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And Never the Twain Shall Meet

‘Debussy, Between East and West ‘ Concert Was Not at Advertised, But a Memorable Musical Evening by Any Measure
Bali must be eternally grateful to the Padma Resort Legian for their steadfast commitment to the musical enrichment of the Island through the sponsorship of a series of regular concerts featuring classical and serious music.

It is perhaps a natural, and sometime bittersweet, outcome of the Padma’s efforts that, with time, a critical appreciation of fine music will grow on the Island that will demand that high standard of superlative programs of music be maintained.

In truth, the regular programs of featured performers in the concert series at The Padma Legian are, virtually without exception, of stellar quality. The concert on Thursday, May 17, 2018, featuring French pianist Olivier Moulin was no exception presenting an evening that reaffirmed Moulin’s reputation as a “young artists displaying maturity and elegance.”  
Comments shared here should not in any way diminish the undying debt owed by the larger community to Indriani Rahardja of the Padma Hotels, the moving force and inspiration behind the series of almost monthly concerts held at the resort.

Oliver Moulin – Pianist Extraordinaire

Olivier Moulin, in a performance made possible by the French Embassy, Alliance Francaise and the Institut Francais - performed with great virtuosity in a recital titled “Debussy, Between East and West” that was to ostensibly intended to mark the 100th anniversary of Claude Debussy’s death and to presumably highlight the French composer’s brief avant-garde and impressionistic forays into musique asiatique, inspired to some degree by the pentatonic scale of the gamelan orchestra that so enthralled Debussy when he first encountered it at the Paris World Fair of 1889.

Moulin’s command of the evening’s repertoire was beyond reproach, revealing a man who is undoubtedly one of the leading pianists of the modern age. Promoted as a night of “Debussy: Between East and West” the program, in fact, took a much more eclectic, universalist approach with only Moulin’s presentation of “Svara” by the late contemporary composer Slamet Abdul Sjukur and Debussy’s “Estampes for Piano “ in which he explored the pentatonic scale of the Javanese gamelan, having any semblance of the advertised “east-west” linkage.

Chosen to represent these eastern links was the presentation of “Svara” written by the late French-trained and critically acclaimed Indonesian composer, Slamet A. Sjukur. Sjukur’s music focuses on minimalist constellations of sounds that can, at times,  sound like a map of a disordered universe. Understandably, Sjukur, who was once dismissed from the Jakarta Arts Institute for what is presumed his iconoclastic approach to music, remains something of an un-acquired taste for many.

In the context of Sjukur's work it is perhaps worth noting that while Moulin’s substantial gifts allowed him to play his entire program from memory and without the aid of sheet music, the one exception to this was Sjukur’s “Svara” where the French pianist was compelled to refer to the written musical score. This prompts the question: Was the least memorable piece of music performed during the evening also equally unmemorable?

Nonetheless, Moulin’s failure to present a program "as advertised" can be forgiven, particularly when one such digression took the form of a mesmerizing renditions of Frederic Chopin’s Ballade Number One in G Minor – a composition that Chopin understandably said “he held dearest.” Moulin’s playing of this Chopin composition on the Thursday evening can only be described as transcendental.

Similarly. Peculiarities of programming also surfaced in the order and selection of compositions used in the encores played by Moulin that, although beautiful, lacked the climatic quality normally reserved for pieces played prior an artist making a grand exit from the stage. Perhaps the performance of a composition of the caliber of the Chopin’s Ballade played as an encore would have brought the audience to their feet?

Not Really Ready for Prime Time

While the organizer’s desire to promote serious music in the Community is laudatory, the apparently last minute decision to tack-on a children’s musical recital was wrong on a number of levels. Originally promoted to start at 7:30 pm, a lamentable decision by the sponsors was made to include a children’s recital resulted in moving the starting time to 6:30 pm in order to accommodate a 30-minute recital by 12 students of the Irama Indah Music School in Denpasar. This change, imperfectly communicated, left a handful of concertgoers arriving embarrassingly late through no fault of their own. Adding salt to the wound, in the end, the new starting time of 6:30 pm actually only got underway 7:05 pm. Sadly, when it rains amateurism, it pours.

But more to the point, the decision to suddenly attach a children’s recital onto an evening of serious musical performance was essentially ill conceived. Opening with a small girl’s impassioned declamation of a nationalistic poem before a line of endearingly dressed young boys and girls who swayed side-by-side while humming a patriotic song might be forgiven in light of recent terrorist acts in Surabaya. However, the decision to then parade, one-by-one,12 elementary piano students onto the stage to each perform a short composition was painfully malapropos.

If, in the future, should the Padma wishes to showcase local talent prior to one of their outstanding concerts programs,  only young Indonesians musicians in possession a modicum of promising virtuosity should be showcased.

In fact, when a performer of Olivier Moulin’s stature is scheduled to perform, traditional courtesy and concert management practice dictates the piano be expertly tuned during the day, the performer summoned to give his approval to the tuning, and then the piano left absolutely untouched until the actual performance

There is an old Indonesian saying “Senjata makan Tuan” warning that we all risk falling onto a sword of our own making. Perhaps by performing such an outstanding job on Thursday and in the past of presenting critically important musical performance in Bali, the Padma has at the same time given birth to an audience that has become equally critical, demanding, and sophisticated in their musical tastes.

All things considered, together with much of Bali, we genuinely look forward with great anticipation to the next in the Padma series of community concerts of serious music.