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End-of-year recommendations

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Dear Friends,
As we approach the close of 2023, I find myself looking back on the year’s memorable moments and accomplishments. I’d love to share with you a mix of my professional highlights, alongside my favourite books, series, performances and software of the past year.

First, let me touch upon some professional highlights. My latest music theatre work, The Book of Water, embarked on a successful Asian tour, with performances in Hong Kong and South Korea. The performances starred Samuel West in Hong Kong and Abel de Vries in South Korea and featured Timothy West and Mary Bevan in the film part. Meanwhile, my chamber opera Blank Out concluded its tour across 11 countries with its U.S. West Coast premiere at Cal Performances in Berkeley this spring, followed by a homecoming performance in Amsterdam. The opera is based on the life and work of South African poet Ingrid Jonker and features soprano Miah Persson and baritone Roderick Williams. We’ve also filmed the opera, and are planning to stream the film in 2024.

Looking ahead to 2024, I’m thrilled to announce my upcoming VR opera installation, From Dust, set to premiere in the fall. This project will feature the mesmerising voices of the vocal ensemble Sjaella. I look forward to sharing more details in our next newsletter.

Now, on to my 2023 recommendations:

The performance of Innocence, the final opera by Kaija Saariaho, at the Dutch National Opera, was an absolute highlight for me. The libretto was exceptionally well crafted and powerfully staged by Simon Stone.

Visual artist Es Devlin’s monograph An Atlas of Es Devlin is a stunning publication that beautifully showcases her innovative designs and interdisciplinary practice.

I really enjoyed the documentary Anselm by Wim Wenders. It offers a wonderful glimpse into the artist’s creative process, very inspiring. It also makes me long for a huge workspace like his that you need a bicycle to move around in!

Talk Talk was probably the band that influenced me most in my teens. Ben Wardle’s A Perfect Silence, a detailed biography of Talk Talk’s front man Mark Hollis, was therefore a compelling read, especially the chapters discussing the creation of the masterpiece ‘Spirit of Eden’ (one of my all time favourite albums).

In fiction, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow stood out for me. It’s an immersive exploration of platonic love, identity, and the drive to create within the video game developer world – blurring the lines between reality and gaming.

I didn’t listen to a lot of new music in 2023, had a bit of a nostalgic 80/90s revival… however Mitski’s album The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We and Sufjan Stevens’ Javelin stood out for me. I also disappeared a bit down a Gesualdo rabbit hole and listened a lot to his Quinto Libro di Madrigali sung by the brilliant Hilliard Ensemble.

My favourite television series last year was (again) Succession (HBO). I thought the writers brought this final season to a worthy close. Honourable mentions were episode 3 of The Last of Us, the heart-wrenching tale of Bill and Frank, and I also really enjoyed the second season of The Bear (‘Yes Chef!’).

The Dutch election results last month made me want to escape to the action-adventure puzzle VR game Moss Book 2 (Quest). I really like how they use a diorama as immersive view, very addictive!

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy 2024.

Warm regards, Michel

PS I’ve recently joined Threads and would love for you to connect with me there: threads.net/@michelvanderaa

PPS if you like to receive blog posts like this in your inbox, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. The newsletter is sent on average 6 times a year.