Ananda Sukarlan-Interview with the Piano Maestro

An epitome of 'Never Say Die' Spirit

Ananda Sukarlan listed in "2000 Outstanding Musicians of 20th century” and "International Who's Who in Music" compiled by International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, UK has done numerous recordings with world's most reputed composers. He regularly gives concerts and recitals in Europe, Asia as well as Central & South America and has toured several countries of Africa too. He is one of the most popular classical musicians on social media too, and you can join his facebook group "Ananda Sukarlan's friends" at 

Ananda was born in Jakarta, Indonesia in a middle class family. He made so much noise with the family piano as a toddler, the parents asked his elder sister to teach him piano at the age of 5 so that he made pleasant sounds at least. Later he pursued his passion for music in spite of parental opposition (parents had been supportive but not with the idea of music as a career). In spite of all odds against him, he got a scholarship to study music at Netherlands with his never say die spirit.

He has also given private performances for the elite and royals including Presidents Abdulrahman Wahid & Megawati Soekarnoputri of Indonesia, Queen Sofia of Spain and others. He is constantly shuttling between Indonesia and Spain, where he lives with his Spanish wife Raquel & 13-year-old daughter Alicia Pirena, besides touring to other countries.

Hi Ananda. Tell me, what exactly do you do as a composer?
Well, other professions would say "create" but fortunately we are humble enough to realize that only God can create. What we do is "compose", that is taking all the materials that are existing already and put them in their right places. We already have the notes: do, re, mi etc, we just put them in order. Sounds simple eh, but it's not so.

Are you also into singing besides being a pianist?
No, I am a performing pianist and I do know some tricks on playing other instruments, and I started my career as a pianist but my favorite instrument is human voice, not piano. It's the most beautiful and versatile instrument and the only one not created by man! 

Oh that’s interesting. What are your personal favorites; types of music, groups, and music of which countries/regions.
Music: classical, of course. I love Latin American primitive music, as well as African and of course from my own island of Java. Ah, check my favorite 10 pieces of music and other stuff (movies etc) here: 

Describe your state of mind and emotions at the time of playing piano. And if possible one overwhelming experience as a musician.
Music is basically communication, but on a higher level. Music is expressing things which can't be expressed in words or as Shakespeare says that music is "heightened speech".

You tweeted Beethoven’s quote recently “Music should strike fire from the heart of men & bring tears from the eyes of women.”....Interesting quote but don't you think women do not like stereotyping these days?
Ahahaha ... again quoting Shakespeare about language: it's invented by men, not to communicate, but to woo women! and that quote is Beethoven's ... that's in the 19th century and I don't know what women thought at that time. 

Music has the power to melt people who have become emotional rocks. Any experiences you would like to share?
Oh all the time! In every concert! And makes me wonder, why do people come to listen to my music if it only makes them cry!!

You keep shuttling between Spain and Indonesia. Is your music also a fusion of East and West?
Yes, very much so. Many people have told me so (I myself am not aware of it). That fusion is created subconsciously. I didn't want my music to sound like that, it just happens. Music is 90% product of subconscious mind, although we composers work very hard on writing it and then other people analyze them thoroughly as if it's a complicated chemical formula.

Very true. What did you learn at the Royal Conservatory at Netherlands?
Learning the technique of playing instruments, understanding the mind of different composers as only by understanding them we can understand ourselves. Not by copying them, but knowing how they  structure their works, how to construct melodies after melodies etc and understand different styles and also analyzing folkmusic from many parts of the world including Indian Raga & Tala. Even knowing how our cultural backgrounds influence on our music. In classical music we can be broader, since we learn the methods of raga, for example, but we use it in our music only as a method of composition and not stylistically so our music will NOT sound Indian.

Which musical achievement has touched you the most?
I always say "talk to me and you know me. Listen to my music and you understand me" In arts we cannot achieve. I wouldn't say achievement, it's "excellence". I think in arts we should believe in Aristotle, “Excellence is not a singular act but habit.” Since we are striving for perfection, it's impossible for an artist (if he is human) to achieve it.

Tell me in brief about Indonesian Classical Music Foundation. What activities is the foundation into?
The aim of this foundation is to help young people, whose parents/family are not so well-off, to have access to classical music and its education, including playing an instrument. We also endeavor to activate the Indonesian classical music scene, by giving support to Indonesian young musicians and form a strong identity of Indonesian classical music so that in the future we can be proud of it, and introduce it to the whole world. It is NOT our aim to convert as many people of the young generations to become musicians ; but to introduce music to their lives, since we believe that music enriches our lives and therefore it would reduce criminality, make people more creative, intelligent and balance both sides of the brain.

And now I also work with disabled children; writing music for them. Such as music for piano without pedals (so children whose legs are dysfunctional can play) or for left hand alone etc

In which parts of the world you have conducted concerts till now and what are the plans in future?

In all countries of Europe and most Latin America. In Asia I've performed in Singapore, Japan, Indonesia. Other parts of the world include Australia & New Zealand, and some African countries: Kenya, Egypt, Marocco, Algiers. But now I am reducing  my performances, and concentrating on composing, especially operas. It deals with real people, real instrument: the human voice. Not like piano or violin, which is an extension of the human body. In voice, the human body IS the instrument. That's why it's so highly expressive.
How will you relate music with the soul? To me music is a form of meditation too. They even say Sufi dances can lead you to enlightenment.
Well it's a cure. As you know, now there is even a Music Therapy department in universities. The thing is that we underestimate music. To value it, just live without music for one week or 3 days. And see how terrible your mood will be. But then in many Asian countries musicians are not considered as "professionals". You can live months without your plumber, your lawyer, and even your doctor, but how many days you can live without music? Have you ever thought of that? One takes it for granted, until one is deprived of it.

:-) Any future plans?
Yes, I love writing operas and will continue to do so. And writing ballets with choreographer Chendra Panatan, he's Indonesia's most prominent choreographer, and has inspired me a lot. People inspire me. Not landscape, not nature, but people and their work of arts. All my music is based on other works of arts. Literature, paintings and body movements of dancers.

One last question. What are the topics you Blog about besides music?
Basically life, hehe .. and all things that inspire me. These days I am so fascinated how twitter has influenced the world of arts a lot, and so I tweet more than I blog. And I even start making music from poets' tweets. There are Indonesian poets: Hasan Aspahani, Abang Edwin, Aan Mansyur, and a poet from Peru, Jose Luis Mejia, from whose tweets I am making music. Their brevity makes a new kind of music. You know, we composers are always looking for something new. Musical structure based on tweets becomes something else, since the character of music changes every few seconds and that creates new perspective for audiences. It also needs a new kind of compositional technique to make the audience grasp your idea in just a few seconds. 

That’s really interesting Ananda. But I feel creative people are exploited  commercially because they do not often know how to market themselves?
Oh in the past yeah it had happened to me. But now I have my managers who take care of it and safeguard my interests. I am very lucky that now I should only think of which notes to put on my music paper and not about the money. And I'm not that kinda guy who's obsessed with money anyway. 

Anything else you would like to share or emphasize.
 That I am so lucky having a job doing the thing I love the most in my life. Nothing else. Hey, big pleasure talking with you.

Thanks Ananda. I was in a state of Ananda (bliss) in your virtual company. Stay Blessed! Stay Inspired!

For more visit Ananda's website

(The interview was conducted via Yahoo Messenger)
Half Empty or Half Full-I just drink it
(Ananda's notes on Music, Creativity and the dark side of the sub-conscious mind)

I am of course deeply honoured to be interviewed by Dr Amit Nagpal, but interviewing an artist or musician for positive motivational purposes is a bit against our nature of being since an artists are more (hyper-) sensitive and therefore usually are pessimistic beings. Just remember Gustav Mahler who was obsessed with death (that includes the death of beauty, death of music as we know it, and of course his own physical death). Therefore when a dictator is rising in a country, the first people he gets rid of are scientists and artists: scientists because they know too much, and artists because we sense too much. But anyway, we did the interview and I did quite well (hopefully Dr. Nagpal agrees.. ?) as my first ever interview for this purpose. I expressed my honest opinions about life and music. I might not be the most optimistic person he interviewed, but I didn't predict the end of the world either :). To read more, visit Ananda's Blog.


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