, for piano solo, so that I could have a series of Indonesian virtuosic piano works and at the same time introduce Indonesian folk-tunes in my concerts. Until then (he died in 2001) there weren't any really virtuosic piano works by an Indonesian composer, can you imagine ? I mean, those ones that could bring the house down as the closing piece of a concert. Now, this idea itself is not original : it was inspired by (what else?) Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. If you now go to Hungary and hear some familiar folktunes, well you can be thankful to our old friend Ferenc who introduced them to you by incorporating them (or using them as material) in his Rhapsodies. And Yazeed's (and my) argument was : why do we Indonesians always end our concerts with Hungarian Rhapsodies ? Why don't we make our OWN Rhapsodies ?

Liszt's case wasn't the first, nor the last time that composers "steal" from folk-tunes. It goes back to the 16th century and maybe before. You can hear them in works of Sweelinck, Rameau and Mozart. The extreme case are those pieces called "Rumanian (and Bulgarian) Folk Dances" by Bela Bartok, as if HE was the composer of those folk dances. Now what, would you point your finger to him again and say that he cheated ?

Guys, it's not the material that counts. It's the development of it, it's what you do with the material. It's like saying "When life gives you lemon, make lemonade". Materials (it's cooler for artists to say "inspiration") could be found everywhere; even you can DEFINE a material in words (such as "three short notes and one long note" for Beethoven's Fifth). It's like a grape, which you can just eat as it is, or turn into very refined wine. And yeah, wine IS grape ! Who said it's not? So, d'you get it now that I am not trying to boldly write music which no man has written before?

Anyway, you won't say that those running octaves and crazy arpeggios are not mine, right ? You say they belong to folkmusic, and many people would be dead trying to sing them !

So, enough of that. I am writing --to be precise, trying to write-- my third opera at the moment. Usually I love writing operas, but it is now a different issue. There will be no real strong protagonist in this opera ; at least 8 singers would be a soloist in a certain moment. The difficulty is that I don't have those singers in mind. I always have this wishful thinking that my music would still be around after I die, and they will be played and sung by musicians that I won't be acquainted personally, but at the time of writing the music, the figure of the musician in the back of my head really does help in making the shape of the music. One of my greatest pleasures in writing music was when I wrote a series of duos (for violin, bassoon, trumpet etc. with piano) for the handicapped people here in Spain : it was their handicap, and their love and enthusiasm to music that inspired the music that I wrote. And those duos can be (in fact, will mostly be) performed by any musician with complete limbs of the body. So it is not about the virtuosity or genius of the musician ; it is just themselves and each of their particular way of making music. Every person is special to me, and there is always an element in everyone that makes me fall in love with them, and therefore, be inspired by them. The proof is, everytime I wrote music for (a) certain musician(s) for the second time, it always turned out to be better !