The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, July 21, 2005



Despite its Gallic origins the idea wasn’t so much risqué as risky.

Many Indonesians consider their national anthem a sacred song. Like the flag it must be treated with proper solemnity; to tamper can be sacrilege, particularly when the change agent is a foreigner.

So it was with some trepidation that the VIP audience in the magnificent garden of Surabaya’s French consulate last weekend (9 July) heard pianist Patrick Zygmanowski announce the Trio Innova’s new composition – a mix of the benign Indonesia Raya and the bellicose Marseillaise.

‘We’re playing it to bring the two countries closer together,’ he said, and if applause is any guide the anthem gado-gado was a great success. This was probably because the wordless blend was delivered with respect – and joyful verve.

The occasion was the early celebration of the French National Day, which in Surabaya is traditionally held on the Saturday preceding 14 July. This allows French artists to perform in Jakarta at their embassy on the correct date and gives Surabayans the rare chance to get first bite at the cherry.

The innovative Mr Zygmanowski (his ancestors were from Poland, the home of the composer Chopin) is a fine ambassador for French culture. That’s because he seems to genuinely like Indonesia, a country he visits regularly.

‘Despite the very different cultural traditions there really is a public here for European and classical music, though that’s not well understood in Europe,’ he told The Jakarta Post.

‘I like to play here. There is something special about this country. People like the French touch. The public is so kind despite a tendency to take handphone calls while we’re playing! Music is a language you don’t need to learn to understand.

‘I love Asia and spend six months of every year in Japan, a country whose culture and people are surprisingly close to Indonesia. Music is universal. It needs to be played everywhere.’

And Mr Zygmanowski, 35, is certainly doing his bit. His Japanese wife Tamayo Ikeda is also a concert pianist. They met in Paris as teenage music students and have been together since 1992. Though currently pregnant with the couple’s second son Ms Ikeda normally tours the world with her husband as the Fine Arts of Four Hands.

Their repertoire includes works from Ravel and Stravinsky who both wrote music for two pianists at the same keyboard. As a married couple playing together they are a genuine rarity because such intense artistic collaboration can put strains on the best of relationships.

Although specialising in the European masters Mr Zygmanowski also plays the esoteric avant-garde music of veteran Indonesian composer and performer Slamet Abdul Sjukur. (A profile was published in The Jakarta Post in May to mark his 70th birthday.)

Because she is soon to give birth Ms Ikeda is not on this trip to Indonesia and Timor Leste. Instead her husband is performing as Trio Innova with two friends: David Zambon who plays the tuba, and Jean-Marc Fabiano who is a whiz with the piano accordion.

This much maligned ‘squeeze box’, normally associated with Middle European rustics reminiscing around a campfire, has been accepted as an instrument with a place on the concert platform only during the past century. Traditionally it’s self-taught.

Consequently there are few top flight players and only a handful of students in the conservatoires of Europe. Mr Zygmanowski heard the accordion – a portable instrument of bellows, keyboard, buttons and reeds - as a child. The sound stayed imprisoned in his memory and was not released again till he met Mr Fabiano by chance in 1999.

They played together but realised a bass was required. Enter tuba player David Zambon who handles the elephantine and seemingly cumbersome brass instrument with the dexterity of a flautist. ‘He produces an incredible sound and is a real prodigy,’ said Mr Zygmanowski who is no mean slouch at the ivories; he started learning aged six and gave his first recital as an 11-year old.

Prior to last Saturday’s performance some in the Surabaya audience doubted that the trio’s music could be well received. The lush gardens provided a marvellous setting but the air was damp. Unseasonable rain threatened, sucking the notes into the low black clouds scudding over the tricolour-decked trees. The romantic notion of a concert under the stars seemed a fantasy in industrial Surabaya.

‘The consulate’s Steinway is the finest in Indonesia,’ said an unperturbed Mr Zygmanowski who also claims the East Java capital has the nation’s best music schools. ‘We weren’t bothered by the environment or the acoustics and the audience responded with enthusiasm.

‘We have teaching and performing commitments till August 2006. These include a return to Indonesia in December with my wife. Later we will play in New York at the Carnegie Hall.

‘To be a musician on the world circuit is to be extremely fortunate. It is also very difficult. Unlike concert singers we don’t get a lot of money and we can’t afford a big house and car.

‘But it’s a peaceful life. You can be free to make music and touch everyone. You can meet so many people. I hope our children will become musicians.’

(Pubished in The Jakarta Post 16 July 05)

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