Gamelan (Javanese for “strike”) is, as the name suggest, an orchestra composed mainly of percussion instruments: metallophones such as gongs and bar instruments, usually made of bronze, and xylophones, membranophones (two-membrane cylindrical bells), completed by chordophones (bowed rebab lute, zither, and more rarely violin) and aerophones (bamboo flute or shawm). Locals regard the gamelan not as an ensemble of single instruments but rather as an indivisible whole; contrarily to different ensembles and orchestras in Western civilisation, usually made up of independent instruments, the gamelan is composed of instruments that with a few exceptions, may not be used as solos. Gamelan music, also called karawitan by the Javanese, is therefore typical collective music, and the performers are required to strictly and precisely cooperate with others. Analysis of the gamelan repertoire and observation of the interrelations between the play of the various instruments reveals its aesthetic beauty but also its extraordinary logic of form: mathematical beauty, one is tempted to say.
Although gamelan is associated in the West with Indonesia, in the context of the large Indonesian archipelago, it is actually a local phenomenon, restricted to the islands of Java, Bali, and partly Southern Sumatra and Lombok. From the over 300 ethnic groups inhabiting Indonesia, the gamelan is used only by the Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, Malay, Balinese, and Sasak people.
Gamelan gedhe or gamelan ageng (Javanese for great gamelan), which you will hear at this concert, has evolved and developed close to the centres of powers of the former Javanese kingdoms, and later at courts (kratons) of the Yogyakarta and Surakarta sultans, where it was performed for the entertainment of the aristocracy, during court ceremonies, and as an accompaniment to dances and various forms of the wayang drama. Gamelan continues to perform the latter functions to this date.
The Warsaw Gamelan Group is the first Polish ensemble to play Javanese gamelan music. The group was established in 2001 on the basis of a workshop group active at the Warsaw University Institute of Musicology. The WGG is directed by Mr Soegijanto, a Javanese resident in Poland since many years, and musicians that studied gamelan at the art academies of Central Java: Dawid Martin, Tomasz Matlingiewicz, and Maria Szymańska. The ensemble specialises in the performance of traditional Javanese music (karawitan Jawa) but also has popular (dangdut, campur sari) and contemporary compositions in its repertoire. Moreover, the ensemble also performs in stagings of the wayang kulit Javanese shadow theatre. The WGG has appeared in concerts in many Polish cities, participating in events such as the Toruń Festival of Science and Art, Warsaw Science Festival, Crossdrumming Festival in Warsaw, Sources and Inspirations Percussion Festival in Cracow (a concert with Yogyakarta artists), Window to the World festival in Gdańsk, International Refugee Day, Folk Sidelines in Parchów (with Leszek Kułakowski’s jazz quartet), and the Multicultural Street Party in Warsaw. In 2012, the musicians participated in the John Cage Year in Poland, performing his Musicircus during the Cultura Night in Lublin as well as giving a concert during a John Cage conference at the Music Academy in Łódź. The WGG gas also participated in theatre performances including at the Shadows Festival organised by the Groteska Theatre in Cracow, Little Bethlehem festival at the Andersen Theatre in Lublin, and theatre meetings at the Silesian Museum in Katowice, presenting wayang kulit, the traditional Javanese shadow theatre. The Warsaw Gamelan Group has also performed, in Prague and Indonesia on joint projects with local artists.