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Michel van der Aa
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Opera and lyrical music
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Michel van der Aa (born 1970, The Netherlands) is a composer to whom music is more than just organized sound or a structure of notes. One of the enduring features in his idiom is a strong theatrical imagination. Dramatis personae take on various identities. Musicians who are visible on the stage are either not always audible or they interact with their electronic evil sisters, processed sounds on tape. A theatrical, virtual space comes into being which is not confined to the concert hall but is extended into the mind of the audience. Van der Aa plays with this conceptual space the same way M.C Escher, the graphic artist, made perspectival illusion clash with the flat surface of the paper. For Van der Aa sound is something moldable, something that can constantly assume other forms, sometimes recognizable, sometimes not, - exactly the same thing that fascinates a playwright in the human spirit and its bodily affectations. This is not coincidental; Van der Aa is indeed a playwright in his music. People are flexible or stubborn, dominate or get the short end of the stick, reinforce or counteract each other, just like Van der Aa’s sounds, affecting audiences with expressive power. When he doesn’t provide images with his music, these arise in the mind of even the most unimaginative listener, or else the musicians visualize the dramatic potential.
After training as a music recording engineer at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Michel van der Aa studied composition with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen. Despite the fact that his teachers were all prominent representatives of the ‘Hague School’, which did not fail to leave some imprint on his style - notably a constructivist approach and the use of rhythm and chords as structural elements - his music is never ‘Hague’ in spirit. Rather than angular and monolithic, it is strikingly subtle, playful, poetic and transparent. Yet it is not expressive or melodious in the traditional sense. Van der Aa is a child of his time. Where his teachers used to struggle with the doctrines of serial music, he uses the atonal idiom freely. And the computer for him is a natural tool - not for composing, but for producing his sound tracks. Van der Aa uses these soundtracks as an additional instrument, a way to extend the vocabulary of his music.
Van der Aa’s interest in the visual and dramatic side of music made him experiment with miming and acting of musicians in his performances. Most recently, Van der Aa completed a program in film directing at the New York Film Academy. The addition of these visual elements to Van der Aa’s practical compositional pallet further add to an aspect that was already part of his art: theatrical imagination.
Van der Aa’s music has been performed by ensembles and orchestras internationally, including the Schönberg Ensemble conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw, Dutch Radio Chamber Orchestra conducted by Peter Eötvös, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra Sweden, Esprit Orchestra, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, New National Theatre Tokyo, ensemble musikFabrik, ASKO Ensemble, Ural Academic Symphony Orchestra, Albany Dogs of Desire ensemble, Continuum Ensemble Toronto, SWR orkest Baden-Baden & Freiburg, Orkest de Volharding, Nederlandse Opera, Avanti! Ensemble, and the Ives Ensemble.
His music was given performances on festivals ranging from the Berliner Festspiele to Festival d’Automne á Paris, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Gaudeamus Muziekweek, Music Biennale Zagreb, Matinee op de Vrije Zaterdag, LA Philharmonic New Music Series, Moscow music week, Nederlandse Muziekdagen, Spring Loaded Festival London, Oslo Ultima Festival, Budapest Autumn Festival, Huddersfield Festival, Venice Biennale, and Autumn in Warsaw.
Van der Aa collaborated with choreographers Kazuko Hirabayashi, Philippe Blanchard, Ben Wright, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and film directors Hal Hartley and Peter Greenaway.
One of Michel van der Aa’s most successful works is One, a chamber opera for soprano, video and soundtrack. The opera attracted excellent critical acclaim following its performances in The Netherlands, Berlin, Paris, Zagreb, Oslo, Warsaw, Budapest and St. Petersburg.
“Masterly…a wonderfully poetic piece. As enchanting as a dream”.
— Het Parool
“… a possible philosophical reflection between Rimbaldism (I am another) and Buddhism (Life is a dream. There is no dreamer)”.
— Le Monde
“Michel van der Aa fascinates in One”…”high quality of the notes in a highly concentrated, sublime sharpness and of a taut beauty, both mechanical and human”.
— NRC Handelsblad
“Mastery of the deviation. With its absence of person psychology the piece spreads its aura over generations, since it reflects its secrets with the clarity of a mirror”.
— Der Tagespiegel
With his composition Between Van der Aa was the first Dutchman in 1999 to win the prestigious International Gaudeamus Prize. In 2004 Van der Aa won the Matthijs Vermeulen prize for One and the Ernst von Siemens Foundation awarded him a Siemens Composers grand in 2005.
In 2005 Michel van der Aa was also awarded the Charlotte Köhler Prize for his directing work and the interdisciplinary character of his oeuvre.
Michel van der Aa is currently writing a piece for the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra as part of the project ‘About Baroque’ in collaboration with the Siemens arts programme and the Lucerne Festival (premiere: 27 August 2005 in Lucerne, subsequent performance on 29 August 2005 at the Berlin Festival). He is also working on a new opera for the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam (premiere planned for June 2006).
Van der Aa’s music is recorded on Col Legno, Composers’ Voice, BVHaast, X-OR and VPRO Eigenwijs labels.
Michel van der Aa is published by Boosey & Hawkes. Works written prior to 2001 are published by Donemus.