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.