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Violin Concerto

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Michel van der Aa’s Violin Concerto for Janine Jansen received its first performance on 6 November 2014 in Amsterdam, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.
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.
— Tim Rutherford-Johnson

Janine Janssen, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, cond. Vladimir Jurowski


Scintillating work

“Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra opened their Carnegie Hall program on Tuesday evening with the New York premiere of a scintillating work by the Dutch composer Michel van der Aa: his Violin Concerto of 2014, conceived for Janine Jansen.”
“Mr. van der Aa has proved a consummate entertainer in chamber operas like “The Book of Disquiet” and “Blank Out,” each filled with brilliant dramatic strokes using multimedia and electronics. The concerto is less overtly theatrical, though hardly less inventive musically.”
“As in most concertos, Mr. van der Aa’s solo writing demands extreme virtuosity, which, of course, the charismatic Ms. Jansen dispatches with athletic ease. But the orchestra is less an accompanist or combatant than a full collaborator in a kind of shifting synergy — now taking its cues and motivic material from the soloist, now driving the soloist to greater heights of passionate expression.”
— The New York Times, James R, Oestreich, 16-03-2018

Concerto shows van der Aa in top form

“Bluegrass, jazz and a wink at Tchaikovsky: Composer Michel van der Aa has rarely been so eclectic as in his new violin concerto premiered by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Written specially for Janine Jansen, 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! Sharp cutting sounds interrupt the brittle cantilena presented by the soloist accompanied by harp and winds. There ‘s a built in nervousness. Van der Aa’s enthousiastic reception by the young audience afterwards belied the serious, dark side of his writing- recurring lamento passages for Jansen’s violin in the middle movement, culled from earlier operatic works.
The third movement brings relief from the tumult and is a virtuoso showpiece for Jansen and the percussion section, an area where van der Aa’s writing excels.
“Individuality” is not usually a characteristic of a good concert but it gives you goosebumps to hear how van der Aa ‘s contemporary idiom so convincingly relates to an “ old fashioned “ genre. His concerto places the solistic qualities of Janine Jansen at the centre of the work and Vladimir Jurowski conducted the superb Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in an ideal mix of clarity and theatricality.” (****)
NRC, Mischa Spel, 7/11/2014

Remarkable new Violin Concerto

“Jansen gives stunning advocacy to concerto premiere with Philadelphia Orchestra. Nézet-Séguin brought the Philadelphians to New York on Tuesday night, joined by Janine Jansen for the final concert of her Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall. Her year-long series of curated programs culminated in a remarkable new Violin Concerto by Michel van der Aa, given a stunning performance in its New York premiere.”
“Many composers today work in generalities in their orchestration, creating a wash of indistinct sound, but van der Aa writes with purpose. His music is angular, but not self-consciously so; its sharp edges and spiny tonality excite rather than feeling like ostentatious gesture.”
“The three-movement concerto runs about 30 minutes and ends in classic style, with a hot-blooded finale: after an opening swell of strings and brass, the violin solo launches out of the gate, keeping up an electrifying pulse until the final bars.”
“Hearing Jansen’s riveting performance, it’s clear why van der Aa wrote this concerto with her in mind. There is a bracing ferocity to her playing that matches the spirit of the work; she is one of a special class of violinists who show no fear in their approach to the instrument, pressing the sound where it serves the music, pushing the instrument to its limits without losing control. It is a thrill to hear her play.”
— New York Classical Review, Eric C. Simpson, 14-03-2018

Sensational skill of writing and musical approach

“Your ears are popping to put it mildly. You might even need a second set to grasp everything that’s happening in Michel van der Aa’s new violin concerto. 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. The virtuosity of the Royal Concertgebouw under the excellent direction of Vladimir Jurowski matched the soloist at every step. The skill of van der Aa’s writing and his musical approach is in a word sensational with an immediately recognizable personal style. No electronics this time but colourful, unexpected moments were abundant using “old fashioned“ techniques. It take guts to write unabashedly lyrical solistic passages these days; almost like listening to the Alban Berg concerto with a different accompaniment but despite the fragmentary moments, the silences and eruptions the work has direction. The musics momentum tripping and tumbling over itself to the very last bar.” (****)
— Trouw, Peter van der Lint, 10/11/2014

Janine Jansen triumphs in world premiere of Michel van der Aa

“From start to beginning, the sheer visual power of the solo and orchestral playing had been brilliant, the compositional lines had been absorbing and precise, the color had carried tremendous impact. Most remarkably, Jansen had played for virtually the entire 25 minutes without seeming to once miss a beat, switching instantaneously from soaring high over the orchestra to exploring even if briefly the intimacies of chamber music.”
— Strings, Laurence Vittes, 10 November 2014

Exquisite Farbmischungen

“Als gleichermaßen dankbar für die Solistin, das Orchester und das Publikum erwies sich das Violinkonzert von Michel van der Aa. Der energetischen und souveränen Geigerin Janine Jansen auf den Leib geschrieben, vereint es Lyrik, Dramatik und Virtuosität.
Die Solistin führte durchweg, war aber zugleich eingebunden in den Orchesterklang, der sich trotz großer Blechbläserbesetzung und Beteiligung von drei Schlagzeugern meist als durchsichtig erwies und exquisite Farbmischungen aufbot.”
— Ruhr Nachrichten, Klaus Stübler, 9 November 2014


Überrumpelnde Magie

“Es ist die reine Wonne, zu sehen, wie die Holländerin Janine Jansen physisch eintaucht in van der Aas forderndes Werk. Der Komponist kennt keine Parteien: Die Geige ist bei ihm keine Einzelgängerin, sie ist Primus inter pares […]
Der Beat der Moderne hält ebenso Einzug wie das sanft gebrochene Barockzitat. Ob sich die Neuschöpfung im Repertoire hält? Ob sie die überrumpelnde Magie aussendet, wenn keine so hingebungsvolle Interpretin zur Stelle ist? Man soll nicht spekulieren; Essens Philharmonie-Publikum riss es jedenfalls von den Sitzen.”
— Der Westen, 9 November 2014

Eine insgesamt fabelhafte Komposition

“An den teufelsgeigerischen Tönen, mit denen die Solistin spielen reüssierte, wäre wahrscheinlich sogar ein Paganini gescheitert. Es grenzt an Zauberei, was sie ihrem sicherlich heute zig Millionen-euro-teuren Streicherkleinod, einer Stradivari “Barrère” (1727) entlock. Hier trifft sich Altertum und Modern in kongenialer Symbiose; darüber hinaus ist das Stück ein Wunderwerk an Percussions-Einsatz – es werden kurioseste Töne erzeugt, wie dem Rauschen eines alten Plattenspielers, Steineklimpern, Raspeln & Rasseln aller Art, diverse Holzschlägel incl. deren Zerbrechen etc. pp. neben den üblichen Trommeln, Becken, Vibraphonen und Kesselpauken. Der Zuhörer und Zuschauer weiß stellenweise, bei den vier sourroundsoud-mäßig aufgeteilten Schlagzeugern, und der vorne im Zentrum stehenden Wundergeigerin überhaupt nicht, wohin man den Blick wenden soll. Eine insgesamt fabelhafte Komposition, welche man live schon allein wegen des Erlebniswertes genießen sollte, genießen muß! Eine Herausforderung für hoffentlich weitere Interpretationen durch engagierte und aufgeschlossene Orchester.”
— Der OpernFreund, Peter Bilsing, 9 November 2014

Very special symbiosis of soloist and composer

“Brilliant, Janine[…] Violinist Janine Jansen impressed with a fiery expression in Michel van der Aa’s newly written “Violin Concerto. With her immense theatrical presence, temperament and charisma, and through exquisite musicality and technique, she fully mastered the complexity of the violin concerto.
Van der Aa is praised internationally for having a personal, lyrical and transparent contemporary expression in his compositions. This is also the case in the violin concerto […]
The work is clearly composed for Janine Jansens person and personality. The violin concerto is hardly a standard work for the world’s leading violinist for Janine Jansen personality is an necessary ingredient for the works context and substance.
But it’s musical craftsmanship and innovation allow myself both convinced and seduced by the very special symbiosis of soloist and composer.”
— Bergens Tidende, Jan L.Jacobsen, 5 Dec 2014

Vintage DoubleA

“Het is opzienbarend Van der Aa in zijn Vioolconcert resoluut afziet van het multimediale illusionisme dat hij de afgelopen jaren tot zijn artistieke signatuur verhief […] En toch, ondanks die zuiver akoestische uitgangspunten was de sound die de Grote Zaal van Het Concertgebouw vulde uit duizenden herkenbaar. De scherpe montages tussen koele klankvelden en nerveus tumult. Het abrupte schakelen tussen serene melancholie en dwangmatige hysterie; vintage DoubleA. Idem: de stuwende polyritmische texturen (door Jurowski met een mechanische precisie over het voetlicht gebracht), en de subtiele klanklaag van kraakjes, ruisjes, scherpe tikken en ketsende kiezels, deze keer niet op tape maar gerealiseerd door een drievoudig bezette percussiesectie.
Had de componist op voorhand al te kennen gegeven dat Jansens intense podiumprésence een belangrijke inspiratiebron was voor zijn noten, in klinkende realiteit bleek haar solorol soms dicht aan te schuren tegen archetypische personages uit Van der Aa’s muziektheatrale universum. De intens eenzame vrouwspersoon (Up-close) schemerde door in Jansens delicate spel van sombere cantabile-lijnen. In het turbulente laatste deel raasde de panische hysterica, onder meer bekend uit het monodrama One. Obsessief repeterende motieven krassend, zocht de viool zich angstig een uitweg uit de gestaag insluitende klankmuren van het orkest.
— Muziek van Nu, Joep Christenhusz, 10-11-2014

On to greater heights

“Soloist and orchestra are often combatants in the work, but it was a battle of equals, with each urging the other on to greater heights, at times with smiles on their faces. The violinist has devoted fans in NYC, who jumped to their feet as the final notes of Michel van der Aa’s violin concerto sounded.”
“The concerto is devoid of the visual elements for which the composer is noted, but in their stead, he mined not only Jansen’s virtuosity but also her mesmerizing stage presence. Additionally, the placement of the percussion added both visual and aural elements to the experience. This not only created a stereophonic effect, it encapsulated the orchestra, creating a defined space to enable the dialogue.”
— Seen and heard International, Rick Perdian, 20-03-2018


Interview in Dutch talkshow DWDD,
with Janine Jansen and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
10:00 min. | Dutch



for solo violin and orchestra

Solo Violin

1 Flute
1 Oboe
1 Clarinet in B-flat
1 Bass Clarinet
1 Bassoon
1 Contrabassoon

4 French Horns in F
2 Trumpets in C
2 Tenor Trombones
1 Tuba

3 Percussion players
1 Harp

12 Violins I
12 Violins II
10 Violas
8 Violoncellos
6 Double basses




First performance

6 November 2014
Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Commissioned by

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Written for Janine Jansen


Boosey & Hawkes


Last performance

8 March 2022

Violin Concerto (Japanese premiere)

Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kazuki Yamada. Simone Lamsma, violin

Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan

All performances of Violin Concerto


8 March 2015

Successful premieres for Van der Aa’s Violin Concerto

Janine Jansen 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 ...

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28 October 2014

World premiere of Violin Concerto

Janine Jansen 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 Berg...

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