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February 2014

Up-close spreads its wings

Kaori Yamagami, White Light Fest NYC

Originally written for Sol Gabetta and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Michel van der Aa’s Up-Close is being taken up by a growing number of soloists and ensembles since winning the Grawemeyer Prize for Composition a year ago.

Several of these performances have been in the United States, where it is making quite an impact. In October the piece received its US premiere at the Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, where it was performed by Kaori Yamagami and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Last month it was also performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall, by Johannes Moser and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s New Music Group. The concerts were previewed in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and both earned strong press reviews.

Writing for the New York Times, Vivien Schweitzer praised the “chilling … film-noir cello concerto” for its “remarkable intertwining of sound and image”. In the Wall Street Journal Heidi Waleson wrote that “The final, slow moments of the piece, with the echoing solo cello and the woods darkening around the filmed woman, who clutches a flickering lamp, made for a haunting, ambiguous culmination.” And finally, Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times described Up-Close as “a trek out of the chamber and into a new corner of virtual reality.

February 2014

New academy role for Van der Aa

Michel van der Aa has been selected to be an inaugural member of a prestigious new Academy of Arts in the Netherlands.

A new initiative supported by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Academy forms part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been established to study the relationship between science and art, and to act as an independent sounding board for politicians and policy-makers.

Van der Aa will be part of a board made up of nineteen of the Netherlands’ leading artists, musicans and writers, including the photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn, the architect Francine Houben and the violinist Janine Jansen.

More information: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

September 2013

Van der Aa's music in the new season:


Up-close and US performances
The 2013–14 season looks set to be another busy one for Michel van der Aa. It begins in the USA, where several of his works are being performed this autumn. The White Light Festival at New York’s Lincoln Centre will include a Van der Aa portrait on 28 October. The concert will feature the first US performance of Up-Close, performed by Kaori Yamagami and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and members of the International Contemporary Ensemble will play the solo works Memo, Oog and Transit.

There is more Van der Aa in New York on 23 November, when excerpts from After Life will be sung at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the 21c Liederabend op. 3 Festival of Contemporary Art Song.

The winner of the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, Up-Close is being taken up by a number of soloists and ensembles and will soon also be heard in Paris, Wrocław, Prague and Helsinki. There are further North American performances in the new year, when Johannes Moser and the Los Angeles Philharmonic give the West Coast premiere on 28 January. This is followed by performances in Seattle in February given by Julie Albers and the Seattle Chamber Players. For a full list of international performances, see here.

Up-Close is currently available to order as a DVD or video download from the Disquiet webstore.

Clarinet concerto
Van der Aa’s next work for soloist and ensemble is a concerto for clarinet, ensemble and electronics. Co-commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, the Finnish Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and Germany’s Ensemble musikFabrik, the piece features a ‘modular’ solo part – tailored to the different personalities and skills of each of the three first soloists, Mark van de Wiel, Kari Kriikku and Carl Rosman.

The concerto will receive its world premiere in London on 30 April 2014 with Van de Wiel and the London Sinfonietta in a concert that also includes the UK premiere of the complete Here trilogy. The second performance will be on 7 June, with Carl Rosman and musikFabrik, conducted by Susanna Mälkki. The Finnish premiere, with Kari Kriikku and Avanti!, will take place in autumn 2014.

April 2013

World premiere Sunken Garden

Sunken Garden - bloodpondSunken Garden

Michel van der Aa’s latest opera, Sunken Garden, made a splash on its premiere run at London’s Barbican Theatre. As the first opera to use 3D video it was sure to receive a lot of advance publicity. But the performances themselves attracted international media attention, and polarised opinion.

Although some in the British press were critical of the work, writers for other outlets responded favourably. Anne Ozorio of Opera Today described it as ‘A Gesamtkunstwerk for the age of technology’, and Steve Smith of the New York Times called it ‘A provocative combination of live performance and cinema … Unquestionably a bold, rewarding venture’. Writing on his Slipped Disc blog, Norman Lebrecht described it as ‘the first genuine 21st-century opera … not so much an opera as a projection of what opera ought to be’.

From US, German, Dutch and English blogs, to their newspaper counterparts it was certainly the most discussed premiere that ENO have staged for a long time. The seven performances at the Barbican were nearly full, and attracted a young audience, including many who were seeing an opera for the first time.

Sunken Garden now moves to a sold-out run at the Holland Festival this June, and Opera de Lyon in Spring 2015.

March 2013

Mauricio Kagel Music Prize for Michel van der Aa

The North Rhine-Westphalia Arts Foundation has announced that the Mauricio Kagel Music Prize for 2013 will be awarded, by unanimous vote, to Michel van der Aa. The award will be presented on 28 April during the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik.

The Mauricio Kagel Music Prize is given to internationally renowned musicians whose work, like Kagel’s own, experiments with interdisciplinary concepts and techniques. It was established in 2011 and is awarded every two years; its first recipient was the French-Greek composer Georges Aperghis. Van der Aa’s own combination of visuals, theatre and music may be seen and heard in his forthcoming opera Sunken Garden, which will have its premiere in London on 12 April.

The prize is worth a total of €50,000, of which €20,000 is to be used to fund a new project for the North Rhine-Westphalia region. It is the second major international prize to have been won by Van der Aa in just a few months, following his receipt of the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Award for Up-Close in November.


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

  • 30 April 2014
    Here [in circles]
    London Sinfonietta
    Baldur Bronnimann, cond.
    Claron McFadden, sopr.
    Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London, United Kingdom
  • 30 April 2014
    London Sinfonietta
    Baldur Bronnimann, cond.
    Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London, United Kingdom
  • 30 April 2014
    Here [enclosed]
    London Sinfonietta
    Baldur Bronnimann, cond.
    Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London, United Kingdom

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Making of Sunken Garden

Making of Sunken GardenDocumentary by Lucas van Woekum for NTR Podium.
30:00 min. | English subtitles

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The Book of Disquiet - Scene 3 & 4

Scene 3 & 4
Klaus Maria Brandauer, musikFabrik, cond. Martyn Brabbins
11:01 min.

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Latest update 16 March 2014