sábado, 23 de abril de 2011

Surabaya Singing

A few days ago this article was published in The Jakarta Globe newspaper, edited as usual. Therefore I post here my original writing, unedited and uncut.

It's just unbelievable that in this country of 200 million people there is yet a classical music voice competition of a national scale, while there is an abundance of great vocal soloists and choirs all over the country. There is even the erroneous term "lagu seriosa" (serious songs) for the genre of classical music songs (and sometimes even opera arias), which automatically condemns the other genres (such as jazz, folk music etc) as "not serious". Sometimes it's not even applied to the genre but to a manner of singing, so that one can sing a pop song in a "seriosa" way, i.e. you should wear a Maria Callas (or even Bianca Castafiore?)-like gown and sing in an incomprehensive and loud voice that will break all the glasses around you. It was a myth in this country until very recently that classical music singers should sing words that were not meant to be understood. Just sing high notes, higher than the seventh heaven but still audible to (break the) human ears, and you'd be accepted in the "seriosa" exclusive club of high art.

Therefore it is highly admirable that Surabaya's Amadeus Performing Arts with its director & founder, that hyperactive lady Patrisna May Widuri would organize a competition of a national scale for classical vocalists. They even use the term which I and a handful of Indonesian classical musicians agreed on for this genre, "Tembang Puitik" (Poetic Songs), since most of the songs of Schubert, Mahler, Britten up to yours truly are based on existing poems and not just inventing and repeating texts as happens in pop music, such as "You're beautiful" (repeated to death) and just ends with "it's true". Let's just use this term "Tembang Puitik" for art-songs (I don't even like this English term, as if, hey, that Spanish flamenco passionate singing is not art or what?) of both Indonesian and international for the future, shall we?

In spite of the name, "Ananda Sukarlan Art-song National Competition" (Kompetisi Nasional Tembang Puitik Ananda Sukarlan), this event was neither my idea nor organized by me. It was 100% Amadeus' iniciative. I was there to serve as the head of the judge, and am honoured to sit with the other jury members Aning Katamsi (should she need an introduction, I could only say that she is Indonesia's most prominent soprano of today) and choir conductor-voice expert-former dean of the Music Faculty of the Satya Wacana University of Salatiga, Agastya Rama Listya.

Although joined by 34 highly talented vocalists from all over Indonesia, 2 cities still stood out for the quantity and quality of their singers: Jakarta & Surabaya. Medan follows behind, but it has its shortcomings: they don't have classically trained teachers to polish the singing techniques. The competition's high artistic & musical demands were the reason why it wasn't a target for beginners or "Indonesian Idol" type of singers.

Tembang Puitik Ananda Sukarlan (TPAS) is planned to be a biennal date for vocalists to meet in Surabaya, so the next one will be held in 2013. My name is used, I guess because quantity-wise I am currently the Indonesian composer who has written the most artsongs; more than 100 until now (no, no, this is by no means an achievement at all. Franz Schubert wrote more than 600 before he died at the early age of 31. And they were waaaay better). About 50 of them were sung by the participants during that weekend.

The competition was split into 2 categories : Professional and Non Professional, and the non-pro one was again split into 4 categories : Junior, Senior Male, Senior Female and Senior 2 (which meant to accomodate singers above 40 but turned out to be not so effective, since there were only 2 participants in this category. We, above 40, have lost the spirit of competitivity, I guess! The organizer, with the consent of the artistic board decided to keep this category to maintain the spirit of tirelessly learning and perfecting the techniques even at this age).

One groundbreaking thing I would like to mention is the way TPAS was introduced, socialized and managed by Amadeus. It was done almost exclusively by the social media, Facebook and Twitter. Since this does not involve a highly lucrative genre of music, most conventional media such as the newspaper, let alone TV stations turned their back on this event. The results of the competition were also announced in real time through twitter while I was announcing the results (both semifinal and final) to a live audience of just a few hundreds at the Petra University Auditorium. This time I let my twitter account @anandasukarlan being "hacked" by them, since among all of us involved I have the dubious honour of having the most followers. But I can assure you that only those few crucial minutes in my tweeting career that "my" tweets were typed by someone else since it would be annoying to the public listening to me reading the results on stage and tweeting at the same time. Apart from those moments my tweets are like my music, typed by my very own 10 fingers. Those tweets of "mine" during the announcement were then numerously retweeted all over the country, and that made me believe that twitter, not a dog, is man's best friend if he loves classical music and arts in this country.

This event, followed minute by minute by literally thousands of classical music lovers throughout the country through social media hopefully demonstrated how badly needed a concert hall is in Surabaya, even a small, decent and simple one. My heart broke when the tenor Ivan Jonathan who turned out to perform excellently had to stop and waited for more than half an hour due to the noise of the heavy rain .. and the electricity failure that "naturally" followed it. One should remember that during that period of waiting he should be always prepared to perform any minute just when the rain stopped and the lights went on, and maintaining that kind of artistic awareness in a tough competition like this is a thing which is not at all to be taken lightly.

As there are 5 categories, so there are 5 first winners in this competition, but for me personally 3 vocalists stood out -- the tenor Adi Nugroho, soprano Indah Pristanti and the coloratura soprano Evelyn Merrelita, each won first prizes in their respective categories. However, since Adi Nugroho won the best interpretation of all my works, he receives the honour (if one calls it so) of giving concerts singing my works organized by my management , accompanied --unfortunately stressful for him, I believe-- by myself.
This has been a big classical music landmark, not only in Surabaya but also nationally. It has certainly put Surabaya on the map. And in our hearts.


The complete list of winners of Tembang Puitik Ananda Sukarlan National Voice Competition are :

Professional : 1. Evelyn Merrelita 2. Eriyani Tenga Lunga 3. Pharel Silaban

Non professional, cat. JUNIOR : 1. Theodora A. Beatrice 2. Vallerie Chr. Gunawan 3. A. James Sofyan

SENIOR 1 Female: 1. Indah Pristanti 2. Christine M. Tambunan 3. tied between Agatha Stella & Mariska Setiawan

SENIOR 1 Male: 1. Adi Nugroho 2. Ivan Jonathan 3. Anggana Bunawan

SENIOR 2 (over 40 years): 1. Linda Hartono 2. Natalis Sidhanta

Best interpretation & understanding of the music of Ananda Sukarlan : Adi Nugroho