Indonesian Gamelan music show with US debut of 5 new compositions

Photo by Brendan Bannon

I must say that I am fascinated by this new movement of gamelan music in Buffalo. Maybe it’s because I’ve been following the epic adventure of Matt Dunning (Artistic Director, Gamelan Sari Raras Irama), since his return to Buffalo in 2013.

Rarely do I meet someone who is not only passionate about starting a movement, but is able to do it with such zeal and courage…. in a relatively short period of time. After all, we’re not talking about a small feat here – we’re talking about a Herculean lift that saw Dunning and company transport 16,000 pounds of gamelan instruments to Buffalo from Indonesia. In the process, Buffalo – practically overnight – became one of the biggest hotbeds of gamelan music outside of Indonesia.

Photo of an audience during a performance
Photo by Brendan Bannon

And with the instruments come the complex and heartfelt compositions performed by masterful musicians who play handcrafted pieces ranging from saron and bonang, to gongs, drums, bamboo flutes, bow strings and plucked strings.

Adding to this excitement, Nusantara Arts has commissioned a number of Javanese composers to create new pieces that connect Buffalo and Indonesia in ways that must be heard (in person) to truly understand and appreciate.

Musicians from diverse communities in Central Java were encouraged to participate, creating an eclectic representation of participants and compositions.

“As an instrument and culture with deep historical roots, most gamelan pieces played today are akin to Western ‘classic’ pieces,” Dunning told me, according to the 12 Major New Works by Javanese Masters seasoned as well as newcomers.

Photo of children admiring a musician
Photo by Brendan Bannon

“It allows gamelan musicians to preserve important knowledge, skills and cultural moments. However, innovative contemporary Javanese composers are creating remarkable new works that push the boundaries of classical formats into new territories. Nusantara Arts wanted to be part of this movement and the important context and growth of this art form, which is why we commissioned these new pieces. We wanted the people of Buffalo to be seated front row for these important cultural moments, to create a dynamic connection between cultural events in Indonesia and our own community.

Composers were tasked with creating pieces that could be performed by any gamelan group in the world using standard notation and musical techniques.

The composers

Bambang Sosodoro Rawan Jayantoro, is from Klaten in Central Java, a region near Solo with many villages and a rich cultural tradition. He is a professor of Karawitan (Javanese music) at the Institute of Art Indonesia Surakarta but also spends much of his time performing with elite cultural institutions in Solo. He performs regularly as a court musician and composer at the Kraton Kasunanan and Pura Mangkunegaran palaces.

IM Harjito is one of the finest living Javanese musicians and a prolific composer of traditional and experimental gamelan pieces. A graduate of the State Conservatory of Traditional Performing Arts (ISI) in Indonesia, he worked closely with one of the major figures of 20th century Javanese music, Martopangrawit. He has led gamelan ensembles in Indonesia and the United States. He is currently a professor at Wesleyan University.

Untung Wiarso Warso Diprojo studied Karawitan (Javanese music culture) at the famous SMKI Solo Performing Arts High School and in his home village of Jagalan, a village famous for producing good gamelan musicians. He then studied wayang Kulit shadow theater at the Mangkunegaran Palace Art Academy. He gained considerable experience at Kraton Solo Palace, performing in villages around Solo, teaching karawitan at Chakra Home Stay, and playing with the Condhong Rumaos gamelan band. His musical mentor is Bapak Suyadi Tejo pangrawit and is inspired by a desire to preserve Javanese musical traditions

Emmanuel Yulius Henri Pradana from the village of Pucangsawit in Solo, started playing gamelan at an early age. He graduated from SMKI Performing Arts High School and Indonesia Institute of Arts. He plays with several gamelan groups such as Cahya Laras, Condhong Rumaos, Madangkara and Pujangga Laras. Henri is active as a court servant (abdidalem) of the Keraton Kasunanan where he performs gamelan music. He has many musical inspirations including Suwito Radyo, Sukamso, Surono and the late Slamet Subroto.

Yohanes Subowo is a gamelan composer from Yogyakarta, who has a unique style of Central Javanese gamelan compared to Surakarta (Solo) style. He holds a master’s degree in music composition from the Institute of Arts (ISI) in Surakarta and is known for his unique modern compositions and collaborations that bring gamelan practices from all over Indonesia for his COMOTAN project. He is also involved in the GUWOWIJOYO community which performs Javanese style music for the Ramayana ballet at the Prambanan temple theater.

Picture of gongs
Photo by Brendan Bannon

On Sunday, May 1, 2022, the community is invited to attend a concert featuring a series of five new compositions, performed for the very first time outside of Indonesia. Featuring a range of music – from traditional to contemporary – the compositions will include Sinugraha/Suka Sokur works by world renowned gamelan master IM Harjito, who will join Nusantara Arts for the performance.


Javanese Gamelan Music Show with special guest artist IM Harjito

With 5 new Javanese musical compositions make their American debut

Sunday, May 1, 2022

4-6 p.m.

Cost: Sliding scale

Nusantara Arts Performance Center @ St. Johns Grace Episcopal. 51 Colonial Circle, Buffalo, NY 14222

Nusantara Arts Website

Click for tickets

Program sponsored by the Cullen Foundation, Art Services Inc. and Erie County


Main image by Brendan Bannon

About Madeline J. Carter

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