Called by the International Herald Tribune “the most wellknown expatriate Thai in the world,” Somtow Sucharitkul (S.P. Somtow) is a composer, author and media personality whose talents have entertained fans the world over.
Born in Thailand, Somtow grew up in several European countries and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His first career was in music. His 1975 composition “Views from the Golden Mountain” was the first to combine Thai and Western instruments into new sonorities. In the 1970s, Somtow established himself as a prominent Southeast Asian avant-garde composer, causing considerable controversy in his native country as artistic director of the Asian Composers Expo 78. He founded the Thai Composers’ Association, and was the permanent representative of Thailand to the International Music Council of UNESCO.
A severe case of musical burnout caused Somtow to turn to writing in the early 1980s, and he soon produced a succession of over forty books in several genres under the pen name S.P. Somtow, winning numerous awards for such novels as “Vampire Junction” (Gollancz), today considered a classic of gothic literature and taught in “gothic lit” courses around the U.S.A. His semi-autobiographical memoir “Jasmine Nights,” published by Hamish Hamilton, prompted George Axelrod, Oscar-winning writer of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, to refer to him as “the J.D. Salinger of Siam.” He has just finished a stint as president of the Horror Writers’ Association. His most recent books are “Tagging the Moon — Fairy Tales of Los Angeles” and “Dragon’s Fin Soup.” His novels have been translated into about a dozen languages. He also dabbled in filmmaking, directing a couple of low-budget films during his years in Los Angeles.
In the 1990s, he began to turn back to music, rejecting his previous embrace of the musical fashions of the 60s and 70s and reinventing himself as a neo-Romantic composer. His recent works include the ballet “Kaki” and the “Mahajanaka Symphony” composed for the King of Thailand’s 72nd birthday.
In 1999, he was commissioned to compose what turned out to be the first opera by a Thai composer ever to be premiered, “Madana”, inspired by a fairytale-like play written by King Rama VI of Siam and dedicated to his wife, Queen Indrasaksachi, who was also the composer’s great-aunt. For this opera, he has chosen to compose in the late-Romantic idiom that would have been familiar to his great-aunt and her royal spouse, with a liberal garnish of Southeast Asian sonorities. The opera premiered in February 2001 in Bangkok in what was called, by Opera Now magazine, “one of the operatic events of the year.”
Somtow’s second opera on a Thai theme, Mae Naak, opens on January 6, 2003 in Bangkok. He has just won the World Fantasy Award, the most coveted writing award in the field of fantasy literature, for his short story “The Bird Catcher.” He commutes between his two homes in Los Angeles and Bangkok.