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