‘Over the Water’ for guitar and string quartet


Guitar Quintet / guitar and string quartet: guitar, two violins, viola and cello

ca. 24'

For Tom Kerstens & the G+ Ensemble, with financial support of the ThuisKopie Fonds

    1. I. The Hills
    2. II. The Sea (adagio)
    3. III. A Strange Wedding (scherzo)
    4. IV. A Gathering — Kumpulan

Written at the request of guitarist Tom Kerstens, artistic director of the International Guitar Foundation and Festivals, and first played at the opening festival of Kings Place, London, september 2008 by Tom Kerstens and members of the G+ Ensemble. Dutch tour and premiere March 14 and 15 2010 in Zeist, Den Bosch and Eindhoven.

Behind my guitar quintet Over the Water lurks a story that has haunted me for most of my life: the final journey of my mother’s family, after the war, from their native Indonesia, to the Low (and cold ) Countries. The four movements represent, in a purely musical way, stations in their journey. During this journey, the music gathers elements of the early ‘follia’, it encounters a far Dutch-Indonesian relative of the Fado, but it starts from, and finally returns to, the Genevan Psalter’s version of the 121st Psalm…

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 ever present theme in my family and is, for me, inexorably mingled with their deep and naive religiousness. The variation gradually mingles with the ominous sound of the Divine Wind that was to usher them from their paradise.

II.The Sea (an adagio): a sense of the irrevocable passage through time and distance never left my family — this music, beginning and ending, as if lovingly embraced, by a quiet, resigned choral, moves rhythmically and nervously, traveling across Africa-inspired textures 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 in the wedding between the two cultures in a war-torn family — the innocent whiteness of the wedding-robe being mere mimicry.

IV. A Gathering — Kumpulan, This mostly fast movement refers to our busy family meetings with their many different guests (all richly bestowed with spicy food). But feelings of apprehensiveness abound, the underlying harmony always wryly being that of the follia which is there to accommodate widely divergent styles: Jewish chant, African polyphony, and especially, that late descendant of Portuguese influence, the Indonesian Kroncong, with its Fado-like melancholic melodies and gamelan-like accompaniment. I would not be surprised if this piece is the first in classical music to use the kroncong-style.

When asked for a musical favourite that he would like me to use in this piece, Tom Kerstens immediately mentioned the follia, that archetype for instrumental music in general and for the guitar in particular. In Over the Water, this characteristic harmonic-melodic pattern is heard in all four movements, travelling from Western religiosity in the first to the secular and sentimental kroncong of Indonesia in the last movement (kroncong, like the folia itself, being of distant Iberian origins). I use the follia 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, respectfully listened to as it tells a sometimes sad story.

Onderstaande video vat het aardig samen – het sentiment van Tempo Doeloe zoals ik dat als kind waarnam bij mijn moeders familie.
In de audiofragmenten die onder video staan hoor je mijn eigen versie van het krontjong-sentiment in het 4e deel (de Kumpulan), beginnend in 2’12”.


Over the Water: I – The Hills

Over the Water: II – The Sea (adagio)

Over the Water: III – A Strange Wedding (scherzo)

Over the Water: IV – A Gathering — Kumpulan