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Olga Neuwirth Receives Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition

The Austrian composer will receive $100,000 from the University of Louisville


Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth is the recipient of this year's Grawemeyer Award For Music Composition, presented by the University of Louisville. Presented since 1985, the prize has other categories, such as Education, Religion, and Psychology.

Neuwirth's winning work was an opera titled "Orlando," which was based on Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name. The protagonist of the satirical book is a gender-bending poet who lives through several centuries, meeting many of the key figures of English literature.

The large stretch of time that the opera traverses allowed Neuwirth to include a wide range of different musical styles, from Tudor ballads to electronic music. The judges felt that her work, and particularly its depiction of the fluidity of gender, reflected the current moment with deep perception and clarity.

“I wanted to reflect the wonderful diversity of life and evoke a subtle form of sexual attraction that cannot be pigeonholed into a single gender,” Neuwirth said of the opera. “What’s more, the main character refuses to be patronized and treated in a condescending manner, something that continually happens to women with no end in sight.”

“'Orlando' is an enormous, supremely ambitious work,” said Marc Satterwhite, the Director of the Grawemeyer Award. “The libretto and multifaceted score challenge our preconceptions of gender and sexual roles and test our ideas of what opera is and is not. It also seems appropriate that the first female-composed opera to be performed at the Vienna State Opera, a venue long regarded as a bastion of tradition, should take aim at these issues.”

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