Category Archives: Performance

High Fashion for Muslim Wear

A scene from the Performing Indonesia fashion show on September 10.

A scene from the Performing Indonesia fashion show on September 10.

New designs from Java strutted down the catwalk on September 10, kicking off this year’s Performing Indonesia festival and its theme of Islamic Intersections. Held at the Corcoran School of Arts and Design, the fashion show featured fresh garments for Muslim women created by Meeta Fauzen and Helen Dewi Krana, two leading designers from Indonesia. Fauzen took the time to answer a few questions about her creations.

Bento: Why have you been inspired to design for Muslim women?

Meeta Fauzen: After returning from the hajj, I started to wear Muslim dress. I wanted to create Muslim wear that fits my style. I learned how to design Muslim women’s fashion to give people more choices.

B: How would you describe your design aesthetic or approach?

MF: My design aesthetic is simple and elegant, to make it easy for Muslim women. And I mix my designs with Indonesian traditional fabrics such as batik and tenun.

B: How have your designs been received at home and abroad?

MF: In Indonesia, I have several customers in my hometown, Bandung, and in other cities such as Bogor, Jakarta, Surabaya, and Batam. And from abroad, I have also some clients in countries where I’ve done my show, such as Perth, Kuala Lumpur, the United States, and eastern Europe, although it’s not a big number yet.

There were big numbers for the show on September 10: a capacity crowd of two hundred guests filled the Corcoran Gallery atrium. The runway presentation was preceded by a lecture and discussion with anthropologist Carla Jones of the University of Colorado, as well as a Q&A with the designers.

The Performing Indonesia festival is made possible through a partnership with the Embassy of Indonesia, and this year is held in cooperation with George Washington University. See what’s in store.

Performing Indonesia: Andy McGraw, musician and teacher

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Andy McGraw plays the kendang drum with Gamelan Raga Kusuma, one of the ensembles that will perform on September 22.

Performing Indonesia: Islamic Intersections, our third festival of Indonesian music, dance, and theater, celebrates the many manifestations of Islamic culture in the island nation, which is home to more Muslims than any other country. We’re interviewing some of the more than eighty musicians, dancers and other performing artists who will appear throughout the festival’s run. Andy McGraw, who was involved in the festival’s planning, is part of two ensembles performing the evening of September 22. An associate professor of music at the University of Richmond, McGraw describes himself as “a dad, an ethnomusicologist with wide research interests and a performer of many kinds of musics.” 

Q: When and why did you take an interest in Indonesian music?

A: In 1995, I was playing in a jazz band in Kansas City (my hometown) when I was contacted by someone in Singapore interested in a temporary house trade. One of the musicians in the jazz band had studied in Indonesia and suggested I go and retrieve some instruments he had left in Bali. So I arranged to have a friend cover my drum-set students, and my girlfriend (now wife) and I headed over to a part of the world neither of us knew anything about.

After exploring Singapore, she headed north to Malaysia and I headed south to Indonesia, without a guidebook or any knowledge of the language. I immediately became lost in the chain of islands between Singapore and Sumatra. I rode sailboats up river into Central Sumatra, where I spent several days believing I was in Java. After several more days of travel through Sumatra and Java, mainly by “goat class” train cars, I ended up in Bali.

Throughout this passage, I was amazed by the striking cultural differences (music, language, food) between villages and humbled by the consistent generosity I was shown. Despite being completely ignorant of local customs, likely committing faux pas after faux pas, I was almost always treated with patience and grace.

When I arrived in Bali, I began studying with I Wayan Gandra. With his father I Madé Lebah, Gandra had led the first Balinese tour to America in 1952 (famously appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show). On my second night on the island, he took me to see not a tourist performance, but a mabarung temple festival contest between two of Bali’s finest gamelan ensembles. I had never experienced such intense musicianship. The cohesion of the ensemble, in absence of conductor or notation, introduced me to social and musical forms I did not think were possible. I was immediately hooked.

andymcgraw1

McGraw plays cello with the kroncong ensemble Rumput, also performing on September 22.

Q: You teach courses about global music. Why should students—particularly American students—study this subject?

A: My primary teaching goal is to introduce students to aesthetic difference: to challenge students’ aesthetic common sense by exposing them to musical systems foreign to their prior experience. This is intended to perform two ethical functions: 1) to demonstrate the mutability and variability of human culture globally, reminding individuals that their own culture is constructed and changeable and 2) to instill a sense of expansive collectivity: that they have a link, and maybe even a kind of loyalty, to people they have never met, to people that represent the cultures they are studying.

Music evolved primarily to foster social relationships. Its very ambiguity (we never agree exactly on its meanings) allows us to connect through it (we can all agree that it feels good). That shared emotion creates empathy. When an American student shares a concrete musical experience of joy with a visiting Indonesian musician, for instance, they establish a connection that would be difficult to forge through writing, or online, or even through casual conversation. But beyond that, it connects that student in a concrete way not only to another individual but to “the Balinese” and “Indonesians” in a way I don’t believe a history book (or, more often today, Wikipedia) can.

It is crucial that young Americans develop a felt empathy for as many cultures as possible. I’m talking about informed, specified understandings and interests in concrete cultures, not some vague, generalized camaraderie or cosmopolitanism, which I don’t think does much to energize a real sense of obligation. Being the foremost military and economic power in the world today, America can wreak historically unprecedented levels of damage globally, but it also holds almost immeasurable potential for enacting positive change. The better informed individuals are about the world and its cultures, the more likely they are to act in ways that sustain and respect those cultures. Most importantly, the more likely they are to listen to those cultures.

The Richmond-based group Gamelan Raga Kusama, pictured, joins the Momenta Quartet, Indonesian vocalist Ubiet, and soprano Tony Arnold for a Performing Indonesia concert.

The Richmond-based group Gamelan Raga Kusama, pictured, joins the Momenta Quartet, Indonesian vocalist Ubiet, and soprano Tony Arnold for a Performing Indonesia concert.

Q: Tell me a bit about your plans for the September 22 performance.

A: My primary plans for the September 22 performance are to not make any mistakes! Momenta is a wonderful ensemble, and although I’ve performed with them before, I’ll admit I’m a bit afraid! I am excited about this performance partly because of the wide variety of genres on the program. I Wayan Yudane and Jack Body’s House in Bali is a lush, lyrical work that buzzes with the incommensurable tuning clashes between Western and Balinese instruments. Tony Prabowo’s works lean towards the more austere style of global modernism. Thrown into the mix are Indonesian kroncong asli tunes, which the visiting Indonesian singer Ubiet Raseuki has recently been reviving. Kroncong is a “light classical” form that was very popular in independence-era Indonesia (circa 1950s–60s) with a deeply nostalgic resonance. This form is almost never heard in America. Both Gamelan Raga Kusuma and Orkes Kroncong Rumput, the Balinese and kroncong ensembles we have in Virginia, are working hard in preparation!

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away?

A: I want the audience to take away a sense of the incredible variety and vibrancy of Indonesia’s musical ecology. Most importantly, I hope they come to see Indonesia not only as host to many different kinds of “traditional” music but experimental, modernist, collaborative, and classical musics as well. I hope that audience members do not get aesthetic whiplash! Finally, I also hope audience members feel free to ask questions after the concert and to stick around to interact with the gamelan and kroncong instruments.

Reserve tickets now for Strings Meet Gamelan: Chamber Music from Indonesia on September 22. 

Performing Indonesia: Tickets On Sale!

House of Angklung #4

Tickets are on sale now for this year’s Performing Indonesia, our third annual celebration of Indonesian cultural expressions. Indonesia, a Southeast Asian nation made up of thousands of volcanic islands, is home to hundreds of ethnic groups and more Muslims than any other country in the world. We’ll explore these “Islamic Intersections” through a fashion show of contemporary Muslim designs, a puppet play (wayang) about a mystical journey, concerts of music by Indonesian and American composers, a lecture-demonstration on Qur’anic recitation, and a symposium on Islam and the performing arts.

In total, more than eighty musicians, dancers, and other performing artists from Indonesia and across the United States will appear at the festival, which runs from September 10 through November 19. Check out the full lineup and reserve your spot!

Japanese Music for the Summer Solstice

Flowers and a brook; Japan, Edo period, 18th century; six-panel screens, color over gold on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1897.27–28

Click to zoom in! Flowers and a brook; Japan, Edo period, 18th century; six-panel screens, color over gold on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1897.27–28

The seasons are frequent subjects of art, but the transitions between them can be difficult to capture. With spring formally becoming summer today, it’s an appropriate time to note the Japanese tradition of narrative paintings that portray seasonal shifts—and the work of a Japanese composer with a similar aim.

One of our Japanese screens from the Edo period (1615–1868), Flowers and a Brook, shows plants blooming in sequence along the shift from spring to summer (right to left). This technique is frequently employed in Japanese screen paintings to depict multiple seasons in a single image. In a musical parallel, Japanese composer Minoru Miki wrote his “Hanayagi” (The Greening) in 1976 as one movement in a larger work representing a year of changing seasons. According to the composer, this work for solo koto “sings in praise of the brilliant life-power of the seasons as they slowly shift from spring to early summer.”

You can listen to this gorgeous ten-minute piece on our concert podcast of koto virtuoso Reiko Kimura, recorded in the Meyer Auditorium in 1998, when she appeared here as part of the Music From Japan Festival (based in New York). Four years before this concert, Kimura joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the premiere of Minoru Miki’s Symphony of Two Worlds at Lincoln Center. Skip to 39:38 and listen to the end to hear the sounds of seasonal change.

World Oceans Day: Songs of Travel

Europeans artists and missionaries traveling to Asia in the sixteenth century promoted Western ideas of religion and art. Some of the artwork created during the Mughal Empire (in present-day India) confirms the emperor’s interest in Roman Catholic imagery and European styles of representation, as seen in the border of this Islamic folio. Folio from the Gulshan (Rose Garden) Album. India, Mughal dynasty, ca. 1600. Calligraphy by Mir Ali al-Katib (Bukhara, ca. 1540). Opaque watercolor, gold, and ink on paper. Purchase, F1956.12.

Europeans artists and missionaries traveling to Asia in the sixteenth century promoted Western ideas of religion and art. Some of the artwork created during the Mughal Empire (in present-day India) confirms the emperor’s interest in Roman Catholic imagery and European styles of representation, as seen in the border of this Islamic folio.

On World Oceans Day, listen to La Mar de la Musica: Songs of Departure and Return, a concert held at the museum in 2007. The Vozes Alfonsinas ensemble, based in Lisbon, Portugal, and led by director Manuel Pedro Ferreira, performed Renaissance songs of travel that reveal how overseas influences altered Portuguese music (and vice versa). Four-part vocal harmonies were complemented by the sounds of Renaissance-era instruments, including the rebec, vihuela, and theorbo.

Top: The ensemble Vozes Alfonsinas performs at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium in 2007. (L-R): Maria Repas, soprano; Madalena Cabral, rebec; Susana Teixeira, mezzo-soprano; César Viana, recorders; Gonçalo Pinto Gonçalves, tenor; Nuno Torka Miranda, Renaissance guitar and vihuela; Vítor Gaspar, baritone; and André Barrosa, theorbo. Bottom: The ensemble performs for a family audience in the Sackler Gallery.

Top: The ensemble Vozes Alfonsinas performs at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium in 2007. (L–R): Maria Repas, soprano; Madalena Cabral, rebec; Susana Teixeira, mezzo-soprano; César Viana, recorders; Gonçalo Pinto Gonçalves, tenor; Nuno Torka Miranda, Renaissance guitar and vihuela; Vítor Gaspar, baritone; and André Barrosa, theorbo. Bottom: The ensemble performs for a family audience in the Sackler Gallery.

As Ferreira, a music professor who has written dozens of papers and books on medieval music and culture, explained in the concert notes:

The conquest of the Atlantic Ocean altered not only the history of Portugal but also its music. Up until the seventeenth century, the Portuguese nation was intimately connected to neighboring Spain. The discovery and populating of the Atlantic islands and the exploration of the west coast of Africa left their mark on the Iberian musical panorama of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The musical influence of the colonization of the Americas became apparent later.

Just as wine returns from a journey with characteristics different from those it originally had, so Iberian musical culture, once tempered by the Atlantic experience, acquired new compositional flavors. This performance calls attention to these outside influences by presenting some written vestiges of this “music of the return journey,” the greater part of which, dependent on oral tradition, has perished in the vortex of history.

These figures from the border of an Islamic folio created in India about the year 1600 depict St. Anthony (left), Christ and the Ship of Salvation, God the Father (upper right), and the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and St. John

These figures from the border of an Islamic folio created in India about the year 1600 depict St. Anthony (left), Christ and the Ship of Salvation, God the Father (upper right), and the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and St. John.

This concert took place on July 26, 2007, in conjunction with our exhibition Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The podcast was made possible through support from the Thaw Charitable Trust, and audio preservation and editing of this recording were supported by funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Word of the Day: zhiyin

Seven-stringed zither (qin), named Spring Breeze Forged inscription of Wen Zhengming (1470–1559) China, Ming dynasty, 1369–1644 Lacquered wood, water buffalo horn, mother-of-pearl, and silk strings Gift of Dr. Shing Yiu Yip Freer Gallery of Art F1999.8

Seven-stringed zither (qin), named Spring Breeze; forged inscription of Wen Zhengming (1470–1559); China, Ming dynasty, 1369–1644; lacquered wood, water buffalo horn, mother-of-pearl, and silk strings; Gift of Dr. Shing Yiu Yip; Freer Gallery of Art, F1999.8

As you stroll through the works in Painting with Words, you’ll see—and hear—the Chinese qin, a musical instrument that was ubiquitous in the cultural life of Ming dynasty China. Paintings from the period often show a retired gentleman walking in the mountains or along a stream, followed by a young servant carrying the man’s qin (pronounced “chin”). Viewers would understand that the subject of the painting would stop to play his qin whenever he felt so inspired by the nature around him.

In the center of this album leaf, titled "Walking by a Mountain Stream," a man is followed by a servant holding his qin, the quintessential musical instrument of the Chinese gentleman scholar.

In the center of this album leaf, titled “Walking by a Mountain Stream,” a man is followed by a servant holding his qin, the quintessential musical instrument of the Chinese gentleman scholar.

The qin music playing in the exhibition is a piece called “Flowing Water.” In 1977, when NASA sent Voyager I hurtling toward deep space, the satellite carried a sound disc with fifty pieces of music to represent earthly civilization. “Flowing Water” was the piece chosen to represent Chinese music.

The song is traditionally attributed to Boya, an ancient qin master. His friend Zhong Ziqi was deeply attuned to Boya’s music. When Zhong died, Boya destroyed his qin, declaring that he had no reason to keep playing now that no one understood him. Since then, the term zhiyin 知音, defined as someone who understands or appreciates one’s sound or music, has been used to refer to a dear friend.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, a poem on a handscroll titled Traveling South touches on Boya’s story:

On the river, springtime breezes blow the tender elms
I clasp my zither and see you off trailing long robes
If someone you encounter should appreciate your music
Cut some reeds where you are and build yourself a hut

We’re excited to welcome a present-day qin master to the museum this weekend. Bell Yung, emeritus professor of music at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the world’s leading authorities on the qin, will hold four free concerts from Friday through Sunday. He will play an instrument similar to the one on display in Painting with Words and will focus on pieces that evoke themes seen in the exhibition: plum blossoms, wild geese, river mists, and flowing waters.

Wu Man Comes to Washington

Twice nominated for a Grammy Award, pipa (Chinese lute) master Wu Man comes to DC next Tuesday to perform with the renowned Shanghai Quartet. Along with pieces by other composers, the concert, held in the National Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium, will include Wu’s own “Kui: Song of Kazakhstan.” In this video from Smithsonian Folkways, she plays the song and talks about why she wrote it.

Reserve your tickets now for next Tuesday night!

Making Musical Waves

Descending Geese of the Koto; Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木春信 (1724–1770); Japan, Edo period, ca. 1766; woodblock print; The Anne van Biema Collection, S2004.3.21

Descending Geese of the Koto; Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木春信 (1724–1770); Japan, Edo period, ca. 1766; woodblock print; The Anne van Biema Collection, S2004.3.21

We owe the emergence of modern music for the koto, a Japanese zither, to a temple-court musician named Hosui. In the mid-1600s, Hosui was dismissed by the famously capricious nobility in Kyoto for giving an unacceptable performance.

Hosui ultimately prevailed. After resettling in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), he taught blind commoners how to play the exclusive court music styles and instruments that were previously restricted to Buddhist priests and Confucian scholars. Among Hosui’s students was the shamisen player Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614‒1685), who pioneered a large and influential repertoire of secular koto music that is still performed today.

More than three hundred years after his death, Yatsuhashi’s tomb in Kyoto is marked by a commemorative stone. His accomplishments in music mirror those of the Japanese artist Sōtatsu, who is credited with bringing the visual arts of the court to a much wider public.

You can hear a few of of Yatsuhashi’s signature works and several of their later incarnations performed by local koto artist Miyuki Yoshikami and flutist Amy Thomas. Their free performance is held on Saturday, January 30, at 1 pm in the ground-level pavilion of the Sackler Gallery. While you’re here, take a last look at Sōtatsu: Making Waves before it closes on January 31.

Freer, Marlboro, and the Library of Congress: A Musical History

Clarinetist Anthony McGill performs at the Library of Congress on January 20 as part of our Meyer Concert Series.

Clarinetist Anthony McGill performs at the Library of Congress on January 20 as part of our Meyer Concert Series.

As our first concert during the Freer closure approaches, we can appreciate how apt it is for the performance to take place at the Library of Congress and to feature artists from the Marlboro Music Festival. These three institutions share a history that originates in the early twentieth century and continues to bear fruit today.

The Freer Gallery opened to the public in 1923. In February 1924, arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who was looking for an outstanding venue to host a new music series, held three concerts at the museum. She eventually settled on the Library of Congress as the site for her series, which launched the following year.

In museum founder Charles Lang Freer’s later life (he died in 1919), two of his closest friends and collaborators had been Eugene and Agnes Meyer. The three traveled on a joint collecting trip to Asia, and they frequently acquired art together. During World War II, Agnes Meyer intervened with the State Department to secure visas for German violinist Adolf Busch and pianist Rudolf Serkin to come to the United States. These virtuosos made their American debuts in concert at the Library of Congress and went on to found the Marlboro Music Festival in 1951.

Eugene Meyer and family. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. © The Estate of Edward Steichen/ © Joanna T. Steichen

Agnes Meyer (far left), Eugene Meyer (far right), and their children in 1926, in a portrait by Edward Steichen. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. © The Estate of Edward Steichen / © Joanna T. Steichen

A few years later, Eugene and Agnes Meyer donated most of their Chinese art collection to the Freer in a gift that was the largest presented to the museum since its opening. When Eugene Meyer died in 1959, his personal papers, documenting his career as a financier, owner of the Washington Post, chair of the Federal Reserve, and first head of the World Bank, were donated to the Library of Congress.

In 1965, the Marlboro Festival began touring its ensembles across the country. The Library of Congress hosted many of the festival’s legendary artists in the succeeding decades.

When the Freer’s auditorium reopened in 1993 after a five-year renovation, it bore a new name: the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium. The Meyers’ daughter, Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, and grandchildren helped fund the renovation and established the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series. Named for the son and daughter-in-law of Eugene and Agnes, the Meyer Concert Series has featured Musicians from Marlboro every season since then.

Lastly, if you’ve looked closely at labels in our special exhibitions, you may have noticed that important books and manuscripts from the Library of Congress often complement the artwork. For example, we featured early twentieth-century yoga manuals from the library in our recent exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation.

Please note that advance tickets to the Musicians from Marlboro concert on January 20 are sold out.  However, all unclaimed tickets are distributed to standby patrons five minutes before the concert begins. Looking ahead, tickets to our April 26 concert with Wu Man and the Shanghai Quartet go on sale Monday, February 1, at 9 am, via the Smithsonian Associates.

JACK Quartet and Lightbulb: Indonesian Music with a Twist

The Lightbulb Ensemble performing in San Francisco. See them with JACK Quartet tonight.

The Lightbulb Ensemble performing in San Francisco. See them with JACK Quartet tonight.

Tonight, two American ensembles—JACK Quartet and Lightbulb —join forces, fusing classical and Indonesian music into a one-of-a-kind performance. But what do Indonesian gamelan and Western classical music have in common? A lot of history, it turns out. Both Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel were enchanted by the Javanese gamelan they heard at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1889. That cross-cultural exposure helped inspire the innovations of French Impressionist music. Performances by a Balinese gamelan at Paris’s 1931 Exposition Coloniale provided French composer Olivier Messiaen with musical ideas for some of his most novel experiments. In the mid-1930s, American composer Colin McPhee lived in Bali, where he wrote an important treatise on gamelan music and then incorporated its forms and sounds into his orchestral works. And starting in the early 1970s, gamelan music influenced American composer Steve Reich in developing what became known as minimalist music.

More recent generations of composers have spent years studying in Indonesia and leading gamelan orchestras in the United States, such as the long-standing Gamelan Sekar Jaya from the San Francisco Bay Area. (I had the opportunity to hear them perform in 1981.) Two leaders of that venerable orchestra, Wayne Vitale and Brian Baumbusch, teamed up with the highly regarded JACK Quartet and Balinese choreographers I Made Bandem and Suasthi Bandem to create the massive work Makaradhwaja, which premiered at the Bali Arts Festival in 2012. A year later, Vitale and Baumbusch created the experimental Lightbulb Ensemble, pursuing new music inspired by Balinese models and utilizing custom-built metal xylophones that resemble the gamelan but have original tunings.

At this evening’s concert, you can hear Lightbulb and JACK perform their latest collaboration, Baumbusch’s Hydrogen(2)Oxygen. Each ensemble also performs alone, with JACK presenting John Cage’s Quartet in Four Parts and Lightbulb playing Vitale and Baumbusch’s Mikrokosma. Don’t miss this chance to hear the latest stage in the fruitful co-evolution of Indonesian and Western music. Tickets will be distributed at the Meyer Auditorium beginning at 6:30 pm on a first-come, first-served basis.

With its combination of Eastern and Western themes, the music in tonight’s performance is paralleled in the collections of the Freer|Sackler. The museums contain both American and Asian masterworks, including nearly one hundred objects from Indonesia.