Over the Water for guitar and string quartet

september 2007– I just finished Over the Water, a piece that took me a year to write…..

I just finished Over the Water, a quintet for guitar and string quartet. It is a four movement piece nearly twenty-five minutes long, and the effort I put into it may be seen from the fact that it took me very nearly a year to write — having started August 15, last year, I wrote the last music (which was for the first movement) on Thursday, August 2.
The piece was commissioned by guitarist Tom Kerstens (with financial support of the ThuisKopie Fonds) for Tom himself and his beautiful ensemble, G+. Everything is in their hands now — more about Tom and G+ later. For now, I can only say something about what moved me to write this piece.

Behind Over the Water lurks a story that has haunted me for most of my life: the final journey of my mother’s family’s, after the Second World War, from their native Indonesia, to the Low (and cold ) Countries. The four movements represent, in a purely musical way, stations in this journey.

I. The Hills is a kind of variation on the melody of the 121st Psalm (‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help‘ — a favourite of my mother). Sentimental nostalgia for the giant green hills of Java was an everpresent theme in my family and is, for me, inexorably mingled with their deep and naive religiousness.

II. The Sea (an adagio): a sense of the irrevocable passage through time and distance never left them — this music, lovingly embraced by a quiet, resigned choral, rhythmically and nervously moves from an Africa-inspired texture to a dance-like lamento.

III. A Strange Wedding (scherzo) symbolizes the (sometimes pretty hilarious, and mostly vain) attempts to hide the gaps that I experienced as a child between the two cultures of two war-torn families — the white weddingrobe being mere mimicry.

IV. A Gathering — Kumpulan, by contrasting different kinds of music, refers to our busy family meetings with their divers guests (richly bestowed with spicy food).

When asked for a musical favourite that he would like me to use in this piece, Tom Kerstens immediately mentioned the folia, one of the harmonic/melodic archetypes for Western instrumental music in general and for the guitar in particular. In Over the Water, it travels from Western religiosity to the secular and sentimental kroncong of Indonesia in the last movement (kroncong, like the folia itself, being of distant Iberian origins). My use of the folia is meant as a tribute to Tom Kerstens and to the guitar which, in the best traditions of East and West, is treated in my music by the hospitable string quartet not as a soloist, but as a welcome guest.