While the classical music scene in Jakarta may be less exciting compared to that of our neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, it has continued to expand in recent years.
Now you can find a classical concert on pretty much any night of the week —ranging from recitals to concerts and sometimes even opera highlights. Last weekend was perfect proof of this development, with three high-quality concerts, and The Jakarta Post was lucky enough to catch two of them.
“Enchanted Opera Arias and Concerto Evening,” a performance by Jakarta Singing School and the Academy of Networked Thinking in Music (ANTiM), was the first, at the Usmar Ismail Hall on Saturday night.
As one of the most prestigious music schools in town, ANTiM is renowned for its annual concerts and great young talent. At this particular event, the school featured 16-year-old pianist Gloria Teo and 17-year-old pianist Alvin Y. Tanoko.
At such a young age, Gloria has already made some great achievements having won several piano festivals and making performances in Singapore. At the Saturday concert, Gloria was trusted to perform the opening number of Chopin’s Etude Op. 10, No. 8 Sunshine, and she excelled. She then proceeded to play Cammile Saint-Saens’s Concerto No. 2, in which she was accompanied by Alvin Y. Tanoko.
It was quite impressive to see both young students mastering such complicated compositions as Saint-Saens piano concerto. Gloria gave her full attention to the cleanliness of the piece and its technical details, whereas Alvin added more expression to it. The last two movements played by Alvin were accompanied by the Eliata Orchestra, and were played with such finesse and feeling that the music truly came to life.
Going into the second half of the concert, our anticipation increased as the program was dedicated to serious opera lovers. One of ANTiM’s teachers and soprano Susan C. Sjachril was highlighted as the star of this session, together with guest star tenor Chen Suwei from Beijing. The pair performed various memorable arias from famous operas. Susan started the program with Catalani’s famous aria “Ebben! Ne andro lontana” from La Wally followed by more demanding and challenging arias such as Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette poison aria and Richard Haurberger’s Der Opernball opera aria, “Im Chambre Separee”.
However, it seemed to us that Susan may have been having a bad day. Her lyrical voice was weak and was not well supported by a strong lower range or good diction skill. On several occasions her voice was diminished and overwhelmed by the orchestra.
On the other hand, guest tenor Chen Suwei became the true star of the show. This fantastic tenor reminded us of Italian legend Enrico Caruso who has a superbly controlled and burnished voice. His interpretation of dramatic arias, ranging from “E lucevan le stele” from Puccini’s Tosca to the everlasting “Nessun Dorma” and also from Puccini (Turrandot opera) showed us that Chen is a singer who possesses a glorious voice: radiant yet beguiling.
Having graduated from Shanghai Conservatory and Ukraine Tchaikovsky Conservatory where he gained his master’s degree, Chen, in our opinion, is one of the few Asian singers who own that true Italian character in their voice.
While the duets between Chen and Susan were very challenging for us to abide, the overall concert that evening was more than satisfying. It was properly organized and fully attended by classical music aficionados.
Enchanted by the Saturday night concert, we had high hopes for the second concert on Sunday afternoon. Our reasoning was simple: this was a concert starring the highly acclaimed Jakarta Concert Orchestra and celebrated award-winning Batavia Madrigal Singers. Under the concert title “A Vibrant Harmony”, they had chosen to perform several famous pieces by 20th century composers.
The concert opened with jazzy tunes suited to the flute and a jazz trio, composed by French composer Claude Bolling. Featuring artistic and award-winning pianist Glenn Bagus and well-known jazz flutist Dony Koeswinarno, this classic jazz piece was the perfect selection to start the concert. The composition has classical roots with a twist on fast swing rhythm. All three movements in this composition are very alluring and make you want to follow the rhythm by tapping your fingers or toes.
This bright rhythm was followed with a moody yet sentimental “Underture” performed by Jakarta Concert Orchestra, composed by American composer Steve Dobrogosz.
For us, however, the highlight of first half on this concert was the powerful last piece by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, called “Palladio Concerto Grosso for string orchestra”.
Through its haunting melody, the music in this composition illustrated an intense journey. Avip Priatna and his orchestra really showed us the reason for their huge reputation.
This demanding composition was completed with such great precision and careful tempo. In particular, the violin (by Michelle Siswanto) and viola (by Yasinta Pattiasina) duet in the second movement: the largo was undeniably beautiful and harmonious. It was really a strong and vibrant piece indeed.
The program for the second half also included several Steve Dobrogosz compositions. The young new soprano Brigitta Dewi Sisca Puspita (aka Sisca) made her debut appearance singing two vocalized compositions: “Nautilus” and “Amen”, also composed by Dobrogosz.
Singing songs without words was delivered right on pitch by Sisca, and with great impression too. Her deep rounded voice has such an interesting dark tone and power to match. We were quite excited to see how her voice has developed.
The main performance in the second half was by the Batavia Madrigal Singers who performed Dobrogosz’s famous piece, “Mass”. It was quite an interesting experience to hear Dobrogosz’s 20th century version of mass, compared to baroque versions we often hear.
The melody is in fact brighter and happier with beautiful harmonization from all four voices in the choir. The greatness of this choir was demonstrated in the third movement. It was almost like an a cappella but not completely.
The piano and the choir just sang one piece after another before they finally sang in unison at the end. The Batavia Madrigal Singers really showed their singing quality, skills, technique and also great talent.
This packed afternoon concert ended with two encores, including Piazzola’s famous “Libertango”.
It was like a dream to have a weekend filled with great classical music performances. We hope this trend continues.
Erza S.T. is the founder and executive producer of Indonesia Opera Society.
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