Classical music and ‘serious games’ in a radical listening maze

Luistermutant 2020

Micha Hamel, Arlon Luijten philharmonie zuidnederland

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With great regret, the Holland Festival 2020 has been cancelled. more info

It’s 2020, and it’s make-or-break time for 19th-century composer Mendelssohn. Will he be able to hold his own in this dizzyingly varied spectacle, will he survive level three of the interactive listening game? Composer Micha Hamel and director Arlon Luijten invite listeners of all ages and ranges of experience to let their curiosity lead the way. In an ingenious listening environment full of challenging assignments, the audience can assume the role of ‘listening mutants’, sharpening their ears and experiencing music in a radically new way. Luistermutant 2020 (‘Listening mutant 2020’) requires the audience to actively participate in installations and ‘serious games’. Guides are present to give pointers or raise questions: what is that philosopher talking about? And why is classical music still relevant today? Gain the right listening skills for the concert hall and beyond: ‘Mendelssohn, your game is on.’

background information

Micha Hamel: ‘Listening is more fun, difficult, and important than you think’.

‘Mendelssohn has one foot in the grave’, Micha Hamel says. ‘Will the performance of Luistermutant 2020 be the last time we play his music, yes or no? That’s up to the audience. Either the heritage of the Nineteenth Century is done for or we find a way in which it can remain relevant. In ‘Luistermutant 2020’, Mendelssohn exemplifies Nineteenth Century orchestral music. The audience decides: we need to save Mendelssohn or bury him’.

Together with director Arlon Luijten, composer, poet, and researcher Micha Hamel developed Luistermutant 2020, a production based on the Nineteenth Century importance of music, of listening. Hamel: ‘A good listening culture is important in society, in real life. Listening to each other should be the foundation of a healthy democracy. Listening is a skill you’ll need in order to be helpful. Adopting the other’s perspective occurs through listening’.

‘In the Nineteenth Century, music wasn’t merely beautiful, but important as well’, Hamel says. ‘It was socially relevant and served to uplift humanity; it was the highest art. Much composing took place, humanity had to be uplifted, citizens needed to have their own art form, as in the Romantic tradition. Music was important for your education as a human being. Today, music is merely beautiful. We live in a hedonistic era in which it’s all about experience and our individual emotions and sensations. When we listen to a symphony by Mendelssohn or Schumann now, we mainly think it’s beautiful, and we don’t think: this piece will make us better people. But people thought this in the past!’

Hamel and consorts are banking on the possibility of learning to listen. Not by giving information about a symphony by Mendelssohn, which is in the program booklet, but by showing how you might listen and what an adventure listening is. ‘We use serious games to help people learn to listen. These allow us to reach a wide audience. It’s a fantastic tool for training people. When you’re gaming, you want to score, get points, you want to play, and in this way you’re directly connected with the game’s subject. If you’re an active participant in the production yourself, it really comes to life in a different way. Consequently, you’re only allowed to attend our show if you’ll participate, not if you just want to be a spectator’.

‘In the Large Hall of the Muziekgebouw, music by Mendelssohn is played, as well as work from young Dutch composer Bram Kortekaas, and performed by the philharmonie zuidnederland. The spaces surrounding the hall form a listening garden where games are played. A number of actors venture to consider whether classical music is or isn’t mere old junk. For the record, we’re not trying to make a classical concert more hip, it’s really about the ways in which classical music is relevant to the world of today’.

‘You need to see the concert hall as a gym for training your listening muscles. The show is set up in such a way as to allow you to discover what listening means to you. ‘Luistermutant’ is not a diktat, as in: you must learn to listen. Instead, you’ll discover on your own you’re not nearly as good at it as you thought. You’ll discover what it is to listen to a human being, to listen to music, and whether these two belong with each other. A symphony is particularly suitable for this listening exercise, allowing you to wander through its myriad layers. It’s an architectural structure with themes, a melody, voices which may or may not brush up against each other - there’s always something drawing your attention. We hope someone comes to the venue with two ears and then leaves with five’. 



Micha Hamel (Amsterdam, 1970) is a composer, poet, and researcher. His concert music was performed by nearly all major Dutch orchestras and ensembles. In 2008, his tragic operetta Snow White

(Nederlandse Reisopera) toured the country to great acclaim. In June 2012, he was ‘Composer in focus' at the Holland Festival, for which he composed two full-evening works: a Requiem for our civilizational ideal and an interdisciplinary production inspired by the painting The Red Kimono by George Hendrik Breitner.

In 2014, his full-evening melodrama Een pure formaliteit (‘A Pure Formality’, theatre group Orkater) was well-received. His opera Caruso a Cuba (Dutch National Opera, 2019) was praised in both the national and international press. He published five volumes of poetry with the publisher AtlasContact. His latest collection of poems Toen het moest (2017) stood out with its unconventional typography and imaginative approach to language. He also makes poetic experiences for virtual reality in collaboration with the animation artist Demian Albers (studio Apvis, Breda). These installations are found at various festivals of technology, contemporary art, and literature, and draw a diverse audience.

Since 2010, Micha Hamel has served as 'Performance Practice’ lecturer at Codarts University for the Arts, Rotterdam, where he does research on new directional and necessary developments in the concert practice. The report of his first research project appeared under the title Speelruimte voor klassieke muziek in de 21ste eeuw (‘Playroom for classical music in the 21st Century’). He is currently researching whether video games are a suitable medium for getting audiences involved with classical music in a quality manner. This interdisciplinary project is called GAMPSISS and is a collaboration between Codarts, the TU Delft , the Erasmus University, and the Willem de Kooning Academy. Since 2015, Micha Hamel has been a member of the Akademie van Kunsten of the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), where he chairs the Arts and Science section.

Arlon Luijten studied at the Toneelacademie Maastricht and was granted the Hustinx award upon completing his studies. Luijten developed theatrical playing fields that bridge the world within and outside theatre and that combine elements from opera, theatre, amusement, mythology, serious gaming, technology, research, and education. He challenges audiences, citizens, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, and the government to collaborate in these. As a director, Arlon Luijten makes layered, polymorphic, and conceptually constructed productions (musical theatre, opera, installations, and events) that are characterised by a grand theatricality and are full of spectacular show elements. In this way, he defies the idiom of so-called high and low culture and challenges various target groups in their viewing habits and experience. Arlon Luijten’s productions are consistently performed with new compositions and live music by a surprising combination of performers.

His work was produced by ALBA Theaterhuis, KORZO, Operadagen Rotterdam, Holland Opera, and Kameroperahuis. Between 2012-2016, Luijten created the urban opera PARSIFAL, playingfields for Operadagen Rotterdam with a game performance as a component. Luijten has since been doing research on interactivity and gamification as dramaturgical means of not only getting the audience to participate, but of making it complicit in the artwork as well. In 2018, Luijten founded Little Wotan, an urban laboratory in which he further explores and expands on this work and working method. Luijten is an instructor involved in various bachelor and master programs. He is also involved in GAMPSISS, a collaborative project between Codarts, WDKA, the TU Delft, and Erasmus University Rotterdam, in which he researches and develops 'Gameful Music Performances for Smart, Inclusive and Sustainable Societies'. Since 2016, Arlon Luijten has been a Dutch member of the European Cultural Parliament, in which he works on new international collaborations.

Composer Bram Kortekaas (Amsterdam, 1989) studied composition at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and political science at the University of Amsterdam and University of Copenhagen. In his compositions, he is inspired by current musical developments as well as social issues. For instance in Voetnoten bij de menselijke komedie: Mijmeringen van Arnon Grunberg, commissioned by NTR ZaterdagMatinee, he put Arnon Grunberg’s columns in de Volkskrant to music. Both the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Residentie Orkest performed this work with the Netherlands Radio Choir. Commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Kortekaas wrote Leonard Bernstein, Security Matter – C, a work for wind quintet and singer Carina Vinke about the political past of the American composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990).

Kortekaas’ orchestral music is characterised by its expressive characteristics and attention to orchestration. In 2015, he took the first prize in the Euregio Youth Orchestra Composition Contest with the composition The Pillars of Creation, inspired by the iconic photo from the Hubble telescope of the same name.  The composition The Dreamcatcher, commissioned by the Netherlands Student Orchestra, was one of two Dutch entries at The International Rostrum of Composers 2018. He has written other orchestral works commissioned by the Noordhollands Jeugdorkest, the Ricciotti Ensemble, the VU Orchestra, and the Nederlands Studenten Kamerorkest (Nesko). Foreign Body, written for the VU Orchestra, was on the music stand in 2014 during the Järvi International Academy for Conductors in Estonia. The Netherlands Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (December 2020) and the NJO (January 2021), among others, will be premiering new work by Kortekaas throughout the 2020/2021 season.



artistic concept
Micha Hamel, Arlon Luijten
Arlon Luijten
Bram Kortekaas, Felix Mendelssohn
Daniël van Klaveren
Arlon Luijten, Annebeth Erdbrink, Rens Kortmann, Micha Hamel, Janna Michael
Jonathan Heyward
Janna Michael, Annebeth Erdbrink, Micha Hamel, Rens Kortmann, Koen van Eijck
performed by
philharmonie zuidnederland, studenten:
Willem de Kooning Academie, Codarts Rotterdam, Jeugdtheaterschool Zuidoost

This performance was made possible with support by