Bali high: Bard hosts gamelan concert

Marjorie Farrell

Several incarnations of the Balinese gamelan orchestra Giri Mekar have managed to manifest yearly performances in the Hudson Valley. Begun some 24 years ago as part of Garry and Diane Kvistad’s pipe dream in West Hurley, the present group and authentic collection of Balinese instruments are currently installed at Bard College on a long-term loan. This Friday, December 2, Bard College’s Music Department and Hudson Valley Gamelans will produce an offering of Balinese Music and Dance featuring both the community ensemble and the Bard student ensemble Gamelan Chandra Kanchana.

The ensembles will be joined by two of Bali’s most beloved artists, teachers and dancers: Dr. I Made Bandem and his wife, Dr. N. L. N. Suasthi Widjaya Bandem. Although they make their home in Bali, they have in recent years been living part time in the US, performing throughout the East Coast, and teaching at the College of the Holy Cross, where Dr. Suasthi Bandem is currently a teaching fellow in the Theatre Department and head of the Gamelan Program.

What exactly is a gamelan? Simply put, it’s one of a wide variety of over 40 different types of ensembles commonly found on the islands of Bali and Java in the archipelago of Indonesia. Giri Mekar’s instruments comprise a gong kebyar ensemble, which is a term meaning the process of flowering or opening.

The instruments, originally created by famous gong smith Pande Gabeleran in Blabatuh, Bali, are comprised of finely tuned gongs and varying sizes of metallophones set in elaborately carved jackfruit stands. Additionally there are gong chimes or reyong, drums, cymbals and sulings or bamboo flutes. Sometimes the group includes rebab, or a bowed string instrument. Music produced by such an ensemble has been found by Western ears to be both melodically fascinating, hypnotic and at times a wee bit loud. Words such as “shimmering” and “exotic” are often applied. A visual spectacle is guaranteed.

Led by artistic director I Nyoman Suadin, a master drummer and musician from Banjar Wani, Kerambitan, Bali, the evening includes instrumental selections; a topeng masked dance, Arsa Widjaya; a dance selection from Panggi Semirang; and an introduction to Bali’s famous Monkey Chant with audience participation. It is rumored that a few Giri Mekar alumni will be joining in the evening’s festivities.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. in Olin Hall at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, with tickets available at the door only. The suggested donation is $10: more if you can, less if you can’t. For information call (845) 688-7090, 679-8624 or 758-7412, or visit Hudson Valley Gamelans Giri Mekar and Chandra Kanchana on Facebook.


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