Michel van der Aa’s new Violin Concerto for Janine Jansen will receive its first performances on 6 and 7 November in Amsterdam, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. It will then be performed in Essen, Germany, on 8 November and on 4 December in Bergen, Norway, with the Bergen Philharmonic under Andrew Litton.
Van der Aa has described the partnership of Jansen and the RCO as his “dream team”. It combines an orchestra with whom he now has a long-standing and intimate relationship, and a soloist with a magnetic stage presence and a heart-on-sleeve style of playing, ideally suited to Van der Aa’s direct and physically expressive music. As “house composer” for the RCO since 2011, he was able to work unusually closely with the players, checking details throughout the period of composition. He has also been free to write the works he chooses. In this case, it was Jansen’s personality that served as inspiration, and the composer claims that “If Janine had played the flute, I would have written a flute concerto.”
The piece has its roots in the classical concerto – unusually for him, Van der Aa hasn’t even included any electronics – but he couldn’t resist giving it a distinctly theatrical quality. “As an opera director, I love the theatrical possibilities of having someone who is the embodiment of the work.” The theatre begins in Jansen’s presence and personality, but extends across the whole stage. The lead violinist and cellist are drawn in as secondary soloists, and with Jansen often form a trio of their own. Their energy spreads outwards to three percussionists, harp, the string groups and finally the whole orchestra. Those lines of transmission are articulated visually as well as aurally – the three percussionists are spaced among the orchestra not only because of the way that distribution sounds, but also because of how it looks. Visual considerations extend to the stage lighting and even to the type of dress the soloist wears. “Yes, I am a control freak,” admits Van der Aa, “But in addition to the music all these aspects are of great importance to the total experience.”
The concerto is composed in the traditional three movements. Van der Aa describes the first as abstract, the second as more direct and melodic, and the third as very fast, performed at breakneck speed and close to the edge of possibility. Like Van der Aa’s other recent pieces – the opera Sunken Garden and the clarinet concerto Hysteresis – it also includes allusions to popular styles; in this case to jazz and bluegrass. With no electronics or video, the alter ego role familiar from many other Van der Aa pieces is taken up by the orchestra, which mirrors and balances the soloist, rather than playing a traditional accompanying role.
Michel van der Aa’s new clarinet concert Hysteresis will receive its world premiere in London on 30 April. The performance is part of a portrait concert given by the London Sinfonietta that will also feature the UK premiere of the complete Here Trilogy (with soprano Claron McFadden) and the solo for violin and tape, Memo, performed by Thomas Gould.
The title of Hysteresis refers to the idea that non-living systems or materials can have a sort of ‘memory’ of their past – in the way that an iron strip becomes magnetized when brought into contact with a magnetic field, and stays magnetized when that field is taken away. Combining live instruments with recordings and electronics, Hysteresis asks: can music behave similarly? And what is the nature of musical memory anyway?
Van der Aa’s first major work for clarinet, Hysteresis has been written with three players in mind. Mark van de Wiel will give the London premiere, and further performances will take place later in the year with Carl Rosman and Kari Kriikku as soloists.
The song cycle Here is a distinctive example of Van der Aa’s music-theatrical illusion. It begins with a mysterious black plexiglass box on stage with the ensemble, and use texts by the composer, instrumental music and electronics to become a study of a woman struggling to connect with the world around her.
read an interview about Hysteresis on the Boosey website
read more about the Here Trilogy
Kaori Yamagami, White Light Fest NYC
Originally written for Sol Gabetta and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Michel van der Aa’s Up-Close is being taken up by a growing number of soloists and ensembles since winning the Grawemeyer Prize for Composition a year ago.
Several of these performances have been in the United States, where it is making quite an impact. In October the piece received its US premiere at the Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, where it was performed by Kaori Yamagami and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Last month it was also performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall, by Johannes Moser and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s New Music Group. The concerts were previewed in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and both earned strong press reviews.
Writing for the New York Times, Vivien Schweitzer praised the “chilling … film-noir cello concerto” for its “remarkable intertwining of sound and image”. In the Wall Street Journal Heidi Waleson wrote that “The final, slow moments of the piece, with the echoing solo cello and the woods darkening around the filmed woman, who clutches a flickering lamp, made for a haunting, ambiguous culmination.” And finally, Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times described Up-Close as “a trek out of the chamber and into a new corner of virtual reality.”
Michel van der Aa has been selected to be an inaugural member of a prestigious new Academy of Arts in the Netherlands.
A new initiative supported by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Academy forms part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been established to study the relationship between science and art, and to act as an independent sounding board for politicians and policy-makers.
Van der Aa will be part of a board made up of nineteen of the Netherlands’ leading artists, musicans and writers, including the photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn, the architect Francine Houben and the violinist Janine Jansen.
More information: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
Up-close and US performances
The 2013–14 season looks set to be another busy one for Michel van der Aa. It begins in the USA, where several of his works are being performed this autumn. The White Light Festival at New York’s Lincoln Centre will include a Van der Aa portrait on 28 October. The concert will feature the first US performance of Up-Close, performed by Kaori Yamagami and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and members of the International Contemporary Ensemble will play the solo works Memo, Oog and Transit.
There is more Van der Aa in New York on 23 November, when excerpts from After Life will be sung at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the 21c Liederabend op. 3 Festival of Contemporary Art Song.
The winner of the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, Up-Close is being taken up by a number of soloists and ensembles and will soon also be heard in Paris, Wrocław, Prague and Helsinki. There are further North American performances in the new year, when Johannes Moser and the Los Angeles Philharmonic give the West Coast premiere on 28 January. This is followed by performances in Seattle in February given by Julie Albers and the Seattle Chamber Players. For a full list of international performances, see here.
Up-Close is currently available to order as a DVD or video download from the Disquiet webstore.
Van der Aa’s next work for soloist and ensemble is a concerto for clarinet, ensemble and electronics. Co-commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, the Finnish Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and Germany’s Ensemble musikFabrik, the piece features a ‘modular’ solo part – tailored to the different personalities and skills of each of the three first soloists, Mark van de Wiel, Kari Kriikku and Carl Rosman.
The concerto will receive its world premiere in London on 30 April 2014 with Van de Wiel and the London Sinfonietta in a concert that also includes the UK premiere of the complete Here trilogy. The second performance will be on 7 June, with Carl Rosman and musikFabrik, conducted by Susanna Mälkki. The Finnish premiere, with Kari Kriikku and Avanti!, will take place in autumn 2014.