Michel van der Aa


June 2017

Lucerne Summer Festival residency

Up-close VakilUp-close, Vakil Eelman

This August and September, Michel van der Aa will be composer-in-residence at the Lucerne Summer Festival, one of the world’s most celebrated festivals of classical music. Over the course of a month a large cross-selection of Van der Aa’s works, including music theatre, concertos and chamber music will be performed.

The list of concerts begins on 13 August with performances of two major stage works, both of them receiving their Swiss premieres. In the morning there is the chance to see Van der Aa’s widely acclaimed opera The Book of Disquiet, a cutting-edge integration of music, live action and video constructed from fragments by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa that addresses the subject of multiple personalities. Walter Sigi Arnold will play the solo acting role of Pessoa’s alter-ego Bernardo Soares, while the Ensemble of Lucerne Festival Alumni will be conducted by Duncan Ward.

Shortly afterwards, on the same day, the soprano Miah Persson will give the first Swiss performance of the recent 3D chamber opera Blank Out, which also features baritone Roderick Williams and the Netherlands Chamber Choir on film. Completed in 2016, Blank Out explores a tragic mother–son relationship through the life and poetry of the South African writer Ingrid Jonker. The Lucerne performance ends a successful international tour for a work that this year has also been staged in Rome, Beijing, Helsinki and Hanover.

The 17 August sees another major composition receive its first performance in Switzerland, the Grawemeyer Award-winning concerto for cello and film Up-close. The soloist will be Lucerne Festival Academy graduate Jay Campbell who, along with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, is one of the festival’s two specially invited artistes étoiles, and the youngest to have been chosen in the event’s history.

On 26 August the Ensemble of Lucerne Festival Alumni return once more to perform Hysteresis, a fourth Swiss premiere, with clarinet soloist Martin Adámek and conductor Matthias Pintscher. Van der Aa’s concerto will be paired with those for violin and piano by György Ligeti, played by Kopatchinskaja and David Kadouch, respectively.

Finally, on 7 September, students of the Lucerne University of Music, conducted by Gregor Mayrhofer, will perform three smaller works in an early evening portrait of the composer : Mask, for ensemble and soundtrack; Transit, for piano and video; and And how are we today?, for mezzo-soprano, double bass and piano, with the singer Daniela Argentino.

The festival’s theme is ‘identity’, and works in all four concerts have been chosen with this in mind, whether the fragmented personalities of The Book of Disquiet, the split identities of Up-close, Hysteresis and Mask, or the quest to reconstruct oneself in Blank Out.

In addition to these four concerts, Van der Aa will also give composition masterclasses and seminars between 12 and 26 August, alongside Dieter Ammann and the Artistic Director of the Lucerne Festival Academy, Wolfgang Rihm.

- View programme details and order tickets

November 2016

US premieres of 'Blank Out' and 'Sunken Garden' to feature in 2017–18 season

Sunken Garden - bloodpondSunken Garden

The 2017–18 season will see the US premieres of Michel van der Aa’s two most recent operas. First, in September 2017 the Park Avenue Armory in New York will stage Blank Out in five performances with the soprano Miah Persson. This follows performances in four other countries this year – China, Finland, Germany and Switzerland.

A chamber opera that combines live action with interactive 3D film and electronic music, Blank Out centres on a dialogue between a man and his mother, and the reconstruction of a traumatic event that took place between them. Its libretto is based upon the work and life of South African poet Ingrid Jonker, who took her own life by drowning, and is a deeply human consideration of memory and the way in which people reconstruct their pasts.

The performances will run at the Park Avenue Armory from 21 to 25 September 2017. Tickets start at $40 and may be purchased from: armoryonpark.org

Then, in March 2018, the Dallas Opera will present the US premiere of Sunken Garden.This will be the second presentation of the revised version of the piece, which was itself premiered at Opéra de Lyon in 2015.

An occult-mystery film-opera, Sunken Garden is a collaboration between Van der Aa and the acclaimed English novelist David Mitchell. Dealing in bright hoax and dark truth, in patronage and manipulation, in the virtual and the bodily, in the isolation of the broadband age, and in the primal impulse to cheat mortality at any cost, it is Van der Aa’s fourth work of music theatre, and his first to make use of 3D film. The Dallas Opera run follows successful performances at London’s ENO, Amsterdam Holland Festival and Opéra de Lyon, France.

Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny became determined to bring the opera to the USA after seeing one of the Lyon performances, and has described how he found himself “captivated by Michel van der Aa’s extraordinary musical and visual vocabulary … I was certain we were witnessing a work of rare originality and multi-disciplinary innovation.” 

The Dallas Opera will give four performances of ‘Sunken Garden’, between 9 and 17 March 2018, with a cast of Roderick Williams, Katherine Manley and Miah Persson. The Dallas Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Nicole Paiement.

- read the Dallas Opera press release

October 2016

Blank Out goes on tour to China, Finland, Germany, and Switzerland

blank out 5BBlank Out

The 2016/17 season is here, and it is already looking like a busy one for Michel van der Aa. Top of the agenda is an international tour of Blank Out. Following successful performances in Amsterdam and Rome – with the press describing the work as ‘impeccable and enthralling’, and ‘wonderfully fluent and effective’ – Van der Aa’s 3D chamber opera will be performed in China, Finland, Germany and Switzerland.

Taking the life and work of the South African poet Ingrid Jonker as its basis, ‘Blank Out’ tells the story of a son coming to terms with the drowning of his mother at a young age. A sensitive and innovatively constructed meditation on memory and loss, the opera uses 3D film, interactive projections, and live and electronic music to consider how people reconstruct and deal with traumatic life events.

On 20 and 21 October, the opera will be a highlight at the Beijing Music Festival. These performances – the first in China for a stage work by Van der Aa – will be followed by three more at the Musica Nova Festival in Helsinki, on 4, 6, and 8 February 2017. The opera will receive its German premiere in spring 2017, details will be announced in January. Finally, ‘Blank Out’ will be featured at the Lucerne Summer Festival in August 2017. The performances in Beijing and Helsinki will feature soprano Katherine Manley as the on-stage soloist, while Miah Persson, who created the role, will appear in Lucerne. Roderick Williams and the Nederlandse Kamerkoor are once again the performers on film and soundtrack.

Ana and oxThe Book of Disquiet

Featured composer at Musica Nova and Lucerne festivals
Michel van der Aa will be the featured composer at two festivals this season, both of them including performances of Blank Out.
In February, Van der Aa will be the featured composer at Helsinki’s Musica Nova festival. As well as three performances of ‘Blank Out’, on 4, 6 and 8 February, the festival includes Spaces of Blank, performed by Nora Fischer (mezzo-soprano), the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and André de Ridder (conductor); and the clarinet concerto Hysteresis, performed by Kari Kriikuu (clarinet), the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Mario Venzago (conductor).

Later in the year, Van der Aa also be the featured composer at the Summer Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. Blank Out is among the works scheduled to be performed, and the opera will open the four-week-long festival on 12 August. The festival programme will also include the Swiss premieres of Hysteresis, The Book of Disquiet and Up-close ; more details will be announced later in the season.


New piece for orchestra and dance
Work is in progress on a new piece for orchestra and dance, for the German Bundesjugendorchester, conducted by Alexander Shelley, and in collaboration with the Bundesjugendballett, choreographed by Andrey Kaydanowsky. The new work will receive its premiere on 13 January at the Staatsoper, Hamburg, before going on tour to seven cities around Germany, including Essen (14 January), Berlin (16 January) and Dresden (18 January).

And there’s more …
Other highlights this season include a performance by the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer, of Second Self for orchestra and soundtrack, on 5 February at the Mendelssohn-Saal in Düsseldorf. And on 5 October 2017 Hysteresis will receive its Swedish premiere, with soloist Kari Kriikuu and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

May 2016

Italian premiere of ‘Blank Out’ on May 31

Blank OutMiah Persson

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.


Michel van der Aa (Netherlands, 1970) is a truly multidisciplinary figure in contemporary music. A unique voice, he combines composition with film and stage direction, and script writing. Classical instruments, voices, electronic sound, actors, theatre and video are all seamless extensions of his musical vocabulary.

upcoming performances

  • 05 November 2020
    Transit (Korean premiere)
    Sooyoen Lim, piano
    PAN Music Festival, Seoul, South Korea
  • 04 February 2021
    Premiere of version for ensemble
    Insomnio, cond. Ulrich Pöll
    Mieko Kanno, viool. Charles Watt, cello
    Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • 26 February 2021
    Shelter (German premiere)
    NDR Chor, Klaas Stok conductor
    20.00 hrs, Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg, Germany


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