On a stormy winter night in 1953, North Sea waters overwhelmed dykes and raged over the Dutch lowlands, drowning 1,836 people. Fifty years later, the flood remained vivid in Dutch memory, and composer Douwe Eisenga was commissioned to write a memorial piece.
He wanted to create a work that honored the occasion but also transcended it and spoke to audiences outside the Netherlands. He succeeded.
Since its 2003 premiere in Zeeland, where many of the casualties occurred, his "The Flood, Requiem" has been performed in Europe and, Friday, November 8, will receive its U.S. premiere in Mount Vernon.
It is taking place there because Cornell College music professors Martin and Lisa Hearne fell in love with the work after a search for music that addresses floods. They were haunted by Iowa's ongoing challenges with flooding and, also, by Martin's experience of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. For the performance at King’s Chapel at Cornell at 7:30 p.m., they have prepared a large orchestra and chorus, which will be joined by Iowa City mezzo-soprano Kelly Hill and augmented by multimedia video.
Cornell brought Eisenga to Iowa for the concert, aided by a Netherlands travel grant. Earlier this week, he came to Cedar Falls to tell me about his work. Near the beginning of the interview, he said that some North Sea flood survivors were present for the 2003 premiere. One of them had never said a word about the flood in 50 years, even to his children - until after the concert. It’s a testament to the power of music. And a few minutes later in the interview, you’ll hear a clip from "The Flood, Requiem":