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Barely Dry Ink (1) Jonás Bisquert

In the many concerts during the Gaudeamus Muziekweek, a lot of works are performed of which the ink is only barely dry. We talked with several composers about the composition that we commissioned them to write. Starting with Jonás Bisquert. Together with festival Beyond (formerly Oriental Landscapes), we gave him a carte blanche with the theme of water as the only guideline. Based on this, he wrote a very special piece for New European Ensemble, Vocaal Ensemble Vocorte and poet Randa Awad. It can be heard for the first time on 8 September at the Weerdsluis, between EKKO and the Muzieklokaal.

Jonás is a composer of all traits. He tells me that he was born in the south of Spain, where he developed a very refined sense of rhythm. Rythm is also what he teaches at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. Typical to Bisquert is his broad and open view with which he approaches the world. In 2004, for example, he followed a scholarship in Indonesia, where he collaborated extensively with Indonesian musicians and mastered this musical tradition and its instruments.

He has also been working with musicians in asylum seekers’ centers for eight years. His role there is not as a teacher, but mainly it’s about playing together and listening to each other. He plays with musicians from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria, among others. “Through such collaborations, ideas are stimulated and your hearing grows, and that is enriching!” Mastering all those different traditions, Jonás has developed a idiosyncratic style that is hard to define.


Jonás let himself be inspired by water for this piece. The title Nocturne In European Waters already suggests something of the theme of the piece. Bisquert explains that water is full of contradictions: a river can bring people together, but also divide them. An ocean is an enormous barrier between different continents, but also the bridge. On a more metaphorical level there is also a contradiction between the poetic and political aspect of water.

In his preparations for this piece he did an extensive study of poetry about water. He made a selection of four poems by a Syrian, a Portuguese and two Dutch poets, in which the poetic and the political are united. For example in the poem of the Palestinian-Syrian Randa Awad, who is present as a vocalist during the performance, her experience of water symbolizes her journey to Europe.

Open air concert

And where else should a piece about water take place than on the water? The location played a major role since the beginning of the composer’s writing process. For example, he discussed the possibilites with New European Ensemble and Vocaal Ensemble Consorte beforehand, with a very simple question: what do you want to do and what can you do? To his pleasure, the musicians were very open and willing to take risk. This has resulted in a piece in which movement is an integral part of the composition. The movements over the quays of the Weerdsluis are always in direct relation to the music.

At the same time, an open air concert like this also raises practical objections: do you need to amplify this? Where does the audience stand or sit in relation to the musicians? These are not only practical choices but also artistic ones: “This concert is about proximity, reflection and intimacy. A softer sound can actually make the atmosphere between the musicians and the audience very intimate.” A location like this can contribute to the intimacy that Jonás hopes to achieve, but in the end “It’s the magic of music that is able to engage people.”

More info on the premiere of Nocturne In European Waters on 8 September at the Weerdsluis