Sol Gabetta, cello. Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Candida Thompson
In Michel van der Aa’s cello concerto Up-close, the traditional interaction of soloist and ensemble is reflected by a mysterious, mirror reality seen on film. When the piece begins, a solo cellist and string ensemble sit on the right of the stage; on the left stands a large video screen. On the screen we see an elderly lady sitting among an arrangement of chairs and music stands that parallels the real-life version on the other side of the stage. It soon becomes clear that this is only one of a variety of interactions across a hall of mirrors created by the soloist, ensemble and film.
Up-close, commissioned by the European Concert Hall Organization and featuring the Argentinean cellist Sol Gabetta and Amsterdam Sinfonietta, is thus a cello concerto duplicated and magnified until it reaches the boundary of video opera.
Are the elderly woman and the cellist playing out the same role? The film is seen in excerpts ‘inserted’ into the music, so is the music driving the film, or the film the music? The music never ‘narrates’ the film, but somehow the two layers seem to extend one another around a common subject. Furthermore, the live instruments are augmented with an electronic soundtrack, which at some times seems closely related to their music and at others appears to derive from the ‘concrete’ sounds of the action on screen. Are these plural realities or versions of a single experience.
Sol Gabetta, photo Sébastien Grébille
Much is left unexplained and the course of the piece, including a striking coup de théâtre towards the end, provides no easy answers. One theme that does emerge, however, concerns loneliness. As in other Van der Aa pieces – such as the video opera One or the ensemble piece Mask – elements of an uncanny, inscrutable ceremony are never far away, and in Up-close these become part of the difficult ritual of human to human contact.
Visual references recall the methods of the Dutch Resistance of World War II, but it is the spirit of secrecy, protocol and adversity that pervades, rather than any specific historical setting.
The woman is apparently trying to transmit coded messages of some sort and, at one of the work’s climaxes, she employs a large mechanical decoding device, built especially for this piece by the composer. As it decodes the woman’s messages, the machine creates music of its own. This intertwines with the sounds of the ensemble, a singular moment when film and music cross over into each other’s realms. If anything we are left with more mystery, not less.
— Tim Rutherford-Johnson
Cellist Sol Gabetta joined Amsterdam Sinfonietta for a European tour of six performances in March 2011. Venues included the Stockholm Konserthus, Luxembourg Philharmonie, Brussels BOZAR, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, London Barbican and Hamburg Laeiszhalle.
A DVD and movie download of Up-close are available on the Disquiet web store.
Sol Gabetta and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta played the evocative, lyrical score, which made atmospheric use of electronics, at one side of the stage. On the other, a silent film of an older woman running through woods to an empty house offered a puzzling narrative. Gabetta and woman at times echoed each other. Eventually they find the same old-fashioned standard lamp and, as it were, everything is illuminated.
It was a richly intriguing affair. My inability precisely to say how Up-Close’s recipe of resonance and mystery worked is itself a form of praise.
—The Observer, Fiona Maddocks, 27.03.2010
Written for Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta, this hauntingly beautiful work is among Van der Aa’s finest. Gabetta, in a print frock, sits among the black-clad orchestra, spinning out a rapturous song without words, while on screen a similarly dressed older woman creeps furtively to a disused house to use an old, unspecified piece of electronic equipment.
Black-out screens cover the windows and the machine communicates in code. The woman may be reliving wartime memories, possibly as a member of the Dutch resistance. But we will never know for certain. Being “up-close” can never give us the bigger picture, and we are left with a mystery that continues to resonate after the music has faded.
— The Guardian, 21.03.2011, Tim Ashley
— Dagens Nyheter, 14.03.2011, Thomas Anderberg
A fearful woman in the film, who by the look of it is doing meaningless work in an abandoned house in the woods, soon merges with the Sol Gabetta, the Argentinean cellist playing on the stage who represents the woman in her younger years. Film and live images intermingle poetically, and Van der Aa’s wonderful music does the rest. Van der Aa retains all the elements of concerto form, but has the piece begin with the solo cadenza, in a magnificent performance by the lithe-limbed Gabetta. When music, electronics and string orchestra then suddenly converge, the magic that you so often hear in Van der Aa’s music is there again. A fine addition.
— Trouw, 18-03-2011, Peter van der Lint
Michel van der Aa has invented a form of music theatre that works wonderfully because he is not rooted in traditional opera theatre, but rather combines film and snatches from evocative art videos with music. ‘Up-close’ deals with fundamental human loneliness, telling it entirely in tautly stylised images in which an elderly woman performs ritual acts that do not literally specify anything, but in their successive projection on the screen create a reality that evokes the sensation of watching your own nightmare. Van der Aa unerringly envisages images and actions, arousing associations that make painfully clear that we are all locked up very much alone in our own little self.
Image and music are woven into a coherent whole in a perfectly timed, tightly directed play of varied repetitions. Its powerful charge derives from the fact that it is all structured so unsentimentally and in an abstractly musical way. What you see and hear interlocks secretively and with success because ultimately it is all put together with an imagination that is purely musical. It works because Van der Aa is an unequalled master at creating a high-tech whole from barely profiled gestures, which gets its meaning from the interconnection of all these elements. It makes for a very contemporary form of intelligent but nevertheless accessible music theatre.
— Parool, 18-03-2011, Roeland Hazendonk
Up-close has superb ideas, such as a magical woods scene in which the trees are draped in rustling scraps of aluminium foil. Cellist Gabetta has an impressive role, not least as a soloist but also as an actress. Film, music and acting often merge impressively, but despite that it remains on the whole a cello concerto, with explosive moments as well as melancholy lyricism. At the end the Luxembourg audience keeps clapping. “Now we really know Van der Aa,” says a well turned-out woman to her husband.
— NRC, 14-03-2011, Jochem Valkenburg
Enervating music in a world-class performance, 30 minutes of total suspense. Simultaneously, the soloist’s alter ego, in a disturbing video projection, is on the brink of madness. The audience can see the perspective of the ageing artist interacting with the real stage action.
A most interesting and enthralling approach, purposeful and skilled, visually and musically impressive..
— Volksfreund, 13.03.2011, Dirk Tenbrock
On film we see an elderly woman wandering across a stage devoid of musicians, while soloist Sol Gabetta performs live to one side: the music (and movement in moments) sometimes separate, sometimes interacting with the film. Gabetta tackles the score and its often riveting urgency with a drama that becomes as much physical as musical, an effect enhanced by her integration into the direction of the entire piece. It is a striking visual effect that lingers longest: Gabetta leaping up, propelled forward, in unison with the actor on screen. I think Up-close would benefit from being even more so, a greater proximity creating an even stronger sense of absorption into this unsettlingly strange stage world of broken barriers and inverted norms.
— Gramophone, 30.03.2011, Martin Cullingford
Van der Aa had his protagonist appear in two forms: with the jagged tonal language of her solo part, the cellist, Sol Gabetta, illustrated the surreal predicament of an old woman which was simultaneously shown in a video. Every noise, whether from the speakers or the orchestra, heightened the tension: an exciting, complex dialogue between film, electronics and live music.
— Hamburger Abendblatt, 22.03.2011, Verena Fischer-Zernin
Here is no avant-gardist who mercilessly frightens off his audience, no esoteric metaphysician, no gushing neo-Romantic. Instead, here we have a powerful seeker on a quest for the meaning of life who combines austere sounds with a preference for whip cracking rhythms and dense tonal atmosphere. […]
In van der Aa’s music, any kind of mood is tersely and grippingly translated into sounds with an underlying, entirely unsentimental sense of melancholy. It is this austere kind of melancholy that can be found, for example, at the beginning of “Up-Close”, when Sol Gabetta plays a solo cadenza, at first tentatively, then frequently interrupted. Again and again the music presses forth from lower tonal areas up into higher registers, culminating in a virtuoso maenad dance that is taken up by Amsterdam Sinfonietta in a furious manner … the first movement leads into a mysteriously dreamy intermezzo for tape music and video in which the cellist gets into contact with her alter ego on the canvas for the first time. Both seem to be striving for a cross-generational dialogue, not knowing how to begin and how to carry on … A touching combination of film and live performance, of past and present..
— Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19.03.2011, Reinhard Brembeck
Et on imagine difficilement meilleure soliste que la jeune violoncelliste argentine Sol Gabetta pour cet “Up Close” associant la musique instrumentale – brillante, sensuelle, virtuose -, les sons électro-acoustiques et le cinéma – la narration, par touches, d’une aventure parallèle, vécue par une autre Sol Gabetta, âgée, errante et toujours aussi belle, jouée par Vakil Eelman.
Van der Aa, évoluant dans son temps propre à travers une narration particulière, fragmentée et captivante.
— La Libre, 16.03.2011, Martine D. Mergeay
for solo cello, string ensemble and film
soundtrack (1 player)
(doubleA player software, from laptop)
film (from laptop)
First performance 11 March 2011, Stockholm Konserthuset. Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Sol Gabetta, cello
Commissioned by European Concert Hall Organization, Fonds Podium Kunsten, Het Concertgebouw. Written for Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Sol Gabetta
Published by Boosey & Hawkes
Sol Gabetta, cello. Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Candida Thompson
Sol Gabetta, cello. Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Candida Thompson. Vakil Eelman.
3:22 min. trailer
Sol Gabetta talks with Michel van der Aa about ‘Up-close’.
Produced by the Bayerischer Rundfunk.
6:34 min. | German