My Threnody IV talk

Today I spoke in a Composition Colloquium Series about my piece, Threnody IV, which made me win the festival prize of the Young Composers Competition of Southeast Asia.

Today I am going to have this wonderful chance to talk to you about my piece, Threnody IV for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello, bass, 2 gender, and 3 saron. Threnody IV is the last of the series of threnodies that I started March of 2011.

The premiere of this piece was in Bandung, Indonesia on the 8th of October, 2011, performed by the renowned Ensemble Mosaic and the ultra-talented Ensemble Kyai Fatahillah. This piece was amazingly chosen by 10 internationally-famed jury comprising of composers from different parts of Southeast Asia and Germany, as one of the three festival winners of the Young Composers in Southeast Asia Competition and Festival 2011 which was sponsored by the Goethe Institut.

This piece, Threnody IV, is the last of a series that I started last March, all of which were unintentionally meant to be performed or to be heard outside the Philippines, except for the second one. Threnody I is a violin, cello, piano trio that I also entered in a competition in Austria, but did not get into anything. The second one, Threnody II, which I so graciously thank Ara for writing the text, is a piano and trombone duet, performed by a Swiss Duo who came here last July for the Manila Composers Lab. Threnody III is a clarinet and cello duet which I also entered in a competition in Thailand, but didn’t make it again. And the last, Threnody IV, was performed in Indonesia. This series depicted the state of situations surrounding me and my family. This is a series that I wrote, in “reaction”, in “confusion”, in “anger”, in “anxiety”, in “shock”, in “injustice”, in “loss”, of the events that emerged up to the point of shaking relational foundations of my family March of 2011.

My Grandfather died March of last year, due to a massive heart attack. He’s been surviving on spared tires for the last 13 or 14 years after he was triple-bypassed a decade before that. It was a time of insecurity, a time of questions, a time of revealing past, lost secrets. I would never forget the day he died and the feeling of entering his room for the first time. It was a feeling of finding long lost treasures that we never get to see because of my great fear of him.

I greatly feared him. He stood a little over 5 feet, his voice is as frail as any old dying man, but when he thinks, he thinks beyond what any person could ever think, when he speaks, he speaks as if arrows are being shot out towards you.

I feared him. For almost 20 years he literally disowned my mother, her daughter, pushing as aside to the point that I almost believed that I had no other grandparents after my paternal grandmother died. He believed on something that was not true, accusing my parents of something that was entirely fabricated, deceived by another family member who made my grandparents turn their backs on their beloved daughter who they actually called, “the apple of their eyes.”

But tides soon turned, coins flipped, winds changed. Soon after my grandmother died, March 2006, my grandfather discovered that everything he believed was all made up. Everything he believed about my parents was not true. Redemption. Never in my life have I seen such forgiving human beings like my parents were, especially my mom knowing that it is most painful to her that her family disowned her for many many years.

Eventually my grandfather asked us to move with him. And for 4 years since 2007, we all took care of him, my parents making the most of my grandfather’s “borrowed life”. So every birthday of his, we thought, that it would be his last birthday, every Christmas, we thought would be his last, so we just made the most out of it. And 2011 was indeed his last.

He died in a time in our family when it seemed like so many things were left hanging, so many things were left undiscovered. And with his death also died answers to our questions, which gave birth to more questions, more confusion, and more anxiety. This piece is a memoriam of a father’s death that opened eyes for more people to see beyond his love, to hear in his silence, to feel more in his absence.

And so the title it is: Threnody. A song in lamentation, a dirge, an elegy.

These are my reflections. These are my reactions, my struggles, my inner battles. For I could have just covered myself under a sheet of utter silence, away from the ramblings of what is reality, but in that silence, there is more conflict, as we are constantly distracted by the hallucination of our memories, our pasts.

And this is how my piece is crafted. Different ideas, through different composers, different influences, made me find myself in this arena. It all started when I was 1st year or 2nd year, enjoying illegally downloaded copies by one of the senior students, or myself, of composers which I now call my forefathers. I would always listen to Ravel especially his Miroir piano suite, especially La vallée des cloches, or the Valley of the bells, and how so reflexive a work can be, and how clean and “transparent” his use of his very simple materials; Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps or Quartet for the end of time, especially the V. Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus, which is for cello and piano and the last movement, VIII. Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus, for violin and piano, how the lines from the cello and violin is fantastically colored by the piano and how the piano “moves” seamlessly through time as it almost paints a picture of the radiance of Jesus; the brevity, but fullness of Webern’s works which is the best example of how distraction should be—for his case, plainly to complexly colourful, just like the 3rd movement of the 5 Pieces for Orchestra;  the BACH motif of J.S. Bach, used in the last Contrapunctus of his Art of the Fugue, where the germ idea of B, A, C and Bb became the basis for a very beautiful, but incomplete fugue; Lachenmann, as he also used the same concept of the BACH in his 1st string quartet, Gran Torso, where, then, I learned to play around with a simple structure that is based on a very simple idea, and where he also used the concepts of “distraction”, simply contrasting between long notes that mutate over the duration of the piece, and short, “distracting” notes that also mutate over the duration of the piece.




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