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East Meets West: the Sequel

In December 1577, when Francis Drake’s The Pelican and a quartet of accompanying ships sailed from Plymouth to commence the first circumnavigation of the globe by an English expedition, the flagship vessel’s complement included not just wine, cannons, archers and the usual provisions of a conquering warship, but also lutes (for the gentlemen officers), trumpets and a viol quartet — a foursome playing the stringed instruments also known as violas da gamba. The English may have been colonialist imperialists, but they were musically inclined colonialist imperialists. 

Two and a half years later, after capturing immense booty from the Spanish, the flagship now renamed The Golden Hind dropped anchor in Java and, as was English custom, strongly encouraged the local sultan to listen to their viol consort. The Javanese king must have been impressed, because the next day a troupe of Javanese musicians came aboard the British galleon and regaled the amazed voyagers with their melodically intricate gamelan music. Gamelan music, played on bronze keyboards, tuned gongs, two-string fiddle, bamboo flute, drums and more, has enchanted Western listeners ever since. 

This first encounter of two of the world’s greatest musical traditions was followed by Claude Debussy’s late-19th-century encounter with a Javanese gamelan, which deeply influenced his music as well as that of Maurice Ravel, Benjamin Britten, Colin McPhee and other Western composers, most notably Portland-born Lou Harrison, who helped ignite an American gamelan movement that now comprises more than 100 such ensembles — including three in Eugene. Sunday, April 15, at United Lutheran Church, Gamelan Sari Pandhawa joins the Eugene-based viol quartet Byrdsong Renaissance Consort to stage an approximate recreation of that first multicultural musical exchange on the shores of Java. 

Another commemoration of important world music happens at UO’s Beall Concert Hall Sunday, April 15, when two sons of one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians, the late Ali Akbar Khan, celebrate his 90th birthday with a concert of Indian music for sarod (the beautiful plucked lute) and tabla drum. Both sons learned music from some of India’s most renowned teachers, including their grandfather, who also taught Ravi Shankar. The elder, Aashish Akbar, worked in projects with George Harrison and Eric Clapton, and on movie scores for Gandhi and A Passage to India

The Golden Hind did make it to what’s now Latin America on its journey around the world, and there’s music from that hemisphere on tap April 21, when the Eugene Concert Choir joins Jessie Marquez and national dance champions Catherine and F.J. Abaya with narrator John Vavrek in a concert featuring Latin American dance music — tangos, sambas, rumbas, salsa y mas. 

Over in Springfield, the excellent ensemble of present and former UO music faculty members Chamber Music Amici performs music by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, plus an exuberant piece by the great 20th-century Argentine nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla. The concert happens Monday, April 16, at the Wildish Theater.

Music fans might also check out the new exhibit at Maude Kerns, which features art inspired by or related to music. The opening reception Friday, April 13, features the Eugene Youth Symphony String Quartet. And there’s also live music — some of the 20th century’s most compelling, in fact, at the Eugene Ballet’s Stravinsky Gala at Hult Center. In the stately neoclassical music for his 1928 ballet Apollo, Robert Ashens will lead a 17-member string ensemble. And in the striking 1923 dance cantata The Wedding, members of the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble will join Ashens and a trio of other pianists, plus guest vocal soloists and percussionists. Alas, the music for the Rite of Spring will be recorded (it requires a massive orchestra), but the other two works are well worth hearing for the live music alone, as well as the modern choreography by EBT’s Toni Pimble and New York choreographer Melissa Bobick.  ew