Peter Jonatan & Metropole Orkest Present ‘Psalms Symphony’

Peter Jonatan & Metropole’s Orkest’s Psalms Symphony is quite an unusual selection of music. One moment you may think you’re listening to a modern classical piece, but then the very next instant, you change your mind and call it jazz music. It’s a wild, wonderful ride!

Jonatan is a pianist and composer, originally from Jakarta, Indonesia. He caught the music bug, by the way, at only four years old. He earned his doctorate in musical arts in jazz studies from the New England Conservatory, and he is now an educator there, as well as at Berklee College of Music.

Psalms Symphony is a piece broken into four movements, with each part titled by its numeric value. All are lengthy, too, with most clocking in at over ten minutes in length and the shortest at just under ten minutes. Although it’s impossible to choose this project’s best piece, Movement 3 contains, perhaps, its most memorable sections. The way it swings back and forth from sweeping orchestration, to stripped down jazz piano, is breathtaking. This movement even includes some swinging jazz drumming.

It’s never easy to know what an instrumental composer means by his/her compositions. Without words, it’s up to the listener to make some assumptions based upon the composition titles. One may come to the conclusion that Jonatan’s project is inspired by the Biblical psalms. And if you think about it, the music supports such a contention. The psalms in the Bible express a wide variety of emotions, from the highs to the lows. David might be praising his God with heartfelt worshipful words one moment, then asking Him why all his enemies seem to prosper while he suffers, only seemingly minutes later. Similarly, the music moods on Psalm Symphony varies greatly from moment to moment, just like the Biblical passages.

Although it’s the shortest inclusion, movement four may be the one that differs most from the rest. For instance, it includes a choir singing at the beginning. But what starts as a fairly traditional church-sounding choir part, quickly goes into a fast section that swings like a jazz band. Then it slows down about two minutes in with a female lead vocalist who is then joined by the choir. These words, which include phrases like, “Sing a new song,” support the assumption that these are Biblically inspired pieces. Later in the movement, an operatic male vocalist spars with the piece’s female lead singer. The orchestrated passages in this piece have a distinctly cinematic quality.

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Schizophrenia can be scary and dangerous when it comes to human behavior. However, it is oftentimes a positive when evaluating music creation. You might say Peter Jonatan is a musical schizophrenic, in that his style and approach changes suddenly and rapidly from one musical phrase to the next. We have to respect his eclecticism, however. He loves music in all its varied formations and expresses himself in nearly all its styles – whether that be jazz or classical music. As a listener, Psalms Symphony is an auditory adventure. There’s never a dull moment, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen next.

-Dan MacIntosh