May 31 sees the Italian premiere of Michel van der Aa’s chamber opera for soprano and 3D film Blank Out at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome. The one-off performance forms part of Teatro dell’opera di Roma’s Fast Forward Festival, and will be sung by Miah Persson.
It follows a highly successful and sold-out world premiere run at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. ‘Blank Out’ was praised as ‘unusually beautiful’ (Mischa Spel, NRC) and ‘wonderfully fluent and effective’ (Andrew Clements, The Guardian). Frederik Bernsten (Trouw) wrote that the work shows that ‘Van der Aa is going from strength to strength and is refining his theatrical palette on the firm foundation of his musical idiom.’
‘Blank Out’ is based upon the life and work of Ingrid Jonker. Sometimes described as the “South African Sylvia Plath,” Jonker was a brilliant poet who wrote against the apartheid regime, but whose traumatic and troubled life led to her suicide at 31 in the sea off Cape Town. ‘Blank Out’ uses the intersection of live action and 3D video to explore the nature of memory and the effects of trauma. The Swedish soprano Miah Persson appears on stage as a lone woman dealing with a disturbing event in her past. She is accompanied on film by the baritone Roderick Williams, and on the work’s electronic soundtrack by the Nederlands Kamerkoor.
Tickets for the Rome performance may be obtained from TicketOne.it. Blank Out is a co-commission of Dutch National Opera with the Lucerne Festival and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, and will tour internationally next season.
Read more about Blank Out
Watch the Black Out teaser
Two new releases have been issued on Michel Van der Aa’s record label Disquiet. The first (DQM05) features two recent concertos, the clarinet concerto ‘Hysteresis’ (2013), and the ‘Violin Concerto’ (2014). Both are performed on the recording by their dedicatees, Kari Kriikku (clarinet) and Janine Jansen (violin), with the support of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and the Royal Concertgebouw orchestra, respectively.
The second release (DQM06) is of a single, multimedia work, ‘Transit’ (2009), for piano, electronics and black and white film. Performed by Benjamin Kobler (piano) and Joe Bendavid (actor), ‘Transit’ is a composite work comprised of elements from the 2000 piano composition ‘Just Before’, and Van der Aa’s short film ‘Passage’, made at the New York Film Academy.
The concerto recording has already received some warm reviews, with Erik Voermans (Het Parool) describing the Violin Concerto as ‘a fantastic work brimming with moments of beauty and consolation … a captivating and exhilarating discourse’. Frits van der Waa (de Volksrant) calls it ‘a superb performance’ that underlines that Van der Aa is ‘first and foremost a first-rate composer’.
‘Hysteresis’ and the ‘Violin Concerto’ are available as a CD, or together or individually for downloads in high quality WAV or MP3 format; ‘Transit’ is available for download as a high definition MP4 movie, at either 720 or 1080p.
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Watch the Transit teaser
Michel van der Aa’s new chamber opera, Blank Out will be premiered in March at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam. Commissioned by Dutch National Opera’s Opera Forward Festival, it is based upon the life and work of Ingrid Jonker. Sometimes described as the “South African Sylvia Plath,” Jonker was a brilliant poet who wrote against the apartheid regime, but whose traumatic and troubled life led to her suicide at 31 in the sea off Cape Town.
Building on the technological innovation of Sunken Garden , Blank Out uses the intersection of live action and 3D video to explore the nature of memory and the effects of trauma. The Swedish soprano Miah Persson appears on stage as a lone woman dealing with a disturbing event in her past. She is accompanied on film by the baritone Roderick Williams, and on the work’s electronic soundtrack by the Nederlands Kamerkoor.
Blank Out will receive its first performances on 20, 21 and 25 March 2016 as part of the Opera Forward Festival, and tickets are available via either the Muziekgebouw aant ’t IJ or the National Opera itself.
A co-commission with the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and the Lucerne Festival it will be performed in Rome this May, and in Lucerne in June 2017.
Read more about Blank Out
This year’s Lyon Biennale Musiques en Scéne, which begins on 1 March, will have Michel van der Aa as its featured composer. In line with its theme this year of “the entertained man,” or life in a post-digital world, Van der Aa will be represented by works that touch on matters of social media and virtual reality, including the Violin Concerto, Spaces of Blank, Second Self, and the premiere of the installation version of his interactive song cycle The Book of Sand.
Founded in 1992, and a biennial event since 2002, Musique en Scène is a month-long multidisciplinary festival of music and multimedia art. Previous guest artists and curators have included Kaija Saariaho and Heiner Goebbels. The 2016 Biennale runs from 1 to 27 March, and tickets are available from the BMES website.
The Book of Disquiet has recently received its first US and UK performances, in a new English-language production starring Samuel West. One of Van der Aa’s most critically acclaimed works, The Book of Disquiet sets the posthumous “‘factless autobiography” of Bernardo Soares, alter ego of the Portuguese novelist Fernando Pessoa.
After the work’s US premiere at Montclair State University, New Jersey, in January, James R. Oestreich of the New York Times wrote:
“The films, directed by Mr. van der Aa, create a sort of dream world, and they are where the multiplicity of characters come in, as well as the wonderful fado singer, Ana Moura. […] The music, too, relates mostly to the beautiful films, underlining scenes of agitation, for example, with liberal dissonance and in general fomenting a mood of, yes, disquiet.
Memorable it will be, for its very strangeness, as well as for Mr. van der Aa’s imaginative production and for Mr. West’s riveting performance.”
The first UK performances took place on 24 and 25 January at the Coronet Theatre, London, performed by the London Sinfonietta, and were well received by the British press.
“[Pessoa’s] manic intensity beneath a seemingly static surface is wonderfully captured in Van der Aa’s score, which has bouts of violent, jagged-rhythmed writing following by luscious, saccharine passages of calm. Sadly, only two performances. The Book of Disquiet deserves to be booked for a disquieting reprise.” (*****)
— The Times, Richard Morrison
“Sinfonietta shines in beautifully crafted Van der Aa theatre piece […] Both aspects are projected through Van der Aa’s wonderfully accomplished dramatic reworking” (****)
— The Guardian, Andrew Clements
“The Coronet […] generously embraced Michel van der Aa’s multidisciplinary extravaganza […] The Dutch composer has consistently and ingeniously combined music, film-making and words – all under his direction – into single works of zest and beauty. [Actor Samuel] West, delivering a meditation from the Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, is breathtakingly competent.[…] It is hard, and perhaps wrong to try, to separate Van der Aa’s music from the whole experience: you come away with an aural image of long brass lines riding across lurching, urgent unison string figures. It’s only an impression. There’s so much more. At the end all is suddenly darkness. Stepping from this mesmerising interior fantasy into the roar of Elephant’s urban verismo is quite a wake-up call.” (****)
— The Observer, Fiona Maddocks