Review: Esprit Visits Bali

Sunday night’s Esprit concert had its ups and downs, but thankfully, there was more good than bad about it. The concert theme was a tribute to gamelan, a traditional music ensemble from the Indonesian islands. Esprit conductor Alex Pauk presented a work of his that had been re-tooled for orchestra Echo Spirit Isle (1983), as well as works by Canadian composers Chan Ka Nin, Andre Ristic, Claude Vivier, and Spanish composer Jose Evangelista.

Despite the impressive line up, I found more than a few of the works on the programme wanting. The highlight of the night, surprisingly, was presented by traditional Balinese dancer Putu Evie Suyadnyani, who performed a complex and entrancing dance accompanied by a recording of the music. Wearing a traditional dancers outfit, the dance consisted of hundreds of subtle movements that made up a larger picture. Think of a painter, whose individual brushstrokes may not look like much, but when you step back, you can see the whole picture as it’s intended.

Echo Spirit Isle suffered from the same problem as Chan Ka Nin’s Eveil aux oiseaux (2005) and Vivier’s Pulau Dewata (1977), which is that they dragged a bit in the middle. I actually liked Ka Nin’s piece most of all the pieces on this concert, but it still had some small issues. Pulau Dewata, originally intended for any combination of instruments that can fit the scoring, was arranged by composer Scott Good for this concert, and I must say, he did an impressive job. Using an orchestra to its full potential is a difficult thing for many composers, but Good managed to do that, with bright and interesting sounds, as well new textures and colours that kept everyone’s attention fixed on the stage.

The title piece of the night, Jose Evangelista’s O Gamelan (2013) was a pleasant piece that made some interesting (and ultimately positive) choices in its use of the orchestra, however I found that there wasn’t too much going on below the surface. I still enjoyed it, so there’s that I suppose.

American composer Lou Harrison’s Threnody for Carlos Chavez (1978), was a piece that I’d have to listen again in order to really come up with an opinion. I can say though, that the melodies that Harrison produced were quite lovely, and the often static background gamelan (provided by the Evergreen Contemporary Gamelan from Toronto) against the moving viola was a pleasure to listen to. It also wasn’t too long (a problem with many new works). So yes, I think I’d have to give it another listen before I cast my stone in one direction or the other.

Overall, I enjoyed the concert. The Esprit musicians played the programme with their usual expert touch, and Esprit certainly reminded us again why it is a leader in the world of Canadian new music.

Also, if you get the chance, do look up some Balinese dance on the internet. It really was spectacular.

– Paolo Griffin.

3 thoughts on “Review: Esprit Visits Bali

  1. Thanks for your review.

    As one of the performers, however, I have a quibble. You refer to “gamelan” exclusively as a Balinese ensemble. In fact there are many types of gamelans in multiple regions of several islands of Indonesia.

    At the concert last night of music by five Canadian composers (plus an American) the only gamelan present was Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan’s “degung,” on stage for the entire evening. Gamelan degung is a type of orchestra indigenous to the Sundanese culture of West Java, Indonesia. I’ve been performing with and composing for ECCG’s degung for three decades, which has during that time commisioned over 150 works, the majority by Canadian composers.

    As a long-time fan and sometime researcher of Balinese performance culture I enthusiastically acknowledge the popularity and influence abroad of a few of the two dozen genres of Balinese gamelan. On the other hand as a performer, lecturer on and teacher of some of the varieties of gamelan music practiced on the island of Java – plus its hybrid forms in the diaspora (i.e. ECCG) – I’m keen to dispel the impression that gamelan music starts and stops at Bali. Wirth roots in various regions of Java, it’s now practiced around the globe.

    Cheers & Goongs,

    Andrew Timar
    Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, pioneers of 30 years of Canadian gamelan

    • Hi Andrew.
      Thanks for the comment (also the first comment on my blog!)
      I knew about the other types of gamelan in the different islands and regions of Indonesia, but didn’t know about much about the degung nor its origins. Thank you for enlightening me on the subject! I’ll be sure to read up on it and correct the article accordingly.

      – Paolo Griffin

  2. Paolo,

    I appreciate you braving this unfamiliar hybrid Indonesian-Canadian musical terrain, and for your open-minded willingness to explore it further. Let me know if you’d like some links to gamelan music.

    As for ECCG, our AD Blair Mackay explains the group’s m.o. in this video and we perform live with the Bozzini Quartet here

    ECCG is celebrating its 30th anniversary of Canadian gamelan music this season – we were the first gamelan of any type in the country – with several concerts in 2014. Feel free to email our AD Blair Mackay if you have further questions.


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