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Ernst Reijseger – cellist & composer


Dutch cellist, composer & improvisor Ernst Reijseger is an influential improvising musician who developed a personal vocabulary on his instrument.

Ernst Reijseger is a genre bender. His compositions and collaborations transcend musical styles and art forms. He is a creative partner of film- and theatre makers, actors, storytellers, poets, dancers, dj’s, painters, sculptors, photographers, glassblowers, inventors and horses.

Since 2004, Reijseger scored films for Werner Herzog, Alex and Andrew Smith and others. In 2013 Reijseger played in dialogue with paintings by Jerry Zeniuk by making a tour through the gallery whilst playing (album Crystal Palace). Spring and summer 2017 he scored and performed his music to Shakespeare’s Hamlet at The Public Theatre in New York City.

His musical collaborations include many styles: improvised and jazz music – Harmen Fraanje, Han Bennink, Misha Mengelberg, Steve Lacy, Uri Caine, Deborah Brown – classical and baroque music – Yo Yo Ma, Giovanni Sollima, Erik Bosgraaf, Dutch Wind Ensemble, Forma Antiqua – and traditional music – Trilok Gurtu, Tenore e Concordu de Orosei, Groove Lélé, Nana Vasconcelos, A Filetta, Mola Sylla, Ceylan Ertem.

Reijseger’s live performances challenge expectation and provoke communication. Reijseger likes to incorporate the acoustics and reflections of the performance space.


Current projects

Solo performance

Reijseger performs his own compositions and improvisations

Duo performance

Ernst Reijseger plays duo with Harmen Fraanje (piano), Mario Forte (violin), Erik Bosgraaf (recorder), Giovanni Sollima (cello), Alan ‘Gunga’ Purves (percussion), Mola Sylla (voice), Hanna Mattes (poetry).

Trio performance

trio Reijseger Fraanje Sylla, trio Graewe Reijseger Hemingway

The Face of God

Ernst Reijseger & Sardinian Voices Tenore e Cuncordu de Orosei


Requiem for a Dying Planet | Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Live music with large ensemble, choir and cinematographic projections of films by Werner Herzog


Influences and techniques

As a nine-year old boy, jazz music had its first real impact on him. He was fifteen when he played his first gig in Amsterdam and sixteen when he started touring as member of a band. Anner Bijlsma, his cello teacher at the conservatory, advised him to pursue his personal interest. In the following years Reijseger played and toured extensively with theatre and dance companies and musicians from the international improvised music, Caribbean, African and jazz scene, all part of Amsterdam in the ’70 and ’80.

Reijseger: “I’m a non-repertoire cellist, following a non-traditional path. From when I was very young, music from all over the world inspired me. I intuitively played in a way that I later found out is called improvisation. Although I was always interested in the traditional cello technique and aware of the cello repertoire, I became more and more self-taught in playing and composing. My pizzicato techniques are inspired by plucking and fingerpicking of (bass) guitar players. Drummers from all over inspired my rhythmical approach. Pianists, guitarists and saxophonists influenced my phrasing. I’ve always worked with musicians deriving from different traditions.”



Between his twenties and forties, Reijseger collaborated on 200 albums, with musicians such as Louis Sclavis, Alan ‘Gunga’ Purves and Sean Bergin, Trio Clusone, Arcado String Trio, Trio Graewe/Reijseger/Hemingway, Amsterdam String Trio, Misha Mengelberg’s Instant Composers Pool, Gerry Hemingway Quintet, Franky Douglas Sunchild, Company Derek Bailey, Ray Anderson.

In the last two decades, Reijseger remains a frequently invited musician, for a.o. Davy Sicard, Mats Eilertsen, Ceylan Ertem, Barana, Deborah Brown, Boi Akih, Maria Pia de Vito, Simon Nabatov, Uri Caine, Moondog.

Reijseger performed and recorded as a soloist and/or composer with a number of large ensembles, choirs and orchestras, such as WDR Big Band, Dutch Wind Ensemble, Ensemble Modern, Autunno Ensemble, VU Chamber Choir, Dutch Chamber Choir, Children’s Orchestra at Cello Biennale Amsterdam, the 100 Cellos, Capella Cracoviensis, Forma Antiqva.


Colla Parte

Reijseger’s first internationally distributed solo album was Colla Parte (1997).

This was the beginning of twenty albums for the label Winter&Winter.


Spring Music

Since 2021, Reijseger’s music and videos are released on his label Spring Music, available on all digital platforms.



Film scores and documentaries

Over the last fifteen years Reijseger scored ten films and documentaries for Werner Herzog, such as The White Diamond, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Family Romance Ltd., Nomad, In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin and Fireball.

He also scored the films Walking Out for Alex and Andrew Smith, C’est déjà l’été by Martijn Maria Smits, Love by James Gallagher, Piano to Zanskar by Michal Sulima and Transumanza by Roberto Zazzara.

In the Netherlands, he scored the documentary Mongools Goud (Mongolian Gold) by Thomas Doebele & Maarten Schmidt and collaborated to a series of documentaries about Dutch artists called Hollandse Meesters (Dutch Masters).



Video installation ‘Hearsay of the Soul’ by Werner Herzog features Reijseger’s music together with the art of early 17th century painter and print maker Hercules Pieterszoon Seghers. It is part of the collection at the Getty Museum, the Whitney Museum and the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum.


Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Spring and summer 2017 Reijseger scored and performed live to 73 performances of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at The Public Theatre in New York City, with a.o. Oscar Isaac, Keegan Michael Key and Gayle Rankin, directed by Sam Gold.


Music films about Ernst Reijseger

Irish music filmmaker Myles O’Reilly (www.arbutusyarns.net) frequently follows Ernst Reijseger’s encounters and tours: Encounter at Teatro Valle, Encounter at the Cello Biënnale, Returning Home – Live from Connolly’s of Leap, Dromberg Stone Circle, Encounters on Tour – Reijseger, Fraanje, Sylla.

Documentaries made about/with Ernst Reijseger are Do You Still by Jaques Goldstein and Rondgang door de VPRO (Tour through the VPRO building) by Cherry Duyns.


Photos and commercials

Dutch photographer/graphic designer/commercial director Krijn van Noordwijk (www.krijnvannoordwijk.com) creates artwork for Spring Music.

Their collaboration goes both ways. Reijseger underscored six commercials directed by Krijn van Noordwijk (SP, Millner, Brand Bier, Wijn & Stael, Royal Canin, Aids Fonds).



Reijseger is invited to teach at music academies Accademia Musicale Chigiana (music&media), Amsterdam Conservatorium (all disciplines), Koninklijk Conservatorium The Hague (thesis supervisor), Prins Claus Conservatorium (European Master of Music NAIP – New Audiences and Innovative Practice), Kronberg Academy Festival.


Collaborations over time

Improvised and jazz music: Harmen Fraanje, Mario Forte, Mats Eilertsen, Trio Clusone, Han Bennink, Michael Moore, Misha Mengelberg’s Instant Composers Pool, Arcado String Trio (Mark Feldman, Ernst Reijseger, Mark Dresser), Amsterdam String Trio (Maurice Horsthuis, Ernst Reijseger, Ernst Glerum), Sean Bergin, Alan ‘Gunga’ Purves, Steve Lacy, Uri Caine, Georg Graewe, Gerry Hemingway, Louis Sclavis, Louis Moholo, Franco D’Andrea, Cristina Zavalloni, Deborah Brown.

Classical and baroque music: Yo Yo Ma, Giovanni Sollima, Erik Bosgraaf, Dutch Wind Ensemble, Forma Antiqua, Larissa Groeneveld, Frank van de Laar, Dutch Chamber Choir, Capella Cracoviensis.

Traditional music: Franky Douglas, Mola Sylla, Rónán Ó’ Snodaigh, Trilok Gurtu, Tenore e Cuncordu de Orosei, Groove Lélé, Nana Vasconcelos, A Filetta, Boi Akih, Adama Dramé, Barana, Ceylan Ertem.

Theater: Shakespeare’s Hamlet/Sam Gold, Het Toneel Speelt

Music Theater: Theatergroep Flint Amsterdam, Teo Joling

Dancers: Compagnia Virgilio Sieni, Thomas Noone Dance, Bollwerk

Actors/Directors: Oscar Isaac, Keegan Michael Key, Sam Gold, Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Katie Duck, Hans Croiset

Poets/Writers: Ramsy Nasr, Joke van Leeuwen, Hanna Mattes

Painters/sculptors/photographers: Jerry Zeniuk, Gerti Bierenbroodspot, Robert Zandvliet, Simon Kramer, Joost Guntenaar, Krijn van Noordwijk, Roberto Masotti

Installations: Hearsay of the Soul by Werner Herzog

Filmmakers and documentarians: Werner Herzog, Alex&Andrew Smith, Myles O’Reilly, Martijn Maria Smits, Ramon en Salvador Gieling, Jaques Goldstein, Cherry Duyns, Thomas Doebele&Maarten Schmidt, James Gallagher, Michal Sulima, Roberto Zazzara

Video artists: Martijn Grootendorst



1985 Boy Edgar Prize

1995 Bird Award

2010 Edison Contemporary Classical Music for solo album Tell Me Everything

2010 Trophée des Arts Afro-Caribéen for album Zembrocal Musical with Groove LéLé

2010 Golden Calf for film score C’est déjà l’été by Martijn Maria Smits

2019 Werner Herzog Film Award



Ernst Reijseger plays a 5-string cello by Bolink & Steinhauer, granted by the Nationaal Muziekinstrumenten Fonds

Reijseger plays an electric 5-string cello by NS design.


Music journalist Jeff Tamarkin on Ernst Reijseger (April 2010, Carnegie Hall)

Ernst Reijseger has studied the cello rulebook, absorbed it thoroughly, and thrown it out the window. Never restricted by othersconcepts of genre or application, the Dutch master has consistently recast the instrument as his own. Working within virtually any format he fancies, Reijseger has always challenged himself to reach out toward the unanticipated, to move the music around corners in order to reveal unforeseen vistas. His technique is superb, his improvisational skills masterful, and his compositional virtuosity unquestionable, but Reijsegers music also projects warmth, depth, and splendor—even at its most extreme. Whether pushing the limits of jazz, world music, or modern classical—working solo or with an ensemble—Reijseger never settles for the obvious. With each piece he writes, and in each project he undertakes, Reijseger sets out to explore the myriad tones, colors, and moods available to him, envelops them, then steps around them to investigate possible alternatives. His music is not always easy, but its always satisfying. About the only thing one can expect from Ernst Reijseger is the unexpected.


Filmmaker Werner Herzog on Ernst Reijseger

He is a magnificent cellist, and he can do anything, anything on his cello. He could play the civil war, the American Civil war on his cello.