Gaudeamus Music Week 2010: Gamelan By Heart

Composers (including Matius Shan Boone, Gordon Dic Lun Fung, Iwan Genawan and Evan Ziporyn) and performers taking bows after the Gamelan event
Composers (including Matius Shan Boone, Gordon Dic Lun Fung, Iwan Genawan and Evan Ziporyn) and performers taking bows after the Gamelan event

The big event of Day Four was a huge gamelan concert held at Tropentheater. There were three different ensembles involved in the performance: Ensemble Gending (Dutch); Kyai Fatahillah (West-Javanese); and Gong Semara Ratih (Balinese).

It’s difficult to pick one highlight because the show was pretty fantastic all around. I really dug Indonesian composer Iwan Gunawan’s Kulu-kulu, which made the gamelan sound a little like a rock band at times. Gunawan also arranged Steve Reich’s Six Marimbas for gamelan.

Ensemble Gending on stage at Tropentheater
Ensemble Gending on stage at Tropentheater

Probably my favorite piece on the program was the world premiere of Evan Ziporyn’s Lapanbelas. It started and ended with these huge, continuous walls of sound. It was amazing to see the Gong Semara Ratih Ensemble play a world premiere with no music stands, parts, or a conductor. As it turns out, there was never written music for this piece; it was all learned by heart from the very beginning. I’ve heard so many first performances of pieces that are tentative and slightly scared sounding, even by very excellent ensembles. I think most Western ensembles would say that the third or fourth performance of a new piece is better, by virtue of having performed it a few times to reach a certain comfort level that rehearsals can’t provide. Not so with Lapanbelas. The ensemble clearly knew it in their bodies. They swayed, danced, and smiled to the music. It makes me wonder if rehearsing and performing are more like the same thing to a gamelan ensemble, as opposed to the Western model, where everything is meant to be performed perfectly in order to be deemed worthy of being put behind the display case in a museum fifty years later.

Anyway. We heard a pretty cool orchestra piece in the composer’s discussion this morning by Russian composer Sergey Khismatov. The whole piece fits on one page only so it’s quite portable. And it sounds good, too.

Composer Sergey Khismatov next to his one-page orchestra score
Composer Sergey Khismatov next to his one-page orchestra score

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