Arts and Culture

A multicultural, hour-long work for cello and ensemble by Dutch composer Joël Bons has been awarded the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition.

Nomaden was composed for the Cello Biennale Amsterdam and premiered there in 2016 by cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, conductor Ed Spanjaard and the Atlas Ensemble, where Bons is also Artistic Director. The ensemble is comprised of musicians from around the world, playing instruments native to countries in the Middle East and Asia.

Bons’ composition is a virtuosic and expansive work, that combines traditional Western classical instruments and the Chinese erhu and sheng, Japanese sho and shakuhachi, Indian sarangi, Turkish kemenche, Armenian duduk, Persian setar and Azerbaijani tar and kamancha. Stylistically, Nomaden moves freely between folk and dance-like music, improvisation and a wide range of contemporary music and sounds, with the cello as a unifying force.


Bons said he grew up listening to a wide range of world music through his parents’ record collection, but it wasn’t until after his conservatory training and studies with modernist composer Brian Ferneyhough that he started considering the world music of his youth.

“I found the contemporary scene too limited,” he said. “So, in a way, I started thinking after my studies in Freiburg and in Italy, getting back to these wonderful world musics that I remembered.”

“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 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition. Nomaden is one of the most successful musical examples of this trend in recent years.”

The annual award, now in its thirty-third year, is given to a composer for a specific musical composition, and carries a $100,000 cash prize. A recording of Nomaden will be available in early December from the recording label BIS.