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Gwyn Pritchard: Wayang

Flute/alto/piccolo, clarinet/bass, ‘cello, piano, percussion (1993)


The word wayang is the Indonesian for shadow and is used to describe the theatrical entertainments of Bali and Java in which the shadows of flat, ornate puppets are projected onto a translucent, white screen. They are often accompanied by a gamelan orchestra, and are usually enactments of religious and mythological stories mixed with historical facts, that will keep the audience entertained all night long.

This piece does not last all night(!) and does not in any way evoke the musical world of Indonesia; so the listener hoping to find exotic gamelan-type sounds or techniques will be disappointed.  The inspiration for the piece lay in the very stylised, often exaggerated gestures and movements of Balinese wayang puppet theatre; and in the mixture of countless moods, from aggression to pathos, from humour to tragedy, that are all symbolically represented within the ritualistic theatrical style. And just as the wayang puppets, being a parody of human nature, evoke a certain formalised intensity that cannot be achieved with live actors, so the musical material of Wayang is never directly expressive, but rather it suggests, often with more than a hint of parody, a possible unstated, dramatic narrative, embracing a range of contrasting events. Such a conceptual narrative, however, has nothing to do with the type of stories re-enacted by Balinese puppet masters, but might be understood as a shadow-representation of the way in which such stories are traditionally presented; in short, a "wayang of wayang"!

Wayang was composed in 1993 in response to a commission by The Basel Soloists who gave the first performance in Quebec, Canada later that year, conducted by the composer. It is dedicated "To all my friends and colleagues in Basel"

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