martes, 18 de enero de 2011

Rapso and not so rappy

The winner of Ananda Sukarlan Award last year, the just-turned 21-year-old Edith Widayani had a big success in her short visit to her home country during the turn of the year with concerts in Makasar and Jakarta. She has played my 4th Rapsodia Nusantara several times during this visit, and now that it's uploaded to youtube the interest is even more mounting. She performed that piece quite well during the ASA competition in July 2010, but it is only now that the piece has really matured in her hands and that its virtuosity flourished in her performances. She had made a paper for her school (now she's studying at the Texas Christian Univ. under the guidance of Tamas Ungar) about my Rapsodias, and we did an interview through email several months ago.

Before you read this, you might like to refresh your memory with another entry of mine here:

So, here is an excerpt of our interview:

How would you describe your compositions? Like for example, Liszt’s are more of improvisational pieces. What compositional technique do you use composing these Rhapsodies?

I try to experiment new kinds of forms and ways of "marriages" between the two folksongs in one Rapsodia. My only Rapsodia until now which is based on one (instead of two) folksong is Rapsodia no.4. Its form is variations on the theme "Buka Pintu".

But characterwise, I always try to make the lighter and improvisational ones (hence true to its title, "rapsodia") in the uneven numbers (1,3,5), and more "serious" or adventurous (or someone has defined it as "rather weird pianistic stuff") in the even numbers. It also means that the even numbers are usually longer in duration and more complex in its forms, and the uneven numbers more "flashy" and more a showpiece to end a concert with. I know that it is diametrically opposed to its title, "rhapsodic", but in my case I think "Rapsodia" becomes just an excuse to my way of tinkering new ways of treating the basic materials, in this case, main melodies of folksongs.

Does the Indonesian pentatonic scale affect you in any way for composing the Rhapsodies? Do you think that it sets a parameter in which you have to work in?

Not until now, although it existed in disguises in Rapsodia 2 and 4. Now it is magnified ( I would even say "glorified"!) in Rapsodia 8 which I am writing now, based on "Janger" , a Balinese popular folktune. In its existence at the moment it is exclusively based on the Balinese pentatonic scale, but using the most "un-oriental" form which is a passacaglia (therefore it doesn't sound too Balinese, or perhaps let's say that it could sound as if Bach had travelled through the time machine to the 21st century .. and finds himself in Bali !)

We know that there are a lot of Indonesian traditional instruments, of which the folk songs might have been performed by. Is there any particular Indonesian musical instrument that is presented in your Rhapsodies? If so, what are they, and do they make the music sounds more characteristically Indonesian?

It's the Balinese gamelan in the Rapsodia I'm doing now (no.8). Otherwise I treat the piano as it is, a simple western instrument called the piano!

How do you decide which folk song to be featured in your Rhapsodies? Is there any categorization in any way that makes you grouped them?

Well, I have to admit, having lived 23 years in Europe I don't know much of Indonesian folk music. So I listen to them through youtube (!!), transcribe the melodies and look for the melodic materials which suits well to my compositional technique in every Rapsodia to be worked on. I try to do each Rapsodia representing a province of Indonesia, but then I broke that rule in the 2nd Rapsodia : I used Tokecang (from West Java) and Cublak Cublak Suweng (from Central Java) : just because I had the idea of making a double fugue and needed 2 themes with a common intervalic motif. Coincidentally those 2 songs are both children folktunes (but Rapsodia 2 turns out to be one of the most difficult technically, nothing to do with children to play it!)

(You can watch Edith Widayani perform my Rapsodia Nusantara no.4 here : )