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Somtow Sucharitkul
1952 -
Thailand
Picture
S. Sucharitkul
Somtow Sucharitkul (30/12/1952), a Thai composer and writer (pseudonym: S.P. Somtow).
Requiem: In memoriam 9/11
Period:21st century
Composed in:2002
Musical form:free
Text/libretto:English texts
In memory of:the victims of the New York World Trade Center attack, September 11, 2001
Label(s):Orpheus Music OMS 0301-X
Commissioned by the Thai government as a gift to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy, this epic choral work is heard in a live performance by the Orpheus Choir of Bangkok and the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.
It contains:
- Devastation
- Mourning
- Hope
The Thai government has asked composer Somtow Sucharitkul to create a large-scale work as a memorial for the September 11tragedy in the United States. The work will form part of a concert dedicated to the tragedy and to world peace, which took place on January 11 2002. The concert will also include another specially commissioned work, the World Peace Overture by Austrian composer Klaus Ager, former director of the Mozarteum in Salzburg. A special multinational chorus and orchestra will come together for this event, which will be conducted by celebrated Norwegian conductor Terje Mikkelsen, general music director of the Thüringen Philharmonie. Somtow will make a guest appearance to conduct his own piece.
When asked by Dr. Sugree Charoensook, director of the event, to write a memorial piece for this concert, Somtow demurred. He had already been asked by the Norwegian Government to compose a song cycle, Songs before dawn, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize; the work was just finished and is just about to go into rehearsal for its December premiere in Bangkok. "My feelings about the tragedy in New York and Washington are very personal," he said. "I have friends right now digging in the rubble for bodies, helping on the anthrax team. In the 1970s, I even worked in a small office in the Pentagon, helping then Secretary of the Navy William Middendorf with musical arrangements. I'm a child of both Thailand and America. At first, I did not want my private grief to become hijacked into a media circus. Also, working in the music community in Bangkok is fraught with conflicts and petty factions. I did not think I could deal with that at the same time as doing the six-month job of writing a large-scale piece within a quarter of the time it would normally take."
Dr. Sugree persisted, however, telling Somtow that this concert, with its specially created orchestra, could be a turning point in classical music in Thailand, and promising him complete artistic control of his own piece. "He told me that I was the only person who could write this piece, and that it was precisely because I was the only one not clamoring for the job," said Somtow. But he continued to refuse.
However, Somtow kept receiving emails from friends and acquaintances in the States urging him to write the music, naming friends who had died in the tragedy, friends whose lives had been devastated. He remembered that while he was spending time as a Buddhist monk a few months ago, during meditation, lines from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets kept whirling around in his mind. It was those lines that came to him again: "The dove descending breaks the air/With flame of incandescent terror .... Who then devised the torment? Love." "I wept," Somtow said, "and then I began composing the Requiem. At that point, it was no longer about politics, or about Dr. Sugree's request; it was about finding hope, conciliation, and renewal in the ruins."
Somtow has been working about sixteen hours a day on this score, using a barrage of music computing equipment lent to him by the Thai representative of the Roland corporation. The chorus will begin rehearsing in mid-November, and the music will probably have to be delivered to each rehearsal as it is being printed out from his computer. Audrey Vallance, accomplished chorus master of the Bangkok Opera, will help Somtow prepare the chorus.
This work does not use the words of any established religion. The words of the requiem will not be the liturgical text, but are taken from great American lyric poets. They are meditations about conflict, death, love, and hope. Because T.S. Eliot gave instructions before his death that his poetry was not to be set to music, Somtow has not set the "dove descending" text as written, though it remains a driving inspiration. Texts actually set include four poems about death by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), an American lyrical poet, and the moving Reconciliation by Walt Whitman (1819-1892).
Picture Picture
Emily Dickinson
(text)
Walt Whitman
(text)