The exquisite Ine Aya’, presented in the opening week of the 2021 edition of the Holland Festival, is a work which defies easy categorisation. With genesis in two classic works, the Kayan epic Takna’ Lawe’, from Kalimantan (West Borneo) and Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, Ine Aya’ weaves these together authoring a narrative about the urgency for humankind’s guardianship of nature and earth’s finite resources.

Ine Aya'
© Nichon Glerum

Indonesian composer Nursalim Yadi Anugerah and Dutch director Miranda Lakerveld create a compelling world in which the audience bear witness to the effects of the Anthropocene on Kalimantan. Conceived around geopolitical narratives of deforestation and palm oil plantations, deeper myths evoking a world of an earlier time are referenced while binding Eastern and Western stories into a single narrative. Anugerah, in describing his compositional philosophy says that “music is so much more: it can connect societies, examining cultural and socio-cultural issues, such as in this case, Kalimantan’s environmental situation with deforestation and palm oil plantations. This is why I make music.”

Ine Aya'
© Nichon Glerum

Ine Aya’ is devised for three singers and the Balaan Tumaan Ensemble, who play an array of instruments including the traditional Kayan sape (similar to a lute) and kaldi (mouth organ) alongside western instruments. An extensive percussion section completes the instrumentation. Also providing extra occasional singing and tutti choral support to the solo singers, the players within this ensemble multi-task through the performance effortlessly. Underpinning Anugerah’s expertly crafted grip on a varied musical syntax, his shimmering percussion writing smoothens a feeling of wholeness, a completeness in world building; creating an equal balance between East and West cultures. Ritual dancing, procession, pure a capella plaintive incantation and a lightly paced score entwine seamlessly into one. Lasting just over an hour, the opening lines of the Opening Ceremony of the Takna’ Lawe’ which starts the work never were so truly felt: “Come, come and listen”. Sung in Indonesian and German, with Dutch and English subtitles, these words accompany the the opening procession into the concert hall, the singers choreographed ritually.

Processing slowly in from behind the audience in ritualised, slowly performed poses, the performers punctuate this powerful incantation, both visually, in their bodily articulations, as well as percussively, with each composed foot stamp.

Ine Aya'
© Nichon Glerum

Instantly, we the audience are placed in a mode of bearing witness, partaking in this ritual for the earth. The Muziekgebouw main hall is instantly transmuted for an entirely other purpose, of transportation to an etheric place of ritual, storytelling and ecological deliberation. A consideration on where we are, where humankind is, in its own dance with the earth.

Considering that for some this was a first concert in the Main Hall of the Muziekgebouw after a uniquely memorable year, these few words, their rhythmic incantation, intoned for some lengthy minutes, pooled into a timeless moment, echoing around the building, perhaps with a pertinence never intended. After one whole year’s absence from the Muziekgebouw’s concert hall, we were doing just that – coming together, and listening.

Throughout the singing of Ine Aya’, natural vocal production is in focus, with chest vocal resonance as standard. Wonderful, life enhancing, bold guttural tutti interspersed very occasionally, and with great effect, by the most stunning bel canto operatic timbre voiced by the two main protagonists. The voices are sonorous voices, these moments of colouration appearing as if plucked from the air. Their rich and sudden quality embellish an other-worldly texture, in perfect balance with sparkling scoring, performed dextrously by the Balaan Tumaan Ensemble.

Ine Aya'
© Nichon Glerum

Joining within Ine Aya’s palette is an arresting violet and deep blue lighting concept, traditional costumes, stunning mandala motif projected stage centre and echoed as a stage backdrop, and subtle sound design, all equal in their chosen simplicity, conveying a harmonious theatricality. Each element works together on behalf of the whole; an artistic mantra redolent perhaps of how humankind should perhaps negotiate its own global impact on the natural environment.

Ecology of the local, transported from Kalimantan Indonesia and translated into an opera with a global message. An ecological balm of thoughtful musical invention, colourfully and persuasively drawn. As the doors begin to reopen on the threshold of a diminishing pandemic, as one of the first works presented in our new understanding of our world, Ine Aya’ is decidedly on point.

*****