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Vito Žuraj’s work is characterized by powerful and meticulously crafted compositions, tailor-made for the performers and often including scenic elements and spatial sound concepts. Born in Maribor in 1979, his works have quickly gained recognition at major concert halls and festivals, interpreted among others by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Modern and the RIAS Kammerchor.
In the current season he is working on a concert for harp and strings, for which the twelve highest strings of the harp will be retuned microtonally. The premiere in October 2020 at the Kölner Philharmonie will be performed by soloist Marion Ravot and the Münchener Kammerorchester. Another key composition of this season is INNEN for chamber choir and ensemble based on a text by Händl Klaus. Departing from Beethoven's hearing loss, the piece examines the consequences of sensory limitations on artistic expression.
Vito Žuraj studied composition with Marko Mihevc in Ljubljana and continued his studies with Lothar Voigtländer in Dresden and Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe. His experience with the technology and aesthetics of electronic sound generation – gained during a master's programme in music technology with Thomas A. Troge and at the ZKM Karlsruhe, and consolidated through co-operations with the Experimentalstudio des SWR and IRCAM – does not only serve him for his own compositional work: as a professor of composition and music theory at the Music Academy of the University of Ljubljana since 2015, he initiated the setting up of an electronic music studio, parallel to his lectureship in Karlsruhe.
An avid tennis player, Vito Žuraj uses this experience as inspiration for a now-extensive series of works, including 2011’s Changeover for instrumental groups and orchestra, premiered with the Ensemble Modern and the hr-symphony orchestra under Johannes Kalitzke. He has long been closely associated with the Ensemble Modern, which has since premiered several of his works, including Runaround (2014), Übürall (2013), Restrung (2012) and Warm-up (2012). The Ensemble Modern also featured a retrospective program of his work in 2017 – one of two concerts showcasing his work at the Elbphilharmonie in spring 2017, as the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester also gave the world premiere of his composition Stand up.
Numerous other ensembles and orchestras regularly perform works by Vito Žuraj. The Klangforum Wien took his 2013 composition Fired-up on tour to Milan, Paris and Vienna. The partially staged composition Insideout was premiered by the Scharoun Ensemble directed by Matthias Pintscher at the Salzburg Festival in 2013, reprised by the New York Philharmonic in 2014 and the Ensemble intercontemporain in 2016. I-formation, a work for two orchestras commissioned by KölnMusik and written for the 30th anniversary of the Cologne Philharmonie, was premiered in September 2016 by the WDR Symphony Orchestra under Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln under François Xavier-Roth. Last season’s premieres included Drive for trio percussion and instrumental groups, created while in residence at the Philharmonic Orchestra Erfurt, as well as the ensemble composition Tension, performed at the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik with the Klangforum Wien under Emilio Pomárico and reprised in Vienna under Peter Rundel. In addition, the Philharmonia Orchestra premiered the English version of his farce Ubuquity for soprano and ensemble in April 2018.
In the 2018/19 season, additional conceptual and boundary-breaking works were premiered, including Der Verwandler, composed for the SWR Vocal Ensemble and SWR Symphony Orchestra, which is inspired by the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger, inventor of European porcelain. Porcelain bells and wind chimes were created in collaboration with the manufacturer in Meissen for the performance. In his composition Hors d’oeuvre, the instrumentation reveals its unusual approach to the concerto form: the work, written for chef-performer and chamber orchestra, was premiered by the WDR Symphony Orchestra under Peter Rundel together with star chef Daniel Gottschlich.
In spring 2016, Vito Žuraj was awarded the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize by the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Orchestra Academy. The prize included a commission for Alavó, which was performed in Berlin, Paris and Lucerne. Vito Žuraj has also been honoured with the city of Stuttgart’s composition award and the Prešeren Advancement Award, the highest decoration for artists in Slovenia. In 2014 he was a recipient of fellowships from the Villa Massimo in Rome, the Academy of Arts in Berlin and the ZKM Karlsruhe. At the start of 2019 he was appointed by Prof. Monika Grütters for a three-year term to the committee to jury fellowships for Villa Massimo, the Casa Baldi in Olevano, the Deutsche Studienzentrum in Venice and the Cité des Arts in Paris.
Recordings of Vito Žuraj’s works have been published on the label Neos, among others. A CD showcasing his work was also released by Wergo as part of the contemporary music edition of the German Music Council.
This biography is to be reproduced without any changes, omissions or additions, unless expressly authorised by the artist management.
“Schub’rdy G’rdy” is a neologism of Schubert and Hurdy Gurdy (…) The Schubertian themes are taken from the “Leiermann” song from the Winterreise cycle, as well as the composer’s “Erlkönig” and “Ave Maria”. (…) The whole piece would have seemed somewhat superficial, like a succession of Schubert quotations simply strung together, were it not for the humorous tone, which brought the piece to life, and the musicians, especially the absolutely terrific soprano Rinnat Moriah, who performed the piece almost as if it were staged.
klassik-begeistert.de, Julian Bäder, 12/04/2017
Vito Zuraj is not very well known in France, which is a great shame. (…) In Ubuquité (…) the narrator invites us on a round-the-world trip, in which lists, word-play and more or less offensive jokes are strung together. The style is polymorphous, and borrows from jazz, flirts with Ligeti’s “Myteries of the Macabre” and explicitly refers to Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s use of quotation (himself cited in both the music and text).
forumopera.com, Par Alexandre Jamar, 24/01/2017
Whilst the musical duties were shared equally, the ensembles took it in turns to begin, as per tennis service. The off-stage orchestra began in the heavens, with the angelic sound of harp and cymbals. On stage, viscous string glissandi were shot around the room as if by exhausted players, before the brass players fired back fanfares in return. (…) This visual and aural dialogue was great fun for the audience. Thierry Mechler’s effervescent and undulating organ part was an intermediary between the on- and off-stage orchestras, creating a playing field for a match in which Vito Žuraj subtly mixed energy and unfamiliar timbres.
KÖLNISCHE RUNDSCHAU, Olaf Weiden, 16/09/2016, about “i-Formation” for two orchestras, premiered on 14/09/2016 at the Kölner Philharmonie
His Tango for Flute and Orchestra is as virtuosic as it is energetic, playing with the popular dance rhythm and throwing the motifs across the orchestra like juggling balls.
THÜRINGER ALLGEMEINE, Ursula Mielke, 29/10/2016
The playful and competitive panache of the new work (…) was immediately apparent. (…) Both the aural quality of the piece and the means of its production were brought to the fore, with its virtuosic construction – generated from the alternately cooperative and antagonistic relationship between the ensembles – always remaining in the service of an overarching sound. This was, so to speak, the mission statement of the piece. There were quarter-tone constellations and urgent and boundary-pushing glissandi; gigantic tutti thunderstorms and expansive soundscapes which huff and puff ; and, in the middle of it all, Thierry Mechler, the Philharmonie’s organist, was even able to perform a rhythmically complex organ part. Again and again, both orchestras had to realise highly precise effects.
KÖLNER STADTANZEIGER, Markus Schwering, 16/09/2016, about “i-Formation” for two orchestras
This colourful and slightly excited music casts a spell over the audience very quickly. Algorithms play a role in this music as well as musical intuition. The result, still, is not a stiff and stereotypical drawing board music – at the contrary.
DAS ORCHESTER, Heike Eckhoff, February 2016 about Hawk-eye on the portrait CD “Changeover”
The recent horn concerto “Hawk-eye” by Slovenian composer Vito Žuraj invites us to “imagine a hawk flying over a picturesque valley and having the ability to zoom in on any interesting detail below”, a neat conceit that gave soloist Saar Berger carte blanche to whirl, dive and generally flit about, musically speaking.
THE GUARDIAN, Kate Molesson, 02/03/2015
The hit of the night, the “Hawk-eye” Horn Concerto by Slovenian Vito Žuraj, is an amazing piece which received a staggeringly-characterised performance by soloist Saar Berger, giving a real bird's-eye view of the world, with the rushing wind in your face and the swoop from a great height onto a luckless prey, with all the rude gulping and devouring sounds, and the inevitable hilarious effects on the digestive system.
HERALD SCOTLAND, Michael Tumelty, 01/03/2015
During the concert “Ensemble Modern remixed!” (…) one would hear the works again in a final Live-Remix, for instance the filigree of trickling sounds and the hocket of a microtonal singing bowl-melody in Vito Žuraj’s work “Restrung”s. The piece had pleased the public with the sensuality of its sounds and its contrasts (…).
FrRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG, Elisabeth Risch, 24/01/2013
Saar Berger, Ensemble Modern, hr-Sinfonieorchester,
Matthias Pintscher, Johannes Kalitzke
Wergo, B013578D1C, 2015
A Coproduction of the Deutscher Musikrat and Slovenian Philharmonic
Recorded piece: Warm-up
EMCD-026/27, Ensemble Modern, 2014
Recorded piece: Zgübleni
ExperimentalStudio des SWR
Neos, B00OMEJAS8, 2014
Luka Juhart, accordion
Recorded piece: Silhouette
Neos, B00NLQVG30, 2014
San Fedele Musica, 2014
Please click here for Vito Žuraj's catalogue of works with audio samples.