Thu, 11 Aug 1994

Indonesians experience delightful encounter with American art songs

By Gus Kairupan

JAKARTA (JP): American songs... the trouble with them is that most of what we hear in Indonesia are rather questionable versions of the enormous wealth that have been produced.

I'm not referring to today's rock or pop songs but to the excerpts from that typically American branch of the performing arts known as the musical.

What singer in Indonesia attempted Summertime (from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin) or Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (can't remember the composer's name but it's an excerpt from the musical Roberta).

The amount of musicals America has produced is stunning, and practically all of them were born in a span of about 40 years, I'd say, from the 1920s to the 1960s.

As sound came to the movies, they became a fertile ground for composers. True, an awful lot was quite forgettable, but there are just as many that have withstood the pummeling and knocking time has a habit of delivering.

Unfortunately it is the pummeled and knocked versions Indonesians have become familiar with, not the original works. So it is quite a treat when someone comes along and provides a glimpse of what the composer and librettist, or lyricist, had in mind.

Like, for instance, the song Over The Rainbow which was in the program presented last Monday by soprano Andrea Ehrenreich and her accompanist Patricia Thom. Originally sung by Judy Garland in the movie The Wizard of Oz, this song by Harold Arlen has also done the rounds, including Indonesia, but is there be anyone here who has seen the movie? Probably not. After all, it was shot almost 60 years ago and reruns are unknown here, even of movies that are regarded as milestones.

But to get back to Andrea Ehrenreich and Patricia Thom, who delighted the invited audience of about 60 at the residence of Ambassador of the United States Robert Barry last Monday evening.

The program wasn't all musical theater. Apart from the excerpts from musicals by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, there were also compositions that fall into the same category as lieder. Many of the songs made their Indonesian debut and, as such recitals are something of a rarity, it isn't at all sure that audiences will be in for another similar treat anytime soon. It isn't opera I'm referring to, but the art song, lieder, or chansons. Poetry set to music, not the heavy drama associated with opera.

Other names

Other composers featured in the program were Benjamin Britten (the only non-American), Aaron Copland, Gian Carlo Menotti, Ned Rorem, Dominick Argento, Samuel Barber and Richard Hagemann. Names that practically never appear in classical music programs, instrumental or vocal. Names that have long since taken their place among the greats of the world.

Listen to Barber's entrancing Laurie's Song", the bitter-sweet Steal Me, Sweet Thief by Gian Carlo Menotti or Ned Rorem's The Silver Swan, delivered faultlessly and splendidly by Ehrenreich and Thom. Thom's role of accompanist was just as important as that of Ehrenreich, an example of teamwork not come across very often.

Especially out standing was Barber's Knoxille: Summer of 1915, with Ehrenreich describing a scene of peace and serenity and Thom supplying the rumblings of a war that was already engulfing the whole world. Being a singer herself, and having earned a Master's degree in vocal accompanying, Patricia Thom would be one of a small band of pianists who have made accompanying their forte. A very difficult art, much more so than playing solo work in which the musician doesn't have to worry about someone else.

The two of them, Andrea Ehrenreich with her beautiful, lyrical soprano voice and Patricia Thom, worked from a palette comprised of all the colors under the sun which they applied deftly and masterfully. Andrea matched her gorgeous tones with a clarity of diction not always heard in songs written in English - a very difficult language to sing.

It is a pity that the two did not give a public recital, though they came to Indonesia under the Artistic Ambassador's program of the U.S. Information Service. However, there were a few students of singing who benefited enormously from their visit, because on the day before the recital the duo conducted a master class at the school of music of Yayasan Pendidikan Musik.

Anyway, there is always a chance of a return date.