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Louis Andriessen Wins 2011 Grawemeyer Award

Louis Andriessen
Louis Andriessen has won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for his opera La Commedia, premiered in 2008. The Grawemeyer Award, the world-renowned composition prize granted annually by the University of Louisville, bring with it a $100,000 prize. Andriessen is the first Dutch composer to win the award; his La Commedia was selected from a wide international field of entries.

The Grawemeyer’s prize announcement cites how the composer “uses Dante’s epic poem as a springboard for subtle and ironic commentary on modern life, drawing a multilingual libretto from the Bible and other sources. Although some describe Andriessen’s music as hard-edged, it is always human and humane.”

In a statement released by his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, Andriessen had this to say on winning the award:
Just before the Second World War, I was born in a sidestreet by a small canal in the medieval centre of Utrecht. Believe me, 71 years later, getting the world-famous Grawemeyer Award for La Commedia seems to be completely unreal. How could this happen?
When I was four years old my father walked with me over the bridge of the canal to St Catherine’s Cathedral. In that church he played the organ and conducted the choir which twice a week included 40 boy trebles (girl sopranos were permitted only 25 years later). Did it all start sometime then? Perhaps it was hearing him play the organ when I started composing ten years later (I simply began by imitating my father and my 14-year-older brother Jurriaan). My father taught me: “Don’t think you are important, we are just worms, but we have the duty to serve the music and write as well as we can.
I am very grateful for the prize. Let us remember my wife Jeanette, who always provided valuable critical input about my compositions and supported me throughout the 50 years we lived together. She suffered a serious illness during the time I was working on La Commedia and died before the first performance. The complete five-part score is dedicated to her.
La Commedia is Andriessen’s fourth opera, following De Materie (1985-88), Rosa: The Death of a Composer (1993-94), and Writing to Vermeer (1997-98). It was commissioned with the financial support of the Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst and The Netherlands Opera, and was premiered at the Holland Festival in 2008 with film by Hal Hartley, an international cast, Ensemble Asko/Schoenberg, Synergy Vocals, and the children's choir De Kickers, conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw. The same forces (with local children's choirs) performed La Commedia in April 2010 at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and at Carnegie Hall in New York. Two parts of the opera were introduced to American audiences in 2006 and 2007, when the Los Angeles Master Chorale premiered The City of Dis and the Los Angeles Philharmonic gave the US premiere of Racconto dall'Inferno following performances in Europe by MusikFabrik and the RAI Orchestra.

A full-evening stagework in five parts, La Commedia is an individual operatic reflection on Dante’s journey through heaven and hell, summoning up the joys, sorrows and follies of humanity. At its Amsterdam premiere, the Sunday Times described the work 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.”

You can watch a short video preview of La Commedia from the Netherlands Opera premiere, featuring interviews with the performers and music clips, here:

For more on the Grawemeyer Awards, visit


As I wrote on Mr. Andriessen's artist page in 2008: "Will Andriessen's "La Commedia" be recorded and released by Nonesuch in the near future?"

Thank you for your interest, Dawson. While "La Commedia" is not currently on our release schedule, if that does change, we will of course spread the word in the Nonesuch Journal.

Well it should be, because it's really nice. I heard it 3 years ago and still can't forget it, keep checking if it has been recorded and keep being disappointed. Please record it!

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