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Composer: van der Aa, Michel (b. 1970)

Fact file
Year of birth1970
May 2019
Evening performance
Matinee performance
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CologneRoyal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Köln

© Anne Dokter
Eötvös, van der Aa, Lutosławski
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Péter Eötvös; Patricia Kopatchinskaja; Sol Gabetta

AmsterdamRoyal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Peter Eötvös

© Klaus Rudolph
Eötvös, van der Aa, Lutosławski
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Péter Eötvös; Patricia Kopatchinskaja; Sol Gabetta
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Blank Out: a heightened sensory trip

Miah Persson © Marco Borggreve
Soprano Miah Persson is the riveting protagonist in Michel van der Aa’s genre-crossing new opera, a fascinating revisiting of a tragic event.
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The Auckland Chamber Orchestra stun in a concert of contemporary music

George Crumb © Becky Starobin
Auckland Chamber Orchestra’s stunningly played “Voice of the Whale” concert featured 20th-century and contemporary works, including pieces by George Crumb, Michel van der Aa and John Adams.
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Michel van der Aa “Up-close” and personal at White Light Festival

©  Kaori Yamagami
Monday evening at Lincoln Center’s annual White Light Festival, audience-goers were sucked into the multi-media universe of Michel van der Aa. The concert, which featured four of Mr. van der Aa’s compositions, took place in the darkened ballroom of the Manhattan Center, running to a bit over an hour with no intermission. Three solo works, each about ten minutes long, were paired with the U.S.
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Première of Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden at the Barbican

Sunken Garden: Kate Miller-Heidke & Jonathan McGovern  ©  Joost Rietdijk
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “3D occult mystery film opera”? Because I’ll bet that whatever this makes you imagine is nothing like the reality of composer/director Michel van der Aa and librettist David Mitchell’s Sunken Garden, which debuted at the Barbican last night.
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Carmen Elektra: Timberbrit

Lucy Cronin and Josh Bevan in Timberbrit
Imagine that Britney Spears is in the final throes of life. She stages one last concert to bid farewell to her fans, but is too mentally unstable to make it work. Her former lover Justin Timberlake appears onstage and attempts to win back her affections. Everything happens in slow motion, perhaps because Britney is undergoing a sort of psychotic breakdown.
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You can read our October 2013 interview with Michel van der Aa here.

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.

Before studying composition (with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen), van der Aa trained first as a recording engineer at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. In 2002 he broadened his skills with studies in film direction, at the New York Film Academy, and in 2007 he participated in the Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab, an intensive course in stage direction.

Van der Aa’s musical materials are hard to tease apart, constantly switching between stasis and high energy, concrete and abstract, acoustic and electronic, “pure” and processed, brand new and half-remembered. Many of them are as visual as they are aural. The possibilities of digital and audio-visual technology often feature, not as a surface gloss to his work but at the core of his artistic outlook.

Another important aspect to van der Aa’s music is collaboration and interdisciplinarity. He has worked with leading classical performers such as Sol Gabetta, Barbara Hannigan, Janine Jansen, Christianne Stotijn and Roderick Williams, as well as the Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura and well-known European actors like Klaus Maria Brandauer and João Reis.

His most recent partnership is with the English novelist David Mitchell, with whom he is writing his fourth work for music theatre, Sunken Garden, an “occult-mystery film-opera” co-commissioned by English National Opera, the Toronto Luminato Festival, Opéra de Lyon, the Holland Festival and the Barbican Centre, London.

His music has been performed by ensembles and orchestras worldwide, including musikFabrik, ICE, Tokyo Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Chamber Players, SWR orchestra Baden-Baden & Freiburg, the ASKO|Schoenberg ensemble, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Phiharmonia Orchestra London and the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra.

He has been a featured artist at the Perth Tura New Music Festival and Holland Festival. He is a regular guest of the Berliner Festspiele, Venice Biennale, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Gaudeamus Music Week, Opera de Lyon, Huddersfield Festival and Warsaw Autumn. Additionally his compositions have been performed at the Festival d’Automne à Paris, LA Philharmonic New Music Series, Lucerne Festival, Tokyo Suntory Summer Music Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Moscow Music Week and Oslo Ultima Festival.

Van der Aa has won acclaim for his multimedia works for the stage and concert hall (not only the operas One, After Life and The Book of Disquiet, but also Up-Close, and Transit for piano and video). He has directed both the filmed and staged elements of all of these works. His operas have been staged in more than a dozen countries, with After Life and The Book of Disquiet being regularly revived.

In 1999 Michel Van der Aa was the first Dutch composer to win the prestigious International Gaudeamus Prize. Subsequent awards include the Matthijs Vermeulen prize (2004), a Siemens Composers Grant (2005), the Charlotte Köhler Prize for his directing work and the interdisciplinary character of his oeuvre (2005), the Paul Hindemith Prize (2006), and the Kagel Prize (2013).

Michel van der Aa has won the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for his multimedia work Up-Close.

In 2007 the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra commissioned the song cycle Spaces of Blank, and since 2011 he has been a ‘house composer’ with the orchestra. This association that will lead to several major new works, including a violin concerto and an evening-length Passion setting in 2017. Over the last few years he has also developed strong ties with the Barbican Centre, with performances of After Life and Up-Close, which led to the premiere of Sunken Garden in April 2013.

In 2010 he launched Disquiet Media, an independent multimedia label for his own work, and in 2012 developed Disquiet TV, an online virtual auditorium for contemporary music events.

Michel van der Aa is published by Boosey & Hawkes, and his stage works are represented byIntermusica. He is an active user of social media, with presences on Facebook and Twitter.