Multicultural piece ‘Nomaden’ wins Grawemeyer music award


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Dutch composer Joel Bons has won the 2019 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for “Nomaden,” a one-hour work for cello solo and an ensemble of instruments from diverse cultures.

    Bons, 65, wrote the piece for French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and the Atlas Ensemble, a group of 18 eminent musicians from China, Japan, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Cello Biennale Amsterdam commissioned the work, which premiered in Amsterdam in October 2016.

    Besides cello, the work incorporates a wide array of Asian instruments – Chinese erhu and sheng, Japanese sho and shakuhachi, Indian sarangi, Turkish kemenche, Armenian duduk, Persian setar and Azerbaijani tar and kamancha – many of which are precursors of Western instruments.

    “’Nomaden’ is not a traditional concerto but a work for cello and instruments from cultures around the world,” Bons said. “I imagined an unlimited potential of combinations and an unheard spectrum of timbres. My aim was to create a piece in which the musicians and the instruments, in all their cultural differences, could bloom in full glory.”

    Bons, a music composition professor at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, learned about world music as a child by listening to his parents’ record collection. In 1980, he co-founded the contemporary music group Nieuw Ensemble, which earned the Prince Bernhard Fund Music Prize in 1998 for “markedly lively and adventurous” programming.

    He founded Atlas Ensemble in 2002 and continues to serve as its artistic director, winning the Amsterdam Prize for the Arts in 2005. In 2009, he started Atlas Academy/Lab, a laboratory for the creation of intercultural music.

    His pieces have been performed by ensembles and orchestras in Europe, China and Canada.

    “Art of all kinds is becoming more and more eclectic, juxtaposing materials and influences in increasingly new ways,” said Marc Satterwhite, a University of Louisville music professor who directs the music award. “’Nomaden’ is one of the most successful musical examples of this trend in recent years.”

    Recipients of the 2019 Grawemeyer Awards are being named this week pending formal approval by university trustees. The annual, $100,000 prizes reward outstanding ideas in music, world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners will visit Louisville in April to accept their awards and give free talks on their winning ideas.