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 you can click‘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.