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 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, pop acts Kate Miller-Heidke and These New Puritans, 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 wrote his fourth work for music theatre, Sunken Garden
, an ‘occult-mystery film-opera’ co-commissioned by English National Opera, the Toronto Luminato Festival, Opera 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), the Kagel Prize (2013) and the Johannes Vermeer Award (2015). Michel van der Aa 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 leads to several major new works, including the recently premiered Violin Concerto (for Janine Jansen). Over the last few years he has also developed strong ties with the Barbican Centre, with performances of After Life
, 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.
Recent projects in 2015 included an interactive digital song cycle, The Book of Sand
, a co-commission of the Holland Festival, Sydney Festival and the BBC’s The Space, that was released as a website and smartphone app. Spring 2016 will see the premiere at the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ of Blank Out
, a new chamber opera for soprano, baritone and 3D film, to be performed by Miah Persson, Roderick Williams and Dutch National Opera.
Michel van der Aa is published by Boosey & Hawkes, and his stage works are represented by Intermusica
. He is an active user of social media, with presences on Facebook
.© Tim Ruhterford-Johnson, July 2015
This biography can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the author.
Do not alter without permission. Please destroy all previous biographical material.