Jakarta. “Do you know when my little child/ Is at her most beautiful?/ When her sweet little mouth/ Jokes and laughs and kisses.”
These words, vigorously delivered by tenor Holger Marks, come from Johannes Brahms' "Gypsy Songs" based on Hungarian folk songs. The classic song, delivered by tenor Holger Marks, was part of an impressive program presented by the Berlin Radio Choir at Aula Simfonia Jakarta last week.
The concert kicked off the choir's Indonesian tour, with dates in Medan and Bandung. The choir — featuring 25 of the 63 permanent Berlin Radio Choir members — are taking part in the German Season, an Indonesian-German festival celebrating the friendship between the two countries, organized by the Goethe Instiut, the German Embassy Jakarta and EKONID.
Conductor Laureate Simon Halsey led the performance with precision and a delightful sense of humor.
But the concert was more than a simple showcase of the ensemble’s remarkable quality and 90-year experience in the field.
“The German Season puts a focus on cooperation projects that bring together Indonesian and German artists,” Heinrich Bloemeke, director of Goethe-Institut Indonesien, said in his opening speech.
The Berlin Radio Choir shared the stage with the award-winning Universitas Indonesia student choir.
The two groups performed both separately and together. The concert was a culmination of months of preparations, during which Nicolas Fink traveled to Indonesia a number of times to practice with the student choirs of Universitas Indonesia in Jakarta, e Deum Voice in Medan and the Padjadjaran University Choir from Bandung.
In an interview published in the program booklet, Fink said that he was impressed by the dedication of Indonesiana and their passion for choir music.
“I think people in Indonesia are more willing to invest a lot of time in choral singing,” he said. “To rehearse more than once a week doesn’t seem to be an obstacle here. I also noticed that community plays a huge part, perhaps especially when it comes to high quality aspirations. [In Europe], the community is not really the main focus – which is a great pity because a choir can only develop its own tonal identity when there is a personal relationship between its members.”
This sense of community was beautifully delivered by the student choir of Universitas Indonesia as they, led by Aning Katamsi, presented the local songs “Pagi Bening” by Mochtar Embut and “Lukisan Tanah Air” by Yongky Djauhari.
For a unique treat, the choirs invited the audience to sing along for two pieces. It is a trademark of the Berlin Radio Choir to engage in these sing-along formats, as its members aim to share their love for singing and music with as many people as possible.
The enchanting evening ended with “Peace on Earth” by Arnold Schoenberg.
“When I first heard that you had chosen ‘Peace on Earth’ by Schoenberg as part of your repertoire, I thought you are mad, because it is one of the most difficult pieces,” Simon Halsey addressed the audience before the final hurrah. “But now I can see that you are absolutely capable of doing this.”
Schoenberg wrote the challenging Peace on Earth in 1907, but it didn’t premiere until 1911. The text was taken from a poem by Swiss writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. With a duration of eight minutes, the first verse tells the nativity story, whereas the second speaks about bloodshed and imploring angels, before the third and fourth verses eventually bring the peace promised in the title.
The standing ovations were a fitting finale for a mesmerizing night. Before returning to Germany, the Berlin Radio Choir performed in Medan on Saturday and will have its last concert in Bandung.