‘The Darker Aspects Of Life’
This week’s #MusicForWriters column: Like one of my favorite artists and friends, the music-theater virtuoso Martha Clarke, Michel van der Aa trades deliberately in what you’ll see him call in our interview “the darker aspects of life.” As a kid, we learn, he got into music on a psychologist’s advice, to channel his energy away from his nightmares.
[pullquote]As a kid I suffered from terrible nightmares and sleepwalking…A child psychologist advised me to start learning to play an instrument. From that moment, my nightmares stopped.
— Michel van der Aa[/pullquote]
Van der Aa’s art teeters on the unnerving edges of life. Like Clarke, he has an alchemist’s gift for text, music, light, shadow, electronics and movement that can set fears and disturbances spinning in awful beauty with what appears to be effortless agility. Like an actor, however, he’s thrilled with sky-high energy. This guy’s music and visual worlds rock with power.
Van der Aa is much more than a composer. He’s an auteur, a stage and screen director whose new (November 2014) Violin Concerto is a perfect introduction to the tumbling, tumultuous dynamics of this creator’s imagination.
Be sure to take advantage of Q2 Music’s Album of the Week opportunity to learn more about its recording by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) under the direction of the meticulous Vladimir Jurowski and led by violinist Janine Jansen as you read through our interview. The second, third, and fourth tracks on the album Horizon 6 from the RCO are his concerto.
The rest of Horizon 6 is strong, as well. I’m particularly fond of Luc Brewaeys‘ shining Along the Shores of Lorn, the sixth track. This CD is the sixth installment in the RCO’s long-running program of “Horizon” collections of the sort of contemporary classical music that makes Q2 Music such an important resource for writers.
Van der Aa’s work runs from what may be his best-known screen work in some quarters, the film-opera Sunken Garden to chamber music, ensemble works, orchestral pieces, and work for film and movement (the category in which The Book of Sand, for example, resides in his catalog).
Prolific and versatile, there’s an inquisitive quality to all he touches. Always, you can tell he wants to learn something, discover something, uncover something. Like an author who has seized on the right concept, Van der Aa’s execution in many of his works is boldly authoritative. Concepts and their interpretations seem to arrive integrated in his mind. You hear that in the spacious orchestrations of his violin concerto: a latter-day Berlioz, he’s a colorist of thin air, his aesthetics never stop at the sound. Notice that he places his percussionists onstage in a unique way, “because of how it looks.”
‘Lines Of Transmission’
Thought Catalog: Michel, I’m intrigued by the gorgeous, almost pained, quiet opening with the violin completely alone in both your first and second movements of the concerto. Can you say whether there is, in your considerations, a “role” here for the violin, a personality? Or is this “pure sound” in your sense of it?
Yes this was one of the first ideas I had for the piece. I wanted Janine [violinist Janine Jansen] to start alone in the first two movements and hover over the orchestra like a hang-glider before diving down and engaging with the other players.
TC: Is the piece composed for Janine? And does this rendition of the violin’s lead accomplish what you had hoped it would?
MvdA: I never write solely for an ‘instrument’ but always for a certain performer. Janine is the inspiration and reason I wrote this piece, she’s amazing. She has this unique quality of utter technical perfection combined with a very instinctive, humanistic way of playing. She’s also a wonderful communicator on stage, very theatrical. She grabs you by the collar from the moment she enters the stage. You have to look at her and listen to her, she’s the portal to the music. If Janine had played the ukulele, I would have written a ukulele concerto.
As an opera director, I love the theatrical possibilities of having someone who is the embodiment of the work. The theatre begins in Janine’s presence and personality, but extends across the whole stage. The lead violinist and cellist are drawn in as secondary soloists, and with Janine often form a trio of their own. Their energy spreads outwards to three percussionists, harp, the string groups and finally the whole orchestra.
Those lines of transmission are articulated visually as well as aurally – the three percussionists are spaced among the orchestra not only because of the way that distribution sounds, but also because of how it looks.
There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog
By Porter Anderson
Writing on the Ether: Music For Writers: Michel van der Aa’s ‘Hovering’ Flight
Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com