Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk is a Dutch composer born in 1955 in Amsterdam in a Dutch-Indonesian family. At the University of Utrecht he specialized in 20th-century music and music psychology but quickly devoted himself solely to the writing of music. His first major composition, Debris, Soli (1982-83), blended punk, reggae, new music and experimental pop music in a groundbreaking collaboration of pop musicians and classical musicians that met with acclaim but also some surprise in the press.
In the years that followed he composed music mainly for self-styled ensembles (like the dance-opera First Things First, for electric guitars, percussion, singers and dancers), but sometimes also for existing Dutch music groups like Ensemble De Volharding and the Dutch Choral Society.
In Early Music he met several top notch recorder players interested in new music, like the musicians of La Fontegara Amsterdam and Brisk Recorder Quartet Amsterdam. For them he wrote pieces like So Tear, Quartet, The Party and the ubiquitous Kadanza, often in close collaboration. These works gained international attention by combining the sound quality of Early Music with Classical forms, African rhythms, and a contemporary, highly melodious idiom. They are being played worldwide and many have been recorded.
In recent years Van Nieuwkerk concentrates on writing chamber music in search of a ‘new classical music’ that combines contemporary rhythm and expression with the ensemble ethos and lyricism of Classical-romantic forms. In it, he often starts from historical melodies (like in the Antwerp Song Book or the Valerius Memorial). This gave rise to pieces like the Piano Quintet and Kalenda Maya for string quartet that were performed by young musicians in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. His Three Dance Capriccios for violin and piano, is based on an anonymous medieval French pastourelle, the Piano Trio on a famous Van Eyck melody and the sonata for violin and piano on the 19th century spiritual Deep River.
Over the years he received many commissions, private as well as institutional, both amateur and professional. These include music for the 1998 Dutch House of Parliament’s celebration of the Munster Treaty, the Swiss Television’s National Celebration Broadcast in 2001, Amsterdam University and Margess International of Switzerland as well as a number of television-,film-, theatre- and dance productions.
In 2008 his quintet for guitar and string quartet Over the Water had a first performance in London, in the Kings Place opening festival. In 2009 he worked with the Atlantic Trio for whom he wrote a ravishing piano trio. For the Trio Amare he wrote the Heine song cycle Bergidylle in 2010-2011. The Zeist Chamber Music series commissioned the sonata for violin and piano in 2012, for the young Duo Philippens and Van Nieuwkerk.
Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk is also a teacher of 20th Century Music and New Music at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. As a member of ARTI, a research group of the Amsterdam School of Arts, he investigated the relationship between absolute music and music as a theatrical art. The relationships between pure music, theatre and visual arts inform most of his teaching activities, from the bachelor courses in 20h century music history to the master course Artistic Practice , a collaboration of the conservatory with several national music institutions and the Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum.
Van Nieuwkerk is very happily married and has two children.
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