A panel discussion.

Will music theatre become the main art form of the 21st century?

Michel van der Aa, Luca Francesconi

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The many faces of music theatre are very much present in this year’s festival programme: from 3d film opera (Sunken Garden) to concertante oratorio (The Gospel According to the Other Mary), from two-hander opera (Quartett, Suster Bertken) to vocal theatre with a 40-strong choir (When the mountain changed its clothing) and from musical graphic novel (Brooklyn Babylon) to meta-opera (Tragedy of a Friendship). It appears that music theatre in the 21st century is more alive and more varied than ever before. How has this come about? Is it because this multidisciplinary art form fits in best with our modern multi-media world? And, have traditional ‘pure’ forms such as concert music and text-based theatre lost their impact?


Lex Bohlmeijer
participating composers
Michel van der Aa
Luca Francesconi
James Dillon
Peter Sellars


Luca Francesconi (1956) studied piano at the Conservatory of Milan and composition with Azio Corghi and Karlheinz Stockhausen (in Rome) and with Luciano Berio (in Tanglewood). He also studied jazz for a year at the Berklee College of Music. In 1990 he founded the Agon Acustica Informatica Musica in Milan, which is a research centre for music technology. Francesconi composes for almost all genres and often makes use of electronics. He has written five radio operas for the Italian broadcaster RAI and a number of operas for the theatre. He was commissioned for compositions by Nieuw Ensemble, STEIM Amsterdam, IRCAM, Asko|Schönberg and the Nederlandse Blazers Ensemble. His works for large orchestra include Wanderer for the Filarmonica della Scala led by Riccardo Muti and Cobalt, Scarlet for the Oslo Filharmoniske Orkester led by Mariss Jansons. His work has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Götenborg Symphoniker. He has written two string quartets for the Arditti Quartet and two violin concertos for Irvine Arditti. Francesconi's choral music has been performed by the Vokalensemble Stuttgart led by Peter Eötvös, the Swedish Radio Choir and the New London Chamber Choir. For his work he has won many awards, including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis (1990), the Förderpreis der Ernst-von-Siemens-Musikstiftung (1994) and the Prix Italia (1994). Francesconi not only works as a composer, but also as a conductor. He lectured at many Italian conservatories and gives masterclasses all over the world. He was a guest lecturer in Rotterdam and heads up the composition department of he conservatory in Malmö. Since 2008 he has been artistic director of the Venice Biennale, and since 2012 has been in charge of the Ultima Festival in Oslo. From 2013 he is resident composer at the Casa de Música in Porto.


Michel van der Aa (1970) studied musical engineering at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague before embarking on his studies in composition with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen. In 2002 he studied film direction at the New York Film Academy and in 2007 he took part in the Lincoln Center Theater Director's Lab, an intensive course in stage direction. His work is characterised by interdisciplinarity and close collaborations with other musicians, including Sol Gabetta, Barbara Hannigan, Janine Jansen and Christianne Stotijn; but also actors and writers, such as Klaus Maria Brandauer and David Mitchell. Van der Aa's music is performed worldwide by renowned ensembles and orchestras, and has featured at many festivals, including the Berliner Festspiele, the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the Huddersfield Festival, the Warsaw Autumn and the Venice Biennale. Van der Aa's works in music theatre have been performed in over ten countries. After life (2006/2009) and The book of disquiet (2008) were restaged a number of times. Not only his operas, but also his works for the concert stage often make use of multiple media, such as the song cycle for mezzo-soprano, orchestra and tape Spaces of blank (2007) and Up-Close for cello, string ensemble and video (2010). In 1999 Van der Aa won the Gaudeamus International Composers Award. His work has also been awarded the Matthijs Vermeulen Award (2004) for the chamber opera One, the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (2005), the Charlotte Köhler Prize (2005) and the Paul Hindemith Award (2006). In 2013 Van der Aa received the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for Up-Close. Van der Aa is house composer with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He has also developed strong ties with the Barbican Centre in London. In 2013 Van der Aa received the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for Up-Close and the Mauricio Kagel Music Prize for 2013 will be awarded to him in April.


James Dillon (1950) is a Scottish composer. He studied art and design, but as a composer he is self-taught. In the early 1970's Dillon studied Indian music; its rhythmic techniques recur in many of his compositions. He teaches all over the world as a guest lecturer and since 2007 he has taught at the School of Music of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. In the mid 1980's he started his German Tryptich, which includes helle Nacht (1987), his first work for large orchestra. Dillon has grouped many independent works together in this way, the most important example being Nine Rivers (1982-1999). Dillon has received commissions from the BBC, IRCAM, the Ensemble InterContemporain, the Société Philharmonique de Bruxelles, Oslo Sinfonietta and ‘Glasgow 1990 European City of Culture’. His work is performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Ictus Ensemble, the Arditti Quartet and the Talea Ensemble. He's received many awards, including the first prize at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 1978 and the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis at the Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt in 1982, which led to a number of invitations to return with new work. Four times Dillon won a prize for composition awarded by the Royal Philharmonic Society: for Traumwerk in 1997, the fifth book of The Book of Elements for solo piano in 2003, for his Fourth String Quartet in 2005 and for Nine Rivers in 2011. This makes Dillon the most acclaimed composer in the history of the Royal Philharmonic Society. In 2003 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield. Dillon's opera Philomela, for which he wrote the libretto himself, premiered in 2004 in Porto. The CD-recording of the opera was awarded the Grand Prix du Disc.