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!