Ask even a well-informed person about Indonesia, and you might get something about tsunamis, political turmoil, or that it's the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. But to a connoisseur of culture, the country represents a glorious history of art and music, most famously by way of the gamelan metal-percussion ensemble.
Pittsburgh gets to hear that musical culture this week, thanks to Pitt ethnomusicologist Andrew Weintraub. For years, he's been enlightening students on the intricacies of gamelan, and bringing guest performers from across the Pacific.
This year's stunning entry is singer Euis Komariah, "a classical vocalist from the area of West Java called Sunda," says Weintraub. He compares Komariah to the level of an Umm Kulthum or Lata Mangeshkar (legendary Arabic and Indian divas, respectively). "Her quality of musicianship is very high -- ornamented, not with lot of vibrato, but with a variety of different vocal techniques which are exciting and unusual."
Komariah will perform both with gamelan accompaniment and with two zithers and bamboo flute. One of the zitherists is virtuoso Gangan Garman, traveling with Komariah to several U.S. universities; the flutist is California-based Burhan Sukarma. The trio's two-week Pittsburgh residency includes lectures, master classes and private lessons, along with a special concert for 400 school kids.
Their public splash, though, happens this weekend, with the "Voice of Sunda" program. In addition to the fine-tuned, bell-like sound of the gamelan -- something Pittsburgh never gets to hear outside of Weintraub's events -- there's a sampling of Indonesian food for sale and the appeal of witnessing a rare confluence of world-music talent. "They are at the top of their game and well known," Weintraub says. "People will be amazed at the vocal dexterity they're going to hear."
"Voice of Sunda" featuring Euis Komariah. 8 p.m. Fri., April 13. Also 8 p.m. Sat., April 14. Bellefield Auditorium, Pitt campus, Oakland. $10 ($5 seniors/students, Pitt students free). 412-624-4126