Vito Žuraj’s work is characterised by powerful gestures and meticulous craftsmanship. Born in Maribor in 1979, Žuraj is a composer who tailors his works to his performers, often incorporating scenic elements and using acoustic space as a musical parameter. His works have rapidly gained recognition at major concert halls and festivals, performed by such renowned ensembles as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Ensemble Modern and the RIAS Chamber Choir.
Vito Žuraj kicked off the 2020/21 season to great acclaim with Begehren – zersplittert, a concerto for harp and strings for which the twelve highest strings of the concert harp are retuned microtonally. Its world premiere at the Kölner Philharmonie was performed by soloist Marion Ravot and the Münchener Kammerorchester. The work was subsequently heard under the title Désir – éclaté at the Festival Nouveaux horizons in Aix-en-Provence, where it was conducted by the composer himself.
Vito Žuraj studied composition with Marko Mihevc in Ljubljana, before heading to Germany for further studies with Lothar Voigtländer in Dresden and Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe. His experience with the technology and aesthetics of electronic sound generation – acquired through a master’s programme in music technology with Thomas A. Troge at the Karlsruhe University of Music, and consolidated through collaborations with the SWR Experimental Studio in Freiburg, Germany, and IRCAM in Paris – has borne fruit in more than just his own compositions: as a professor of composition and music theory at the Music Academy of the University of Ljubljana since 2015, he was the driving force behind establishing the Academy’s electronic music studio. During that time, he also lectured in instrumentation at the University of Music in Karlsruhe.
An avid tennis player, Vito Žuraj took inspiration from the sport in penning an extensive series of tennis-themed works, including 2011’s Changeover for instrumental groups and orchestra, premièred by the Ensemble Modern and the hr-symphony orchestra under Johannes Kalitzke. He has long been closely associated with the Ensemble Modern, which has since premièred several of his works, including The Voice of Battaros (2020), Runaround (2014), Übürall (2013), Restrung (2012), Warm-up (2012) and Top Spin (2011). The Ensemble Modern also featured a retrospective programme of his work in 2017 – one of two concerts showcasing his work at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg in spring 2017. That spring, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester also gave the première of his composition Stand up!
Numerous other ensembles and orchestras regularly perform works by Vito Žuraj. Vito Žuraj’s first opera, “Orlando. The Castle”, was premiered 2013 in the Theater Bielefeld, in cooperation with “Academy Opera Today”, an initiative by the Deutsche Bank Foundation. The Klangforum Wien took his 2013 composition Fired-up on tour to Milan, Paris and Vienna. The semi-staged composition Insideout was premièred by the Scharoun Ensemble under Matthias Pintscher at the Salzburg Festival in 2013, and 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 Philharmonic Hall, was premièred in September 2016 by the WDR Symphony Orchestra under Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Cologne’s Gürzenich-Orchester under François Xavier-Roth. Last season’s premières included Drive for percussion trio and instrumental groups, which Žuraj wrote while composer in residence at the Erfurt Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the ensemble composition Tension, which was performed at the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik by 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.
The 2018/19 season saw him push new boundaries with a series of conceptual works, including Der Verwandler, composed for the SWR Vocal Ensemble and SWR Symphony Orchestra, and inspired by the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger, who invented European porcelain. The work includes porcelain bells and wind chimes that were especially crafted for the performance in collaboration with the porcelain factory in Meissen. His composition Hors d’oeuvre takes a novel approach to the concerto genre, being scored for solo chef and chamber orchestra. It was premièred by the WDR Symphony Orchestra under Peter Rundel, with star chef Daniel Gottschlich as soloist.
In spring 2016, Vito Žuraj was awarded the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize by the Berlin Philharmonic’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 to a three-year term on the committee granting artists’ scholarships for the German residency programmes at the Villa Massimo, the Casa Baldi in Olevano, the Deutsches Studienzentrum in Venice and the Cité des Arts in Paris. In 2020/2021 Vito Žuraj is fellow at the International House of Artists Villa Concordia in Bamberg, Germany.
Recordings of Vito Žuraj’s works have been released under Capriccio and Neos label, among others, and a CD showcasing his work was also released by Wergo as part of the German Music Council ‘s contemporary music edition.
photo credit: Ras Rottter