Nicolaas Cottenie


For a long time, my main interest has been klezmer music, and how to combine the rich and fascinating Jewish musical tradition with other things musical that I like, mainly (extended) tonal harmony, contemporary classical music, and improvisation. And then also Balkan music, Greek music and a lot of other styles as well- it’s a bit eclectic really.

The single most important thing that happened to me in my musical life is the fact that I had the honor and the opportunity to study with Alan Bern, my favorite musician and teacher and thinker. He developed a method for free improvisation called Present Time Composition that I learned to understand and teach through years of reading and practicing.

Another thing that is a big factor in who I am musically today is my study of classical tonality. Much more than the complex harmonic theory that I studied in my jazz conservatory education, it is what inspires me today as a composer. This would never have happened without the help of another great teacher, Lieven Strobbe. Listening to the music on this website, you will probably hear what I mean when I say that I got a lot out of studying some Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven compositions (although, just to be clear, I do not by a long shot consider myself a specialist).

In the rest of this website, you can find some more information about my main projects at the moment: there is a silent film project called No Words (Zonder Woorden in Dutch), a modern klezmer band called Halva, a traditional klezmer duo with my partner Alina Bauer called Azind, and then there is a project that is meanwhile discontinued but that is still so important to me that I can’t fail to mention it: Maggid. Lastly, there is a word or two about a thing as vague as research into musical improvisation.