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

Monday, October 23, 2006



Does Indonesia have a new classical music star?

Surabaya Symphony Orchestra (SSO) conductor Solomon Tong believes so after Bandung soprano Linda Hartono won the vocal section of the orchestra’s Mozart Competition last week. (W/ending 21 Oct)

In what is believed to be the only such event in Indonesia to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Austrian composer’s birth (see sidebar), the SSO staged a two-night concert for contestants from across the country. There were four categories – piano, violin, vocal adults and vocal children.

“Overall the standard of applicants was good, though about half had to be disqualified at auditions,” said Tong. “We demanded a high professional standard that some couldn’t meet. They had to perform without using sheet music.

“Others wanted to play or sing something other than Mozart. That wasn’t part of the deal. The SSO decided to make this our Mozart year with concerts in April and August – and then the competition.

“Usually contestant singers are backed only by a piano, but we provided them with the experience of working with a 44-piece orchestra. I don’t know for sure, but think this is probably the only time this has been done in Indonesia.”

The pianists were offered the opportunity to play one of three Mozart concertos – 19, 21 or 23. All chose the last in A major.

This meant that the audience had to sit through three 30-minute performances of the same piece – though by different soloists. That might have been fine for the three judges, but it put a strain on everyone else.

The same thing happened with the violinists who all chose the same concerto – Number 3 in G Major. This also runs for half an hour.

Fortunately the singers were more eclectic. They had to select from the Marriage of Figaro, the Magic Flute or Don Giovanni. Linda Hartono sang Batti-batti, O Bel Masetto from the last option. Her main rival, Antonius Dody Soetanto who won second place was also from Bandung. He sang Non So Piu Andrei from Figaro.

Tong said Hartono, 38, had a voice with “a very dramatic soprano colour.” He said the awards given to the finalists would help them establish their reputation and build teaching careers.

“There’s a good future for top class in musicians in Indonesia and elsewhere,” he said. “As growth in the services and hospitality industry increases, so do opportunities for performers.

“Parents of gifted children know this and are looking for teachers. Most start out earning about Rp 2 million (US $ 220) a month and in a few years can get triple that sum.”

Hartono said she’d started to sing classical music only in the past five years and had never sung before with an orchestra. She was a member of a Bandung church choir and had been encouraged to enter the competition by her businessman husband Wirianto Djakaria.

She’d seen modern light opera like Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera in London but her only contact with Mozart had been through DVDs. At home she often played the piano and sang while waiting for her two children to return from school.

“It was a great surprise to win,” she said. “I still haven’t come to terms with my success so there are no immediate plans for the future.”

At the end of the competition Tong made an impassioned speech in support of classical music in Surabaya. He said the SSO, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in December, was losing money and desperately needed donors.

The principal backer for concerts has been the shipping container terminal company Terminal Petikemas Surabaya (TPS).

Outside the competition hall Tong told The Sunday Post that he’d approached a cigarette company for sponsorship because it supported pop music events. However he said he’d been turned down because company executives claimed classical music goers seldom used tobacco, and smoking was prohibited during performances.

“It’s a miracle that we can survive,” he said. “The SSO is backed by music schools and individuals. We do this because we’re idealistic.

“In places like Singapore and Hong Kong the government subsidises orchestras – but not here. In Indonesia the media concentrates on pop singers and dangdut dancers – and we need the media to lift support for the serious arts and culture.

“Every concert we stage loses us about Rp 100 million (US $ 11,000). We’ve just had a board meeting and decided to open up membership in the hope of bringing in people with financial expertise.

“I don’t know about the money side. We need a professional money raiser. I’m only interested in the music.”


“The music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it -- that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed”. Mozart’s biographer, Alfred Einstein.

It’s not just Surabaya that’s been big noting Mozart this year. His operas are being staged throughout Europe and especially in Vienna and Salzburg (Austria) where he was born, and Prague (Czech Republic) where his music was popular with the 18th century masses – and Figaro a major hit.

There’s so much myth and mystery about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that it’s difficult seeing the black notes from the white.

That he was the genius extraordinaire is not in doubt. Nor is his output – more than 600 compositions – the first written when he was five. Recordings of his works outsell all other composers. He lived for only 35 years before dying of ‘severe military fever’. This condition has never been diagnosed to the satisfaction of modern medicine, consequently creating fertile ground for theories about his premature passing.

Mozart may have been able to manage music but money was another matter. He earned well, and spent better. He was buried in an unmarked grave that has never been found – adding to the belief that he had supernatural powers.

In the 1980s the film Amadeus, based on the play by English dramatist Peter Shaffer became an international hit. This helped introduce Mozart’s music to a public that would never consider putting on stiff clothes and sitting among stiffer people in a concert hall.

(First published in The Sunday Post 22 October 06)


No comments: