Dante-inspired opera wins Grawemeyer Award

The work, based on Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” premiered at the 2008 Holland Festival in Amsterdam. The Netherlands Opera produced the performance in association with American film director Hal Hartley.

The piece, which incorporates diverse musical languages, is wide-ranging but remains a unified whole, said award director Marc Satterwhite. Andriessen uses Dante’s epic poem as a springboard for subtle and ironic commentary on modern life, drawing a multilingual libretto from the Bible and other sources.

“Although some describe Andriessen’s music as hard-edged, it is always human and humane,” Satterwhite said.

Andriessen, who will receive a $100,000 prize, likes to cross traditional boundaries between musical genres and disciplines. In the 1970s, he founded two groups uniting musicians from classical and jazz backgrounds. He has drawn inspiration for his works from sources such as Stravinsky and Ives, jazz, European modernism and American minimalism.

His compositions often call for unorthodox combinations of musical instruments and include those rarely used in classical music, such as electric guitar.

Five Grawemeyer Awards are presented each year for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners of the other 2011 Grawemeyer Awards also are being announced this week.

About Louis Andriessen


Dutch composer Louis Andriessen (AN’-dree-suhn) is one of Europe’s most eminent and influential composers.

He was born in Utrecht, Holland, into a musical family. His father and brother were composers and his mother, a professional pianist.

In the 1950s, Andriessen’s brother returned from a stay in the United States, bringing back all types of American music. Andriessen was enthralled and began visiting the nearby U.S. Embassy audio library to hear more. Besides getting to know contemporary American composers, boogie-woogie and jazz, he was also influenced by Igor Stravinsky and other composers working in France.

Andriessen attended the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, where he experimented in serial music. After graduating, he studied with Italian composer Luciano Berio in Milan and Berlin. He soon became prominent in the European music scene, developing his own instantly recognizable style.

His pieces for stage, orchestra, vocalists and piano are now performed worldwide. He held the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall in 2009-10 and was named 2010 Composer of the Year by Musical America. Previously, he won the Matthijs Vermeulen Prijs, the 3M Music Award and the Edison Award and was honored by the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers.

His Grawemeyer-winning work, “La Commedia,” is his fourth opera and most ambitious creation. The Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Philharmonic performed different parts of the opera—one in 2006 and another in 2007—at Walt Disney Concert Hall. An international cast and several of the Netherlands’ best vocal and instrumental groups performed the entire opera in 2008 at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam and again this year at Disney Concert Hall and Carnegie Hall.

Andriessen teaches music composition at the Royal Conservatory.

Boosey & Hawkes, an international company specializing in 20th and 21st century classical music, and Donemus, a Dutch music company, publish his work.

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