lunes, 23 de mayo de 2011

and the twain shall meet .. and shall live happily ever after?

I am thankful to the piano duo, and duet, and twin sisters Shanti & Sonja Sungkono from Berlin when they thought of, and mentioned my name when they were asked by the Berlin-Jakarta Arts Festival about which composer's music should inaugurate its event. Sonja & Shanti were asked to perform in front of a distinguished audience that include the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit and the mayor of Jakarta Fauzi Bowo.

When they asked for music which would be a "meeting point" between Berlin and Jakarta I immediately thought of Rudyard Kipling's words : East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet". Well, I want to contradict his words, but not with words which I am not good at, but with music. And as a title, I would just use 5 of Kipling's : ".. and the twain shall meet".

It's funny that I can't even say whether I am "east" or "west". Even for this particular piece, I can't pinpoint which "east" element it is; it is gamelan, yes, but which? West or Central Java, or even Bali? The scales are sort of confusing. What I did in "meeting" the east and west is by juxtaposing them both vertically (one pianist is playing the "western" melody" while the other is playing "eastern" figurations accompanying) and structurally; hence there are sections which are clearly "east" or "west". The western part is quite obvious, though also dubious: it is a sort of mix between the Latin-American rhythms and Shakira's (who of course is very Latin American).

It is also rather difficult to make a virtuosic piece for 4 hands on one piano, since both pianists' hands should not bump into each other! Listening to Schubert's fantastic 4-hand piano pieces definitely helps, but not as much as I would like to. And that apparently explains my scarcity of 4-hand repertoire; until now I have just written those short and easy 4-hand "Pieces of cake" pieces to be played with my daughter Alicia. "..and the twain shall meet", after more than 35 years of pianistic life, is my first "real" piece for piano 4-hands!

"..and the twain shall meet" will be performed by Shanti & Sonja Sungkono at Admiralspalast Berlin on the 25th of June at 8 p.m.

lunes, 9 de mayo de 2011

original interview with Erza S.T. for The Jakarta Post

Erza S.T., founder of Indonesian Opera Society & writer for the newspaper The Jakarta Post interviewed me on my opera Ibu, yang anaknya diculik itu. It was published on April 28th, as usual heavily cut & edited by the newspaper, so I thought to post our original interview here which contains some more information

1. What's the background story of this opera? What inspired you to start composing it?
Many things: first & foremost of course the monologue of Seno Gumira Ajidarma itself which I read in a newspaper back in 2008. After I was commissioned to do an opera of any theme of my choice by the Jakarta Opera (which is a small but significant opera company here in Jakarta) I immediately thought of this. But the idea of writing for just 1 female singer was too crazy at that time, both because it was something quite new not only for me but for the world of music, and second because I didn't really believe that a single singer would be able to do that: singing & acting for 40 minutes non stop.
But as you have seen, Aning Katamsi proved it to be possible. And then there was another example of an opera as such already in the history of music: La Voix Humaine by the French composer Francis Poulenc, which I luckily could witness live at Teatro Real, Madrid, where it was about a lady who was talking on the phone all the time. But even that opera with its similar rich themes of loss, fear & death lasts shorter than my opera.

2. Why do you choose pocket opera as the style of the opera?
The idea of "pocket" opera is an opera which can be carried easily, toured easily (like a "pocket book"). So, since I will write it only for one soprano and nobody else, I am thinking it to be accompanied by a very small group of musicians. In fact, only 2 : piano (myself) and a flute doubling piccolo. I am thinking of its practicality and low budget of its repeated production, and luckily I proved my point in this. In 3 years, this is the 3rd time this opera is produced.

3. Did you revised the opera since its premiere in 2009 for this performance now? Musically no, only Chendra Panatan (the stage, acting and lighting director) changed (I should say "improved") some things.

4. How do you describe the music in this opera? Do use some Indonesian sound in this opera?
People has been describing my music as having "Indonesian sounds written by a composer from another planet" and I think it can be applied here. You can't blame me, in spite of my Indonesian-ness, I've been living in Europe for 23 years! Now with facebook & twitter I am of course much more Indonesian than, say, 10 years ago since I am much more connected (I even know new Indonesian slangs through twitter which some Indonesians themselves don't know!), but the ghosts of European music still hangs around me.

5. Your opera is considered to have a contemporary sound and style to some. What do you think on that comment?

Well it better be. I am trying to express a theme which is very contemporary, and I am aware and do admit that musicians who perform my music were always baffled when they see the music for the first time, since many things in my music are quite new and are not to be found in earlier music, although my music is deeply rooted in those of Mozart, Puccini or Britten -- and Javanese traditional music I absorbed in my first 17 years living in Indonesia.

6. Is there any new opera that you plan to compose?

Oh yes! I love opera, and in fact, like Mozart, the only thing I want to compose in my life are operas. But I know its problems of productions, financially and artistically, so I compose other things in between. Even Mozart, who had a generous patron, couldn't do only operas (thank God for his beautiful piano concertos and sonatas!). But my real passion in music is opera, and my absolute favorite instrument is the human voice. I am working on a prequel of the opera we are talking, this time about the mother 10 years before when her husband was still alive, and it will be about the dialogue between them about their kidnapped son, Satria. It is, naturally enough, called "Satria" and commissioned by the Indonesian Opera Society, and is again based on a play by the same inspirational author, Seno Gumira Ajidarma. His genius lies in writing a play where the real protagonist, Satria, is totally absent on stage. In my opera Satria will be represented by a dancer who doesn't talk nor sing, and will be directed again by Chendra Panatan.