Sun, 06 Aug 2000

Ananda Sukarlan: Indonesia's musical ambassador

By Danielle Bray

Jakarta(JP): A soft-spoken gentleman with a warm smile and honest demeanor is a perfect description of Jakarta-born pianist Ananda Sukarlan.

The talented musician arrived back in Jakarta last week after performing a series of concerts across New Zealand. Together with The Jakarta Foundation for the Arts, Ananda hosted a charity recital at the Hotel Mulia Senayan on Aug. 3. The concert was his 400th performance to date.

The proceeds from the concert will directly benefit youth in arts programs in Jakarta, a cause that is very close to his heart.

"Music education in Indonesia is very poor ... there is not enough motivation," Ananda explained. Eventually he would like to establish scholarships for talented youngsters, but he is realistic about the amount of money needed to reach this goal. "Right now we are focusing on rebuilding a facility in which to teach students music ... the building that is housing them now is in very bad condition."

At the age of 10, Ananda knew that music influenced him in a way which was different from other children his age. He attended a concert by French composer Pierre Boulez, which dramatically opened his heart to the gift of the piano. It was then that he knew he would be a pianist. "I saw what he could do, and I wanted to be a part of it!" he exclaimed.

He received his first lesson from his sister, and later continued his studies under Indonesian pianists Soetarno Soetikno and Rudy Laban.

Through hard work and dedication to his craft, Ananda was offered a scholarship in 1986 from Petrof Piano to study with Walter Hautzig. The eager 18-year-old left the familiar surroundings of Indonesia and relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.

Within a year, he left for the Netherlands to study at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague under pianists Naum Grubert, Ellen Corver and Geoffrey Madge, where he graduated summa cum laude and won the Cuypers prize in 1993.

This bright young talent achieved early success, winning a number of honors at piano competitions. He has recorded various CDs for The Erasmus, Donemus and Vienna Modern Masters labels. His passion lies with contemporary music, and he has recorded with musicians C. Debussy and Michael Tippett.

Sir Michael Tippett raved about Ananda's interpretation of his first sonata in the solo CD The Pentatonic Connection (Erasmus WVH 139). "I was quite taken aback by the freshness and vitality of his playing. Mr. Sukarlan's interpretation gave it strength and poetry that elevated it onto a new plane. Technically, his playing was impeccable ... his tone-control and variety of color quite admirable."

Ananda is a versatile pianist, equally comfortable performing music written in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the contemporary music of today. His recital at the Mulia Senayan last Thursday included works by Chopin, Beethoven and Indonesian composers Mochtar Embut and Jaya Suprana. His performances are described as classical, romantic and modern.

International recognition and appreciation follows this bright, young star. He is admired in many countries around Europe, Asia, America and Africa for his immense talent, and more than 40 compositions, either piano concerts or solo pieces, have been written especially for him by musicians from around the world.

How is he received in his native country compared to abroad?

"It is only recently that I have been well received here ... Indonesians were always under the impression that foreigners were better entertainers, however, I think that is changing."

In January he performed for a crowd of 700 at the Grand Melia, and on July 11 he was honored by a full house at Erasmus Huis.


He currently resides in the mountains of Spain, where he enjoys a quiet life away from the city with his Spanish wife and their two-year-old daughter. The musician considers Indonesia home and returns annually to visit his family. He always mixes business with pleasure and participates in local concerts whenever his schedule permits. However, he feels it is not to his advantage to move back to Jakarta. "In Spain I am in demand ... unfortunately Indonesia is not ideal for my career."

Despite his numerous awards and recognitions, this young talent remains surprisingly modest. Asked to name his greatest achievement, he humbly remarked: "Accomplishment can not be shown through trophies ... they merely helped me start my career."

Ananda was included in the 1995 edition of the Guiness Book of World Records for playing 38 new works (all world premieres) during the Festival of Modern Music in Alicante, Spain.

The International Biographical Center (IBC) of Cambridge, England, included Ananda on its prestigious list of 2,000 Outstanding Musicians of the 20th Century. Answering a question from the IBC about his philosophy if life, Ananda replied: "Focus clearly on where you are going, know exactly where you are now, and never forget where you came from."

The 2,000 musicians on the list were chosen from all universally recognized fields of music from the 20th century. These include classic, pop, rock, jazz and reggae. The center chose those on the list from all aspects of the profession, including composers, lyricists, instrumentalists, singers and conductors.

Although the demure personality of Ananda may dismiss his numerous honors, his inclusion on the list is an amazing accomplishment. He is also the only Indonesian on the distinguished list.

The musician has recently expanded his resume to include composing. Last year he completed Whitman Landscapes (based on poems by the American poet Walt Whitman), a composition he created for a wind quartet which performed at Edinburgh University in January. He based his composition on the work of the legendary writer because he finds his poems very musical. "It's not that I take the poem and put it to music ... I translate the words into a musical language."

The comic strip character Flash Gordon is the composer's latest inspiration. "The comic includes love, the character's psychology and heroism ... all aspects of a great opera!" Ananda explained that he never composes anything out of the blue, and he always uses material that inspires him musically. However, with balancing family and career, his personal endeavors are often spread over a span of years.

His talents stretch beyond those of a performing pianist and composer, and Ananda often contributes his knowledge of music by judging piano competitions. While in Jakarta, he will join the jury judging a contest of young pianists. The contest, organized by the Indonesian Composers Association in cooperation with Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center, will take place at Erasmus Huis from Aug. 8 to Aug. 10.

"With Ananda on the jury of the upcoming competition, it has given the pianists something to look forward to ... they realize the opportunity it presents," said Wisnu Murti Ardjo, the director of Taman Ismail Marzuki.

Wisnu is delighted that Indonesia counts such a talent among its citizens. "Ananda is what we'd call a genius in music ... we are very proud of him. He is very keen on promoting music among the children of this country. Although he is living in Spain, he manages to find the time to do what he can in his native Indonesia."

Ananda, asked how he would like to be remembered, thought for a moment and answered: "I would like to be known as a pianist who can play very well ... and perhaps bring recognition to my country."

It is safe to say that beyond the awards and public recognition, Ananda has given Indonesia the acknowledgement it deserves for raising such a remarkable talent.