He was the first Asian to receive this honour. Dieter Topp, president of KulturForum, presented the award at a packed concert which marked the 130th Anniversary of Thai-Japanese relations as well as the United Nationals Day of the Migrant. The concert included Strauss's Four Last Songs as well as an "epic" rendition of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with hundreds of performers from many different communities of Bangkok.
Topp cited Somtow's achievements in a wide variety of artistic fields. He especially commended DasJati, Somtow's ongoing project to compose the "biggest stage work of all time" by adapting all ten of the final lives of the Buddha into an integrated work.
In his acceptance speech, Somtow pointed out that "There was a time when the west saw us as unformed, as pristine vessels ready to receive western culture as a divine gift. But those days are over. The west has come to understand that our relationship is no longer only about what can learn; it is now equally about what we can teach." He added, "We have inherited many great forms of expression from western culture — among them film, television, and opera. But these gifts are no longer shiny trinkets from another land. They are our inheritance. They belong to us, and we have new things to say about them."
"We may now dare to show the audiences of the world who they are, because we have finally dared to understand who we are." He accepted the award in the name of Thailand and of all Thailand's "great artists on whose shoulders I stand."
The concert itself was, in the words of Michael Proudfoot, reviewer from London's Opera magazine, "an amazing performance. It is impossible to believe that the Siam Sinfonietta is a youth orchestra, so polished is their playing." Proudfoot compared Somtow's reading of the symphony with the legendary Furtwängler's interpretation from the first half of the twentieth century.
Performing Beethoven's Ninth, known by the Japanese as Daiku, is a tradition in Japan now in its 99th year; this work is performed in every major metropolis in Japan during the month of December, and has come to symbolize the meeting of cultures, the reconciliation of enemies, and redemption through art.
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