Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Princess' Vision

Today is January 2nd, the anniversary of the death of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana.  I've been sad for months about personal things but today I am more sad in a way, and also more hopeful.

Princess Galyani on many occasions told me how she wanted the kingdom to experience a renaissance of creativity through classical music.  It's a vision I have always shared and which led me to give up a fairly lucrative (and certainly less stressful) career in the U.S. to return to Thailand — something I thought I would never do.  Without her encouragement I would not have done this.

At the moment, I had seriously engaged in keeping the promises I made to her.  One is that one day, orchestras in Thailand would be able to play all the Mahler symphonies.  We are close to that goal now ... only two Mahler symphonies haven't been played in Thailand ... and I'm scheduling them.   But in a sense it's not the Mahler symphonies themselves that are the issue.  It's what it took to make it happen … the establishment of an entire infrastructure and a whole new generation of young people who are passionate about music and who come to the art as individuals, not as parts of some mechanistic system.

In the last year of the princess's life on earth, I was the victim of inside manipulation, and as I result I received, out of the blue, a letter from the palace informing me that Her Royal Highness had been told by her doctors that she was now too ill and had to curb her activities … including having to resign as patron of the Bangkok Opera Foundation.   Faced with such a message there was nothing I could do except sympathize.  I only learned as the princess slipped more and more into illness and inaccessibility that this letter to me was the result of politicking in the inner circle, false accusations against me made without giving me the opportunity to defend or even know about them, and maneuverings from those who, perhaps, hoped to control the agenda after the princess's departure from this esrth.

As I have striven over the last four years to create the world the princess dreamed of — which is also the world I dream of still — I begin to understand more and more than we cannot place our blind trust in institutions to bring about this artistic revolution.  In the years that have passed since the princess died, many things have been organized in her name.  Indeed, the name of Galyani Vadhana has been used to sell many projects that are perhaps quite far from what the princess had in mind.  All this was foretold to me in a dream.

For in November of 2007, shortly before the princess died, I was visited by a dream so powerful and in parts so terrifying that it has never left me.  

In the dream, I am walking by the side of a canal.  I think it's Amsterdam but only later do I realize it's Thailand ... because when the big limousine pulls up beside me it's driving on the left.  The princess herself is driving.  "Get in the car right now," she says to me.  I do so and she is fulminating.  "You can't let them do this to me," she says.  (She says other things in the dream too, but they are perhaps not suitable for a public discussion.)  In a while the car reaches the princess's home, Le Dix Palace.  This is where a remarkable thing happens.  I follow the princess into the palace, but she began to shrink and shrink and by the time I reach the entrance she has vanished to a point.  

As I entered I saw that the house had been taken over by children and they were all watching a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.  The princess was nowhere to be seen.  I heard a voice say "Come on, it's better upstairs."  I went upstairs (in real life, I had never been there) and there was a big cocktail party in progress.  A jazz singer was singing the blues and many well dressed people were having the time of their lives. Again, the princess was not there.  I felt strangely out of place until I saw a portrait of King Rama VI hanging on the wall.  As I gazed at the portrait I heard another voice whisper, "your father, your father."  And I woke up.

The meaning of the dream is so obvious that I didn't need to consult a dream expert or psychoanalyst.  A house represents one's self, one's physical body, one's earthly abode.  The princess in my dream was telling me that though her physical self still existed, others were taking over.  She was telling me not to let it happen … to help her to continue to live on in her vision and the fulfillment of her hopes for the future.

The presence of King Rama VI in the dream is not surprising: he is the spiritual father of Thai artists and he and I (as well as many of Thailand's most important living artists) share the DNA of Thao Sucharit Thamrong, the ancestor of my family clan and of many of the living royals in this kingdom.

Because of this dream I started to write the Requiem for the Mother of Songs, which took me three years and in which I had to reinvent a new synthesis of Thai and Western music.  

In those years I saw many things done in the princess's name ... institutions set up, concerts organized, and so on.  Yet as time passed I saw what my dream foretold — that in those things done in her name, often times the princess's ideas, so far ahead of her time, were not the main priority.  Indeed, much of the time the name of the princess was being used as a mantra for personal advancement.  Sometimes it would make me angry and frustrated … or depressed.

Today, five years later, I am coming to terms with this.  I understand now that what Princess Galyani dreamed of is not to be found in buildings, institutions, or establishments.  What she dreamed of is happening, faster than we imagine, and not in the way that we thought it would happen.  It's in the passion of our young musicians.  It's in the way audiences are flocking to our concerts and listening to the most intellectual music with new understanding and concentration.  Can I have an absolutely packed 2,000-seat auditorium for a contemporary opera in Europe and will I feel the same sense of wonder, the same uplift, the same empowerment through music?  Were Thai kids ever able to play Austrian music before an all-Austrian jury in an international competition in Austria's Musikverein and win first prize?  

Something has changed here.  There is a new spirit.  I think it is simply this: our kids now know that this is no longer about experts from Europe coming to bring salvation to the benighted savages of their cultural wasteland.  Classical music may have come from the west, but — like cinema, like television, like shopping malls, like cutlery, it is now ourheritage too.  These kids know they have something to say, and they have new perspectives and new interpretations — and they know they are not here only learn from the west, but also to teach the west.

This is what the princess foresaw, and the reason she was able to persuade me to give up everything and move back to Thailand — a thing I never dreamed I would do.  When I was discouraged at the horror of music politics in Thailand, when I was besieged by those who were terrified that the status quo would end and they might actually be forced to become artists, she would always tell me not to be afraid. 

I miss the princess very much.  She was an incredible comfort and an inspiration.  And what I want to say to the all of the music community, especially the young people who may not have been lucky enough to be personally touched by her inspiration, that the princess's vision of a creative, innovative, un-stuffy, joyful and vibrant kingdom of music will not come about through paternalistic planning or through micromanaged bureaucratic systems or "methods".  It will come about when all of you are emboldened and empowered to unleash your imaginations.  So have something to say, and be willing to acquire the technical proficiency with which to say it — and then really say it.  Art is truth.   The princess knew this, and deep down, so do you.