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Grawemeyer winner collects second prize

First prize twice over, that is.

Michel Van de Aa, the Dutch composer whose opera Sunken Garden premieres in London on April 12, has won the Euro 50,000 Mauricio Kagel music prize to add to his $100,000 Grawemeyer.

Drinks on him.


Michel van der Aa on Sunken Garden from English National Opera on Vimeo.

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    The work of Van Der Aa is often greatly misunderstood. He is not a composer but a concept artist, and a clever one. He is a man of the theatre, using music as just one of the ingredients of a production; the music – which is of the conventional quasi-modernist kind, using all the clichés which are now available to everybody possessing a computer – has hardly any independent quality and seems not to have been intended as such. His success is greatly deserved, but it is not based upon musical quality in itself, it is the theatrical qualities that count: they provide interesting entertainment for audiences who can feel being immersed in progressive modernity. This is the reason that so many gadgets are needed to get a ‘story’ across, it is all on the outside. Nothing wrong with this, but it is not opera, it is not music as an art form, it is concept art, comparable to ‘installations’ and objectified theory in the visual arts.

    For people who find classical music boring and who got tired of the ‘museum culture’ of the regular repertoire, and who passionately crave for some ‘connection’ with the ‘modern world’, which would liberate them from their inner alienation and psychic isolation, Van Der Aa provides just the right means of transportation. Hence the marketing including notions of ‘risk’, ‘radical’, ‘indeterminacy’ – the work coming into existence during the production proper, etc. etc. – all rhetoric from modernist ideologies of the last century. We should applaud such achievement in a field where creativity is so ostentatiously lacking.

  2. Why does the museum culture exist? Why is a “concept artist” considered a “composer?” Are there no living composers of original, vital music? Or are those who decide which contemporary composers and works to grant prizes and commissions unable or unwilling to seek out and program the best modern works?

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