Michel van der Aa, winner of the 2015 Johannes Vermeer Award and 2013 Grawemeyer award, 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 imaginative music theatre works Eight (2018-19), Blank Out (2015–16), Sunken Garden (2011–12), The Book of Disquiet (2008), After Life (2005–06) and One (2002) have received critical and public acclaim internationally. Staging, film and music are interwoven into a collage of transparent layers, resulting in works that are part-documentary, part-philosophy. His repertoire also includes concert works and chamber music for small ensemble, soloists and soundtrack, such as his cross-media cello concerto Up-close (2010). His 3D film opera, Sunken Garden (2013), an ‘occult-mystery film-opera’, was created in partnership with the English novelist David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas. Co-commissioned by English National Opera, Opera de Lyon, Toronto Luminato Festival and Holland Festival, the work received its world premiere by ENO at the Barbican, London in April 2013.
In 2015-16, Van der Aa created 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 at the end of May 2015.
The 2021/22 season will see the world premiere of Michel’s new film opera Upload. This multimedia work is co-commissioned by Dutch National Opera, Park Avenue Armory, Oper Köln, Bregenzer Festspiele and Ensemble MusikFabrik and features live performances by Julia Bullock and Roderick Williams. It explores the possibility of eternal life through an upload of a digital version of ourselves. Investigating what this means for our ‘humanness’, our identity, and our relationship with others.