jueves, 2 de diciembre de 2010

You talkin' to me??

These are some questions & answers that I found scattered around in my emails with journalists, students who are doing research about my music (and me), etc. Thought they would be useful to you.

1. I know that you don't perform much now. but is there any advice for performance anxiety?
An unfortunate answer : NO. Even if one is so so prepared, it happens still ! And different kind of symptoms could happen to different kinds of people : I have the same one as Benjamin Britten's (he was famous for his rituals!) : stomach problems before going on stage.

2. Are there any advices for those who want to make career in performing and composing music?
Well, unfortunately I can't think of any other way but to join & win the competitions, although competitions are so so inartistic . But for me, it was the way. Afterwards I started to re-educate myself musically (meaning , playing for artistic reasons, and not to please the jury. Not even the audience; I do it for the music, which is sometimes too honest to please anyone ) .

3. What is "good music", according to you?
Simple. Good music is that which is always better than its performance(s). While not so good ones depend so much on their performers. I'll put it simpler: imagine Beethoven's Sonatas, or Bach's Well Tempered Klavier or Gustav Mahler's Symphonies. I believe that noone, NOBODY, until now can reach the height of their real quality. And I am a big fan of Glenn Gould's Bach performances and Leonard Bernstein's repeated renderings of Mahler! And there is even a better evidence for this : Rachmaninov as a pianist of his own works repeatedly did performances of the same pieces in different interpretations throughout the years. He, I consider, was the greatest pianist of the history (well I never heard recordings of Liszt!), but he was a step under his greatness as a composer.
That automatically explains my music : I am desperately counting on good performers to make my music better than it is!!

4. From which composers do you learn the most?
From almost everyone, even though it means I learned what I should NOT do in composition. That's why I am interested in "bad" (according to me) composers too (mostly contemporary ones). You can even learn from the hour long Mahler symphony to apply it in a very short piece, or from a complex orchestration of Britten for writing a, say, trio or quartet. Anyway, I do admit that there are "fixed" composers, such as Bach, Britten, Mahler and Stravinsky to turn to every time I got compositional problems (and even blocks, which happen not seldomly.

5. Could you share any visions / plans in the future?
Have you read about Mozart wanting only to write operas and nothing else? Well, I am like that. If I can, I would only write operas and more operas. But it poses a lot of problems, mostly economic ones. And it's so complicated to produce! And I feel that through operas we can express our preoccupations about things like human rights etc . Do you know Stravinsky's saying "Music is unable to express anything " ? Noooo way ! It is so powerful to express, but what is expressed cannot be done in words. Not even in an opera; it is the music, not the words, that reaches directly to the heart of the listener. And it hurts, sometimes.

domingo, 28 de noviembre de 2010

Within me, Without me

(This is a continuation of previous entry, "Thank you for the music").

I must admit I regret that my project ANANDASUKARLAN@MUSICASA with the 27 vocalists terminated last week. The final concert was really marvellous, with those musicians putting all their passion in singing. But it also marked our last day of having fun, learning from each other and from my part a process of rejuvenation, working with the young & passionate vocalists.

Next week is the turn of the students and teaching staff of the Music Faculty of the Pelita Harapan University, one of the most prominent private universities in Indonesia. Thanks to its previous Dean of Music Faculty, Johannes Nugroho (a wonderful pianist & composer himself) who invited me, I will coach them in the interpretations of my music. Again, I won't talk about executional techniques since as with the Musicasa vocalists I am not able to play many of the instruments. I know how they work, what kind of sound I heard in my head, but not how to produce sounds with the instruments.

However, from the interpretational side it could be dangerous to "give away" a lot of my interpretational side to the musicians. After working with 27 vocalists last week (I call them "the 27"), I am even more convinced that the composer is the most narrow-minded person in the interpretation of his own piece. We composers of the particular piece only know and see from one side, while musicians (the good ones, naturally) see many possibilities of its interpretations. I always experience it when I am interpreting other composers' music. With the passing of time, the composer starts to see the piece clearer and more from a distance, objectively. It is always interesting to hear interpretations of my music without my involvement in preparing the performance, like the case of the fantastic performance by the tenor Samuel Tandei & pianist Ruthanne Fulton recently in Louisville, giving the world premiere of my 3 songs for tenor, "3S dalam Cinta". Just listen to it here : http://www.wuol.org/2010/11/tenor-samuel-tandei/ . A few details in his performance were not as I imagined it to sound, but since he expresses what he wants to communicate very well and convincingly, I really don't mind. It's still a poignant and touching performance, not mentioning his marvellous singing technique in singing my not-easy-at-all songs. A more "authentic" performance of those songs would be the ones we did at the Anandasukarlan@Musicasa concert since the tenors I accompanied (Justinus Budi Santoso & Ivan Jonathan from Musicasa) worked very closely with me, but then only time (not the composer) will tell, and judge, which performance will claim as the better one. And in fact, they don't have to be judged, both performances --and hopefully further performances by different tenors-- are artistically valid. There is no reason why Sam Tandei's performance couldn't be called "authentic". They all possess high musicianship anyway.

So, as much as I have learned from the 27, I am very much looking forward to the UPH project next week. Especially because they are, again, young people full of passion. And yeah, although now all of them are my instrumental music, they are not far from my favorite theme: sorrow, loneliness and (unrequited) love. Without words, they can even be better expressed. And understood.

The final concert of Universitas Pelita Harapan Conservatory of Music presents the music of Ananda Sukarlan will be held at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, December 11, 2010 at 8 p.m . More info & tickets through Chendra at 0818 891038 or ycep@yahoo.com

viernes, 19 de noviembre de 2010

Thank you for the music

It's been an inspiring week working with vocalists of Musicasa with my works for (solo & duet) voice & piano, and working with 4 musicians in Singapore in premiering my work Vega & Altair at Esplanade the week before. I already wrote about how happy I was working with Katryna Tan, the harpist, in my previous entry, and it turned out that working with the other "more familiar" instrumentalists (flute, violin & cello) in this new & particular combination for me is also very nourishing.

Musicasa is a very high standard studio for voice training in Indonesia, and it has produced the best classical singers to date. Its founders are my good friends the conductor Tommy Prabowo and the baritone Joseph Kristanto, about whom I have written many times in this blog. And yeah, he is the dedicatee of my 5 songs for baritone & piano, "A untuk Akis, Alam & Angkasa", which will be performed in its entirity by his students in our final concert next week, Thursday the 25th, 7 p.m at Erasmus Huis.

Although I didn't write not even one new note for the last 10 days I do learn a lot, since I've been working with 27 singers with 27 (very) different characters and voice colours. It convinces me deeper that the human voice is not only the most beautiful musical instrument on this planet, but also the most versatile. Everyone is fantastic, each has his/her own strong points. It really has broadened my horizons on voice characteristics, and so I can, in the future, try new things and perhaps risking new kinds of virtuosity in writing for voice, since I feel (not only know) now its shortcomings, virtue and capabilities. Beware singers, I will write more difficult stuff in the future!

One thing in common with those young vocalists is that mostly, if not all of them, expected that they would get a "definitive version" of the song(s) they are singing by working with the composer. The composer, they think, knows best, and wants his work to sound exactly like "this" or "that". Wrong !! Well, of course I know more than them at this moment (during the interpreter's early stage of learning the music), but any composer would really love and appreciate having fresh approaches and interpretations from the singers. We composers need your intellectual & artistic contribution! That's why our music can be richer and alive, and in fact that's the advantage of music compared to the other fields of the arts. Once a painter finishes his painting, it will stay the same for the centuries to come, while a composer's job is not finished; it is continued by the musicians who interpret his music. The music always changes, and therefore I find those musicians who performs in "authentic instruments" and consulting "musicologists" (whatever this profession means!) to give "authentic performances", especially in music written during the period of Baroque, Bach and Before quite contradictive, and even absurd. Music is like a most beautiful human being. The composer gives birth to it, but it is the task of the musicians to nurture it and bring it up into a beautiful, kind & loving grown up creature .. and take care of it with love and attention so it would live long and prosper.

sábado, 13 de noviembre de 2010

So why do I write music?

The counterpoint [of the flute] with the violin was well crafted and the music later moved to a more modern and dramatic style, with the dissonances recalling Bartok and Prokofiev.

That was what a music critic wrote in the Singaporean newspaper, The Straits Times, 2 days after my suite in 7 movements “Vega & Altair” was premiered by flutist Roberto Alvarez, violinist Cindy Yan, cellist Junyan Natasha Liu and harpist—who also is the commissioner of the piece—Katryna Tan.

Wait, wait. Bartok or Prokofiev? Which one? ‘Coz those two have nothing in common, at least that I can think of except that they wrote “dissonant” (according to their contemporaries, and to music critics who considers anything post-Beethoven “dissonant”) music. Even the term "dissonant" needs to be correctly defined, and perhaps re-defined. You might know, Mr. Music Critic, that Mozart wrote a string quartet (perhaps his most famous) nicknamed "Dissonance". And it's in C major! Anyway, this is the first time that someone said that my music resembles any (or both?) of those composers, without pinpointing which aspect of it resembled (any of) them. I dunno if it’s a compliment or not, since though I like and admire the music of both composers, I never felt influenced (directly or indirectly) by them. Anyway, he is only a critic, and I never think highly of them. They always babble and baffle.

Anyway, I do consider that “Vega & Altair” is an important piece for me which provided a turning point in my musical style. It sounds new, even to me. It is an amalgam of all the influences which I absorbed during my musical years, and I had the musical canvas on which to exploit them in its 20+ minute duration. Yes, there are dissonances, and even strange modulations, but whose music has no dissonances? I meant them all, they are part of my expression. And without self-complimenting, I consider the concert quite a big success, not only for the sold-out seats at Esplanade (that’s not my success, that’s thanks to Katryna’s manager and company, Rave Harps, who did good publicity of it.), but also the high enthusiasm showed by many of members of the audience who are musicians or conservatory students or professors (this time the musicians and their artistry deserve the merit). I suddenly remembered what my dad told me that he “didn’t know the secret of success, but was certain about the secret of failure: try to make everybody happy”. Well, it seemed as if all the audience were exalted at that night. Rather scary eh, if one remembers my dad’s wise words.

To entertain is never my point in writing music. I honestly don’t write music to please the audience. I write what I hear in my head, sounds that only please ME. And if what pleases me pleases the audience too, well that’s a happy coincidence. But pleased don't expect to be entertained with my music; sometimes it can make you burst in tears!

viernes, 29 de octubre de 2010

Composing or retweeting? Whazza diff anyway?

If Bach were still alive today I am sure he'd use the Blackberry, not only to have a chat with Georg Friedrich Handel in London but also to squeeze inspiration out of it. Of course he'd also have less children (Bach still holds the record of the composer with the most children : 22, from 2 wives, although prolifically --I mean in musical production-- Telemann still holds the record according to Guinness book of records. What Guinness couldn't measure is of course the quality, not quantity. For me, Bach still holds the record for quality).

You have the whole world in your hands, literally, if you have Blackberry. Including that apparently time-wasting social network called Twitter. At Twitter, one can write for a maximum of 140 characters. And the art of literature has succumbed to it, like what happens with one of my favorite poet, M. Aan Mansyur. He has written "Twitter poems", which in fact not far from writing haiku. I am a keen follower of his twitter poems, they have a special flavour since it needs a particular sharpness to touch and move you in less than 140 characters. And needless to say, he achieved in making exquisite poems, each complete in itself in his tweets....
... which challenged me to do something with them. I have done the same with the haiku of another poet friend of mine, Abang Edwin, in my piece "Bangwin's Haiku", for soprano, clarinet and cello. It was done for the Dutch Trio "To Be Sung" (talking about peculiar combination of instruments!). So, I just finished "Retweeting @aanmansyur", a 4-minute piece for medium voice & piano. I admit, I do feel more at home making music from Aan Mansyur's twitter poems, since unlike haiku, they have more free forms.

Limitation is always a source of inspiration for me. It has been for other composers too. Stravinsky's Serenade had 4 movements, each of a duration designed so that they would fill one side of a 10-inch record. And of course we are always commissioned with the limitations as conditions : the (sometimes strange) combination of instruments, its duration, its background and in case of film, choreography or theatre we are limited in doing practically everything. In limitation I find freedom.

I am still new to the twitter world, just a few months ago that I start to join it. Am sure there will be more inspirations I can squeeze from it. If you wanna follow me and tweet me, my twitter address is http://twitter.com/anandasukarlan

lunes, 4 de octubre de 2010

False start, lucky ending, Narcissus dying

This had happened several times in my composing life. No matter how well you plan a piece of music, sometimes one "steps with the wrong foot" so to say. Especially in a work of many movements like "Vega and Altair". One movement, which was planned to be a love song had a false start. It was planned for flute and harp only, while the cellist and violinist could have a break (but too short time to have a Kit Kat; it should be only about 2 minutes!). Apparently it turned out to be too sad to be a love song (except if the lovers are saying goodbye or even encountering death!) and it would fit better for a piano instead of a harp. I'd also like to have more than 2 minutes for its development, since the main melody is based on a small motif. The simpler the motif, usually the more potential the development can have. What I need for Vega & Altair's love song is a long and winding melody which would just be repeated.

Anyway, I had to discard what I have written and wrote a new love song. During my younger days, those discarded notes (and even entire pieces) would just end in the trash bin. Not anymore now. I know now what to do with it, especially I discarded it exactly because I want to develop it and bring it to another piece.

A few months ago I promised the flute-piano duo Wendela van Swol and Emilio Garcia a piece for them to complement my older piece, "Rescuing Ariadne" that they brought in their Spanish tour earlier this year and ended at the International Flute Convention in Madrid. It was them who introduced the work to Spanish audiences, and especially flutists. Apart from that, I always felt that "Rescuing Ariadne" is not really complete in itself ; it needs to be a part of a suite. Somehow the sections are too short and the ending needs to be "continued". Although if one likes, one can still perform it as an independent piece, as well as the new piece since they both don't share the same material.

So this is the exact material for "their" new piece. Every piece has its own time to be born, just like babies! This new 4-minute piece for flute & piano is slow, brooding and not techically difficult. The motif invites me to play with reflections : either imitations, not so exact canons or inverted ones, and it even begins with two same notes which go up a minor third and down in its inverted interval, a major sixth. In developing it I needed something visual to inspire me, which I later found in that incredible painting of Narcissus by Caravaggio. Not only the water reflection, but also I derived the curve made by Narcissus' hands which are not symetrical into my main melody.
The water on which Narcissus sees himself also inspired me to do a distorted reflection of the melody, sometimes appearing together both in the flute and the piano in different speed, which is quite new for me.
Anyway, "Narcissus dying" will suit young flutists and pianists, not only technically but also because of the "youth" theme : the incredibly handsome Narcissus who is suffering from love .... with himself. No, no, it's not autobiographical ! At least I hope not.

jueves, 30 de septiembre de 2010

Vega and Altair (again)

Vega and Altair is approaching the end of its creative process. The more I am immersed in it deeply the more I am attracted to the combination of instruments : 1 plucked strings, 2 bowed stings and one flute. I must say I did miss at some points my favorite string instrument : the viola. So there are a couple of lyrical passages where the cello was playing the role of the viola, uttering warmly in its register. I just adore Debussy's Trio for flute, viola and harp and hope I can write for that kinda trio someday. It's not a perfect combination of instruments, but Debussy made it perfect.
One funny thing communicating with Katryna the harpist is the terminology of "1960s style". I then realized that Singapore, in spite of its developed economic situation, is just like Indonesia or other Asian countries. You see, the Europeans now use the term "1960s" for that crazy avant-garde music, which in fact is now practically non-existing (at least in the "real" world of music, though still in small "ghettos" of "artists"). What I mean non-existing is that nobody writes that kind of thing now, and the works from that period are very seldomly performed, only in educational concerts where we want to hear "history", not real music. While in a few countries in Asia (Singapore I guess is excluded) at this moment we are still in awe with the aleatoric and heavily serialistic (what's the diff? They both sound the same, eh) music of John Cage and Stockhausen are considered the hippest thing around. Yes, those crazy stuff from the ... 1960s! It is still, as I heard, existing in the academic world in the USA, and composers of the faculties of music there still write that kinda thing. So in spite of this "global communication" bla bla bla, the artistic perceptions are still very different, and even the time machine is not working for this. Oh and I heard from Chendra, the choreographer I always work with, that that "1960s" style in dance is called "post-modern". Well that's totally nuts. What was the modern one, then?? While in music, "postmodernism" is labelled to those kind of music that has surpassed the "1960s" stuff. You know, Arvo Part, John Rutter, Peter Sculthorpe, David del Puerto are "postmodern". I guess my music can be labelled with that too. In short, European music is living in a postmodern period where styles are all mixed.

Talking about dance, I also think very intensely in terms of choreography while writing music, including Vega & Altair. Certainly it's Chendra's influence that I tend to connect my music with dance. I read somewhere that at some point of his life Stravinsky also had the same attitude, due to his continuous collaboration and conversations with Diaghilev. And I tell you, it has helped me a lot, like in the section where the 7 angels descended from the sky to bath in the lake. Inevitably I had to think of 7 different characters, so I had to invent my own description of each of them. I then used the 4 temperaments (were they invented by the Greek physicist Hippocrates?) of sanguinic, phlegmatic, melancholic and choleric. I still needed three more, and of course one of them is simply "the most beautiful of them all" since she is the one who the cowherd fall in love with.

The total duration of "Vega and Altair" is about 20 minutes of music, but as the musicians move around in the end (again, it is my choreographic thoughts that constructed the music based on space) plus the rests between the movements it might last more than that. The number 7 is also the base of many things : at several points I am using a 7-note scale (4 of which are 4 notes of the pentatonic scale I use in other sections, so those 2 scales can interact smoothly with those 4 notes acting as a "bridge"). Sometimes I use it as a tone-row and work with the Schoenbergian method with it. It is also in 7 movements : Prelude, The 7 Angels, Stealing for Love, Vega & Altair's Love Song (only for flute & harp), The Wrath of the Queen (or the Creation of the Celestial River? I haven't made up my mind with the title. Anyway, it's for the 2 string instruments and harp; the flute doesn't play here since it doesn't fit with the dark character of this movement), The Lyre of the Lonely Lovers (for harp solo) and the Epilogue.

Profoundly Profundis Pamintuan

I just had to write this. I found the new uploaded video of the Philippine Madrigal "Madz" Singers singing John Pamintuan's "De Profundis" this morning. I heard it during the ITB Choir Festival where I also served as a jury this summer, and was totally impressed. Now, usually that kind of impression doesn't last long, but I heard it again today, several times, and I admire it more and more. If you can make an erotic kind of music, this is it. If you can make a catchy tune out of only 1 note, this is it. It's that kind of music which is a mixture of a great initial idea and a brilliant development of it. Just like Beethoven's 5th. And of course, performed by the quality of Madz under the direction of Mark Anthony Carpio.
Just listen to it, better accompanied by a Dom Perignon to get the best of the possible world : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kSQXRJb4-M . It will be one of those moments when you feel that music IS magic.

domingo, 26 de septiembre de 2010

Vega and Altair don't skype with each other

You might think that when Brahms wrote his Violin Concerto, Britten his great operas and other vocal works or Ginastera his Harp Concerto, they just got an idea out of the blue and then stayed home alone and wrote the music. Nope! There was always someone else behind the creation of those everlasting masterpieces. There was a musician who inspired and gave insights of his instrument to those composers : Joseph Joachim in case of Brahms, Peter Pears for Britten and Nicanor Zabaleta for Ginastera. The composers and the respective musicians kept in close contact in the creative process of the work.

I think that's why there are less great works in classical music written in the second half of the 20th century up till now : the musicians' enthusiasm towards living composers are decreasing, and communication between the two is not as it used to be. Most musicians now just wanna have an easy life, and they think they have enough showpieces of the past to exhibit their virtuosity on stage. They don't realize their real function and what they can contribute to the world of music. And in Indonesia I even see a stranger phenomenon : musicians seem to look down to our own composers, or at the very least, we (to be honest I shouldn't include myself) don't take our composers seriously. And sadly those musicians (who became teachers) pass this mentality to the young generation, although luckily there are too many young musicians today to be badly influenced by this. But still, from say 100 classical music concerts in Indonesia, just check how many of them include a work by Indonesian composers. You'd be lucky if you find 10. Of course now many young musicians study abroad, so they (as it happened to me) develop a better vision of the uniqueness of Indonesian composers and how their music could make our concerts more unique, or at the very least, we have something different to offer. So, the future of Indonesian music don't look too bleak. If they knew how proud the Spaniards are with de Falla and Albeniz, and the English with Vaughan Williams, Britten and co.! Let's leave this mentality to the older (read: my) generation, o fellow countrymen.

And that's why I am so excited in working on my piece these last few weeks : "Vega and Altair", a choreographic suite in 7 movements for flute, violin, cello & harp. It is commissioned by the young and very talented harpist Katryna Tan. She will premiere it with her friends Roberto Alvarez (a Spanish flutist), Cindy Yan (violin) and Junyan Natasha Liu (cello) at the Esplanade (Singapore) on November the 11th. It's not that she commissions it and asks for a finished product, she gives a lot of insights on her instrument and we practically keep in contact every day either through email or skype. It's very inspiring to work that way, and I had a great privilige to do this in several works of mine; the latest, and perhaps even more intense was with the guitarist Miguel Trapaga, since the instrument is more complicated and I know next to nothing about it. He even gave me his time for several sessions in Madrid in introducing me to the instrument. We work on the piece together, so to say. Yeah, Brahms stayed very close to Joachim at that time, and Britten, well, Peter Pears was his lifelong partner. Talking about the power of love! Nowadays a composer can live in Spain and work closely with a harpist in Singapore, thanx to the internet which is a huge advantage for the world of arts.

Katryna, who is the winner of the Young Artist Award in 2005 (that's a prestigious annual award given by the National Arts Council of Singapore) also shares with me her affinity with the mythology, and she drew my attention to old Chinese legends, which I am not very familiar with. She likes my music especially "Rescuing Ariadne" for flute and piano, not only the music but also the inspiration behind it. She told me about this legend of the two stars we see in the sky, Vega and Altair. Those 2 stars are separated by the Milky Way for the whole year, except on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar year (it is not always the 7th of July, since it is not based on the Gregorian calendar that we are using now) that they meet. So the legend says that it is the only time that those two lovers can meet. And of course, during the rest of the year, they can't communicate with each other since there is no Skype or Yahoo Messenger up there, so their annual meeting becomes something very special and passionate. Oh dear, if the Spaniards knew about it! On the 7th of July we celebrate the San Fermin, you know that day in Pamplona where all the bulls are let loose in the street and everyone is chasing (or being chased) them ... and of course not without victims of both sides (more bulls than humans, obviously).

Anyway, that day when Vega and Altair meet becomes the "Valentine's Day" in Asia. In China they celebrate it exactly counting on the lunar year and it's called Qi Xi, while in Japan they celebrate July 7th (just like the Spaniards although differently) as Tanabata. All about love. While in Indonesia, since we are so much oriented to the Americans (spiritually as well as capitalistically and junk-foodically) we celebrate the Valentine's, February 14th. At MacDonald's, naturally.

martes, 7 de septiembre de 2010

Horribly lonely in Jakarta Post

A friend of mine sent and reminded me of an article (to be precise, interview) of me at the Jakarta Post supplement The Weekender, published sometime in 2008 after I turned 40. So I post it here to just realize that things haven't changed. Or, the more things change, the more it stays the same, unfortunately. Just one thing I'd like to rectify, today almost 2 years later. Barack Obama is certainly not my idol anymore, and definitely cannot be in the same list with Plato or Mahatma Gandhi. He turns out to be just a great public speaker and fundraiser, but it takes more than that to run a country. And the good thing about him is that he is still black.

Ananda Sukarlan: ‘I write my best music when I feel horribly lonely’

The Jakarta Post - WEEKENDER | Sun, 10/26/2008 3:11 PM |
Pianist Ananda Sukarlan is one of Indonesia’s chosen sons, bringing his musical talent to an international audience. Dutch and U.S. educated, he is now based in Spain, where he lives with his wife, Raquel, and young daughter. The winner of numerous accolades for his music, he achieved several milestones this year. On a personal level, he turned 40: “It feels great, I don’t feel old (am I supposed to?)” he says. On a professional level he composed a hymn for the Olympics that was performed throughout Asia, wrote his first cantata, Ars Amatoria, and his first opera, Mengapa Kau Culik Anak Kami (Why did you kidnap our child?). He is a thoughtful, independent thinker and speaks his mind – the qualities that have helped him succeed in the competitive world of music.

Your first memory?
Afternoon walks with my mom in the hospital garden behind my house, always wearing white (and tiny!) shoes.

And first musical memory?
Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

If you hadn’t gone into music, what would you like to have been?
A poet. I just love poetry, and literature in general (perhaps more than music, since I am always accompanied by a good book) and I’m so envious of those great poets in how they find and combine all those beautiful words. Writing poems should be, I think, easier than writing music, since their materials are words which we use daily ... but why is it so difficult for me?

Your best trait?
I’m a hard worker, and when it comes to music, nobody has ever complained about my professionalism. It may sound arrogant, but for my artistic projects I only want to work with people who are also 200 percent dedicated to their work.

And worst?
If I have to finish (or even start) a piece of music and get stuck, I get sooooo moody. Try not to catch me during those periods!

Happiest moment of your life?
The birth of my daughter ... and the many days afterward.

And saddest?
When a friend or colleague stabs me in the back out of envy (which has happened more than once; well, this is the ugly business of beautiful music).

Who or what has been your most important teacher?
Number one: Life. Number two: Naum Grubert, my professor at the conservatory at The Hague. Number two and a half are all my other previous teachers in Jakarta: Myra Suryadi, Soetarno Soetikno, Laura Susanti, Rudy Laban.

What is the craziest thing you’ve done?
I took a free train ride from Amsterdam to Bordeaux to take part in a piano competition during my student days. I went and stayed in the toilet every time I saw the officer. I had money to buy a ticket for the way back, by the way, because I won first prize.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I have this strange hormone in me which provokes the feeling of extreme loneliness (even if I am in a crowd). It’s been working inside me since I was a teenager. And that loneliness cannot be cured by just being with someone. When it happens, it usually indicates that I should write music. My best music is written when I am feeling horribly lonely.

The piece of music you wish you had written?
Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto.

Your favorite, hands-down winning culinary dish?
Gudeg Jogja in a particular warung near Gadjah Mada University in Yogya, Valencian Paella, Kobe Wagyu Beef-Steak (accompanied by a Dom Perignon).

The worst stereotype of the classical musician?
Not only of classical musicians, but of all artists, is being a “celebrity” and using art for fame and fortune. The problem is that the Indonesian public still confuses “artists” with “celebrities”. They are totally different! Art has nothing to do with being a celebrity, although celebrities are, in some cases, artists. You don’t really believe Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan are artists, right? One doesn’t have to be handsome to make great music, paintings or poetry.

Who inspires you?
In life, Barack Obama, Plato, Mahatma Gandhi, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. In music, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Beethoven.

You seem such a calm presence. What makes you angry?
Every time injustice is committed against anyone. Which happens to be part of everyday life.

If you could solve one thing in the world today, what would it be?
Eliminate capitalism from this planet. Capitalism has been, and still is, the main catalyst of injustice, massive hunger and poverty in many parts of the world, and the fast-spiraling degradation of the arts since art is a reflection of the society where it belongs.

If you could go back in time, what era would it be and why?
Ancient Greece. I’d love having a symposium with Socrates or Plato (apart from the fact there was no air pollution in those days)!

Dream dinner guests, living or dead?
The old Greek philosophers above, or Andy Warhol. They must have been really cool and crazy people.

Any regrets?
Falling in love with one who I should not have fallen in love with in the past.

Life motto?
“What you think about me is your problem, not my problem.”

+ Bruce Emond
Illustration by Martin Dima

domingo, 22 de agosto de 2010

Loads of rubbish

Back home in Spain, my urgent task is to go through all my works : manuscripts, Sibelius files, notebooks etc. There will be a couple of projects for this season that involves my works, two of them in Jakarta (as a composer-in-residence at Universitas Pelita Harapan, invited by my friend, its former dean of the music faculty Johannes S. Nugroho) and in Surabaya (a project still in-progress under the initiative of another friend, the hyperactive Patrisna Widuri).

Talking about hyperactivity, I haven't realized that I am one too, until now. Apparently I have written hundreds of works. My manuscripts are dated back to the 1990s, and most of my works of this period have ended in the trash bin. But going through my works is like looking back through my life. Of course, there are important pieces in my life which were written in a significant period, such as being lonely in my travellings, doubts about love, misrelationships or in a state of broken heart ... or unrequited love. In fact, I could say that ALL my works are products of unrequited love, since I am in love with practically 90% of the people I met during these years. If those were not unrequited, I would have ended up in jail by now, so thank God my heart broke all the time!

My productivity has toned down (hopefully only in quantity, not quality) for the last 3 or 4 years, since now I write directly in my laptop or computer with the Sibelius program. Before that, I used to carry music paper with me everywhere ... including to the toilet. I do carry my laptop around, but laptops take a while to turn on and at last having the access to the Sibelius program. In those minutes usually something else has come up. But I don't regret it, since many ideas and sounds in my head nowadays turned out to be a "recycle" of what I have written before. Only very few times that I got something completely new, and those periods are when I felt that my language is changing. And that's when it's both exciting and annoying at the same time. Exciting because I am like a little boy having a new game, and annoying because it's something completely new that I still couldn't figure out how it worked.

Anyway, I had a most productive flight yesterday, from Jakarta back to Spain. After dinner off Singapore, I read poems by my new favorite poet, Sitor Situmorang, and without me knowing, a poem of his "Malam Kebumen" transformed into music for a tenor voice. I dunno if the voice of my tenor friend Dani Dumadi (with whom I performed in Bali a few days earlier) has something to do with it, but I dedicated the song to him anyway, as a remembrance of our concert at the fantastic Hotel Tugu at Canggu Beach, Bali. And after breakfast 2 hours before arriving Frankfurt, I sketched another poem of his, I think this time will be for another tenor friend Ivan Yohan who I was with at the airport in Jakarta before we separated : he to Amsterdam, and me to Frankfurt. But I didn't have time to finish it yet, since the plane table has to be folded and locked ... and I had to turn off my laptop.

And in the business lounge at Frankfurt airport instead of finishing Ivan's song I had another idea of a tiny piano piece for Alicia who I would meet happily a few hours later. It was finished while I ate my cornflakes and before taking a shower to prepare myself to board.
"Welcome to Bilbao. Thank you for choosing Lufthansa as your flight company". And thanks for the musical & inspirational flight, Lufty!

miércoles, 11 de agosto de 2010

Interview with me at Indonesian Tatler Bambini magazine

This is an article as a result of an interview with me at the lifestyle magazine "Indonesian Tatler Bambini", July 2010

Learning to Learn

Music learning has certain special aspects that parents need to understand, argues renowned Indonesian pianist and composer Ananda Sukarlan. Made M Nadera writes.

As a universal language, music learning is always high on the agenda of any parents. Yet while courses and extra lessons are readily available, many parents would value any worthy advice from world renowned pianist and music educator Ananda Sukarlan.

"As Shakespeare puts it, "Music is the food of love",Ananda volunteers,"And I would like to add to this famous phrase that like food, if it is instant, it is junk. Most familiar problem for students in Indonesia, especially those who have just started taking lessons for any kind of instruments, is their own parent, whocomes to the music teacher and frankly says, "I want you to teach my child, so that in six months or three months, he could play the piano brilliantly!. As the founder of Jakarta Conservatory of Music, every time there is a teacher complaining about this request, I would talk to the parents andtell them that I have been playing the piano for 30 years and there remain thousands of masterpieces that I have yet to master. There are just as many Rachmaninoff's, Sir Michael Tippets's and Beethoven's that I dream one day I would be able to play. How would you expect your child to master an instrument in six months?" he recalls the way he adresses the parent's concerns.

A renowned pianist and composer who have collaborated with a great number of Indonesian artists, Ananda Sukarlan spends few months in a year in Indonesia performing and teaching, amid his hectic schedule traveling for concerts and master classes.

"I am talking about classical music, or "musik sastra" in Indonesian, a new term that I created to avoid using the term "musik klasik" which is a much misrepresented term. For pop music, it can be mastered in, say, between six months to oneyear. Yet classical music isan art and art is definitely infinite. A painter can "finish" one masterpiece simply because that painting needs to be exhibited in a gallery, a composer"completed" his piece as he needs to start practicing for his upcoming concert,a musician needs to stop rehearsing as the date for concert is approaching and his rehearsing days are over. If he is given two more weeks he would be able to play that piece much better in a better interpretation altogether," he elaborates.

Choosing a music teacher, and deciding between choosing a performer or a music pedagogue can also be a dilemma for most parents, an issue that Ananda finds quite essential.

"A good perfomer is not necessarily a good teacher," he lays the rule of thumb,"sometimes a teacher who are not extremely talented in music can bea better teacher, as he has also struggled in understanding and resolvingtechnical problems, something that makes him aware on what method or technique available for children without enormous talents. The truth is, a talent like Mozart is truly rare."

"A good music school does not only provide lessons for the particular instrumentsbut also provides adequate insights and knowledge. There is supposed to be atheory class, history of music, composition analysis and individual sessions toplay the musical instruments. Education that only focuses to the acceptable technique is quite boring, such as the advice like "play this with relaxed wrist and alternating fingers number 3 and 4". In addition to this, they need to be made aware of what makes the piece ultimately fascinating, much in the same way I am still fascinated by the music of Beethoven and Mozart," he parts the essential elements that any good music school shoulddemonstrate.

The influence of pop music in today's internet age, that some people think might have made the classical music a casualty, has also been observed by the talented musician.

"It is not an easy environment these days, knowing that classical music is not originated in Indonesia. Government needs to play the role, providing subsidy at least, on the preservation of traditional music. Although I grew up playing European classical music, I need to emphasize that traditional music should become priority. Pop music is good as entertainment,but other art forms, which are not "pop" is also needed, as we are all human beings with expression, sensitivity and sensibility. The effectiveness of classical music for music therapy has been well proven and documented, for instance in reducing crime and violence in countries that activates classical music to the underprivilegeds such as in Venezuela," he enthusiastically comments on the importance of the music, "That's why me and my colleagues have established the Yayasan Musik Sastra Indonesia, a small contribution to the society, in trying the make them realize that music and arts is something that unites us as human beings, something that would help us balance our moral and intellectual standards. We need also to balance our right and left brain, even if we understand that we are born with different brain ability."

Ananda Sukarlan is very keen to advance the current classical music teaching in Indonesia and presides over some competitions to find the new talents.

"The are many promising young pianists, below the age of 20, and some of them are the winners of Ananda Sukarlan Award (ASA) two years ago. I am very excited to find the new talents that we would announce this July, as I believe thatthere are many participants currently studying abroad who will join the competition . There will also be the junior category in ASA, some of them already participated in my master classes last year. Their talents are tremendous," he concludes on the potentials of Indonesian young and upcoming musicians.

sábado, 7 de agosto de 2010

My original article for Jakarta Post Aug 7th

This article of mine was published in The Jakarta Post on Saturday, August 7, but unfortunately was edited in some parts that changed some meanings ... and even became erroneous. Here is the original script I sent to them. If you want to read their published one --with nice photos! courtesy of fpsitb.com-- you can click http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/08/07/bandung-‘madzical’-week.html . So, here it is, originally:

Bandung "Madz-ical" Week

If you think you should be Harry or Hermione and attend Hogwarts School to find magic, you are dead wrong. There was magic all around during the ITB International Choir Competition in Bandung held from July 25th to August 1st where I had the honour to serve as one of the jury member together with my distinguished colleagues such as Jonathan Velasco and Mark Anthony Carpio (the Philippines choir conductors), Dr. Wong Su Sun (Singaporean well-known opera singer), Carl Crossin (director of Adelaide Conservatory of Music, Australia), Dr. David Hughes & Dr. Brady Allred (American conductors), the Indonesian sopranos of 2 generations : Mme. Catharine W. Leimena and Aning Katamsi and prominent choir activist Aida Swenson. I admire the decision of ITB (Institut Teknologi Bandung) to invite (and trust!) a composer to be take part as a judge. Yes, the majority of my works involve the human voice (more than for the piano as my main instrument), but if I start to sing I'd scare even the tiniest creature around me. The participants are judged from so many aspects : the singing technique of their singers, the art of blending their voices to create "colours", the depth of their musical ideas, their understanding of the form and harmonic progressions as well as the solid construction of the song they perform (these latter criterias are particularly my job) and not so much their choreographic movements (only if it is too excessive that it disturbs the quality of their musical performance). Therefore, pure music.

I always say that the human voice is the best musical instrument on this planet, and last week I self-confirmed it again. There were incredible works of music wonderfully performed during the week that have really spoken directly to the audience's heart, and I'd mention a few such as : "hope, faith, love, life" by Eric Whitacre, We Beheld Once Again The Stars (Z. Randall Strope) or Indra Listiyanto's choral arrangement of the Sundanese folksong Bubuy Bulan. But one thing I noticed from the whole week is the comparatively few amount of "substantial" music programmed by the participating choirs. True, there are so many good choral music, but sometimes they don't automatically deserve to be called good music. Some good choral music exploit the choral techniques to their limits, such as the use of sound effects, hoquetus and antiphonal techniques, but so many composers forget that those techniques are simply means and not ends. Truly great music still lies in its basic elements : its harmony, melody, rhtyhms and the composer's craftmanship in using them and of course its communicative power to the audience. Not in its special effects (which can be highly attractive and fascinating) no matter how virtuosic they can (appear to) be.

I would mention another thing, not only as a composer but as an Indonesian : There are so many choral arrangements of Indonesian folksongs that are so "un-Indonesian" performed last week. I firmly believe that a composer should keep in mind the roots and tradition of the folksong he arranges. So many folksongs have been blurred out from its original melody and character, and its arrangements are more suited for a part of an ersatz Broadway musical or even a quasi-jazz club. Worse still, some could be part of both and a Jamaican rhumba bar and a flamenco show in Sevilla, changing places in just a matter of seconds! This problem, I believe, lies in the ignorance of musical knowledge and not so much from the compositional (I should say arrangement) technique from the arrangers, and I hope not from the (national) identity crisis of our arrangers (and composers). During the course of the week I have talked to and advised some composers present during the competition to analyze the folksongs arrangements of great composers of the past and present, such as the Hungarian Bela Bartok or the Australian Peter Sculthorpe; not to imitate what they have done, but to simply learn how those great masters did it. "Attraction" and "entertainment" should not be the main aim when you do a piece of art, it is depth and honesty of expression, a well-defined character and artistic quality instead.

But as I said, apart from those minor shortcomings in programmings and folksong arrangements, this prestigious bienal competition has contributed so many positive things to classical music of today, choral music in particular. Two things stood out clearly during the festival, and those are the performance of the Philippines Madrigal Singers (who were chosen as the 2009 UNESCO Artist of Peace) and the success of ITB's great effort in performing the world premiere of my piece "Stanza Suara" which turned out to be the first piece written for choir and orchestra involving a set of musicians playing angklung, the traditional bamboo instruments of West Java.

When ITB commissioned me to write a piece for their inauguration of this year's festival and for their theme song for their next ones, they specifically asked me to involve the angklung instruments. Angklung has never been involved in "western classical" music, and from the first note I wrote I intentionally didn't integrate the West Javanese musical elements in my music. I want to write one piece of music of mine, not a patchwork made by a Mahlerian orchestration of some West Javanese look-alike tunes. Problems aroused when working with the angklung players, since they are not used to read notes and even follow the (classical music) conductor's gestures. It turned out to be quite complex to rehearse and perform, due to the different ways of perceiving music of the orchestral musicians, singers of the choir and the angklung players, but conductor Indra Listiyanto managed to do a great job in uniting them all, and most importantly, making Stanza Suara one piece with a solid construction.

About Philippines Madrigal "Madz" Singers, this would sound rather exaggerating, but I am not. And I am not one who is easily impressed, but I honestly was. The Madz did a full concert of virtuosic pieces. Again, I personally did object (certainly the public did not!) to a couple of "circus" pieces that amazed the audience such as the shallow game of percussive-like sounds by the Canadian Murray Schaeffer "Gamelan" which sounded anything but (the composer even got the Balinese mode wrong!), nevertheless I am glad to discover some valuable gems such as "De Profundis" by the Philippines composer John A. Pamintuan which is a virtuosic (also compositionally speaking) passacaglia on the word "De Profundis". However, all those virtuosic pieces were performed exactly as they were demanded : virtuosic, in a highly musical, artistic, amazing way with great and refined taste and with a continuing sharp focus on the minute details. They are performing again in Surabaya on the 7th and Jakarta (Usmar Ismail Hall) on the 10th, and you'll certainly regret it if you miss them.

Although the Philippine Normal University Chorale (PNUC) finally won the Grand Champion of this prestigious event, I would like to mention the high artistry and achievements of some Indonesian choirs who had won the Gold Medals of some categories. We certainly are proud of Paragita Choir's both female and male choirs (these students of Universitas Indonesia both competed separately to win the first prizes of their category ... and then competed with each other in the final round to acquire the Grand Champion title!), Agria Swara Choir of Institut Pertanian Bogor, Universitas Tarumanegara Choir with their conductor Angela Astri Soemantri (who I as a jury member voted for the Best Promising Conductor, and am still believing it), Gita Smala Youth Choir of Surabaya and St. Angela Youth Choir of Bandung with their conductor Roni Sugiarto who at last won the Best Promising Conductor title of this year's competition. They have won medals in other choral competitions abroad during the last years, and surely will keep on doing so in the years to come.

Last but not least, BRAVO to ITB for organizing this gigantic festival. It certainly has put Bandung on the map. And in our hearts.

sábado, 17 de julio de 2010


Manuel Guillen is considered one of the most important violinist in Spain in developing and enriching the violin repertoire of today. His most important contribution is perhaps his commissioning and championing the incredibly virtuosic Violin Concerto by Spain's hottest composer, David del Puerto. Not mentioning violin pieces by Jesus Rueda, Jose Manuel Lopez and other big Spaniards in music of the present day.

We had fun in recording two short violin+piano pieces of mine (Sweet Sorrow and The Sleepers) together with another beautiful piece by Santiago Lanchares for a CD of music for handicapped pianists (Santiago's and mine are for 2-fingered right hand pianist). After the recording Manuel Guillen asked me to write a piece for violin solo, with a special request that he would like it to be "lyrical, like most of my music", to be included in his repertoire and hopefully many other violinists.

That was last year. I told him then that it would be long before I could write one. There were "urgent" pieces at that time : my third opera "Pro Patria" and my orchestral-choral-angklung piece "Stanza Suara" commissioned to inaugurate that mammoth festival of ITB. The scary thing is that 95% of all musicians involved in vocal music in Indonesia, plus a few hundreds from some Asian countries will be there to hear my piece live. So it's not that Stanza Suara would be enjoyed; it would be, strictly speaking, JUDGED! Now that both huge pieces are -thank God!- finished, I could take a break and write for just 1 instrument. Whew, I tell you, it feels REALLY good to write just in one pentagram line after months of writing all those huge chords and complex polyphony of my previous pieces!

In this new violin piece I want to experiment in "relationships" of different musical materials which have nothing to do with each other to be put in one piece. In order to do that, they must have something, even very small, in common, otherwise the piece won't have a solid form, therefore I should think of a motif that binds them all. Now, "relationship" in Indonesian is "relasi", which comes from the Dutch word "relatie". As I am in the mood of using people's name initials as motifs for my piece now the motif for "Manuel's piece" comes by itself. What else but Re-La-Si?

So, I had been working on Relationships this weekend, prior to the most important week for the Indonesian classical music scene, the national piano competition Ananda Sukarlan Award. Relasi is a kind of variations without a theme, only bound to each other by a simple motif of 3 notes: Re, La, Si. Writing the variations, I am thinking of the characters of the people I had relationships with in the past, not necessarily the amorous ones. That explains the nostalgic flavor of the piece. Now, if Manuel asks a composer to write a piece, one usually tends to exploit his extremely accomplished technical virtuosity. And so do I. But I won't this time. I am thinking of young violinists, those young ones who are having relationships, some beautiful, and some complicated. Like those I had in the past.

Re-la-si is a motif which I apparently have used in my tiny song for a birthday present to my dear friend Karina Suklan, based on a poem by WS Rendra, "Tidurlah Intan". I wasn't thinking of the meaning of "relasi" then; I was purely thinking in the intervals. Now, those 3 notes appear again in another piece of mine. And needless to say, these two pieces are not re-la-ted. They are two completely different pieces each with its own character...and weirdness.

jueves, 15 de julio de 2010

Now you write pop music ?

Many questions and reactions, with a bit of cynical tone have come from my classical music colleagues about my pop song “Tembang Gesang” I wrote for the "Idol Divo" winners of Indonesian Idol (that’s the Indonesian version of Americal Idol TV program). Why did I do that, and will I continue doing that?

I’ll answer the first question with another question : what’s wrong with writing pop music, if you can do it? And for the second question, my answer is that I doubt if I would do another pop song. I might, why not? Anyway, I am he who would like to try as many things as possible in life. Some things I regretted doing, but others (like writing a pop song) I don’t regret at all; I just feel it’s not the thing I want to do in life, even if I could earn much more money from it.

We, classical musicians, don’t have to be arrogant. We don’t have to tell the world that we are smarter than the other musicians, just because we need years of higher education to make (and/or play) the music we love. And I can prove that we are NOT smarter than pop musicians: just think of how much money they make, and how much (to be precise : little) do we, classical musicians, make? Is it because classical music is better music, so that it becomes too exclusive? Is our music only destined to a select, distinguished audience? “Culture which is exclusive is determined not to last long”, said Mohandas Gandhi, and I couldn’t agree more.

And why is classical music considered "better" music? Is it because our harmonies --and their progressions- are much more sophisticated? Is it because contrapuntally it's much more complex? Is it because great music needs a much more elaborated form and structure? If so, to who does it matter? Who has the right to determine the "better" and "worse" things?
And is it because there has been numerous researches and analysis in classical music ? Yes, of course future Ph.Ds are writing their thesis based on Britten's or Beethoven's or (I have the honour of which I don't think I deserve) my music, but do you know that there is a faculty of music in Liverpool now where you can study the music of the Beatles ? You can be a university graduate and be a Beatles scholar now. Yes, yes, perhaps its importance in the history of music is more on its social aspects, but that is also important, right ?

"Classical" style (whatever that means) is the music I love doing. If I write pop songs it would be betraying what I really feel I should do. Besides, I write pop music because I can, not because of artistic necessity. And I can, but there are many more people who can do it better, and even studied and educated in it thoroughly.

miércoles, 14 de julio de 2010

Looking forward, and Foreword to Ananda Sukarlan Award 2010

This time my entry is in Indonesian, which is the foreword for ASA 2010.

"Music is the food of love" (William Shakespeare).
"Like food, if it's instant, it is junk" (Ananda Sukarlan)

Ananda Sukarlan Award 2010 kembali kami selenggarakan di tengah keadaan yang serba instan yang semakin marak. Ketenaran dan karir yang diraih langsung dari atas adalah ciri khas "seni" pertunjukan saat ini di Indonesia. Sayang sekali banyak yang lupa, jika anda mendarat langsung di puncak gunung, jalan satu-satunya yang ada hanyalah kebawah. Saya tidak pernah percaya ramalan baik Joyoboyo maupun Nostradamus, tapi saya hanya selalu percaya pada satu ramalan saja, yaitu dari seniman Andy Warhol di tahun 70-an: "In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes". Dan hal itu sedang dalam proses realisasinya, baik berkat siaran-siaran TV dari Amerika Serikat yang menjanjikan ke"seniman"an dalam beberapa bulan sampai penawaran predikat "terbaik", "terbanyak" dan banyak ter- lainnya yang harganya lebih murah daripada sebuah mobil termurah pun. Masih terus terngiang-ngiang di telinga kita persembahan Glenn Gould memainkan Goldberg Variations dari tahun 70-an, atau konser terakhir Leonard Bernstein yang legendaris mengekspresikan Four Sea Interludes dari Benjamin Britten di tahun 1990. Tapi saat ini sebuah kejadian atau kreasi seni penting, betapapun tinggi nilai artistiknya, betapapun besar karya seninya, hanya akan terkenang selama sebuah status facebook belum diganti. Tidak ada lagi misteri dan ambiguitas lagi di dalam sebuah karya seni, karena semua misteri kini bisa dipecahkan lewat google.

Saya merasa sangat terharu bahwa ada sekitar 60 (dan pasti lebih lagi diluar ini) peserta ASA 2010 yang masih percaya akan jalan yang sulit dan berliku-liku dan "kuno" dalam dunia seni, khususnya musik sastra. Jalan tradisional inilah yang saya yakin akan menempa mereka menjadi seniman sejati yang mengerti liku-liku dunia ini, yang mau belajar dari kesalahan, yang mau menerima kritik dan kekurangan untuk memperbaikinya, yang mau jatuh berkali-kali tapi bangun berkali-kali lagi. Tidak ada kata "kalah" dalam dunia seni, tidak ada kata "salah" dalam berkespresi. Yang ada hanyalah introspeksi dan kerja keras yang terus menerus untuk mencapai puncak yang tidak akan bisa diraih oleh manusia manapun di planet ini, yang bernama "kesempurnaan".

Saya ingin mengucapkan selamat kepada para peserta ASA 2010. Dan juga rekan-rekan juri yang terdiri dari musikus-musikus yang sangat saya hormati dan kagumi yang punya kepercayaan yang sama dengan saya, terima kasih sedalam-dalamnya saya ucapkan. Tuhan memberkati anda dalam berkompetisi dengan anda sendiri untuk menjadi anda yang lebih baik di masa depan.

Pianistically yours,

Ananda Sukarlan

viernes, 25 de junio de 2010

What is in a name?

I always like those weird short pieces by the American composer Virgil Thomson called "Portraits". The creative process of those pieces (hundreds of them) was always that the "model" sits in front of the composer, while he "painted" them, so it was exactly like the creative process of a painter.

Now I've never been musically inspired by the physical look of anyone, no matter how stunning. But I do like to play around with something that one has in him/her. And of course I like that Schumannesque game of putting initials of people's names as motifs of his work.

That's the background of my two short pieces, "To Adam G" and "Whooosh!" which will be included in my book, "Alicia's Second Piano Book", as well as the most recent "Finnley's Fanfare" for solo piccolo. This time, other people, who I should say friends, "helped" me write the music. "To Adam G" was written for the Hungarian pianist Adam Gyorgy as a gratitude for his invitation to the winners of Ananda Sukarlan Award to come to his summer masterclasses in Hungary last year. It is based on a motif built on his name : A.D.A.M(i) G. And "Whooosh!" (yeah, the music does sound like that!) was for Inge Buniardi, a very talented young Indonesian pianist now living in Amsterdam. It's based on her initials : A(nastasia) MI (Melania Inge, which should have been Inge Melania) B(uniardi).

2 days ago I received the good news that my good friends Rudy & Liz had a new baby boy, Finnley. Elizabeth Ashford is a flutist and has practically played all my music involving that instrument, and she's had this futile attempt in encouraging me to write for the instrument that I hate the most : the piccolo. But Rudy's email, curiously enough, gave me the idea of writing "Finnley's Fanfare", and unfortunately the initials of the piece's title is "FF", which is the perfect dynamics of a piccolo piece. I was totally stressed with my yet unfinished opera AND the rehearsal of our performance for these days to celebrate the 5th year anniversary of Chendra Panatan and me working together. Luckily I now have this tiny Lenovo laptop --am still fascinated by its really small size and how my operas and other works can fit inside it--, so in bed at 1 a.m after the exhausting rehearsal the whole day I relaxed myself writing the piccolo (and it's also tiny!) piece. I wonder why I always compose much more fluently lying down; is it because my brain receives more blood and therefore more oxygen? Anyway, hope that the number of pieces based on friends' initials will grow, since it's really fun to compose like that. It's like playing sudoku or making anagrams, you know what I mean?

jueves, 3 de junio de 2010

The problem of the opera, and a new look at KAMA

That is a stupid title, I know. Operas only poses problems. Or shall we say, if you are a composer and you wanna complicate your life, write an opera. But there are crazier people than composers : those who want to produce (an) opera(s). It's not an easy business. Right from the very beginning, one needs not only singers, but singers who can act, understand the language (yea yea, it's much more than just memorizing. It's a matter of understanding completely the text), sometimes dance. And like any other actors, they should be willing to learn new things. In Verdi's Aida they should learn how to ride a horse, and in mine ... ride a bicycle!

My third opera which I am writing now (and almost finished, thank God!) will be the "real" opera of mine. It is commissioned by Bimasena, who also was responsible for the birth of my second cantata LIBERTAS. My first two had only 2 and 1 soloists, and they can be called "chamber operas" (they made a sequel, both on Seno Gumira Ajidarma's fantastic drama scripts). This time it involves lots of soloists (4 baritones, 1 tenor who plays the very small but very important role as Soekarno, our first president, and 1 soprano), who have to really act (and even dance) and a real orchestra to accompany it. And now I understand why Verdi and Wagner were all nuts. I am letting all kinds of outer influences being absorbed and manifest themselves in this opera : Michael Jackson, Stravinsky, Salvador Dali, Chendra's choreography, Andy Warhol's pop art, avantgardism of the 1960s (especially the artistry of Cathy Barberian and Luciano Berio), Shakira ... and the long list continues. All this meshed into my (what I consider) "personal artistic" elements, or to say it in a different way, I stole all those exciting stuff and make an "arty" (read: "boring") version of them all. Just like what I did with my previous operas ; if you'd seen them you might slightly detect how Michael Jackson and Madonna influenced me so much. And I am doing one thing here for the first time in my life : write an additional libretto. Not so much though, but it's quite an attempt. Until now, not one word of the texts for my works are mine. And to be honest I don't really like those words I wrote too much, --apart from the fact that it took me too much time!-- so I'll stick with other people's texts in the future Writing one word took as long as writing a few bars of music for me.

This third opera of mine is called "Pro Patria". That title is mine. About 90% of the libretto is taken from the conversations in the novel "Kalah dan Menang" (To lose and to win), written by the late great Indonesian writer Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana (STA). I studied Britten's libretto on his masterpiece "A Midsummernight's Dream" and learned how skillfully he extracted Shakespeare's play into the libretto of his opera. Without previous study of Britten, I would've been lost in the creative process of my opera. Sometimes I modified a few words in STA's sentences, but it won't change the atmosphere of STA's language. It is set around the 1940s, when the Japanese managed to get rid of the Dutch in their occupancy in Indonesia. The novel itself goes on until the 1950s, but I finish my opera with Soekarno (our first president) reading the Declaration of Independence, August 17th, 1945. Anyway, I laughed at the fact that the libretto of my first 2 operas are by SGA, and this time is by STA. And my initial is AS. Needless to say, obviously I play with the motif built on the notes "A" and "(e)S" in this opera. Sharing 2 letters of our initial, as I have experienced with SGA, would hopefully bring good luck again this time.

A post scriptum on my song, KAMA. Bernadeta Astari, my young & supertalented soprano friend who has sang many of my songs (and the dedicatee of my song-cycle "Senyap Dalam Derai") did a fantastic final exam yesterday at the Utrecht Conservatory. She acquired a 10+ for her mark, so she repeated history that I made 17 years ago. Now this should warn our fellow Indonesian music students, that this mark should not wait another 17 years to be repeated, ok folks?
She sang KAMA at her exam, and many people were moved to tears. I wasn't there, but our friends told me how powerful she did it. It was one of the highlights of her recital (yeah, knowing her, a concert could have many highlights!) And also bravissimma to her pianist, Kanako Inoue. The piano part of that song is not easy, not technically and even more "interpretatively" whatever it means. The silences are more difficult than the notes! In fact I never dared to think highly on that song. It was my very first setting of an Indonesian text, therefore I was still searching and trying many things in that piece. The poem was so powerful, written in a prison by Ilham Malayu, about his feeling of missing his son after 5 years or so rotting in jail and forgotten by the world. Not only it was my first Indonesian song, it was my first piece written exclusively in a non-modulating pentatonic scale. So it was a huge breakthrough for me. And I am glad that it works out well. Anyway, this experience has taught me that one's first attempt doesn't have to be a failure, or worse than one's next attempts. It would sound like an idiot, but honestly I haven't felt 100% sure in setting poems until now, after 3 operas and about 100 songs ; I still feel like a beginner!

sábado, 22 de mayo de 2010

The sound of .... music?

These last few days am putting finishing touches to my work Stanza Suara for big choir, orchestra and angklung which I mentioned here in March. It's only about 8 minutes long, but it took much more time than usual for me to write, due to many things : my unfamiliarity with the angklung instruments and how to write for them and integrate it into my own language (it will be played by amateur players which always complicate the situation), my travellings and my musical intentions which also complicate my own life. The poem by Hasan Aspahani is a wonderful one but strangely enough it didn't immediately "sound" in my head --which turned out to be a good thing, since this long process matured the music in my head. This angklung business isn't easy stuff either, since it will be part of its presentation to the UNESCO (the UNESCO director is planned to come to its premiere in Bandung during the ITB International Choir Festival who commissioned the piece) to establish it as the Indonesian National Heritage. So I should show the world that it's not just children's toy, it's a musical instrument as serious as a french horn!

I want to emulate the evolution of sound since its creation throughout this 8-minute piece. It was too big an idea, I know ... and in fact I am toying the idea to extend the piece in the future, since there are lots of underdeveloped materials in the piece, although the underlying foundation is simple : from unpitched noise, through the most basic intervals (fifths, thirds to the most "recent" interval of tritone) reaches the triumphal tonality in the end. Basically the interval of perfect fifths appear as the motif throughout the piece. Inevitably the piece goes through a lot of styles, from the baroque polyphony up to ....ehm, Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams type of epic film music and even a touch of Shakira sexy rhythms. All those are served on one tray of "Western" orchestration mixed with bamboo instruments, my usual chords and dotted rhtyhms and even constructed with the fractal geometry principals in mind (by changing the word "space" into "time", and "size" into "duration") so hopefully one can find a unity of musical language throughout the whole piece. I mean, Palestrina, Schumann, John Williams and Javanese gamelan players all exploited the interval of fifths and major/minor thirds, right? Same intervals but different usage and different perceptions by different people & culture. That's the point I wanna say in the piece.
Anyway, I do learn a lot from writing Stanza Suara. One of them is that this is the first time I write music (I mean a structurally complex one, not a 3 minute song or piano piece) really from beginning to end! However, I couldn't break the habit of writing backwards during finishing the orchestration of the piece, so I sent it to the players (ITB Choir) starting from the last section. And for your information, I still read all books (especially fiction stories) jumping to the end after the first pages. And then finish the rest of it, obviously. Oh well, old habits never die. I wonder what psychologists would say about this.

As usual, I work on 2 pieces at the same time, so these days I am also working on my opera Pro Patria to be premiered around the same time of Stanza Suara (and coincidentally both have repeated letters for their initials!). Am gonna write about my opera in my next entry. When Stanza Suara is completely finished (hopefully in a few days), I'll need another piece to write together with my opera, and almost certainly it will be a new Rapsodia Nusantara.Part of it is already written. Its ending, of course, is already complete.

martes, 27 de abril de 2010

A rhapsodic blackout

Thanks so much to all of you who have come all the way to the fantastic World Theatre at Bintaro (South of Jakarta) to come to my piano concert last Sunday. I do feel rather guilty to make you all travel that far, but I hope I've made your odyssey worth it. And sorry for the blackout (electricity, not my brain!) during and before the concert; I should say that the timing of the blackout was very precise, eh? Right after our great tenor Dani Dumadi finished his performance. Imagine if it had happened during my sporty running and jumping fingers during Rapsodia Nusantara.... Anyway, that blackout was the second time that it happened during a concert of mine. The first time was during my first concert in Moscow, back in 1995. At that time, the timing wasn't that good: it was in the middle of my playing of a Rachmaninov Prelude. It was almost the end, so I just creeped to the last note ... and then started making jokes waiting for the lights to turn on again. Nobody laughed at my jokes, so either : 1. My jokes weren't funny. 2. The Russians didn't understand English, or 3. Those serious Russians came to see me play and not joke around, so they thought I should've stopped making a fool of myself and meditate in the darkness instead.

Oh and I would like to congratulate my guest stars in that concert: the 12-year-old (you won't notice it when you hear her play) Victoria Audrey Sarasvathi (the youngest finalist of the Ananda Sukarlan Award (ASA) 2008) and Dani Dumadi, the tenor who fantastically sang my 6 songs for high voice. Their contributions to the success of the concert were invaluable. Both are newcomers here, Dani since he just came back from the US, and Audrey because of her age, but you should remember their names coz they'll gonna hang around up there, and very high above!

Anyway, I must admit that I had a hidden agenda performing my RN #4. As you know, it's the obligatory work for the Ananda Sukarlan Award next July. I have received many complaints about how difficult it is ... and me performing it last Sunday was also to proof that it is not that difficult. I hope you got my point.

A friend of mine, Johannes S. Nugroho, a highly respected pianist and also Dean of the Music Faculty at the Pelita Harapan University couldn't make it to the concert due to a bacterial infection in his digestive system (it's been like a week that he'd been suffering, but he's recovering well, as I learn from his emails. Play lots of music with vitamin C major, Johannes! Get well soon!). He is very familiar with, and has worked with his students on a couple of my RN's. And here is what he said:

I think technically more or less is about the same as Rhapsody 1. And I even think musically this should be simpler since it is in a much less "rhapsodic" nature compared to the 1st one. So participants should be able to have less hardship in digesting #4. But both do require exceptional imagination from the pianists and somewhat an ability to grasp the structure beneath zillions of notes, otherwise, so sadly, these Rhapsodies can be more rhapsodic than you intended them to be:)

Thanks for the wish! I do need to get well, and well soon. J.

Well, there is one thing that I can tell. RN #4 is a bit longer (about 2 minutes, but it could be less if you play it faster! he he ...) than the obligatory work for ASA 2008 : RN #1. Well? So?

lunes, 19 de abril de 2010

An introduction ... in Indonesian

This time it is in Indonesian, since I am pasting my introduction to the concert in Surabaya (Cak Durasim Hall) which will be held on May 2nd (in two weeks!) where musicians in that city will work with me in performing my music. And yes, I will perform too, some solo pieces and as the accompanist in my big work for choir and piano, "Choral Fantasy". So, here it is:

Seorang pelukis berkomunikasi langsung dengan publik lewat lukisannya, begitu pula seorang penulis dengan karya tulisnya, baik itu berupa prosa, puisi atau essay. Tapi seorang komponis membutuhkan perantara untuk dapat berkomunikasi dengan publik. Kebetulan saya, seperti umumnya para komponis lainnya, bisa memainkan satu instrumen dalam hal ini piano sehingga bisa "menyampaikan" karya saya sendiri, tapi bagaimana dengan ratusan karya musik vokal saya, misalnya? Atau karya saya untuk string quartet ataupun paduan suara? Dalam sejarah, pemain biola J. Joachim sangat berjasa dalam memperkenalkan karya-karya J. Brahms kepada publik, pemain cello M. Rostropovich untuk karya-karya Britten atau Shostakovich.

Itu sebabnya acara yang diselenggarakan oleh Amadeus Performing Arts bekerjasama dengan Brillante Enterprise ini membuat tonggak sejarah di Indonesia. Belum pernah diadakan event seperti ini di Indonesia, dimana seorang komponis menjadi "composer-in-residence" yg selama beberapa hari secara intensif memberikan masukan langsung kepada para pemain yang memainkan karyanya untuk menceritakan latar belakang penciptaan karya itu dan berdiskusi untuk mencapai suatu interpretasi yang merupakan "sinergi" dari komponis dan sang interpretator. Tidak seperti yang dikira banyak orang, kertas partitur sangat jauh dari cukup untuk menuangkan inspirasi dan ekspresi sang komponis; itu hanya indikasi dari sekitar 60-70% dari apa yang komponis inginkan untuk berekspresi. Sisanya tergantung dari bagaimana sang musikus "mengerti" kemauan sang komponis dan mengekspresikannya ke publik.

Musik mempunyai keistimewaan dibandingkan karya seni lainnya. Sebuah lukisan atau novel tidak berubah sepanjang zaman, tapi satu karya musik terus diperkaya oleh interpretasi para musikus yang memainkannya. Saya selalu merasa bahagia dan berterimakasih setiap kali mendengarkan seorang musikus memainkan karya saya, karena berkat dia lah saya melihat interpretasi serta sudut pandang yang berbeda dari karya saya sendiri. Setiap musikus memberi kontribusi dalam menunjukkan aspek-aspek yang saya sendiri sebagai komponis tidak mengenalnya. Pendek kata, ini adalah bukti bahwa musik adalah suatu bentuk komunikasi antar manusia ; tiap kali kita berhubungan dengan orang lain, kita jadi mengenal diri kita sendiri lebih baik.

Usaha "Amadeus" dan "Brillante" ini, saya yakin, telah menggores sejarah baru dalam dunia musik sastra Indonesia. Dan seperti biasanya, mengerjakan suatu hal untuk yang pertama kali itu sangat sulit, tapi berkat usaha dan jerih payah mereka yang luar biasa, akhirnya masyarakat Surabaya dapat menikmatinya. Semoga kerjasama organizers, para musikus dan saya sebagai komponis yang pertama kali di Indonesia ini bukan yang terakhir kalinya, dan akan diikuti oleh orang-orang lain yang mempunyai visi yang jauh seperti mereka yang terlibat di event besar ini. Saya sendiri, dari lubuk hati yang dalam, sangat mengagumi usaha para musikus dan organizers yang sangat membanggakan dan tidak ternilai ini. Bravissimo!

sábado, 10 de abril de 2010

What makes music music ? (A break from composing "Stanza Suara")

That question can be easily answered usually on the first day of your theory class at a music conservatory, but perhaps it's not so clear for the laymen. So, I'll tell you now what we were taught : music is called music because it consists of these 5 elements : pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony and the instrument by which it is produced (which can be applied to human voice as well). Nowadays it is certain (through lots of researches) that music is something that belongs exclusively to human beings : animals, given any regular rhythms, cannot syncronize. And you don't call the singing of the birds or the whales "music", first because they cannot "make music together": synchronize the rhythm or melody of its companion or its human trainer, and second for the reason that I will tell you in the next paragraph. In any case, their "music" is a lower level communication, just like human beings using sign languages or words (yes, words are lower level communication! It is music that is the higher level, since music, as Victor Hugo had said, expresses those that cannot be expressed by words.)
"Good" music (this definition of "good" certainly differs in every humans) acts on the brain in increasing serotonin levels to produce endorphine hormones which gives you the feeling of pleasure. How it works is still a mystery, since music is something intangible. A tangible element that causes the same effect but through chemical process is chocolate. Yes, chocolate. Perhaps that explains those Mozart chocolates from Austria ... you listen to M's music or eat chocolate would make you feel like entering heaven he he ... And perhaps it also explains why Hitler so desperately needs Wagner's music : it must have given him a good feeling after killing all those Jews! So, now you understand why whales and birds don't make music, although you do feel peaceful when you listen to them, but it doesn't trigger your endorphine stuff inside you.
But is it true that music has to consist of those 5 elements above? I think our conservatory professors missed some points. For example, what about African drummings, which only consist of rhythms and instruments, no melodies let alone harmonies? And what about those Sundanese flutists from West Java and also Bali when they are improvising endless melodies without any clear rhythms? So as you can see, music can consist of only a few elements from those 5 mentioned. And this is the point that I wanna make when I am making my music "Stanza Suara", on poems of Hasan Aspahani for the opening of the ITB International Choir Festival next July that I wrote about here last month. I wanna start my music with only sounds, as stated in his poem. No music, just sounds. The problem is, once two singers or two instruments play together, they make a harmony. Once they play two notes consecutively, they make a melody (yes, 2 notes can make a good melody! Just listen to the opening of Beethoven's 5th!). So, how do you make any of those 5 elements inexistent in a piece of "music" ?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in my music. Now you just have to reconsider calling it music.

viernes, 2 de abril de 2010

Having 5 husbands ... and humiliated by other men

Now that I have to provide program notes to my "Drupadi" cycle, I'll continue with the third and last piece of my Drupadi trilogy. Last piece, right, but it was the first I wrote concerning this fascinating goddess. "The Humiliation of D" was written for the "Pianississimo" concert celebrating the New Year 2009. The idea is to feature multiple pianos and pianists, so my "Schumann's Psychosis" for 3 pianos-12 hands was also premiered there. The idea --and financial support for their commission-- came, naturally from the House of Piano in Jakarta that is also the sole representative of Steinway and Sons in Indonesia. And we are planning to do a similar (but with MORE pianos on stage!) event for the Jakarta New Year Concert 2011 with a new piece for multiple (we haven't decided how many) piano(ist)s.

"The Humiliation of D" was composed to be choreographed by Chendra Panatan. The story, taken from the Mahabharata epic originated from India but then adapted and became deeply rooted in the Javanese culture, goes around D's oldest husband Yudhistira who had lost everything during a gamble , and the only "thing" left to be gambled was his wife. And yes, you guessed it correctly : he lost this last game. So his enemy (who were in fact his cousins) took D and tried to strip her clothes off. But the gods took pity on her, and made the miracle that her clothes would be endless, even if it was pulled and pulled and pulled, and D turned around and around and around. A nice visual and aural idea, eh? A minimalistic idea with a maximalistic & spectacular effect !

viernes, 26 de marzo de 2010

To ban or not to ban, that's not the question

It's been a habit all over the world throughout the history of mankind to ban intellectuals and artists. It had happened to me too several times (and needless to say, in my own country ; there is no point in banning immigrants' works of art, right?) although not in a grand way like the case of Stalin and Shostakovich. I remember there is a private music school who prohibits its students even only mentioning my name, let alone playing a note of my music there. And another "artistic" company have done (and are doing) that too in similarly pathetic ways, so if once in a while accidentally my name (and even my music) popped up there ... well ... if you are not as powerful as Hitler or Stalin it would be difficult to ban someone, my friend. If my music, due to mysterious forces happen to sound in their community then the easiest thing is try to hide the composer's name. "Oh, it's just some sounds coming from ...the sky?". Exactly, my friend. The name's Skywalker. Andy Skywalker.

Artists write books, make paintings or write music, so even if you cut off our heads, somehow our names (and products) still hang around. Uff, difficult business, eh? And now with our big brothers such as facebook, websites etc the banning business gets even more complicated. I just get on with the old way of doing business : write my music and let the audience decide what they like. And if they wanna judge who's music or who plays the piano better, well it's their problem, not mine. I am what I am, my music sounds like what it is. And I am too busy to ban my friends. And too lazy.
Another composer in Indonesia having been banned (at that time by a political party) was Amir Pasaribu. Now THAT was quite ugly ..it was extensive and intensive up to a point that he had to leave the country, otherwise he'd have faced prison sentence.
Usually the banning of my name or existence has nothing to do politically ; it's more of artistic views. You don't understand that? Well, I'll tell you in a simpler language in four letters : envy. So, usually I was banned by my fellow artists, or "artists", usually in the world of music (a painter or writer would make no point in banning me, right?).
But to be honest, being banned does give me a tiny boost of pride. And as Herodotus said, it is better envied than pitied. I mean, if someone envies you, that means they consider you "better" than him/her, right ? Whether it is true or not, he thinks that way. And if someone thinks you are better, there are two obvious responses : either he/she admires you or hates you. Admiration (and love) and hatred are just two sides of a coin as we always say. In fact, I'd like to be banned in a grand way. Therefore I feel grand. No, no, don't send me to a concentration camp or shoot me. Just ban me, write in the newspaper headlines "The music of Ananda Sukarlan is complete trash, and he plays the piano like an idiot, therefore he should be banned." And write a loooong article about my mus.. I mean trash. I'd love it ! In fact, the easiest way to ban a composer is to program his music. If it's really trashy, then the audience will automatically ban it by not wanting to come to the concerts or listen to his music anymore. But this advice wouldn't make my banner friend happy, eh ..? I don't think it's quite effective ....
"Such men as he be never at heart's ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous."
(W. Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar")

And therefore Caesar was murdered, my friend.

miércoles, 24 de marzo de 2010

5 husbands .... and no babies yet

This time this entry is for my friend, the fantastic guitarist Miguel Trapaga, by whom I have the honour and great pleasure to be commissioned my first piece for guitar solo. I have written for guitar in the past, but none for a solo instrument, and quite an elaborated and virtuosic one. This is only possible thanks to him, his support, his continuing efforts to give me a thorough insight of the instrument, its wondrous sound world, its delicacy and huge possibilities which I wasn’t aware of until then. I don’t think that a composer should be able to play every instrument, but in the case of the guitar, I thought I had to so I did learn its basic exercises by myself. Its finger positions, rich and strange colours should “fall into the fingers” as we say. And I must say, I have never worked together with an instrumentalist as intensively as I have with him, and boy, it's very inspiring and useful!

The result of our collaboration is my piece, “The 5 lovers of Drupadi”. It's in 4 movements. Eh?? It doesn’t add up, right? Well, it is based on a very small episode from the epic “Mahabharata” from India, where Drupadi was --by natural force (and a long story behind it) and not by sexual temptation!— married to the 5 brothers of Pandava. And 2 of them, Nakula and Sadeva were twins. Now, it’s quite a contradiction I must say, that Indonesian culture in general, and Javanese culture in particular could embrace this mythology quite naturally, since by historical background we are quite, let’s say, “right-winged”. Even until now. I mean, you can talk to any people there in Java and they’d tell you that homosexuality is a disease that could be cured, for example. There are even some extremists who would go as far as telling you that it is a sin to have a facebook account!

Back to my guitar piece, I ask for scordatura for the VI, V and IV strings. They are tuned to F, G and C respectively. So, I was very thankful to Miguel Trapaga that he would made a version of the score with what is played, not what sounds. The poor guy had to learn the piece as it sounds, not as it is written! If you can’t imagine what he went through, well, imagine that you are playing the piano and half of the keyboard produces different notes than what you usually play. Yes, half of it, since I re-tuned 3 strings of the guitar, which are half of the 6 strings of the instrument. I admit that my knowledge of the guitar is not advanced enough to be able to write the fingerings and the scordatura notation. And now that he has finished editing the score, my my, all those strange symbols and numbers could be misinterpreted as a secret message from the KGB!

Miguel Trapaga has given the world premiere of The 5 lovers of Drupadi on the 10th of March at Juan Bravo theatre in Segovia in a concert of the Philharmonic Society. He will tour it to Asia & New Zealand starting next June.

viernes, 19 de marzo de 2010

Ariadne Rescued ... in Spain

Next month my friend from our conservatory days --and now a reputable flutist living in Cordoba-- Wendela van Swol will give the Spanish premiere of my flute and piano Rescuing Ariadne, accompanied by pianist Emilio Jose Garcia. One of their concerts will be during the Spanish Flute Convention in Madrid where it will be a concentration of flutists around the world with 3 full days of concerts, discussions and masterclasses. And they made me realize that with several performances done in the past, I haven't written any program notes on the piece, so this entry is dedicated to them.

Rescuing Ariadne was inspired by a painting by Titian at the National Gallery of London. I don't know why that particular painting was particularly inspiring to me, among the other fascinating paintings hanging there. Its luscious colours certainly triggered some of the harmonic progressions in my piece, and I also had in mind the story behind it while composing. Therefore the piece was divided into 3 continuous sections :

1. depicting both anger and sadness of Ariadne being alone in the island of Naxos. There are many short flute cadenzas here.

2. the arrival of Bacchus. As one can expect when a handsome god meets a beautiful goddess, they immediately fall in love, and thanks to this process we get the story of him rescuing her out of the island. I especially like the beginning of the "love tune" where the piano repeats a figure twice and then the flute answers with the same figure : it's so kitch! As if one asked "Do you love me? Do you love me?" and the other answered : "Yeah I do love you". If you have this dialogue in mind, you'll get the exact rubato that's needed.

3. obviously their adventure of escaping from Naxos. I use my favorite meter of 10/16 as the ending.

I don't think one should bear this story in mind while listening to the music, since I hope that the music can speak for itself without any programmatic background, and I do realize that both Titian's painting and the story are too big for my 5-minute little piece. Some people have asked me questions why I didn't simply put Titian's title for my piece, hence "Bacchus and Ariadne", and my answer is that 1. Albert Roussel has done justice to the painting by writing his Third Symphony (yes, a whole symphony and not a 5+ minute piece) with that title. 2. I did concentrate on the figure of Ariadne, and not on Bacchus while writing my piece.

And somehow I had (and still have) the strange feeling that this piece would be the first movement of a kind of suite for flute and piano. It just feels that way. There are materials in the piece that can still be exploited to make it a complete piece of, say, 3 movements. But I haven't got the time, opportunity and inspiration to write another one (my "Prelude and Interlude" from my opera IBU, also for flute and piano, has nothing to do with this). Especially now, when I am extremely late in finishing my third opera. Rehearsals starting in mid-April and .. ehm .. nobody involved in the opera has received any note from me (sssh, don't tell!). Anybody got Mozart's phone number??

lunes, 8 de marzo de 2010

A beautiful mistake

Time and again, I am inspired by Hasan Aspahani's poem. But this time it's not what he wrote, but what he didn't write. To be precise, what I considered a mistake. A beautiful mistake, that is.

The poem starts with this phrase : "Pada mulanya ialah bunyi .." (In the beginning it was sound). Now ...really ? Yeah perhaps, but in the very beginning ... there was ...silence, right ? Now, how do you compose silence, without copying John Cage's 4'33" ? The answer, my friend, is blowing in Hasan Aspahani's poem. It is a mistake, but it poignantly rectifies itself. And it is the rectification which is so inspiring to me.

So, I have officially started my work on his poem, "Stanza Suara". This poem and my work on it are commissioned (for the third time for me) by the ITB Choir for the festive opening of their big International Choir Festival in Bandung next July (I know, I know, time is running out). Now, the words "festive" and also "monumental" (which they use to describe my yet inexisting piece) are very dangerous to me. My second cantata, LIBERTAS was supposed to be like that too, and see what came out of it ! Slow and brooding loooong melodies. Dead bodies, bones, loss, lamentation everywhere ...
For now, I just paste you Hasan Aspahani's breathtaking poem here. No more comments about it until I finish my music, with God's will. And with the travellings of this and next month, it will be quite some time ...

Stanza Suara

PADA mulanya ialah bunyi
kita memandang pada pecah
cahaya, terang yang seketika
terentang di semesta suara

Pada mulanya ialah bunyi
kita mendengar lagu jiwa
mempercaya pada pesona suara
menyebut diri, mengucap dunia


Sunyi melirih, O, sunyi bersih
menepi tangis sampai ke sepi
Sunyi menyisih O sunyi letih

Sunyi merintih, O, sunyi pedih
membawa mimpi sampai ke sepi
sunyi menyerpih, O, Sunyi perih


Pada mulanya ialah bunyi
di bumi raga, di angkasa sukma
kita meninggi pada harmoni
terbang di sayap-sayap suara

Para mulanya ialah bunyi
kita mengada karena suara
kita mendunia karena suara
kita mengangkasa karena suara


Dengar kata mendengar kita
menyimak bunyi bisik bumi

Dengar kata, mendengar kita
semesta kata, harmoni kita

Dengar kata, mendengar kita
sukma kata, jiwa suara kita

Dengar kata, mendengar kita
Mengepak tinggi sayap suara

sábado, 6 de marzo de 2010

Study on sunsets

I always say (and believe) that I love nature, but can't be inspired by it. Usually other works of art inspires me : paintings, poetry and other "artificial" things made by fellow humans. I am not like Debussy who can be at the beach and start to jot down some notes. But apparently some sounds start to pop up in my head these last few months being in a nice place during my favorite period of the day : during sunset. I do love the color of the sky, the modulations of the colours and light and the crepuscular process of entering darkness; they all provide good materials for music. And so, for Alicia's Second Piano Book I have decided to include some short pieces (no, no, I still am not capable of writing La Mer or a 20-minute piece just by watching it!) based on sketches on sunset.
Apparently, in some of the sketches I've made during these months there are ones inspired by "artificial" sunsets as well, such as the painting of Aert van der Neer (Landscape at Sundset) or even that scene during the first kiss in the film "Titanic". But there are some which are inspired by real sunsets. I remember one day in December last year, at the house of the art patron Mrs. Pia Alisjahbana in Jakarta, we witnessed a spectacular sunset in her garden. I jotted down some chords and modulations there at her place, and made a short piece out of it today.
I am quite surprised how incapable is music being objective. I think, by nature, music is impressionistic even without having that "impressionistic" atmosphere. I mean, I made one today based on sunset, but in fact I was writing what I was feeling today. Those modulations and gradations of colours are just merely excuses !