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Piano and Place: The piano in establishing cultural identity in 21st century Southeast Asia

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

Nat was invited today to discuss with Dr. Raul Sunico, a fellow Steinway artist from the Philippines, and Lena Ching, a Singaporean pianist and educator about “the piano in establishing cultural identity in 21st century Southeast Asia” at Steinway Gallery, Singapore.

The discussion focused on how Dr. Sunico and Nat found their own way to represent their cultural heritage with their piano music. Nat told the audience of how he started composing out of necessity. He has always wanted to present his culture to the international audience whenever he can. However, he couldn’t find any Thai piano virtuoso pieces to perform. So, he started improvising and arranging Thai music for himself to play.

According to Nat, once he discovered Thai music, the possibilities were endless. For him, there is such a vast resource of Thai music that has changed his life forever. This interest in writing music grew little by little. While he focused on the Chakri dynasty kings’ music in his first sonata, his second sonata brings out the sound of a Thai xylophone masterpiece. His third sonata takes the audience on a tour around Thailand with each movement representing each region of Thailand. Now, his latest composition will showcase the unique vibrant sound of Thai folk drama.

These are only his compositions. He also worked so much in making piano solo arrangements of well known Thai music such as the jazz compositions of H.M. the late King Rama IX, some compositions of Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda, and famous pieces from Kru Puangroi Aphaiwongse.

In this way, both Dr. Sunico and Nat have worked so much in developing the piano literature in their own respective countries. Together with Ms. Lena Ching, the panel discussed how this can be developed in the future. All three pianists and educators hoped that one day our Southeast Asian piano identity and literature will be recognized in other parts of the world as well. For example, the panel discussed the possibility of having more Southeast Asian piano literature as part of the ABRSM exam or other international piano exams so that young pianists from Southeast Asia would have a possibility to represent their cultural heritage through their piano playing.

The discussion ended with a demonstration of the latest Steinway Spirio I r. Both Dr. Sunico and Nat have had a chance to do some recordings on the piano and will be performing using its unique ability to record and play back on a Steinway piano. While Dr. Sunico demonstrated on playing a two piano piece with himself; Nat let Pana, his son, performed a four-hand piece with his pre-recorded Primo part.

Everyone really enjoyed the discussion and all the audience had a chance to try to play with the new Spirio I r. Yes, everyone had a chance to record and play with it too with a specialist showing them all the process.

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