Presence of Absence


Equal parts doom prophecy, howl of remorse, and stoic resignation, Oscar Bettison’s Presence of Absence is a penetrating work for voice and ensemble from one of the most in-demand composers of his generation. His electrifying, intense and colourful sounds are brought to reflect on Western Civilisation as builder and destroyer of cities. Weaving together contemporary and ancient texts to evoke the culture’s ruins, the work observes civilisation through the gauze of what remains and sees how yesterday’s lessons are both eerily ignored and devastatingly excised.

In this 55-minute work for ten musicians and soprano, contemporary anxieties about civilisational drag are brought into sharp focus. With the interspersal of excerpts about physical spaces of absence from antiquity and the modern age – on the subjects of Roman ruins, oceans, and interstellar space – the work is rooted both in our moment and in the remove of time.

Ensemble Klang’s artistic director Pete Harden: “In an age when ancient ruins are being destroyed in Syria and we are losing irreplaceable artefacts from historically important cultures, this impressive new piece by Oscar Bettison deals with the collapse of human civilization by showing us the ruins that have been left standing. The work focuses on the foreboding and disturbing emptiness of the places on which cities once stood. The Presence of Absence will surely be a significant concert piece in the next ten years.”


  • 15 Oct 2016, Festival Dag in de Branding, Nieuwe Kerk, The Hague
  • 29 April 2017, Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, Baltimore, MD
  • 21 Mar 2018, Red Sofa Series, Doelen Concert Hall, Rotterdam
    With screening Homo Sapiens by documentarist Nikolaus Geyrhalter


“captivating atmospheres that transport the listener”

Presence of Absence De Doelen 21 maart 2018 door Hans EeuwesPremiere Presence of Absence during Festival Dag in de Branding. Photo Rob Hogeslag.