Vito Žuraj - the first Slovenian recipient of the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize

Only three composers have so far received the Karajan Academy Award of the Berliner Philharmoniker, a distinction awarded by the Foundation for the Promotion of the Orchestra Academy.


Vito Žuraj
Photo: vitozuraj.com

The Karajan Academy is a donation-funded, non-profit association which enables the training of young gifted musicians by members of the Berliner Philharmoniker. In 2000 the Foundation for the Promotion of the Orchestra Academy was founded by Karajan's successor Claudio Abbado. The Foundation aims to provide long-term support for this training ground for orchestral musicians. 

Abbado thus provided the Academy with substantial support by allowing the assets of the Claudio Abbado Music Foundation to benefit the foundation in 2002. In honour of the great conductor, the Karajan Academy awards the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize to composers on an occasional basis. The award-winner is commissioned to write a work that takes into account the instrumentation of the students and corresponds to their musical and artistic skills. The work is rehearsed with the students and premièred at the Karajan Academy concert. 

Vito Žuraj has had a productive year 2017. His new symphonic composition was written for the opening of the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, where he conducted the Ensemble Modern in a portrait concert. In addition, Žuraj had two new works performed by the Philharmonie de Paris and is now looking forward to his works being performed in Vienna and London by specialised contemporary music ensembles such as Klangforum Wien and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Vito Žuraj commented on the award: »The Claudio Abbado Composition prize gave me the opportunity to compose Alavò, a 35-minute piece, the longest composition in the history of the award, scored for soprano solo, piano solo and chamber orchestra. It will be performed on 5 November 2017. The composition is tailored to the acoustics of the Chamber Music Hall of the Berliner Philharmoniker (Kammermusiksaal der Berliner Philharmonie), which features a peculiar hexagonal structure with the audience sitting around the centrally positioned podium for musicians. The architect Hans Scharoun designed the venue with space and sound in mind. Few people know that the rows of seats in three balconies can be moved back with a special mechanism and thus enable musicians to effectively project sound into the venue. This, along with other features of the concert space, is taken into account in the specially informed concept of Alavò, in which groups of musicians are positioned all over the concert hall. Among them are two soloists: a soprano and a pianist. The singer performs at three different places along the round hallway of the concert hall (Aktionsring), while the pianist alternates between two different instruments on stage: an ordinary and a prepared piano. Alavò will be performed by Rinnat Moriah, a brilliant Israeli soprano and the French pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, as well as the members of the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker. It will be conducted by Stanley Dodds, who will also conduct the repeat concerts on 7 November 2017 at the Philharmonie de Paris and on 26 November of the same year at the Luzerne Festival in Switzerland. 

The theme of Alavò is closely linked to the life of Claudio Abbado and to the concert title Der Wanderer (The wanderer). Abbado's mother was of Sicilian origin, and was well-known for her storytelling as a childhood educator. Thus Alavò is based on an old Sicilian tale Sapia la sapiente (Sapia the wise). It is a tale about a bright girl named Sapia, who is overwhelmed by grief from the loss of her mother. «

The librettist Patrick Hahn placed the story of Sapia la sapiente into the realm of dreams, which gives it a psychedelic twist. This is reflected in the use of sound and space by the careful positioning of musicians on and around the stage. Hahn also commented on the psychedelic storyline of the musical version of Sapia la sapiente: »Feelings of profound sorrow and loneliness are followed by hearty outbursts of happiness. The imaginative fairy-tale storytelling is succeeded by nightmarish moments. The Sicilian lullaby is a parable of the yearning for a mother's embrace. Which of these levels of consciousness is real? Does the Prince, described in the narration, really exist or is he only a fiction of the traumatized soul? What also distinguishes this song cycle from any other is the sound of the piano, transformed because of preparation. Furthermore, the composition explores new ways of using the space of a concert hall and pushes new boundaries by encouraging interaction between the performing musician and the audience. «

Vito Žuraj