Michael van der Aa © Marco Borggreve

Michel van der Aa


He combines high tech with emotional power: the Dutch artist Michel van der Aa is a composer, filmmaker, and director, all in one. He uses innovative digital technologies to bring music theater into the 21st century.

With its potential for generating whole realms of music and images, connecting them with live events onstage, and in the process creating new narrative perspectives and modes of representation, the virtual world is a treasure chest for Michel van der Aa: a magic box that spurs his artistic imagination and enables him to create total works of art (or “Gesamtkunstwerke,” to use Wagner’s term) that are marked by intriguing narrative levels and reflections. Among the works that van der Aa will present as composer-in-residence during the 2017 Summer Festival are his 3D chamber opera Blank Out, which was premiered in March 2016 in Amsterdam. The libretto, fashioned by the composer himself, is based on the life story and texts of the South African writer Ingrid Jonker and involves an accidental drowning and its traumatic effects. Through their recollection of this accident, mother and son reconstruct significant components of their identities.

In the second piece of music theater that Michel van der Aa will present at LUCERNE FESTIVAL, reduplication of the live performance with a filmed layer likewise plays an important role. This piece is based on Fernando Pessoa’s famous The Book of Disquiet. At the center of this collection of prose fragments is an alter ego of Pessoa: the assistant accountant Bernardo Soares, whose (fictive) observations, reflections, and meditations extend the Chinese puzzle of identities, diffracting his Ego through a prism.  

The fluctuation between the real and what is dreamed is similar to what happens in Michel van der Aa’s Cello Concerto Upclose, which “artiste étoile” Jay Campbell will perform in the 40min series. This piece is also performed without a conductor: instead of following someone who leads them, the orchestral musicians accompany a film that juxtaposes the (young) soloist onstage with the soloist’s (old) alter ego on the screen: these two figures enter into a moving dialogue.

Van der Aa’s hybrid music theater is not only filled with portentous stories but captivates as well through its commanding technique and clear state of mind. Everything works together here and is masterfully carried out, serving a single, unified objective: to create drama and poetry. As with all great art, a vestige of this remains mysterious – just as we find with human identity, in fact.

Concerts with Michel van der Aa