Gamelan Sekar Petak

The Kevin Barry room in the National Concert Hall was last night host to Gamelan Sekar Petak (“for all your York based gamelan needs…”), an orchestra of Javanese gamelan housed in University of York. The orchestra consists of almost thirty performers, including director Neil Sorrell, and performed a works by Irish and international composers. I was maddened because the gradual onset of the flu over the past few days reached its peak yesterday and I was forced to admit defeat at the interval. I did however catch five pieces in the Ergodos festival performance before my concentration completely evaporated.  

The relatively small (in concert hall terms) Kevin Barry room was packed prompting Festival co-Director Garrett Scholdice to proclaim “My goodness there’s loads of ye!”  Scholdice then called on the 150 strong audience to kick off the performance in the first work by Jody Diamond Preclude: Anyone Can Play. No shy audience we!, about 20 people were immediately out of their seats and on the stage with the gamelan. The next few minutes consisted of a jumble of sounds as the gongs and metallophones suffered the inexpert hands of the audience members. Members of the orchestra relieved them one at a time and the sound gradually moved towards the rhythmical structured sounds of a traditional gamelan pieces.

Between the works the performers swapped seats at the individual instruments, which gives a communal feel to the performances that I always adored about gamelan. The second work by Lou Harrison involved cello and violin parts and consisted of repeated phrases on both gamelan and strings. The repetition proved meditative and the length of the work prompted the audience to relax into the music.

I have always been fascinated by the music of Peter Moran since first hearing his work a couple of years ago which was reinforced by Crash Ensemble’s performance of A Casual Analysis of Prose Rhythms in June 2008. His piece for gamelan Bonang Quartet #2 did not disappoint. The carefully controlled and fast-paced first section of the work developed into a restrained section focused around the texture and dynamics of four metallophones. The work was actually enhanced by Moran’s sharp intake of breath counting the measures during the faster section and the intense concentration of the four performers (Moran included) held the room in a state of tension.

It was that same tension I was expecting of Daniel March’s work Pieces of Five and Tree. Described as concentrating on gaps and omissions or empty spaces in architectural and literary terms, the work is a slow moving piece with short silences. A wonderful consequence of silence in music is the tension felt by the audience – the need to maintain that silence in a room of 150 people. I feel this was lost in March’s work as the silences felt more like breaks between movements as the performers relaxed before the next section rather than holding themselves in a state of readiness.

The final piece before the interval was that of composer Emily Crossland who surprised me with how young she is when she stood up to take a bow at the end of the piece. Unfortunately at this point my flu-addled brain had begun it’s meltdown but I was still able to appreciate the complexity of the full gamelan orchestra with added vocal sounds of the performers.

There is another performance of Gamelan Sekar Petak this evening at 8.30pm in the National Concert Hall as a part of the Ergodos Festival and I would recommend everyone avail of this rare opportunity to hear the full set.

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About aisling

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