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Somtow Sucharitkul - Artistic Director
Called by the International Herald Tribune ?the most well-known expatriate Thai in the world,? Somtow Sucharitkul (S.P. Somtow) is a composer, author and media personality whose talents have entertained fans the world over.
Born in Thailand, Somtow grew up in several European countries and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His first career was in music. His 1975 composition ?Views from the Golden Mountain? was the first to combine Thai and Western instruments into new sonorities. In the 1970s, Somtow established himself as a prominent Southeast Asian avant-garde composer, causing considerable controversy in his native country as artistic director of the Asian Composers Expo 78. He founded the Thai Composers? Association, and was the permanent representative of Thailand to the International Music Council of UNESCO.
A severe case of musical burnout caused Somtow to turn to writing in the early 1980s, and he soon produced a succession of over forty books in several genres under the pen name S.P. Somtow, winning numerous awards for such novels as ?Vampire Junction? (Gollancz), today considered a classic of gothic literature and taught in ?gothic lit? courses around the U.S.A. His semi-autobiographical memoir ?Jasmine Nights,? published by Hamish Hamilton, prompted George Axelrod, Oscar-winning writer of ?Breakfast at Tiffany?s?, to refer to him as ?the J.D. Salinger of Siam.? He has just finished a stint as president of the Horror Writers? Association. His most recent books are ?Tagging the Moon ? Fairy Tales of Los Angeles? and ?Dragon?s Fin Soup.? His novels have been translated into about a dozen languages. He also dabbled in filmmaking, directing a couple of low-budget films during his years in Los Angeles.
In the 1990s, he began to turn back to music, rejecting his previous embrace of the musical fashions of the 60s and 70s and reinventing himself as a neo-Romantic composer. His recent works include the ballet ?Kaki? and the ?Mahajanaka Symphony? composed for the King of Thailand?s 72nd birthday.
In 1999, he was commissioned to compose what turned out to be the first opera by a Thai composer ever to be premiered, ?Madana?, inspired by a fairytale-like play written by King Rama VI of Siam and dedicated to his wife, Queen Indrasaksachi, who was also the composer?s great-aunt. For this opera, he has chosen to compose in the late-Romantic idiom that would have been familiar to his great-aunt and her royal spouse, with a liberal garnish of Southeast Asian sonorities. The opera premiered in February 2001 in Bangkok in what was called, by Opera Now magazine, ?one of the operatic events of the year.?
Somtow?s second opera on a Thai theme, Mae Naak, opened on January 6, 2003 in Bangkok. He has just won the World Fantasy Award, the most coveted writing award in the field of fantasy literature, for his short story ?The Bird Catcher.? He commutes between his two homes in Los Angeles and Bangkok.
In the second half of 2003, Somtow conducted the Thailand premiere of the Brahms Requiem as part of a 100-concert-worldwide memorial to Daniel Pearl, and presented an evening of Wagner in honour of Wolfgang Wagner. He also directed a production of ?The Turn of the Screw.? Japanese director Takashi Miike is adapting his award-nominated story ?Dragon?s Fin Soup? into a French-produced feature film and hid novel, Vampire Junction, is being adapted into an opera by French composer Frederic Chaslin.
Siam Philharmonic Orchestra - Resident Orchestra of the Bangkok Opera
music director: Somtow Sucharitkul
The Siam Philharmonic began life in 2002 as the MIFA Sinfonietta, a small orchestra devoted exclusively to Bangkok?s classical music needs, designed to fill the need for a regularly rehearsing and performing small symphony orchestra in the community. Its original members consisted mostly of the principal players from the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and a number of musicians, often quite young, that were selected by open audition. From the first, the orchestra was the resident orchestra of the Bangkok Opera.
During 2003, the orchestra expanded into the Bangkok Sinfonietta and played an unprecedented range of music in Bangkok, essentially doubling the amount of classical music performed in the city and participating in the Thailand premieres of many important classical repertoire works such as Mozart?s Magic Flute, the Brahms Requiem, and Benjamin Britten?s The Turn of the Screw. During 2003, the orchestra performed some ground-breaking concerts under guest conductor Leo Phillips, former concert master of the London Philharmonic and Hall Orchestras, and, under its music director Somtow Sucharitkul, played works by Wagner at the inauguration of Southeast Asia?s first Wagner Society in the presence of Wolfgang Wagner himself. The orchestra also premiered the pyrotechnical score of Somtow?s new opera Mae Naak, which will travel to Europe in 2005.
The principals and subprincipals of the orchestra continue to be drawn from the most accomplished professional players in Thailand, but there are now many members from the international community, including Koreans, Japanese, Malaysian, American and British instrumentalists. There are also some extremely young players including two ten-year-olds, who became members by the same audition process as the others.
Recognizing that the orchestra was now playing large-scale works and was no longer really a ?sinfonietta?, the orchestra in 2004 changed its name (hopefully for the last time) to the Siam Philharmonic. In 2004 the orchestra will play its first Mahler concert, its first Puccini opera (Turandot, with the world premiere of a new ending by Somtow Sucharitkul) and the Thailand premiere of Don Giovanni, as well as numerous concerts along the way. The orchestra has begun to evolve a sound all its own: at times eccentric, yet always full of youthful passion. As an ensemble of the Bangkok Opera Fouindation, the Siam Philharmonic comes under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, Thailand?s most ardent royal advocate for classical music.
THE ORPHEUS CHOIR OF BANGKOK - Resident Chorus of the Bangkok Opera
Bangkok Opera and also a highly active choral group that performs concerts throughout the year when they're not involved in the opera. The choir has members from over a dozen countries, all living and working in Bangkok. Many choristers have graduated to solo roles in the Bangkok Opera.
While there are almost 200 listed members of the choir, each production calls upon a smaller number, from as few as 25 to about 100. The choir rehearses every Thursday year round. It trains under Bangkok Opera's artistic director, Somtow Sucharitkul, as well as a variety of choir masters who in the past have included Audrey Vallance, Linda Cummings, Visanu Petchsingh and Jack Gittings.
The choir was first formed as an ad hoc choir to do the world premiere of Somtow's Requiem: In Memoriam 9/11 two years ago. The choir continued to work together and has since performed many major works such as the Brahms and Mozart Requiems, the Haydn Mass in Time of War, and Handel's virtuoso Dixit Dominus. They have appeared in operas as varied as Dido and Aeneas, The Magic Flute, Turandot, and Mae Naak.
The choir performs two major choral works each year. In 2005, the planned works are the St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach and Michael Tippett's passionate oratorio A Child of Our Time, for the Tippett Centenary. Next year, the chorus will also be featured in productions of Aida and Mae Naak.