Gong Crazy

Adam Concert Room, VUW, Wellington

03/10/2009 - 04/10/2009

Production Details

To mark the retirement from teaching of Jack Body, NZ School of Music

Adam Concert Room VUW
Sat. 3 Oct & Sun. 4 Oct. 2009, 7.30pm

A concert for a life

Review by Jennifer Shennan 06th Oct 2009

This special concert, to mark legendary Jack Body’s retirement from a 30-year- plus-teaching career, was previewed on Friday, then played in full at the weekend.  Those in-the-know travelled from far and wide, and will not have regretted joining the enthralled capacity audiences.

New compositions by Jack Body, John Psathas, Gareth Farr, Ross Harris, Helen Bowater, as well as younger composers, were interspersed with works by Indonesian musicians, reflecting Jack Body’s passionate pursuit over decades of exchanging, sharing and cross-fertilizing the new and the traditional musics of New Zealand with those of a number of Asian countries. The overall effect was of a shimmering, exquisite and poignant beauty that will not be easily forgotten.

In Asian performance traditions, the arts of mask and dance are intertwined with music to make visual and dramatic impact, so the separation of performance arts we are too familiar with is here reassuringly absent. I love it when that happens.

Jack Body’s and Wayan Yudane’s masterful collaboration, A House in Bali, had lively text (from Colin McPhee’s 1930s account of living in Bali) read by Julian Raphael, superimposed over thrilling pizzicato tensions from the New Zealand String Quartet, and dazzling sounds of Gamelan Taniwha Java.  The intriguing sheng or Chinese mouth organ, played by Wang Zheng-Ting seemed like a plaintive call from a distant time and place.

Helen Bowater’s Sun Wu Kong "Monkey" was played by the superbly focussed NZ String Quartet, and Javanese gamelan orchestra, with additional out-of-sight but certainly not out-of-ear shot frog toys. Thomas Barker’s voice was rich and sonorous, and the shouted ketjak rhythms from the Balinese monkey dance made a cheeky, witty climax.

Horomono Horo and Megan Collins collaborated on Mata – producing haunting and ancient sounds of taonga puoro from Richard Nunns and Alastair Fraser, as well as endearing instruments from Minangkabau, in Sumatra, the saluang (flute) and rabab (fiddle).

Gareth Farr’s The Seventh Age, for Balinese gamelan, sheng, and viola made a quivering golden sound cloud that enveloped the hall in a kind of timeless peace. 

In Born, Irwansjah Harahap, from Batak territory in North Sumatra, brought a large ensemble of soloists together to support the delicate vocalizing of Rithaony Hutajulu. The recent traumatic experiences of earthquake-torn Sumatra were not far from thought.

Andrzej Nowicki composed Abstand und Naehe / Distance and Proximit,y an atmospheric work for Balinese gamelan and bassoon which was impressively played by Kylie Nesbit.

John Rae, Budhi Putra and Wayan Udane combined in a comically competitive trio, Drumming up a storm.

Ross Harris composition, Enteng / light, easy, was for Javanese and Balinese gamelan combined, a contemplative journey’s soundscape.

David Sander’s Wire Bronze and Spokes combined both gamelan orchestras with Daniel Beban’s ‘prepared’ spinning wheel. This enigmatic performer, behind a comic animal mask, turned in one of the most astonishing performances of the evening, producing sounds we never knew existed.

John Psathas in a revisited version of his celebrated Waiting for the Aeroplane gave Donald Nicholson a remarkable opportunity to play piano with such light and mesmerizing touch that we felt we were transported there to wait alongside. If only the plane could bring home the awaited friend.

Thomas Lambert in The Dancing Lights made a lively rhythmic line-up of gamelan, electric guitar and vocals, and Anton KiIllin’s Cycles, Shadows combined bassoon, viola, clarinet with Javanese gamelan continuo. All the works gave the impression of a very careful choice of instruments that contributed a pleasing unity to the programme yet allowed each work a freshness all its own.  The sequencing of items will have been the work of Jack Body. Genius at work.

And so the final item, Melangkah dan melangkah. To an electroacoustic score by Leon Delorenzo, a masked face on screen appears, hovers, is unsure, retreats -then slowly a live actor appears from the shadows beneath the screen. Wayang Yudane gave a spellbinding rendition of a diffident man, hesitating to commit to perform, then daring to show the tiniest fragments of filigree flutterings of foot, hand, ankle, fingers, neck, elbow that are the hallmark of exquisite Balinese, Cambodian, Thai classical dance traditions.

Such things are truly amongst the world’s endangered if not extinct species (the armed invasion of Bali by the Dutch, and the later murderous Cambodian genocide by Pol Pot saw to that.)  Only our awareness and respect can help even glimpse the memories, and take fragments of old ideas carefully forward. The existential power of this tentatively danced "non-dance" was profound, and could only have been delivered by a performer who knew and could do far more than he allowed himself to show.

More questions than answers. It seemed a quiet if triumphant metaphor for the whole concert, for the career, for the life. 
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