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State of Siege

A cantata for orchestra chorale and soloists based on the poem by Mahmoud Darwich
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  • Le café arabe, strophe 2 (played by The Garrett List Ensemble & sung by Gilles Wiernik)


  • 5/4 Reggae, strophe 8 (played by The Garrett List Ensemble & sung by Gilles Wiernik)



The cantata which was to become “State of Siege” was originally suggested to me by the Liege, Belgium based amateur chorale group “C’est des Canailles”.
This vocal ensemble has made a reputation for itself singing the songs of the nazi resistance from before and during the second world war. In the nearly 10 years of its existence their repertoire was enlarged to encompass also the politically engaged songs of today. Francis Danloy, the artistic director of the group, approached me about the possibility of a collaboration. It was then that one of the groups members Yvettte Lecomte found the text of Mahmoud Darwich’s, “State of Siege” which was written in Ramallah in January, 2002.

It is now a collaboration with the Aquarius chor from Gent (Belgium) with Marc Michael De Smedt as director.


I was immediately taken by the text, in its French translation, and decided to create a chorale work for ‘les canailles’. After having started to compose the music it became clear that the text needed to be treated as something larger than a work for choir ‘a cappella’. I talked to the choir members about my dilemma and together we decided that I would make a version for them, an amateur vocal group and another for me, a large work for soloists, chorus and orchestra.

For the small version I chose 12 of the 34 stanzas ( in French) and for the large version I will use the entire text.

“State of Siege” received its first performance in Liege, Belgium for the 3rd edition of the bi-annual Festival de Liège . It was sung in French with the chorale of the Goeyvarts Consort , the “Garrett List Ensemble” and 3 vocal soloists – 2 female ‘lyric’ voices and one male ‘non-lyric’ voice. The elapsed time should be a little over 1 and 1/2 hours of music. Which is an evenings work with or without an intermission.


What impresses me the most about Darwich is his humanity, all encompassing. Having lived in one of the most difficult places and/or situations that our planet has to offer, he remains a human being. One can sense the pain, the suffering; his own and that of his people. But pain is not the overriding feeling. Its as if he is calling out to the world to feel deeply the beauty of life so that we can each develop the compassion necessary to enlarge our selves, our hearts, to stop the nonsensical and continual raping of our own souls that has characterized the last 50 years. That’s where he and I join together. With this question “Why must we, as human beings, continually nurture the worst in ourselves?” This not a negative question but a necessary one. One that we must honestly face with the hope that we will find the solution.

I think that Darwich is one of the great poets of our time. His language is smooth and never callous. He can say the most difficult things in ways that make them audible and understandable. He awakes our compassion for oppressed peoples and their struggle to have what they need without harassing us and making us feel guilty. With him we question our feelings and look directly into our contradictions.

“We cultivate hope in the State of Siege”, he remarks. “Its not intelligent to look for a victory : with their shelling and bombardments our enemies give us light even in the darkness of our long nights and our shelters.”

I am on his side. In the difficult task of resolving the struggles between peoples often provoked by greed, avarice and/or simple self interest, we need his voice.

The Music

For the moment the music exists in ‘a cappella’ form(SATB) and was composed for an amateur chorale group in Liege, Belgium. Because the learning process was generally slow, I started with easier things Like “Au bord de la mort” and the melody from “Si tu n’es pluie” and on this base built a music more and more complex. Finally the complex music could end up being difficult even for a professional choir. The music that will follow (for professional singers) will enlarge the range of the voices beyond what it has been for the amateur singers.

Instrumental Choices

The chamber orchestra for “State of Siege” is comprised of Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Piano, Electric Bass, Percussion and String Orchestra. This orchestra will serve as an instrumental support for the soloists and the chorale. The orchestra will also have its own responsibilities in that it will play interludes and piano and bass function generally as a rhythm section.

The Voices

In the vocal music that is a part of my out put, the comprehension of the text is of utmost importance and this is even more true in the texts of Mahmoud Darwish. The choice of the voice types is therefore based on this principle There are 2 female voices, classical soprano and alto and one non classical male voice. The contrast of these 2 kinds of singing lies in the fact that one is projected and the other intimate. The influence of one on the other tends to make the words more understandable. There will soon be a demo recording of a few of the different pieces in their ‘a cappella’ form which will be done by the “Aquarius” chorus directed by Marc Michaël de Smedt.

Compositeur, Directeur

Garrett LIST


Laure DELCAMPE - soprano
Julie BAILLY – mezzo soprano
Gilles WIERNIK – basse-bariton


Maritsa NEY
Anne-Sylvie PRIMO

Alt Viol



Aurélie CHARNEUX, Clarinette
Anne GENNEN, Saxophone Alto
Marc FRANKINET, Trompette
Claude REMACLE, Trombone
Tuur FLORIZOONE, Accordéon - soliste
Emmanuel LOUIS, Guitare
Nicolas DECHENE, Guitare
Michel MARRISSIAUX, Basse électrique


Bissan AHMED

Chorale Aquarius

Dir. : Marc Michael De Smet

Mady Bonert
Annemie Clarysse
Lieve Jansen
Chris Magnus
Astrid Stockman
Gwendolyn Vankeirsbilck

Mieke De Blieck
Carolien De Wilde
Liesbet Derese
Natalie Goossens
Tin Siegers
Martine Vanacker

Jos Braeken
Marc De Smet
Andreas Halling
Koen Laukens
Peter Ratinckx
Sim Van Thienen

Koen Meynckens
Rudy Tambuyser
Wouter Vande Ginste
Lieven Van den Eede
Luc Van Ocken
Patrick Van Reckem