One of Michel van der Aa’s most critically acclaimed works is to receive its first US and UK performances at the start of 2016. The Book of Disquiet is Van der Aa’s third music theatre work, and will be produced in a new English-language version. Both US and UK performances will feature the renowned English actor and director Samuel West (Howard’s End, ENRON) in the solo stage role of Bernardo Soares, alter ego of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, whose posthumous novel ‘The Book of Disquiet’ serves as a haunting, dreamlike, ‘factless autobiography’. The US performances, at Montclair State University, New Jersey, will be the first staging of any of Van der Aa’s large-scale operas in the United States.
The Book of Disquiet will be performed at the Alexander Kasser Theatre, Montclair State University, from 21 to 24 January, conducted by Alan Pierson. It will then be staged at the Coronet Theatre, London, in two performances by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Joana Carneiro, on 24 and 25 February.
For more information about the Montclair performances, click here.
For more about the London performances, click here.
Just two months before its world premiere, work is progressing quickly on Van der Aa’s new 3D chamber opera, Blank Out. Building on the technical innovation of Sunken Garden, Blank Out combines live action and 3D video to explore the nature of memory and the effects of trauma.
In December the 3D segments, featuring baritone Roderick Williams, who also appeared in Sunken Garden, were filmed in the studio and the Friesland countryside in the north Netherlands. The choral parts featuring the Nederlands Kamerkoor that make up a large part of the opera’s electronic soundtrack have also been recorded. In February rehearsals begin with the Swedish soprano Miah Persson, who appears on stage as a lone woman dealing with a disturbing event in her past.
Blank Out will be performed on 20, 21 and 25 March 2016 as part of Dutch National Opera’s Opera Forward Festival, and tickets are available via either the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ website or the Dutch National Opera website.
Michel van der Aa has been awarded the prestigious Johannes Vermeer Award, the Dutch state prize for the arts.
Worth a total of 100,000 euros, the Johannes Vermeer Award has been presented since 2009 to outstanding artists across all disciplines who are working in the Netherlands. Previous winners include the opera director Pierre Audi, the artist Marlene Dumas, and the architect Rem Koolhaas. The sum given is to be used for the realisation of a new project.
Van der Aa is the first musician to receive the award, and the youngest recipient to date. The prize jury were unanimous in their decision, and their report praised Van der Aa for his “ground-breaking role in music, both in the Netherlands and internationally, and his surefootedness in combining his musical idiom with movement, film, the internet, theatre, electronics, and visual elements,” adding that:
From his first compositions dating from the mid-1990s, he drew on the latest techniques which he applied to great perfection. Van der Aa is also blessed with a theatrical instinct which makes his music not only a listening experience but also a visual happening.
Michel van der Aa doesn’t just think and write music, he actually sees, tastes and experiences it. In the jury’s view, his agility in forging and transforming various art genres into an organic whole is without equal. His work displays great coherence as he himself handles all the disciplines. Moreover, his musical basis is never overcluttered but is rather nourished by the combination of various genres.”
The award will be officially presented by the minister of culture Jet Bussemaker on 26 October in a ceremony in the Ridderzaal of the Dutch Parliament.
Winning the award caps in fine style a successful 2014–15 season, which has seen the first performances in the Netherlands, Germany, and Norway of Van der Aa’s Violin Concerto for Janine Jansen and commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; the launch of the innovative interactive song cycle The Book of Sand ; and a sold-out run of Sunken Garden, in a new, reimagined version, at Opéra de Lyon.
Among the highlights planned for next season are the world premiere of a new chamber opera, ‘Blank Out’, for Dutch National Opera and revivals of the evening-length music theatre work The Book of Disquiet in New Jersey, London, and Lyon. Van der Aa will also be the featured composer at the 2016 Lyon Biennale Musiques en Scène, which will feature concerts of his music over the course of three weeks.
Download the official press release (Dutch, PDF)
Michel van der Aa breaks new ground again this month with the premiere of his interactive song cycle, The Book of Sand. Created in partnership with the Holland Festival, Sydney Festival, Google Cultural Institute, BBC The Space and other partners, and created exclusively in digital format, The Book of Sand was launched on 31st May as a website and smartphone app.
Inspired by the allusions to infinity and the use of mazes and mirrors in the fantastical stories of Jorge Luis Borges, Van der Aa puts you in a space where all places in the world exist simultaneously. A young woman (played by the Australian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke) collects up sand which is being moved between the film layers by a mysterious machine. Three parallel film layers reveal alternative points of view and introduce new elements to the story, which allows you to choose a new route through the narrative at any point.
The Book of Sand takes its title from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, and is based on this and four other Borges stories, The Zahir, The Aleph, The Library of Babel, and The House of Asterion. In Borges’ story, the Book of Sand is a book with infinite pages, with no beginning and no end, that becomes an obsession and gradually consumes its owner. The other stories all deal in similar Borgesian visions of the infinite – a point that contains all other points in the universe, an object that holds the attention so much that it becomes all of reality itself, a library of all possible books, the Minotaur in an infinite labyrinth.
Listen, watch, interact on thebookofsand.net
‘Blank Out’, Michel van der Aa’s latest work for music theatre, will receive its first three performances next spring at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam, performed by Dutch National Opera. A chamber opera for soprano (Miah Persson) and baritone (Roderick Williams), ‘Blank Out’ builds on the technological innovation of Sunken Garden, using the intersection of live action and 3D video to explore the nature of memory and the effects of trauma.
The opera will be performed on 20, 21 and 25 March 2016, and tickets are available now via the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ website.