MusicUnitesUS presents: Javanese Gamelan, the gong-chime orchestral music of Indonesia

JAVANESE GAMELAN that will perform at BrandeisPhoto/courtesy

"A Night in Indonesia: Javanese Gamelan," will be held Saturday, March 24 at 8 p.m., with a 7 p.m. pre-concert talk.  The concert will offer an experience of the full flavor (sounds, smells, tastes) of Javanese music–making in an intimate setting with some of the most revered masters of gamelan music alive today. Tickets are available online, by phone at (781) 736-3400, and in person at Shapiro Campus Center. The concert is presented by MusicUnitesUS, a program that furthers understanding and appreciation of cultures through music.

For centuries the gong-chime orchestras (gamelan) of Indonesia have produced some of the world’s most beautiful melodies and transfixing sounds. The Central Javanese, in particular, have cultivated a unique repertory for the gamelan, a music that rewards the audience member – whether novice or experienced – who listens patiently as the concert event unfolds.

The gamelan troupe that will visit Brandeis on its U.S. tour can be compared to a top-notch jazz combo or a masterful string quartet. The interpretive powers of the musicians flourish in the concert setting, and the ensemble brings to the fore the close-knit connections between the instrumental lines. For the performers, the ensemble fosters the spirit of cooperation, elevates performer agency and develops a patient aesthetic in a turbulent world.

The concert begins with stately, reflective pieces and progresses toward lively, more joyful selections. The musicians make numerous decisions during the performance, bringing out the full, vibrant flavor of Javanese gamelan. A deep sense of attentiveness forms in the musicians and listeners alike, a patient focus that permeates the air, providing a sense of tranquility in the listener. There is no better respite from the turmoil of daily life than an evening of gamelan.

In contemporary Indonesia, the concert tradition has taken a back seat to more commercially viable music, which is faster, louder and more obvious. Daily performances in the courts, for weddings, and on the radio have nearly dried up. Younger musicians almost exclusively perform in shadow plays where they can still make a living wage. As the older generation passes away, so does its knowledge and skill of the concert repertory. This tour is part of the last breath of a still-living tradition, destined to fade before long.

Phil Acimovic is a member of the Gamelan ensemble that will perform at Brandeis. He is a composer of modern concert music, performer of Javanese gamelan, and creator of sound installations. This article originally appeared in the winter issue of State of the Arts.

Categories: Arts

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage