Men in black: Baroque music in Jakarta
The French music ensemble Le Poème Harmonique harmonized the audience of Gedung Kesenian Jakarta last Tuesday with a twist on Baroque music, inviting them for a promenade through Venetian palaces and a ride on the city’s famous gondolas while drifting along its canals.
With the idea that 17th and 18th-century music isn’t usually easy on the ears — that it’s too old fashioned even — Le Poème Harmonique, led by conductor Vincent Dumestre, took up the challenge to prove otherwise.
As darkness descended upon the theater, the hustling sound of audience members trying to find their seats was suddenly replaced by complete silence. Foreigners in suits and Indonesians in batik filled the theater exactly at 8 p.m., ready to be serenaded with a world-class musical performance.
Only when it was so silent a pin drop could have been audible did the 10-person ensemble, nine of whom were dressed in black, gracefully make their way onto the candlelit stage. Aside from the candles and the lights used to illuminate their sheet music, the theater was still and dark. All eyes were on the night’s performers.
Already acquainted with playing the stages of Europe, the US and Japan, it was Le Poème Harmonique’s debut performance on an Indonesian stage that Tuesday night. As a part of the annual French culture festival Printemps Français, organized by the French cultural center Institut Français d’Indonesie (IFI), Le Poème Harmonique held a 90-minute performance titled “Venise, des rues aux palais”.
It was indeed more powerful than an ordinary concert, for with the work of famous composers Claudio Monteverdi and Francesco Manelli, the audience experienced the true spirit of Baroque music.
Besides introducing themselves to Jakarta for the first time, Le Poème Harmonqiue also introduced the plucked-string instrument theorbo, played by Dumestre himself; the long-necked lute colascione, played by Jean-Luc Tamby; and the cello-like lirone, played by Lucas Peres, all of which are instruments typically found in the Baroque era. With these rare instruments and superb vocals, the talented Le Poème Harmonique strives for the revival of Baroque music, which had a golden age of 150 years.
The theater drifted along with the mellow ambience as music filled the room. Tenor singers Serge Goubioud and Jan Van Elsacker and bass Geoffroy Buffière sang the opening piece before finally welcoming famous soprano Claire Lefilliâtre, the only one dressed in red that night, on stage.
After a few mellow pieces, Le Poème Harmonique brought the audience to a more upbeat atmosphere, similar to those during a merry event in the Baroque era. The vocalists, choreographed by Benjamin Lazar, also entertained the audience with humorous acts as they continued to serenade with their deep, orchestral voices.
The night’s performance received a long applause from the close to 400 audience members before finally ending with the Ambassador of France to Indonesia, Bertrand Lortholary, and the director of Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, Bambang Subekti, presenting the performers with flowers for showcasing such mesmerizing musical talent.
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