King Bhumibol’s compositions live on

Opera Siam’s concert featured the complete compositions of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Photos Courtesy of Somtow Sucharitkul

The opportunity to hear the complete compositions of King Rama IX all in one sitting, utilising all the different musical genres from jazz to symphony orchestra, marching band to chamber music, was afforded for the first (and second) time on May 13 and 14, when Opera Siam brought together over 200 artists for a pair of six-hour marathons punctuated by 90-minute dinner breaks.

This was the most comprehensive overview ever undertaken of the late King Bhumibol’s musical achievement at a single concert, and from that viewpoint alone it made history.

The marathon was the brainchild of Opera Siam’s artistic director Somtow Sucharitkul, whose opening speech, delivered in the presence of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn who attended part of the event, stated his intention to create an open resource for performers around the world to be able to access some of the best orchestrated arrangements of King Bhumibol’s music.

“These 48 songs are a fabric that connects us,” he said.

The sometimes controversial conductor was as good as his word, disappearing backstage and emerging only occasionally to conduct some of his arrangements, composed over the last 40 years. This was a truly inclusive evening. There were grand symphonic performances from the Siam Philharmonic, with additional players from several other orchestras, led by five of Thailand’s outstanding conductors: Vanich Potavanich, Trisdee Na Patalung, Denny Euprasert and Jonathan Mann, as well as Somtow himself. There were performances by Thailand’s leading high symphonic concert band, the award-winning Wat Suthiwararam Band under their conductor Soraphot Worasaeng.

There were operatic voices such as the Chicago Lyric’s Stacey Tappan, who just made a double Grammy award-winning CD, sweet boy soprano tones from the Tölzer Boys Choir’s Raphael Ayrle, and crossover artists like Thai-American singer Myra Molloy, a finalist in ABC Television’s Rising Star. And then there was the Swedish luk thung artist Jonas Anderson — and best-selling pop star Pod Moderndog. Then there was jazz singer Athalie de Koning with her band Jazziam.

As a very special treat, Khun Ploypailin Jensen, the royal granddaughter who studied music at England’s renowned Purcell School, appeared onstage to sing the song Rak with popular ensemble JEEB Bangkok as well as the world premiere of a new arrangement by Somtow of the song Love Over Again.

Anyone who lives in Thailand, even an expat like this reviewer, is constantly aware of King Bhumibol’s tunes. They are in background music in shopping malls, and given in performance by artists of all type and ability.

The most impressive thing about these two concerts was that no performance was perfunctory or routine. These were performances by leading artists, of high technical ability, the finest artists in their fields. When this music is performed in quality orchestral arrangements by artists who really know about the music and about the craft, one realises that this music, which is heard so often, is a really special body of work.

The ability of King Rama IX to create melodies that are at home in so many genres, from classical ballets to pop ballads to blues to marches to operatic arias, is not something you might normally realise, unless his entire oeuvre is presented in one extravaganza. This concert was indeed like Forrest Gump’s “box of chocolates” — a sampler of an entire life, bursting with different flavours in every bite. We are told that all the music performed at the marathon will be available in a luxurious multi-CD set shortly. One can imagine that it will be a popular Christmas gift this year.

Stan Gayuski is a member of the International Mahler Society.