‘Up-close’ wins music prize for van der Aa

“Up-close,” a piece by Dutch composer Michel van der Aa (mee-SHEHL’ VAHN’-dur-a) that blends concerto with film, has won the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

The 30-minute work is a highly innovative fusion of musical and visual art, said award director Marc Satterwhite.

“It’s a virtuoso cello concerto but also a fascinating multimedia experience that defies simple classification,” Satterwhite said. “It really creates its own genre.”

van der Aa, 42, house composer for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, wrote the piece for Argentinian-French cellist Sol Gabetta and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. The work, commissioned by the European Concert Hal Organization, premiered in Stockholm in 2011.

The Sinfonietta and Gabetta later performed the piece in concert halls throughout Europe, receiving high acclaim from audiences and critics. Disquiet Media, a recording label p van der Aa founded, released the work on DVD last year.

The piece is performed with a large video screen on the stage near a solo cellist and string ensemble.

As the music unfolds, an image of an elderly woman appears on the screen. At first, she is seen scribbling coded messages on sheets of paper amid a deserted stage set up exactly like the concerto. Later, she is shown running through the woods to an abandoned house, where she apparently tries to transmit the messages on a mechanical coding device.

As the piece progresses, the musical performance and film intertwine and begin to mirror each other. The woman seems to be an alter ego of the cellist, but much is left unexplained.

UofL presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.

To watch an excerpt from the winning piece, see www.vanderaa.net/up-close or www.boosey.com/podcast/Michel-van-der-Aa-Up-close-DVD/13199

About Michel van der Aa

Michel van der Aa, house composer for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, is considered a pioneer in musical theatre.

Born in 1970 in Oss, Netherlands, he studied composition and recording engineering at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. Louis Andriessen, winner of the 2011 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition, was among his teachers.

van der Aa also trained in film and theater at the New York Film Academy and the Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab.

Many of his works incorporate multimedia and crossover elements such as live and prerecorded electronics, theater and film. He is now working with English novelist David Mitchell to create an occult-mystery 3D film opera, “Sunken Garden.” The English National Opera, Toronto Luminato Festival, Opera de Lyon, Holland Festival and Barbican Centre have co-commissioned the work, which is scheduled to premiere in London in April.

He is a regular guest at the world’s most prestigious festivals and concert halls, including London’s Barbican Centre, Opera de Lyon, Berliner Festspiele, Venice Biennale, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Gaudeamus Music Week, Huddersfield Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival and Autumn in Warsaw.

International Contemporary Ensemble, musikFabrik, Tokyo Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Modern, De Nederlandse Opera, BBC Symphony Orchestra, SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg, AKSO/Schoenberg Ensemble, Philharmonia Orchestra London and Helsinki Avanti Ensemble have all performed his compositions.

Boosey and Hawkes, a global classical music publishing company with offices in New York, London and Berlin, publishes his music.

van der Aa also has founded a multimedia label, Disquiet Media, to distribute his pieces and is developing an Internet multimedia channel, Disquiet.tv, to showcase his work and that of other artists.