After 25 years of leading the Twilite Orchestra, which he co-founded with Oddie Agam and Indra Usmansyah Bakrie, Addie Muljadi Sumaatmadja – better known to his fans as Addie MS – knows exactly what to expect from the musicians he directs in sold-out concerts performed not only in Indonesia, but also in countries like Australia and Germany.
In 2009, Addie and his colleagues became the first Indonesian orchestra to play at the Sydney Opera House. “Indonesia Pusaka” (Indonesia, the Heritage) by Ismail Marzuki and “Bengawan Solo” by Gesang Martohartono were among the pieces they performed. Addie describes that concert as one of the milestones of his orchestra’s first quarter of a century.
The most powerful man in classical music in Indonesia is clearly disappointed and frustrated then that his efforts to obtain enough corporate sponsorship to put on a special concert to mark the Twilite Orchestra’s 25th anniversary this year have so far proved fruitless.
“I understand it, of course,” he says, during an interview at one of his favourite haunts, The Dharmawangsa hotel in Kebayoran Baru. “It’s logical for companies to cut back on this kind of spending when business is bad. Maybe my dream has gone, but I’m still hoping that we will be able to obtain the support we need to put on what would be a very special concert I have got planned.”
There is rarely a day when, just like any CEO of a leading company, 57-year-old Addie is not planning something. The self-confessed workaholic and largely self-taught musician (“I’m what they call an autodidact,” he grins) tells us that he is working on creating a concert to celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day. This will take place at Aula Simfonia Jakarta on Saturday, August 13. Addie is planning to make a DVD of the concert.
Meanwhile, he is busy with orchestrations and preparations for a proposed concert featuring Beatles songs set for December. If all goes well, this will be followed next year by concerts featuring Rolling Stones and Queen hits. Some serious classical music lovers may frown on popular shows like these, but they are important for the orchestra’s bottom line.
“It’s tough to run an orchestra,” says Addie. “The costs are very high and they keep rising.” One cost that he has virtually eliminated, however, is marketing and promotion. “Technology has changed the way I communicate with music lovers,” says Addie.
“Until five or six years ago, I was spending Rp 90 million just on newspaper advertising to promote a concert. Then my eldest son (26-year-old pop musician Kevin Aprilio) told me I should sign up for Twitter and Instagram and use social media instead of advertising to inform people about our shows. I resisted at first. I said I was too old for that, but he told me it would be fun. I soon learned that I could do all my promotion for nothing on social media. I still can’t quite believe it, but I have more than one million Twitter followers now. I can tell them all about our concerts and what the orchestra is doing, and it’s absolutely free.
“When we performed our ‘Tribute to John Williams’ concert at Aula Simfonia Jakarta in February, we were sold out three weeks before the show. Within only six days of announcing the show online, all of the tickets had gone. One important advantage of using social media is that we now attract younger audiences to our concerts than in the past.
However, some of our older fans, who may not do much online, occasionally complain to me that they have missed a concert just because they didn’t know it was happening. I’m sorry, I tell them, but you must remember to check my tweets and Instagram posts. By tweeting and posting a month before a concert, we can engage with our audiences much more easily. I didn’t expect this would happen when I first set up my social media accounts, but it has really affected the way I run my business, my orchestra, in a good way.”
On the other hand, the development of technology has made it impossible for Addie, in common with most of the world’s professional musicians, to make much money from recordings. “It was already difficult because of piracy and the lack of law enforcement here,” he laments. “Then downloading came along, and now there is streaming as well. For me, I see a CD or a DVD as a legacy item, a souvenir. I can’t make a living from recordings.”
Still, he is especially proud of a couple of his releases. One is The Sounds of Indonesia, which Addie recorded with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, a project backed by Garuda Indonesia. The other is Simfoni Negeriku, featuring the Melbourne-based Victorian Philharmonic Orchestra. This includes “Indonesia Raya” and other patriotic songs. “When you’re doing pop records, you make what you hope will be a hit and then three months later you put out another song, and so it goes on,” says Addie. “But when it comes to something like Simfoni Negeriku, you are talking about music that will last until doomsday. I made that record for my country.”
For many people the idea of a musical conductor conjures up images of an authoritarian figure like Arturo Toscanini, who expected his musicians and performers to bend to his will and put their entire being into a performance, or Herbert von Karajan, the enigmatic former leader of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra who was once described in The Guardian as a “despotic maestro of imperialistic ambition”.
Addie is a more modest music maestro, however.“You can’t behave like Toscanini or Karajan these days,” he says. “But I wouldn’t want to anyway. That’s not my leadership style at all. I’m not the kind of conductor who yells at his players. I’m more about inspiring them and leading by example.”
He continues: “When we began in 1991, it was very difficult to set any discipline. Even though they knew rehearsals would start at 10 am, most of the musicians would not show up until 11 or 11:30. Even if I threatened to cut their pay, it made no difference. Then I decided we would begin rehearsals at 10 am sharp, no matter how many of the players were there. So even if only 15 or 20 of the 60 players had arrived we would start playing the pieces as best we could. Then, as the rest came in one by one, they saw what was going on and heard how bad it sounded. They were embarrassed and felt guilty about letting me and their colleagues down. Very soon, everyone was coming in on time and it’s been that way ever since.”