Martin Fondse

Martin Fondse

“Water is a beautiful metaphor for many aspects of life”

Interview by Stella Vrijmoed

Naar aanleiding van de suite 'Forces of Water' van componist en jazzpianist Martin Fondse, die op Zeeland Jazz in première is gegaan en op 23 juni in LantarenVenster te zien is, heeft Stella Vrijmoed hem in opdracht van Buma Cultuur geïnterviewd. 'Forces of Water', is geïnspireerd op zijn geboortegrond in Zeeland. Hij reflecteert op de waternoodsramp van 1953, zowel de dreiging die uitgaat van het water als de solidariteit en hoop die voortkomen uit de wederopbouw na zo'n ramp. Het artikel is Engelstalig.

‘The flooding of 1953 is a big thing in the history of Zeeland families’, Fondse says. He grew up on Tholen, an island in the eastern part of the Dutch province. ‘There were always pictures on the wall depicting villages submerged in water, and of drowning cows’, he recalls.

Seventy years after the disaster, Fondse believes it is appropriate to pay attention to this historical event. He incorporates musical elements such as phrases that slowly grow thicker and darker to express the threat of the water, with the bass and drums providing an impelling undertone, as well as harmonious passages that symbolize hope for the future. This hope stems from the reconstruction of Zeeland, including the building of the delta and the dikes, as well as the belief in science and technology to prevent natural disasters, he explains.

Weather Report

His notes are played by seven musicians with primarily Zeeland backgrounds: a saxophone quartet, drums, bass and keyboards. A standard jazz line-up, which Fondse, rooted in this tradition, is pleased to use for this occasion. He recalls how the band Weather Report was one of his major influences to start playing jazz and how he wrote his first saxophone quartet 30 years ago, at the beginning of his career. ‘It's beautiful that it all comes together like this. In a program about the weather, you need a weather report. And in some way, the sounds of the synthesizer from Weather Report blend with the saxophones, as if they are an extension.’

He does not set every note in stone, since improvisation is an essential element of jazz as well. Furthermore, he composes specifically for each musician, exploring their individual strengths, as he thinks this enhances the music. This freedom is reminiscent of the approach adopted by the members of Weather Report.

When Fondse thinks of Forces of Water, he thinks of energy. ‘There is a unique form of energy that emerges during disasters: solidarity, a human reaction to survive. The question is, how do we harness and organize all these energies to build, instead of destroy? There is a lot of energy compressed in this ensemble. Those saxophones players and their breaths, it is all about life, about constructing musical phrases within a single breath.’

Water as influence

Fondse revisited Zeeland a few times to seek inspiration from the water. ‘I used to hate the scent of the sea, but now it's nostalgic and beautiful to me.’ As a boy, he longed to escape his home ground. ‘If you wanted to be a jazz musician, there was nothing for you to do on that island. I wanted to go to the city, experience life. After spending some time there, I could look back on my roots in a more friendly manner.’

Because he grew up in close proximity to the water, he now has a special relationship with it. ‘Water is a beautiful metaphor for many aspects of life. It flows, you can go along with it but sometimes you must be cautious and protect yourself against it. It is always in motion, just like life, even though there are times when it may seem stagnant.’

Podcast Musicofobia

For a selected audience at inJazz 2023, Martin Fondse will launch his podcast, Musicofobia, where he will discuss the fear of listening to music that is often dismissed as ”abstract and difficult”. 'There are numerous fascinating niches, ranging from punk to death metal and contemporary choir music. I aim to demonstrate to people that there is nothing to fear.’

Music for everyone, everywhere

As Composer Laureate, an honorary title representing the Dutch contemporary music scene, Fondse travels across all twelve provinces of The Netherlands to set them to music. Forces of Water is part of a triptych, alongside Zuid-Holland (Faces of Water) and Noord-Holland (Future of Water), the waterline provinces.

Previously, Fondse brought together professional musicians and amateur players in the northern provinces. In his remaining six months as Composer Laureate, he will visit Flevoland, Utrecht and Overijssel, to collaborate with musicians who were born elsewhere but have built their life in The Netherlands.

For Fondse, it is important that Dutch people realize the significance of music and art in general. He finds the influx of young, talented individuals worrisome. With music schools disappearing and music education growing more expensive, it is becoming accessible only for the wealthy, according to Fondse. ‘This is a troubling development. Especially with the rise of AI in our lives. We must acknowledge we are creative beings, or else we will surely lose to technology. I will strive to convey this message whenever I have the opportunity, also outside concert halls, in public squares and festivals, during interviews like this or when meeting politicians.’

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