musicians from across europe – music without borders

wednesday 5 november 2014 | 20:15 |amsterdam | muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ


Strange news

Rolf Wallin/Josse De Pauw Strange News

Anton Webern Konzert für 9 Instrumente

Dimitri Shostakovich Pianotrio no. 2

Pavel Haas Suite


Arthur Kisenyi actor

Josse De Pauw director

New European Ensemble

about the programme

muziekgebouw aan ’t ij

In Strange News music, film and theatre merge. It is a masterpiece about the fate of African child soldiers by the Swedish composer Rolf Wallin and the Flemish director Josse De Pauw. They both travelled to Congo and Uganda to interview former child soldiers, on whose experiences Strange News is based.



Watching the Ugandan actor Arthur Kisenyi perform the child soldier in Strange News is an unforgettable experience. He truly lives his part. Strange News consists of several episodes like the acts in a theatrical play. The young boy gets abducted by a cruel militia and is forced to take up the arms against his own village. He manages to escape. After a moving and impressive process of reconciliation he is reunited with his community.


Josse De Pauw brings the story to life as a documentary, supported with authentic news flashes, that are shown on the screen. Rolf Wallin’s music is gripping and theatrical. To accompany the images of war he distorted African propaganda music and reveals its dark and cynical character. He evokes the magic of the jungle with a mesmerizing and surreal sound scape.


In the pieces that complement Strange News war is present or tangible. Anton Webern composed his Konzert for nine instruments in 1934, when Hitler’s Nazi party had been in power for a year. It is a concentrated piece and one of Webern’s greatest works. Four months after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, in 1939, the composer Pavel Haas protested with his Suite for oboe and piano. He quotes from the Saint Wenceslas Chorale, which the Czechs cherish as their second national anthem. In 1944 Shostakovich used Klezmer music in his Second Pianotrio as a moving statement against the destruction of the Jews.


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rolf wallin on strange news

Strange News represents a large work for the concert hall that deals with matters in the world around us. It is not a piece of ‘political art’ in the traditional sense, in which one often propagates against a clearly defined ‘enemy’ and proposes a solution for the problem, but rather as an artistic parallel to a TV or radio documentary: a small, but informative window onto a particular matter, where the empathy with those involved is more important than dry information, and where no conclusions are made.



The subject matter of Strange News is the children used so utterly cynically as soldiers in wars around the world, the so-called child soldiers. Many of those who have escaped have in recent years been taken into aid programmes, where they are helped to live normally in society again. One of the main challenges is that the social ties to their own community were often brutally cut when they were forced to commit atrocities to their own tribe, even their own family. In the therapy, local traditional rituals can be used, focusing on the individual as a part of the collective, with song and dance as important ingredients. The wonderful thing is that the therapy actually works; a glimpse of hope in one of the darkest chapters of African contemporary history.


The Norwegian charity Christian Relief Network (CRN) has long experience from work with child soldiers. Josse De Pauw and I, together with a reporter and a cameraman from NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation), visited the CRN projects in Uganda and The Congo in November 2006. We met former child soldiers, talked to them, and recorded their words, which Josse wove into the piece’s libretto. Furthermore, we recorded some sound and video material for use in the performance. And finally, we held auditions to find an actor to participate in the performance, ending up with a wonderful young Ugandan actor called Arthur Kisenyi.


Strange News is cast in five sections. The first section, News, is introduced by a newscaster with the words: “Good evening. Here is the news”, and features real video footage of children fighting in African conflicts, accompanied by a manic distorted version of the intense, pounding music that accompanies television news broadcasts. This music gradually dies away, and leads into the second section, Strange, in which the narrator tells his own terrible story – of how as a young boy he was pressed into the service of the army that attacked his village. The horrors become ever more real to the audience, as real sounds of war invade the concert hall via the surround sound system, until in the third section Life Like Water, these sounds dissolve into an electroacoustic landscape. The narrator, now separated from the army and in fact deserted by the musicians who have fled the stage, talks of how he lost he feels – he can feel his life running through his fingers like water. At last, in the fourth section Singing and Dancing, the narrator is rescued, and, through participating in community music-making – which we can see on the video screen, accompanied by the musicians on stage – he is re-integrated into society. In the final section, entitled Home, the narrator can reflect on his life and look to the future. After the music has stopped, he can confront the audience: “I want a life more or less like yours. Would that be possible?”


The orchestral version of Strange News was co-commissioned by the Casa da Musica, Porto and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, who gave the world premiere performance in May 2007. The ensemble version of the piece was commissioned by the Integra consortium of new music ensembles, for premiere by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in June 2008.

New European Ensemble is supported by Fonds Podiumkunsten (from 2017) and the city of The Hague