Mill Valley Philharmonic, at right, performs “East meets West at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair” at a series of shows. Courtesy images.

With a series of shows this weekend (March 10-12), Mill Valley Philharmonic is looking to transport music lovers to the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889, the spectacular event that showcased the newly constructed Eiffel Tower, commemorated the centennial of the storming of the Bastille and celebrated of France’s creativity, strength and pride.

But with its East meets West at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair performances, the Philharmonic is doing so in a very specific way, focusing on the Exposition Universelle’s display from Java, particularly the Javanese gamelan music that used instruments like gongs, bells, drums, bamboo flutes, metallophone and many others. Javanese gamelan has been passed down by oral tradition for well over a thousand years and forms an important part of the religious and social life there.
Philharmonic officials say that Debussy and Ravel were especially taken by Javanese gamelan’s fresh timbres, scales, textures and layers, while “Debussy was astonished that another highly sophisticated and complex music had developed independently from the Western classical tradition.” He wrote, “Javanese music obeys laws of counterpoint that make Palestrina seem like child’s play.” Ravel was also inspired by the deep layering of sound, and as the master of orchestration and sound production, he incorporated gamelan sounds into his music.
Gamelan music had a major influence on American composers Lou Harrison, whose “lustrous, path-breaking body of work” is being celebrated by “the invaluable Bay Area new music organization OtherMinds” with several shows under the program “Just 100: Homage to Lou Harrison,” including the MV Philharmonic’s performances. Harrison’s work, Seven Pastorales, recreates Javanese gamelan sound using Western orchestral instruments.
MV Philharmonic Director Lauri Cohen will conduct the Seven Pastorales portion of the program, which also includes Gamelan Sekar Jaya’s Bamboo Tingklik Ensemble, Claude Debussy: Pagodes (David Gordon, conductor), Maurice Ravel: Ma Mère l’lye, Béla Bartók: from the Island of Bali & String Quartet IV and Camille Saint-Saëns: Suite Algérienne.

The 411: Mill Valley Philharmonic performs “East meets West at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair on March 10 (8pm) and March 11 (4pm) at the Mt. Tam United Methodist Church, 410 Sycamore Ave., as well March 12 (2pm) at Angelico Hall, Dominican University of California, 50 Acacia Avenue. Free. Walk-in seating. MORE INFO.

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