Indonesian vocalist Ubiet joins the adventuresome Momenta Quartet, Gamelan Raga Kusuma, and soprano Tony Arnold for this unusual performance of music for Southeast Asian and Western instruments by composers from Bali and West Java.
Strings Meet Gamelan: Chamber Music from Indonesia
Gamelan Raga Kusuma
Ubiet and Tony Arnold, vocals
Presented as part of the Freer|Sackler’s Performing Indonesia festival in 2016, a joint production with the Embassy of Indonesia and George Washington University.
Text by Chairil Anwar
Pastoral: Chamber Opera for String Quartet and Two Voices
Text by Goenawan Mohamad
Tony Arnold, soprano
Emilie-Anne Gendron and Alex Shiozaki, violins
Stephanie Griffin, viola
Michael Haas, cello
Kroncong: Pejuang Sejati BJ Budiman (1938‒1990)
Kroncong: Senja R. Sutedjo (1909‒1960)
Orkes Kroncong Rumput (kroncong ensemble)
House in Bali
I Wayan Gde Yudane and Jack Body
Based on the memoirs of Colin McPhee
Emily R. Foster, oboe
Gamelan Raga Kusuma
This concert was recorded on Friday, September 22, at Betts Theater, George Washington University, as part of Performing Indonesia: Islamic Intersections, presented by the Freer│Sackler in partnership with George Washington University and the Embassy of Indonesia through Rumah Budaya Indonesia. The festival received federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Additional funding was provided by the American-Indonesian Cultural and Educational Foundation and Badan Ekonomi Kreatif Indonesia.
This performance was presented as part of the Freer|Sackler’s Performing Indonesia festival in 2016, a joint production with the Embassy of Indonesia and George Washington University.
Tony Probawa (b. 1956)
Text by Chairil Anwar (1943)
Quiet outside, quiet squeezes down Stiff straight trees, motionless Straight to the top. Quiet snaps, gnaws No strength, no courage to run Everything waits. Waits. Waits. Quiet. And then this waiting strangles Squeezes, bends Till everything’s crushed. So what. The air is poisoned. The devil shrieks. This quiet goes on and on. And waits. Waits.
Translation by Burton Raffel from The Complete Poetry and Prose of Chairil Anwar (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1970)
Tony Prabowo wrote Pastoral in 2006 for the Momenta Quartet and two Indonesian singers: Western-style operatic soprano Binu D. Sukaman, and the more experimental vocalist and ethnomusicologist Nyak Ina Raseuki (a.k.a. Ubiet). He set a sensual love poem in twelve stanzas by the Indonesian poet Goenawan Mohamad. For more than twenty years, Prabowo has worked closely with Mohamad, who founded Tempo magazine and fearlessly maintained it under the Soeharto regime. Although Prabowo describes Pastoral as a chamber opera, he eschews the conventions of that genre. In this case, the string quartet parts carry as much weight as the vocal writing. The two vocal parts do not correspond with any particular roles, and there is no plot. Prabowo freely divides Mohamad’s text between the singers, with no sense of dialogue between the two. Despite that, Prabowo creates a sense of dramatic tension between the singers by celebrating their wildly divergent vocal styles. Echoes of Schoenberg and Berg pervade Prabowo’s writing for Western operatic voice, with expressive leaps, chromaticism verging on free atonality, and complex interweaving with instrumental parts.
In stark contrast to these modernist elements, the first Soprano II aria is modal and unmetered. It starts as an invocation with the voice and all four instruments ornamenting a single pitch, in the style of contemporary cengkok that Prabowo has been developing with Ubiet since 1989 and as heard in Hampa (2001). Throughout Pastoral, the string quartet acts as a third “character,” with wildly rhythmic interludes that evoke French composer Messiaen and at times even jazz. All three elements are reconciled in the lush vocal duet that brings Pastoral to a close.
Poetry by Goenawan Mohamad (2003)
Translation by Laksmi Pamuntjak
Fifteen meters from the road to Batuan, there is a dike on a river’s edge, and the din of someone driving away birds, someone wades down to the brook, singing someone tasting the stream, trailing the sound of cold’s smacking in the pores of the forest, currents that comb the boulders, boulders that, like the shoulders of an ox, hold you back. At 7:15, the river limpid disrobes you.
Sometimes I want us to vanish like a pair of lizards in wild grass like luster.
Perhaps the time has come for us to let words be held bewitched by the spread of moss or by torrents and furrows that shrivel. Perhaps the time has come for us to be bewitched.
Meanwhile in the south hay has been stacked, and above the din of people driving away birds, “Hail Hai! Hai!” A row of storks punches its bulbous white on rice.
Tell me, why on your perfect body the river does not seem to touch anything?
Perchance tied is lotus to water Perchance tied is water to green Perchance tied is eternity to leaf. I still fear death’s acrid odor at nightfall. Like sin.
Moments are thorns that spread into mid-October and so day itches, and death descends, upon the watch that weaves yarn into dew.
When you touch the petals of putrimalu you see the stems of time.
The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way. That which quivers will be erased. Those who make love will cease. But I remember a poem that begs: “Lay your sleeping head, my love, human, on my faithless arm.”
The next day, someone sends a postcard to the hut: “I like Malacca. The walls of the Portuguese, the street at early morning’s rumble, old roof-tiles on Chinese warehouse, the port’s curvature, the color of ships, and food stalls.” That someone does not give a name.
Maybe indeed there is a city, so far away, or a bay so far away Hmm … What is the meaning of an end?
Fifteen meters from the road to Batuan, there is a dike on a river’s edge. Sometimes I want us to fall, like butterflies falling from a branch. Before the certainty of death.
The music of Tony Prabowo (born in Malang, 1956) has been performed worldwide for art installations, theater, experimental and chamber opera, and other modes by the Ensemble Modern, Asko Schoenberg Ensemble, the Argento Chamber Ensemble, the Batavia Madrigal Singers, Continuum, and the New Juilliard Ensemble, as well as at new music festivals in Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, and the United States. The New Juilliard Ensemble performed Prabowo’s chamber music at New York’s Focus! Festival and commissioned his first chamber opera, The King’s Witch, which they performed at Lincoln Center. Subsequent opera performances include Kali in Seattle and Jakarta, and most recently, Gandari, in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Jakarta. Tan Dun conducted his Requiem for Strings at the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. Prabowo’s music for modern dance, commissioned by many Indonesian choreographers, has been performed at the Asia Society (New York), Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the National Museum of Singapore, and in Japan. His music for theater includes The Ritual of Solomon’s Children, at the inaugural New York International Festival of the Arts, and Visible Religion, performed in Seattle, Chicago, and Minneapolis. He has also composed scores for four films directed by Garin Nugroho.
Kroncong: Pejuang Sejati (ca. 1950s)
In the middle of the night I sit alone reminiscing. I climbed the high mountain, chasing the forest, thrilled with the struggle, only halfway to the goal, the independence of my nation and people. Although still stumbling, we are happy, free, and independent.
Kroncong: Senja (ca. 1950s)
The sun has gone down in the West, dusk approaches. The evening breeze brings the story of night. The god of the sun plays behind the curtain of the mountain jungle. The stars witness the earth descending into darkness. The moon goddess’ smile shines on the earth. The goddess enthroned in the clear sky, changing places with the sun.
House in Bali (2009)
I Wayan Gde Yudane (b. 1964) and Jack Body (1944-2015)
House in Bali was collaboratively created in 2009 by the Balinese composer I Wayan Yudane and the New Zealand composer Jack Body . Colin McPhee’s memoir of life on Bali in the 1930s provides the lyrics for the work. An important composer and concert pianist in New York during the 1920s, McPhee lived on Bali for several years, where he documented its music and supported new arts clubs. I Wayan Gde Yudane won the Melbourne Age Critics Award for Best New Work and the Helpmann Award for Best Original Music Score for his collaborative score (with Paul Grabowsky) of the theater production The Theft of Sita. He was artist-in-residence at Victoria University in New Zealand in 2002, and he has written music for Temps Fort Théâtre (France), the Cara Bali Gamelan (Germany), and La Bâtie Festival (Switzerland). Born into a family of artists in Denpasar, he graduated from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in 1993. He soon became widely recognized as a composer of new works for gamelan, winning numerous top composition prizes at the annual Bali Arts Festival. His provocative style has drawn both accolades and criticism from the Indonesian establishment, and his deep interest in collaboration and experimental music has led to multiple international partnerships.
Ubiet Nyak Ina Raseuki (a.k.a. Ubiet) was born in Jakarta and raised in Aceh, North Sumatra. Her interest in vocal music started as a teenager when she joined popular music groups as a lead singer. She majored in vocal music at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ) and gradually discovered different singing styles and traditions. Ubiet then earned MM and PhD degrees in ethnomusicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later lectured at the graduate school of IKJ. In addition to touring nationally and internationally, she collaborates with composers and popular and traditional musicians through performances and recordings. Among Ubiet’s many CD recordings are her Duo Ubiet-Dian HP: Dedendangan, in which they take Malayu music as their source of inspiration, and a collaboration with jazz guitarist-composer Tohpati that features contemporary interpretations of songs by Ismail Marzuki, a leading Indonesian composer in the 1940s and 1950s.
Formed in 2004, the Momenta Quartet served as artist-in-residence at Temple University, which led to similar residencies at Cornell, Columbia, and Yeshiva universities, the Boston and Cincinnati conservatories, and the Eastman School of Music. In 2008 the quartet won its first major commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation for Malaysian composer Kee Yong Chong, and it later received a second Koussevitzky grant for Bolivian composer Agustín Fernández. In addition to an active international touring schedule, Momenta has premiered and championed works by Tony Prabowo (Indonesia), Cergio Prudencio (Bolivia), and Hana Ajiashvili (Georgia). Upcoming adventures include a project to perform and record all thirteen string quartets by Mexican microtonal maverick Julián Carrillo (1875‒1965). Listen to a podcast of the quartet’s concert Modern Awakenings: New Music Inspired by Buddhism, performed at the Freer Gallery of Art, at FreerSackler.edu/podcasts/related/momenta.
Gamelan Raga Kusuma
Based in Richmond, Virginia, Gamelan Raga Kusuma was co-founded in 2006 by Andy McGraw, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Richmond, and Gusti Putu Sudarta, a faculty member at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Bali. A community-based organization in residence at the University of Richmond, Raga Kusuma is dedicated to studying and performing traditional and contemporary works for Balinese gamelan. The ensemble has worked with many leading Balinese musicians, composers, dancers, and shadow-play (wayang) masters, and it has performed both in Bali and along the US East Coast, including the Freer|Sackler in 2013. In 2015 members of Raga Kusuma formed Orkes Kroncong Rumput to study and perform the kroncong string-band repertoire. This pan-Indonesian form has evolved over the past four centuries after Western instruments and musical forms were introduced to the archipelago. Hannah Standiford, who has studied kroncong extensively in Solo, Java, directs Rumput.
As the soprano of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Tony Arnold is a catalyst for dozens of groundbreaking projects, the most recent of which is David Lang’s Whisper Opera. She appeared with Ensemble Modern in the 2013 premiere of Beat Furrer’s La Bianca Notte; with the San Francisco Contemporary Players in the 2014 premiere of George Crumb’s Yellow Moon of Andalusia; and with the Orion String Quartet in the 2014 US premiere of Brett Dean’s And Once I Played Ophelia at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Arnold is a frequent collaborator with Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW, Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella, JACK Quartet, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Talea Ensemble, and eighth blackbird. She has toured the US extensively as a member of the George Crumb Ensemble. Arnold sings and teaches each summer at soundSCAPE in Maccagno, Italy.
This concert podcast was organized by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts at the Freer|Sackler.
The performance took place at Betts Auditorium, George Washington University, as part of Performing Indonesia: Islamic Intersections, presented by the Freer│Sackler in partnership with George Washington University and the Embassy of Indonesia through Rumah Budaya Indonesia. The festival received federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Additional funding was provided by the American-Indonesian Cultural and Educational Foundation and Badan Ekonomi Kreatif Indonesia.
Audio recording and editing by SuMo Productions. Web design by Ryan King, with additional web work by Torie Ketcham. Photographs by Hutomo Wicaksono.