Michel van der Aa's Up-Close
...so much is left unexplained...
Thirty Minutes of Total Suspense
Trailers are intentionally seductive, and the trailer for Michel van der Aa's Up-Close is a good example. It is a teaser in the best sense of teasing. It is a work of art.
It teases you in four ways.
1. It teases you into a curiosity about the genre of video opera. A video opera is a blending of live performance and film, amid which the characters on screen and on stage interact with one another. Of course in the trailer they are both on screen. But you sense the difference. If you are like me you would very much like to see a live performance of Up-Close. But there is somethiing "living" about film, too.
2. The trailer teases you into a curiosity about the plot of Up-Close. Who is the old woman? What is she looking for? What is the machine that she finds in the house? Who is the younger woman? Is she the alter-ego of the older woman? Or the other way around? What is an alter-ego, anyway? How many egos do we get to have? So much is left unexplained.
3. It teases you into moods which are as real in their way as are physical objects in their way. The music in Up-Close is fraught with tension and intensity, melancholy and fear. At least this is true of the music in the trailer. The trailer introduces you to the moods and reminds you of their truth. Music is what moods sound like.
4. It teases you into questions. How important is explanation? Sometimes we are confronted with situations which require "answers" and "explanations" and the sense of closure that they give. And sometimes we are we confronted with situations which contain no "answers" or "explanations," in which case our only real option is to have the courage of bewilderment.
Sometimes what is bewildering is a sense of deep and womblike mystery. We feel small but included in a larger whole beyond our understanding in which we and all beings are embraced. Theologians call it the Great Compassion. But sometimes what is bewildering is more localized, temporalized, and dangerous. Bewilderment in the face of danger is not harmonious but it is intense. It is suspenseful. Volksfreund speaks of Up-Close in its entirety as "thirty minutes of total suspense."
After watching the trailer you may want to see all thirty minutes. I offer information below if you are interested. You may also want to read some reviews of the opera. I offer excerpts below.
But most of all, watch the trailer and enjoy. So much is left unexplained.
-- Jay McDaniel
"A hauntingly beautiful video opera"
"Written for Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta, this hauntingly beautiful work is among Van der Aa’s finest. Gabetta, in a print frock, sits among the black-clad orchestra,
spinning out a rapturous song without words, while on screen a similarly dressed
older woman creeps furtively to a disused house to use an old, unspecified piece
of electronic equipment.
Black-out screens cover the windows and the machine communicates in code. The woman may be reliving wartime memories, possibly as a member of the Dutch resistance. But we will never know for certain. Being “up-close” can never give us the bigger picture, and we are left with a mystery that continues to resonate after the music has faded."
-- The Guardian, Tim Ashley
"How to begin? How to carry on?"
"A powerful seeker on a quest for the meaning of life. Here is no avant-gardist who mercilessly frightens off his audience, no esoteric metaphysician, no gushing neo-Romantic. Instead, here we have a powerful seeker on a quest for the meaning of life who combines austere sounds with a preference for whip cracking rhythms and dense tonal atmosphere....
In van der Aa’s music, any kind of mood is tersely and grippingly translated into sounds with an underlying, entirely unsentimental sense of melancholy. It is this austere kind of melancholy that can be found, for example, at the beginning of “Up-Close”, when Sol Gabetta plays a solo cadenza, at first tentatively, then frequently interrupted. Again and again the music presses forth from lower tonal areas up into higher registers, culminating in a virtuoso maenad dance that is taken up by Amsterdam Sinfonietta in a furious manner … the first movement leads into a mysteriously dreamy intermezzo for tape music and video in which the cellist gets into contact with her alter ego on the canvas for the first time. Both seem to be striving for a cross-generational dialogue, not knowing how to begin and how to carry on … A touching combination of film and live performance, of past and present.".
— Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19.03.2011, Reinhard Brembeck
"Michel van der Aa (Netherlands, 1970) 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."
“Here is no avant-gardist who mercilessly frightens off his audience, no
esoteric metaphysician, no gushing neo-Romantic. Instead, here we have a
powerful seeker on a quest for the meaning of life who combines austere sounds with a preference for whip cracking rhythms and dense tonal atmosphere.”
-- Reinhard Brembeck, Süddeutsche Zeitung
"Film and live images mingle poetically"
"A fearful woman in the film, who by the look of it is doing meaningless work
in an abandoned house in the woods, soon merges with the Sol Gabetta, the
Argentinean cellist playing on the stage who represents the woman in her younger years. Film and live images intermingle poetically, and Van der Aa’s wonderful music does the rest....When music, electronics and string orchestra then suddenly converge, the magic that you so often hear in Van der Aa’s music is there again.
A fine addition."
— Trouw, 18-03-2011, Peter van der Lint
“A solo cellist begins with a melancholy, yet insistent soliloquy. As the string orchestra behind her joins in, an image suddenly appears on screen. In the middle of a deserted concert stage, laid out exactly as for the concerto, we see an elderly woman, scribbling coded messages on sheets of paper”, said van der Aa, who composed and filmed the work. As the piece progresses, the music and film begin to mirror each other. The older woman seems to be an alter ego of the cellist, but much is left unexplained."
-- Press Release, Boosey and Hawkes