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.
Michel Van der Aa’s Violin Concerto may be his first major work without electronics in almost a decade, but that did not stop it earning strong reviews after its first performances in The Netherlands, Germany and Norway.
‘Your ears are popping to put it mildly,’ said Peter van der Lint in Trouw. ‘You might even need a second set to grasp everything that’s happening … For sure, it needs more than one hearing but it’s a real concerto; a musical duel between the soloist and the orchestra with challenging music for both partners.’
Critics drew attention to the fact that this is a concerto in the traditional, ‘old-fashioned’ sense, although one that also has a contemporary sensibility. ‘Here ancient and modern meet in congenial symbiosis,’ noted Peter Bilsing of Der OpernFreund.
The concerto was specially written for the Dutch superstar Janine Jansen, and Mischa Spel (NRC) wrote that ‘the music embraced her podium charisma and vibrant body language as the only theatrical elements of the piece. This was interesting because much of van der Aa’s recent work has incorporated multi-media aspects. Do you recognize van der Aa if he’s composing unplugged? Straight away!’
A live recording of the concerto will be released as a CD on Concertgebouw Orchestra’s RCOlive label
Sunken Garden is about to receive its first French performances at Opéra de Lyon, from 15 to 20 March. However, tickets will be hard to come by – all five shows sold out months ago.
The opera has had successful runs already in London and Amsterdam, but this will be the first outing for a new adaptation of the piece, which has been thoroughly reimagined for more intimate venues and with a greater physical presence.
Dealing in bright hoax and dark truth, in the virtual and the bodily, in the isolation of the broadband age, and in the primal impulse to cheat mortality at any cost, Sunken Garden is an unforgettable occult-mystery film-opera. With changes made to the libretto, music and film this new version – an alternative take rather than a true revision – has even greater impact than before.