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Powerful and meticulously crafted compositions, tailor-made for the performers and often including scenic elements and spatial sound concepts, are characteristic of Vito Žuraj’s work. 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.
Vito Žuraj has been honoured with several prizes, including the city of Stuttgart’s composition award and the Prešeren Award, the highest decoration for artists in Slovenia. In 2014 he was invited to be a fellow at the Villa Massimo in Rome, the Berlin Academy of Arts and the ZKM Karlsruhe. Vito Žuraj was awarded the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize in spring 2016 by the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Orchestra Academy. The prize includes a commission for a work for soprano, piano and instrumental groups, that will be premiered in November 2017.
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 in Ljubljana since 2015, he initiated the setting up of an electronic music studio, parallel to his lectureship in Karlsruhe.
His participation in the International Ensemble Modern Academy in 2009/10 was the starting point for his close collaboration with the soloist ensemble. The Ensemble Modern has since premiered works such as Übürall (2013, with soprano Hélène Fauchère and conducted by Brad Lubman) and Runaround for four soloists and instrumental groups (2014). An avid tennis player himself, Vito Žuraj often draws musical inspiration from this sport. He uses his insight into certain game situations as a basis for a constantly growing series of works, which includes Changeover for instrumental groups and symphony orchestra, premiered by the Ensemble Modern and the hr-Sinfonieorchester under Johannes Kalitzke in 2011.
Numerous other ensembles and orchestras also regularly perform works by Vito Žuraj. The Klangforum Wien took his composition Fired-up, written in 2013, on tour to festivals and venues including the Festival MiTo in Milan, ORF Musikprotokoll, festival Manifeste at the IRCAM in Paris and the Wiener Konzerthaus. The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik presented the premiere of Aftertouch with the oenm under the baton of Jonannes Kalitzke in 2015. His semi-staged composition Insideout was premiered by the Scharoun Ensemble directed by Matthias Pintscher with Mojca Erdmann and Dietrich Henschel at the Salzburg Festival in 2013 and was performed again by the New York Philharmonic in 2014. His opera Orlando. The Castle, produced in co-operation with the Deutsche Bank Foundation’s Academy Musiktheater heute, was premiered in Bielefeld in 2013.
Recordings of Vito Žuraj’s works have been published on the label Neos, among others. A portrait CD was recently released by Wergo as part of the contemporary music edition of the German Music Council. It includes recordings with the Ensemble Modern and the hr-Sinfonieorchester, as well as the horn concerto Hawk-eye, interpreted by Saar Berger and the Slovenian Philharmonic. Last summer, the horn player performed the work again with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Simone Young.
Highlights of last season included the performance of his works Insideout and Contour with the Ensemble intercontemporain at the Philharmonie de Paris as well as premieres at the Movimentos Festival in Wolfsburg and the Festival Archipel in Geneva. 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 and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln.
Following the premiere of Stand up in March 2017, commissioned by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, the Ensemble Modern will give a portrait concert in the new Hamburg Elbphilharmonie in April. This season, Vito Žuraj is in residence at the Philharmonic Orchestra of Theater Erfurt, during which he will compose a new work for two percussionists and orchestra, which will be performed in early 2018 as part of the "Erfurts Neue Noten" project.
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“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.