Budi Utomo Prabowo

Since November 2016, Jakarta has had its own philharmonic orchestra called the Jakarta City Philharmonics (JCP). Initiated by the Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ), the orchestra was established to support a national culture that is well-articulated and virtuous. Behind the JCP, there is Budi Utomo Prabowo, 54, who is its music director and conductor.

Budi Utomo Prabowo, or Tommy as he is affectionately called, is considered an old-timer in the serious music community. Since at least 30 years ago, he has actively participated in a number of choirs and orchestras in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. He commonly serves as trainer or conductor. He is an important figure in the national music scene and was a member of the DKJ’s Music Committee from 2010 to 2016.

Once noted musician Anto Hoed, then the chair of DKJ’s Music Committee, proposed the creation of a philharmonic orchestra. The idea was responded to positively and the orchestra soon materialized. In meetings, Tommy’s name cropped up several times as a candidate for music director and conductor for what was later called the Jakarta City Philharmonic. At the time, Tommy was yet to be convinced about the creation of the orchestra – even though he thought that a metropolis like Jakarta should have one.

“So I was told, ‘You’ll be the music director and the Jakarta City Philharmonic will have its first concert in November.’ And I was like, ‘What?!’ I was so shocked,” said Tommy, reminiscing about an exchange he had with a DKJ leader who was dead serious about establishing the JCP.

And so it was that on November 23, 2016, the JCP held its first concert at the Jakarta Arts Theater (GKJ) with Tommy as its conductor. The JCP, which has the Jakarta administration and the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) as its chief patrons, chose “The Scandinavian Landscape” as the concert theme. Afterward, the JCP held its second concert under the theme of “German Romantic Charms” on December 8, 2016. The third concert with the theme of “Russia: St Petersburg the Mighty Handful” was held on May 4 at the GKJ. Most of the themes were post-romantic and included works by Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Indonesian composer Tri Sutji Djuliati Kamal. The JCP’s fourth concert is planned for June 7 at the GKJ, under an Italian theme.

Behind the JCP, a number of well-known figures serve as commissioners. They include Aksan Sjuman, Anto Hoed, Fafan Isfandiar, Totot Indrarto and Budi Utomo Prabowo. They all believed philharmonic orchestra to be an important part of the identity of a cultured city. The orchestra is hoped to boost Jakarta’s international reputation.

The quality of symphonic music and classical music has been proven over hundreds of years. If the quality is poor, people will not want to listen to it.

“It is the standard for global metropolises to have a philharmonic orchestra. It is on the check list of a city,” Tommy said. He cited countries in the Middle East, such as Qatar and Dubai, that have orchestras and even opera houses. Like in many other global cities, they contribute to global culture through music.

“The quality of symphonic music and classical music has been proven over hundreds of years. If the quality is poor, people will not want to listen to it. I don’t know how but people from different nations will be moved and touched when they hear symphonic music. If a nation has high culture, it will have a symphonic orchestra,” Tommy explained.

Magical baton

Tommy has never strayed far from music, orchestra and the conductor’s baton. He has a nuclear engineering degree from the School of Nuclear Engineering of Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University (UGM), from which he graduated in 1985. He then worked as a civil servant at the National Nuclear Energy Agency for 12 years. He was awarded a Satyalencana medal for his services. “No one believes that I once wore a civil servant’s uniform,” he said, laughing.

However, in every step of his life, music has always been with him. When he studied nuclear engineering in Yogyakarta, a friend asked him to attend a farewell concert by the students of the Indonesian Music Academy (AMI) in Suryodiningratan, Yogyakarta, in the 1980s.

“They played ‘Symphony No. 3’ by Beethoven. I recorded the performance on my Walkman and listened to it over and over again. Then I wanted to enroll at the AMI,” he said.

In his second year at UGM, he enrolled at the AMI. He took violin lessons in his middle school years. When he studied in Newark, the US, he took the opportunity to also enroll at the famed Juilliard School in New York. Music has always accompanied him in life until one day, he decided to concentrate exclusively on music.

As it turned out, he has a talent to lead an orchestra. When he was in Yogyakarta, he served as a choir conductor. However, he had never planned to become an orchestra conductor. Once he joined the Promusica Indonesia string orchestra under the leadership of Ed C Van Ness. At the time, conductor Budi Ngurah could not lead a performance and Tommy was picked to take his place.

Tommy has said that for a conductor there is thin line between being a teacher and an artist. “It is like a being teacher as conductors have to teach the players. It is like being an artist as I need to make the instruments sound exactly as I want them to. I know it must sound like this and I need to communicate it to the ensemble players. If they have problems, I need to know the solutions,” Tommy said.

Now Tommy’s baton is like a “magical wand” that, together with the JCP, is ready to beautify Jakarta.