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.