Award winner: Vito Žuraj

The Slovenian composer is the winner of the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize

(Photo: Hans-Christian Schink)

A composer cannot create from nothing. For Vito Žuraj, winner of the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize, the creative process of composing always involves exploring the history of music. Whether in the piece Schub’rdy G’rdy for soprano and ensemble, in which he puts some Schubert lieder – as Žuraj puts it – “through a mincer and reassembles them again as meatloaf”, or in the composition Übürall which references the “Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu” by Bernd Alois Zimmermann – his works are impressive, acoustic puzzles that open up new soundscapes without losing their connection to the past. However: “Whether and in what form I use the pieces from musical history is always dependent on the specific piece and its context,” says the 38-year-old composer.

Acoustic puzzles

Another source of inspiration – especially in terms structure – is tennis, which Vito Žuraj is passionate about, and which has inspired works with titles such as Changeover and Runaround. His guitar-playing father and Artur Rubinstein’s recordings of Chopin’s Polonaises awakened his enthusiasm for music at an early age. And even more, the native Slovene soon felt the urge to compose himself. Vito Žuraj, who studied under Marko Mihevc, Lothar Voigtländer, Wolfgang Rihm and Thomas A. Troge, is one of the most important composers of today’s younger generation. A decisive influence on his career was his collaboration with the Ensemble Modern which culminated in a portrait concert in the Elbphilharmonie in April 2017.

Homage to Claudio Abbado

He has already received numerous awards for his œuvre, but the Abbado Composition Prize, awarded by the Berliner Philharmoniker's Karajan Academy, particularly delights him: “The greatest thing about this prize is the premiere of a new work in collaboration with the Berliner Philharmoniker which fulfils a dream I have had for a long time.” In homage to Abbado, the new piece Alavò references Sicilian culture. In this “Liedkonzert”, Vito Žuraj and his librettist Patrick Hahn were inspired by the songs and fairy tales of Sicily and have transposed them into a modern narrative. “In this work, I wanted to create a sound space that represents different levels of consciousness,” explains the composer. “Another important theme is the idea of wandering, of migration – on the one hand literally, because the singer does not only sing in one position. On the other hand, it is also a necessity in life, in the best as well as in the tragic sense.”