domingo, 28 de noviembre de 2010

Within me, Without me

(This is a continuation of previous entry, "Thank you for the music").

I must admit I regret that my project ANANDASUKARLAN@MUSICASA with the 27 vocalists terminated last week. The final concert was really marvellous, with those musicians putting all their passion in singing. But it also marked our last day of having fun, learning from each other and from my part a process of rejuvenation, working with the young & passionate vocalists.

Next week is the turn of the students and teaching staff of the Music Faculty of the Pelita Harapan University, one of the most prominent private universities in Indonesia. Thanks to its previous Dean of Music Faculty, Johannes Nugroho (a wonderful pianist & composer himself) who invited me, I will coach them in the interpretations of my music. Again, I won't talk about executional techniques since as with the Musicasa vocalists I am not able to play many of the instruments. I know how they work, what kind of sound I heard in my head, but not how to produce sounds with the instruments.

However, from the interpretational side it could be dangerous to "give away" a lot of my interpretational side to the musicians. After working with 27 vocalists last week (I call them "the 27"), I am even more convinced that the composer is the most narrow-minded person in the interpretation of his own piece. We composers of the particular piece only know and see from one side, while musicians (the good ones, naturally) see many possibilities of its interpretations. I always experience it when I am interpreting other composers' music. With the passing of time, the composer starts to see the piece clearer and more from a distance, objectively. It is always interesting to hear interpretations of my music without my involvement in preparing the performance, like the case of the fantastic performance by the tenor Samuel Tandei & pianist Ruthanne Fulton recently in Louisville, giving the world premiere of my 3 songs for tenor, "3S dalam Cinta". Just listen to it here : . A few details in his performance were not as I imagined it to sound, but since he expresses what he wants to communicate very well and convincingly, I really don't mind. It's still a poignant and touching performance, not mentioning his marvellous singing technique in singing my not-easy-at-all songs. A more "authentic" performance of those songs would be the ones we did at the Anandasukarlan@Musicasa concert since the tenors I accompanied (Justinus Budi Santoso & Ivan Jonathan from Musicasa) worked very closely with me, but then only time (not the composer) will tell, and judge, which performance will claim as the better one. And in fact, they don't have to be judged, both performances --and hopefully further performances by different tenors-- are artistically valid. There is no reason why Sam Tandei's performance couldn't be called "authentic". They all possess high musicianship anyway.

So, as much as I have learned from the 27, I am very much looking forward to the UPH project next week. Especially because they are, again, young people full of passion. And yeah, although now all of them are my instrumental music, they are not far from my favorite theme: sorrow, loneliness and (unrequited) love. Without words, they can even be better expressed. And understood.

The final concert of Universitas Pelita Harapan Conservatory of Music presents the music of Ananda Sukarlan will be held at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, December 11, 2010 at 8 p.m . More info & tickets through Chendra at 0818 891038 or

viernes, 19 de noviembre de 2010

Thank you for the music

It's been an inspiring week working with vocalists of Musicasa with my works for (solo & duet) voice & piano, and working with 4 musicians in Singapore in premiering my work Vega & Altair at Esplanade the week before. I already wrote about how happy I was working with Katryna Tan, the harpist, in my previous entry, and it turned out that working with the other "more familiar" instrumentalists (flute, violin & cello) in this new & particular combination for me is also very nourishing.

Musicasa is a very high standard studio for voice training in Indonesia, and it has produced the best classical singers to date. Its founders are my good friends the conductor Tommy Prabowo and the baritone Joseph Kristanto, about whom I have written many times in this blog. And yeah, he is the dedicatee of my 5 songs for baritone & piano, "A untuk Akis, Alam & Angkasa", which will be performed in its entirity by his students in our final concert next week, Thursday the 25th, 7 p.m at Erasmus Huis.

Although I didn't write not even one new note for the last 10 days I do learn a lot, since I've been working with 27 singers with 27 (very) different characters and voice colours. It convinces me deeper that the human voice is not only the most beautiful musical instrument on this planet, but also the most versatile. Everyone is fantastic, each has his/her own strong points. It really has broadened my horizons on voice characteristics, and so I can, in the future, try new things and perhaps risking new kinds of virtuosity in writing for voice, since I feel (not only know) now its shortcomings, virtue and capabilities. Beware singers, I will write more difficult stuff in the future!

One thing in common with those young vocalists is that mostly, if not all of them, expected that they would get a "definitive version" of the song(s) they are singing by working with the composer. The composer, they think, knows best, and wants his work to sound exactly like "this" or "that". Wrong !! Well, of course I know more than them at this moment (during the interpreter's early stage of learning the music), but any composer would really love and appreciate having fresh approaches and interpretations from the singers. We composers need your intellectual & artistic contribution! That's why our music can be richer and alive, and in fact that's the advantage of music compared to the other fields of the arts. Once a painter finishes his painting, it will stay the same for the centuries to come, while a composer's job is not finished; it is continued by the musicians who interpret his music. The music always changes, and therefore I find those musicians who performs in "authentic instruments" and consulting "musicologists" (whatever this profession means!) to give "authentic performances", especially in music written during the period of Baroque, Bach and Before quite contradictive, and even absurd. Music is like a most beautiful human being. The composer gives birth to it, but it is the task of the musicians to nurture it and bring it up into a beautiful, kind & loving grown up creature .. and take care of it with love and attention so it would live long and prosper.

sábado, 13 de noviembre de 2010

So why do I write music?

The counterpoint [of the flute] with the violin was well crafted and the music later moved to a more modern and dramatic style, with the dissonances recalling Bartok and Prokofiev.

That was what a music critic wrote in the Singaporean newspaper, The Straits Times, 2 days after my suite in 7 movements “Vega & Altair” was premiered by flutist Roberto Alvarez, violinist Cindy Yan, cellist Junyan Natasha Liu and harpist—who also is the commissioner of the piece—Katryna Tan.

Wait, wait. Bartok or Prokofiev? Which one? ‘Coz those two have nothing in common, at least that I can think of except that they wrote “dissonant” (according to their contemporaries, and to music critics who considers anything post-Beethoven “dissonant”) music. Even the term "dissonant" needs to be correctly defined, and perhaps re-defined. You might know, Mr. Music Critic, that Mozart wrote a string quartet (perhaps his most famous) nicknamed "Dissonance". And it's in C major! Anyway, this is the first time that someone said that my music resembles any (or both?) of those composers, without pinpointing which aspect of it resembled (any of) them. I dunno if it’s a compliment or not, since though I like and admire the music of both composers, I never felt influenced (directly or indirectly) by them. Anyway, he is only a critic, and I never think highly of them. They always babble and baffle.

Anyway, I do consider that “Vega & Altair” is an important piece for me which provided a turning point in my musical style. It sounds new, even to me. It is an amalgam of all the influences which I absorbed during my musical years, and I had the musical canvas on which to exploit them in its 20+ minute duration. Yes, there are dissonances, and even strange modulations, but whose music has no dissonances? I meant them all, they are part of my expression. And without self-complimenting, I consider the concert quite a big success, not only for the sold-out seats at Esplanade (that’s not my success, that’s thanks to Katryna’s manager and company, Rave Harps, who did good publicity of it.), but also the high enthusiasm showed by many of members of the audience who are musicians or conservatory students or professors (this time the musicians and their artistry deserve the merit). I suddenly remembered what my dad told me that he “didn’t know the secret of success, but was certain about the secret of failure: try to make everybody happy”. Well, it seemed as if all the audience were exalted at that night. Rather scary eh, if one remembers my dad’s wise words.

To entertain is never my point in writing music. I honestly don’t write music to please the audience. I write what I hear in my head, sounds that only please ME. And if what pleases me pleases the audience too, well that’s a happy coincidence. But pleased don't expect to be entertained with my music; sometimes it can make you burst in tears!