bells and waves

instruments large ensemble:

flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling cor anglais), clarinet, bass clarinet (doubling clarinet), bassoon (doubling contrabassoon), percussion, piano, violin, viola, violoncello and double-bass.


1. ”Ringing Bells, Standing Waves” (6’)
2. ”Passing Bells, Floating Waves” (9’)
3. ”Jerking Bells, Turning Waves” (5’)
4. ”Striking Bells, Icy Waves” (4’)
5. ”Shaking Bells, Running Waves” (5’)


year of production 2010


dedication Christian Karlsen


commissioner New European Ensemble


duration 30’


first performance 
November 11 2010

Staadsgehorzaal, Leiden, Netherlands

New European Ensemble

Christian Karlsen, conductor






work comments

The chamber symphony Bells and Waves was commissioned by the New European Ensemble and premiered in 2010 during the White Crow Music Festival in Leiden, the Netherlands. The piece is dedicated to the ensemble’s conductor and artistic director Christian Karlsen.

Since childhood I’ve thought of bells and water as a source of inspiration. I came into close contact with bells when my parents bought me a set of handmade brass bells at a market in Split, Croatia during our summer vacation there. The sound of bells is very rich in overtones and vibrations, while water has existed since before the Earth was created. In my music bells became chords and water became melody.




1) Standing Waves, Ringing Bells (Introduction) –  is a vibrant, exuberant and outgoing movement where various standing waves and ringing bells meet and are transformed along the way. The focus here is not only on the tutti-sections but also on the individual solo parts, which are naive and purely comical as in a cartoon or in Japanese noh theatre. The movement ends absurdly, disappearing upwards.




2) Passing Bells, Floating Bells (Aria) is an introverted and floating movement where the pianist plays ”as church bells from afar” and where the woodwinds are rocking boats passing below a mysterious bridge during dense mist and heat. It culminates eventually in an almost ”elegiac aria” for piano solo, which the rest of the ensemble shadows with motives like the sounds of a landscape. The water reflects the memories of the distant past and eventually leads to an ecstatic middle section. The culmination of a brutal explosion leads to a meditative section with colourful drones that gradually die out.




3) Jerking Bells, Turning Waves (Scherzo) is playful and at times aggressive with sudden outbursts giving impressions of rivers polluted with debris as well as broken bells.
Rough passages give the impression of zapping quickly through TV and radio channels or browsing the internet. Quotations from my early works including the tuba concerto Sacrificio, Tranströmer Songs, Confrontation for solo trumpet and brass quintet and Four Colours appear in distorted form as music that references folk, jazz and modernism.




4) Striking Bells, Icy Waves (Intermezzo) is an interlude that reflects on the dramatic end of the previous movement where everything is frozen into ice and where ice blocks form, thaw and fall to the sound of a ship’s clock, which functions as a fateful alarm for the current situation as well as giving us hope that better times are coming.




5) Shaking Bell, Running Waves (Finale) begins with toccata-like figures and repetitive structures that constantly evolve. Motivic material from the first movement is presented stridently and leads to a hurricane-like climax and finally fades out by being flushed underground.

reviews on Bells and Waves


 […] ”Zudem am Schluss ein neues, für dieses Ensemble komponiertes Werk des Engländers Benjamin Staern (* 1978), der in ,,Bells and Waves. fünfsätzig seine Bilder von Glocken und Wellenbewegungen in Klang umsetzt, dabei extrem sinfonisch denkt und die einzelnen lnstrumente nicht solistisch behandelt. Aber ein Werk, das personalstilistisch bemerkenswert emotional aufgeladen ist und entsprechenden Eindruck” […]

[…] ”In addition, at the end a new, composed for this ensemble work of the Englishman Benjamin Staern (* 1978), the five movements converts his pictures of bells and wave movements in,, Bells and Waves. In sound, yet extremely symphonic thinking and the individual instruments not treated as a soloist. But a work that is personal stylistically remarkable emotionally charged and corresponding impression.” […]

Carsten Dürer, Ensemble – Magazin für Kammermusik, 


February/March 2011


Studio Acusticum, Piteå SWEDISH PREMIERE!

Norrbotten NEO
Christian Karlsen

[…] ”en svettig, bisarr tonextravaganza med det surrealistiska vanvettet hos en tecknad film.… 

bara alldeles, alldeles underbart.” […]

[…] ”in a perspiring, bizarre extravaganza of pitches with its surreal madness in a cartoon flick…..
simply, simply wonderful”. […]

Anders Lundkvist, Norrbottenskuriren, May 26th 2014.



[…] ”supervirtuost inte bara i instrumentering och motivbehandling utan på så sätt att vad som helst kunna hända. Mycket underhållande.” […]

[…]”super-virtousic not just in terms of instrumentation and motivic work but in the sense that anything can happen. Very entertaining.” […]

Andreas Engström, Nutida Musik 3 2014/15, May 26th 2014.

other performances



Theater aan het Spui, Den Haag, Netherlands

New European Ensemble

Christian Karlsen


Studio Acusticum, Piteå

Norrbotten Neo

Christian Karlsen


Borups Højskole, Copenhagen, Denmark
Athelas Sinfonietta
Jakob Hultberg


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