Dutch composer Louis Andriessen has won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for La Commedia, his 2008 opera based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Premiered two years ago by the Netherlands Opera as part of the Holland Festival, the work received its U.S. premiere in concert last April in Carnegie Hall, as part of Andriessen’s "Perspectives" series.
One of the most lucrative prizes in music, the $100,000 Grawemeyer Award is handed out annually by the University of Louisville. Andriessen's work was chosen from among 161 entries that were screened initially by a panel of music professionals; finalists were then assessed by lay listeners with knowledge of contemporary music.
La Commedia, a deconstruction of The Divine Comedy, was composed from 2004 to 2008. The 100-minute work features an eclectic libretto that draws not only on Dante's three-part vision of the afterlife, but also on the Bible, works by the 17th-century Dutch poet Joost van den Vondel and other sources. Musically, the score is just as wide-ranging, incorporating minimalist figuration, electronic sounds, quotations of Debussy and Orff and spiky jazz riffs.
The work's original production, by the American filmmaker Hal Hartley, featured extensive video elements, including a black-and-white film in which Dante is a television reporter and the central action is a car crash.
At its Amsterdam premiere The Sunday Times described La Commedia as "the distillation of a lifetime's creativity...there is nothing ethereal about this opera. Its questing vigour is of a materialist, Brechtian, Godardian kind. It relishes the mixture of media, musical quotations and parody, intellectual subtexts and ironic commentary while remaining spunkily itself -- a brilliant, new-fangled circus."
Andriessen, 71, is the son of Hendrik Andriessen, one of the recognized pioneers of modern Dutch music. His first creative breakthroughs came in the 1970s, most notably with De Staadt, a large choral work based on Plato's Republic. Other works like Workers Union and Hoketus have been championed by American ensembles like Bang on a Can and the California Ear Unit. Known for his progressive political views, Andriessen is also a noted teacher, and aspiring composers from many nations have come to Holland to study with him at the Royal Conservatory at The Hague. In 2009-10, Andriessen held Carnegie Hall’s Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair.
Andriessen is the first Dutch composer to win the Grawemeyer Award. Winners of the prize in psychology, religion and ideas for improving world order will be announced later this week.
The Trailer for La Commedia: