by Mark Gresham | 4 DEC 2016
On Sunday evening the Emory Gamelan Ensemble presented a one-hour concert of Javanese classical music entitled “Winter Flowers” at Emory University’s Performing Arts Studio on Burlington Road
The program featured Javanese gamelan music meant to be heard on its own, rather than as accompaniment for other performing arts. The ensemble performed a total of eight pieces, the first five in the slendro tuning system and the final two in the contrasting pélog system. In between was a unique, pivotal piece, Bima Kroda (“Bima is Angry”), which began in slendro but shifted midway to pélog.
Because Emory owns sets of instruments in both Javanese tuning systems, the ensemble is able to set up the slendro instruments so the musicians face the audience, with the pélog instruments positioned so the they need only turn to one side to play them. The final two compositions in pélog, Pangkur (“Pickaxe”) and Udan Mas (“Golden Rain”), had also been played in the slendro scale early in the concert. That they were repeated in a different tuning system lent each a different character in its second presentation.
These three compositions were among a handful that were also heard in a similar performance by Emory Gamelan Ensemble last April, which seems to imply that the group is trying to establish for itself a more secure body of regular repertoire, rather than than rushing between projects where entirely new music has to be learned afresh with each project. This would be a healthy thing for the musical confidence of the ensemble, which typically draws a sizable crowd to the 260-seat PAS. Sunday’s audience was a bit smaller than usual, with attendance most likely dampened due to the chilly, rainy weather. The performance was nonetheless a delightfully exotic and meditative experience with which to conclude the weekend. •