The 4th International Adolphe Sax Competition commissioned Swerts to write the required final round work for the 2006 competition in Dinant, Belgium. Kotekan is dedicated to Alain Crepin, who is the Belgian-born Professor of Saxophone at the Brussels Conservatoire Royal de Musique. Crepin has been deeply involved with the International Adolphe Sax Competition since its beginning in 1994, and he has served as the president of the jury since 2005. During the Adolphe Sax Competition, it was Spanish saxophonist Antonio Felipe Belijar who performed the work first in the final round.
Kotekan is approximately 15 minutes long and is written for a solo alto saxophone and a string orchestra comprised of three string quintets. Two of the quintets are comprised of three violins, viola, and cello, and the third quintet is comprised of three violins, viola, and double bass.
The orchestra’s seating arrangement plays an integral role in the work’s performance because of its connections to Balinese gamelan, which Swerts explains in his detailed program note:
“Kotekan implies the interlocking of two or more instruments in a Balinese gamelan orchestra, Norot means to follow, both terms come from the Balinese gamelan music. Its polyrhythmic devices were inspiring to write a new piece based on an unusual disposition of the string orchestra divided into three quintets, opposed to each other, whereas the soloist in the middle should play the Kotekan melodies against the ketjak chorus. The ketjak was used to accompany a ballet based on the Ramayana epic, which is the story of the prince Rama and his bride, the beautiful Sita. The ketjak is an imitation of an episode where Hanuman, king of the monkeys and his army meets Rama. The chorus consists of nearly all the men from a Balinese village, sitting in tight concentric circles (circles within circles), chanting the following rhythm to a single syllable, tjak, made at the back of their throats. There are different types of kotekan. In a Balinese gamelan orchestra there are the polos, played on the primary downbeats, and the sangsih, played on the offbeats. In this work, the polos were replaced by quintet I and the sangsih by quintet III, or II. The result shows a fascinating orchestrated score where the rhythmic patterns are coming from left, right or center of the stage.”
In addition to the influence of Balinese gamelan, Swerts also drew upon the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, to inspire some of the harmonies used in the composition:
“The name Adolphe Sax results in the mode a b (German h) d e ; the S of Sax stands for E flat and therefore the A-mode has been transposed a tritone higher on E flat. The result generates a quite exotic scale: A, B♭, B, D, E♭, E, F, G♯. This scale can be transposed many times and gives the harmony a very special color to the piece.”