Gamelan Nyai Saraswati

Gamelan Nyai Saraswati is an ensemble of the Department of Music, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


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Group:  Gamelan Nyai Saraswati

Performance: 23 November 2003 ("New Music Concert")  (other performances:  7 June 2001,  8 December 2001,  18 January 2002 "Gamelan Gala",  20 March 2003,  7 April 2004 "Molak-Malik" ,  21 November 2004 "World Music Concert" ,  22 April 2005 "World Music Concert" ,  13 November 2005 ,  2 April 2006 "Reinventing Black Mountain" ,  19 November 2006 ,  25 April 2007 "World Music Concert" ,  26 April 2009 "An Evening of Javanese Music and Dance" ,  21 November 2010 "Music in the Galleries" )

Gamelan Nyai Saraswati
An Afternoon of New Compositions For Central Javanese Gamelan
November 23, 2003, 4:00 PM
Hill Hall Auditorium
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Guest Artists: Richard Luby, violin, and Brent Wissick, cello

In traditional Central Javanese repertoires it is not usual to indicate the composer of a piece as part of its identification. Although this has changed gradually, in the past pieces for the wayang kulit or shadow puppet performance repertoire were usually work-shopped and so composition was often a communal practice. New wayang pieces were identified as part of a particular troupes repertoire rather than belonging to one particular composer, even if a particular individual was responsible for the initial creation of the idea. In the court world, musicians were commissioned to create new works, but the pieces were identified as having come from the court of a particular ruler, occasionally even identified as composed by that ruler who was in fact the commissioner. In the present, as composers both Javanese and non-Javanese are creating pieces that challenge the boundaries of the core repertoire, the identity of the composer is increasingly associated with the pieces that they create.

Available audio files (how do I listen to these recordings?):



Pathetan Slendro Manyura Jugag, Bawa Sekar Agung Mintajiwa, Ketawang Puspawarna, laras slendro pathet manyura, by Mangkunegara IV (mid-nineteenth century)

This suite is the only work from the traditional repertoire that we will play this afternoon. It begins with a mood song that defines the mode or pathet of the suite and is followed by a bawa or male vocal solo that is particular to the piece Ketawang Puspawarna. The text and melody of the ketawang are said to have been composed by Mangkunegara IV, the nineteenth century ruler of one of the courts in the city of Surakarta. The song is written to commemorate the Mangkunegara's many favorite wives and concubines. Each verse, of which we will do three, purports to address the attributes of a particular flower the turmeric flower, the star fruit flower, and the durian flower but moves rapidly away from the floral dimension. The first verse can be translated as follows: Kembang Kencur, flower of the turmeric plant, you are always enchanting, it is said. Well-proportioned of body, gracious of behaviour, elegant in conversation, causing one to die. The bawa is sung by Allen Bell.



Ladrang Tumlawung, laras pelog pathet nem, by Sudarsono Adi Negoro (1991)

In the performance of a traditional ladrang singers could choose any text in the selisir poetic meter. While the form of this piece is a traditional one, the text and its melody are not. Written by the composer, the text captures the numbing experience of loss. The composer explained that for him the simplicity and relative happiness of this mode fostered a poignant juxtaposition with the text, causing the desolate mood of the piece to be revealed.

The quiet echos loudly in the distance
Constantly filled with emotional turmoil
affected by longing and sadness,
limitless desolation.
Having left without saying goodbye, feeling chilly with fear, lonely silence,
yet, it is not able to be resisted, light comes into existence.

Truly it will not be possible
to banish all grief
and then immediately recover.
It is predestined to be this way,
wishing the vain hope to receive a blessing
to know that you might be safe and sound

Ladrang MIJIL


Macapat Mijil, Ladrang Mijil, laras slendro pathet sanga, by I.M. Harjito (2001)

Conservatory trained in Javanese art music, Harjito has composed many large works for hybrid ensembles such as his concerto for gamelan and bagpipe. In Ladrang Mijil Harjito has taken a traditional form and mode and allowed himself to explore the process of composing a new work within a traditional context. The text is in the mijil meter and the composition will be preceded by an unaccompanied recitation -- macapat -- of the same text used in the second section of the work. The macapat is sung by Ethan Lechner.



Lancaran Sopan Santun Lalu Lintas, laras slendro pathet sanga, by Sarwanto (1988)

During the Suharto period (1966-1998), the Indonesian government made a concerted effort to interest local populations in the national agenda of creating an orderly and engaged society. Many composers were employed to write catchy tunes in many different Indonesian genres extolling aspects of correct and orderly behavior. This simple song, written in Javanese language and for Javanese gamelan, outlines correct traffic etiquette.

Hey all of you, take care when you are driving.
Dont take your hands off the wheel, it could be dangerous for others on the road.
Quickly catch on to the traffic signs: red light stop and green light go.
And then concerning people crossing the road, so that all arrive safe in body and soul,
it is regularly the case that one should follow the rules of traffic etiquette.



Dolanan Swara Suling laras pelog pathet nem, by Ki Nartosabdho (1959?)

Nartosabdho was a famous and extremely talented dhalang (shadow puppeteer) who was also a prodigious composer. Many of his songs have become so well known people have forgotten that they were ever new, although most of Nartosabdho's songs were only composed in the 1950s and 60s. This song is about the sound of a flute and has the same tune as the Balinese Gong Kebyar piece Gambang Suling. It is unclear which song was composed first. Although the piece was not originally performed with a western transverse flute, we feel sure that Bapak Nartosabdho would enjoy the addition.

The sound of the flute, echoing is the source,
Toodle-toodle (tolat-tolit), delightful is the sound
The sound affects and arouses pathos,
while the drums and others are suddenly bursting with energy.

Dance (Vi King Lim)


Dance, by Vi King Lim (1994)

Written while an undergraduate student of Australian composers Peter Sculthorpe and Anne Boyd, Dance was Lim's first exploration into minimalism. The piece is composed for two flutes and two percussionists playing either on a marimba or a gambang. We have chosen the gambang so that the frisson caused by intersecting tuning systems can be enjoyed. Flutist Ryan Ward joins members of Gamelan Nyai Saraswati for this performance. This is the premiere performance of this work.

Double Concerto I Ladrang EPIKUROS


Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Javanese Gamelan, by Lou Harrison (1981)

Richard Luby, violin, and Brent Wissick, cello

Originally written for the string players of the San Francisco-based Mirecourt Trio and the Mills College Gamelan Ensemble, the concerto has increasingly appeared on the programs of new music festivals and concert series over the last twenty years. A major work in three movements, Harrison has engaged with both scales of the Javanese gamelan ensemble and experimented and expanded on traditional forms and genres. Harrison allows each musical world to remain intact practically by providing cipher notation for gamelan ensembles and traditional western music notation for the soloists. Aurally, however, he asks his listeners and performers to merge the musical worlds by creating a hybrid that belongs neither wholly in one world nor the other but exists in a new aesthetic realm, the pleasures of which await those with open minds and ears.

First Movement in Pelog -- Ladrang Epikuros

Epikuros was a Greek philosopher (341-270 BCE) who taught in Asia Minor and then moved to Athens. He was a generous and rich man whose philosophy was defined as the art of making life happy, naming pleasure as the only and highest good. But it was not the simple pleasure of the body, rather he advocated the superiority of intellectual over physical pleasure. He also promoted a social code of conduct that advocated honesty and justice not only because they were good in themselves but because they saved the individual from society's retribution.

Double Concerto II Stampede


Second Movement -- Stampede

Based on the European estampie form, this movement -- composed in an 8 note mode -- evokes both of its name sakes. Like the estampie, each statement of the form is concluded with a melodic refrain in this case a vigorous and earthy, arching melody that materializes in surprising ways. The virtuosity and intensity of the individual parts as the performers race through the material invokes the excitement and danger of a stampede.

Double Concerto III Gendhing HEPHAESTUS


Third Movement in Slendro -- Gendhing Hephaestus

Originally an Asian fire god, in Greek mythology Hephaestus was the son of Hera, an Olympian, the divine metal smith and god of craftsmen. In the huge furnaces worked by Cyclops, Hephaestus created weapons, ornaments and magical devices such as Achilles' shield. He was crippled by Zeus when he took his mother's side in an argument.

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