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Vito Zuraj

Vito Zuraj - Komponist zeitgenössischer Musik

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CHANGEOVER

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OPERATIC WORKS

 

 

 

 

 

ORLANDO.SCHLOSS. Opera in one act for six voices, mixed choir, electronics and orchestra (2012/2013)

Libretto by Alexander Stockinger

Instrumentation: 3(1.+2.a.Picc) - 2(2.a.Eh) - 2(inB,2.a.Bcl.inB) - 2(2.a.Kfg) / 4 - 3inC - 2(1.TBps;2.BassPs) - 1

/ 2Sz-1Hf-Pi-Cemb / 7-6-5-4-3

Vocal soloists: 2 sopranos, alto, tenor, baritone, bass

Choir SSATB

Libretto by Alexander Stockinger

Duration: 30 min

First performance: 15th June 2013

Theater Bielefeld

Project in cooperation with Akademie Musiktheater heute der Deutsche Bank Stiftung

 

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Composed as part of a triptych of operas by different composers to celebrate the 2010-2012 edition of Deutsche Bank's Akademie Musiktheater heute (Academy of Contemporary Music Theatre), Orlando.Das Schloss ("Orlando: the Castle") is a criticism of consumerism and celebrity culture. Orlando, a shallow and materialistic lady from renaissance-period aristocracy, reflects on her place as a literary figure in today's world and comes up against Karl, the modern emperor, personification of consumerism, media spectacle and self-gratification.
The music to Orlando.Das Schloss is some of Zuraj's most colourful. The vocal elements, consisting of the two main figures (Orlando, a soprano; Karl, a bass), as well a four-part solo chorus (each member doubling in minor solo roles) and a more conventional 10-voice chorus, are complemented by an orchestra with triple winds, a string section of chamber-orchestral dimensions, two percussionists and a veritable smorgasbord of keyboards. All of this is rounded off with the judicious application of electronic elements.
The relationships between the staged and vocal drama and the more abstract musical elements is - as ever with Zuraj - colourful and complex, reflecting the complex relationships within the music itself. On one level, Zuraj sets great store on clarity of delivery in the text, and does not indulge in textual and phonetic deconstruction to turn the libretto into pure music. On the other hand, the libretto already contains abstract and fantastical phonetic elements (presented by the choruses) that have a musical life independent of dialogue and drama.
In addition to the dramatic and purely musical aspects within the vocal parts, the two protagonists play percussion instruments. Karl plays a spring drum, Orlando a microtonal kalimba, thus creating a bridge between the staged elements of the work in the workings of the orchestra. All of the techniques honed by Zuraj in the years leading up to Orlando are in full display. Shimmering, microtonal harmonies are distributed across the orchestra in rhythmic constellations that see the orchestra function as a single instrument which can diverge into multiple ensembles or groups of soloists and back again seamlessly. Just as the vocal and instrumental elements are linked by placing instruments in the hands of the singers, the keyboard and percussion are integrated into the ranks of the melody instruments (especially the strings) by Zuraj's distinctive use of microtonal kalimba, cimbalo cromatico and clavichord (both tuned in quarter-tones), and a harp tuned a quarter-tone flatter than the piano. Naturally, all of this is assembled and refined according to Zuraj's mix of algorithmic and spontaneous compositional methods.



 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

ORCHESTRAL WORKS

 

 

 

 

 

STAND UP for symphony orchestra (2017)

Instrumentation: 3 (3. d. picc.).3.3 (3. bcl.).3 (3. cfg) – 4.3.3 (3. b-trb).1 – 3perc-timp-2hrp – 14.12.10.8.6

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 23rd March 2017

Kieler Schloss, Germany

NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester

Conductor: Juraj Valčuha

Commissioned by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester

 

PDF

(Programme note coming soon)


i-Formation, concerto for two orchestras and two conductors (2016)

Instrumentation: 4 (3,4 d. picc).4 (3,4 d. cing).4 (3,4 d. bcl).4 (3,4 d. cfg) - 8.4.4.2 - 5perc-timp-2arp-cel-org - 14.12.10.8.6

Duration: 20 min

First performance: 14th September 2016

30th aniversary of the Kölner Philharmonie

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln

Conducted by Fran¸ois-Xavier Roth and Jukka-Pekka Saraste

Commissioned by Kölnmusik

 

PDF

(Programme note coming soon)


HAWK-EYE, concerto for French horn and orchestra (2014)

Instrumentation: 2(picc).2.2(cl.bas).2(cfg) - 4.2.2.0 - 3perc-arp - 12.10.8.6.4

Duration: 15 min

First performance: 27th February 2014

Slovenian Philharmonic Subscription Series

Cankarjev dom, Gallus Hall, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenian Philharmonic

Saar Berger, French horn

Conductor: Matthias Pintscher

 

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Hawk-Eye is a further instalment in Zuraj's series of works whose titles draw their inspiration from the sport of tennis. Hawk Eye refers to a form of technology used in many sports to aid umpiring and refereeing decisions. Video footage of the ball's path is analysed from different angles using complicated algorithms, and a three-dimensional model of the ball's trajectory generated that can determine where a ball must have landed, even if no conclusive photographic evidence of this can be produced.
A concerto for French horn and symphony orchestra, Hawk-Eye is a single movement stretching over a quarter of an hour. A feature of the orchestral treatment in this work is the division of the strings, with every desk having its own individual part for most of the work. This is not employed to achieve a greater "mass" of sound, but to create minute variations within the single line that emerges as a composite of the players' individual activity. The result is a paradoxically light and transparent orchestral texture over much of the composition. It opens with a long, string-dominated glissando in contrary motion from the uppermost and nethermost registers of the orchestra. This merges into a sustained multiphonic in the French horn, and there follows a duet between horn and percussion, accompanied by fragile pizzicato glissandi consisting of strings and harp. The winds join, providing a sort of harmonic "halo" to the gestures of the solo horn. Indeed, in this opening section, the entire orchestra seems to exist solely to underscore the timbre of the horn in what almost seems a lengthy solo cadenza.
There follows a highly rhythmic, scherzando section in which the horn plays rapid staccato figures using a metal mute. Once this section is over, the glissandi and wind chords return and the horn engages in a series of lyrical phrases with the gentler sound of a cardboard mute. This is the most extended section of the work. The concerto concludes with a long coda, an intimate duet between the soloist and quarter-tone kalimba.



CHANGEOVER for instrumental groups and symphony orchestra (2011)

Instrumentation: ensemble and orchestra

Ensemble (19): 1(a.BassFl,Picc) - 1(a.Eh) - 2(1.TSax,a.Tubax-B, 2.inB,a.Basskl-B,KbKl) - 1(a.Kf) / 1 - 1(1.inC,a.PiccTrinB, 2.inC)

- 1(BassPs) - 0 / 2Sz-2Pi / 2-1-2-1

Orchestra (97): 4(3.+4.a.Picc) - 4(4.a.Eh) - 4(inB,4.a.Basskl.inB) - 4(4.a.Kfg) / 6 - 4inC - 4(1.u.2.Tps;3.TBps;4.BassPs) - 1

/ 3Sz-2Hf / 16-14-12-10-8

Duration: 16 min

First performance: 25th November 2011

Extended spaces - The 5th International Composition Seminar by The International Ensemble Modern Academy

cresc... Biennial for Modern Music, Frankfurt-Rhine-Main

hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Ensemble Modern

hr-Sinfonieorchester

Conductor: Johannes Kalitzke

 

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Changeover is the twelfth in a series of compositions bearing tennis-related titles. As an avid tennis playerhimself, Zuraj attempts in each of these works to portray in music his own subjective impressions and emotions when confronted with the match-situation described in the work's title. In tennis, the term "changeover" refers to when the players change ends after each odd-numbered game, thus nullifying as far as possible any advantage accorded by the direction of sunlight or wind, the distribution of light and shade and so forth.
In this work, an on-stage symphony orchestra is pitted against another ensemble that is distributed in smaller groups around the auditorium. These two unequal parties engage with each other, not on the terms of soloist and orchestral accompaniment, but rather in the sense of two contrasting opponents in a match-situation. The contrasting conditions mentioned above, such as wind and sunlight, light and shade, are represented musically by opposing pairs of timbres or gestures, such as noise versus pitch, solo versus polyphony, unison versus arpeggio and stasis versus movement. All of these parameters are employed according to rigorous structural principles laid down during the creative process.



OVERGRIP for orchestra (2010)

Instrumentation: fl.picc.ob.cing.2cl.fg.cfg, 3.2.2.0, timp, 1perc, archi (10-10-6-6-4)

Duration: 5 min

First performance: 16th July 2010

Acanthes, Metz Arsenal, France

Orchestre National de Lorraine

Conductor: Jacques Mercier

 

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The orchestral composition Overgrip represents a continuation of Zuraj's series of compositions with titles drawn from tennis terminology. The term 'overgrip' refers to a band of padded tape placed around the grip of a tennis racquet, which moulds itself to the shape of the player’s hand and helps absorb sweat. Tennis players often twirl the racquet back and forth in their hands unconsciously while awaiting their opponent’s serve.
The accentuated figures at the opening of the present work may be understood as a reference to this rapid movement, as may the ensuing, pointillistic orchestral tutti, that gives a sort of ‘action replay’ of these twirling gestures in slow motion. This, in its turn, is followed by an eve slower 'twirling', in which a series of quieter moments alternates with abrupt outbursts of the previous tutti texture, each more violent than the last, until the work ends with a vicious crescendo flourish.



TIEBREAK for orchestra (2010)

Instrumentation: 3 (3.picc)-2-c.ing-2cl-bcl-2-cfg, 4-3-3-1, timp, 4perc, pf, arp, archi (12-10-8-6-4)

Duration: 15 min

First performance: 14th May 2010

Festival Mouvement Saarbrücken

Congresshalle Saarbrücken, Germany

Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern

Condustor: Tito Ceccherini

 

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Tiebreak continues Zuraj's series of works whose titles are taken from aspects of match-play in tennis. A "tiebreak" is a series of games played within a tennis match to determine the winner of a set when the scores are tied at six games each. The first player or team to reach at least seven points with an advantage of at least two points over their opponent breaks the tie and takes the set.
The orchestral work Tiebreak draws its inspiration from the pressure, uncertainty and resolve that a player feels when entering a tiebreak. At the opening of the work, chords conceived by the composer as vertical aggregates are presented instead as splintered structures that spread raggedly into horizontal sequences of notes, with here and there a single, dissonant interval being sustained. Apart from a couple of bars at the beginning, hardly a single comprehensible gesture is to be discerned until harp, piano and percussion join forces after several minutes in a series of staggered, tinkling impulses, soon to be joined by woodwinds and brass. This moment of clarity does not last long, as the sheer weight of the ensemble tips the texture back into tutti chaos.
This time, however, the brass and woodwinds have a sustaining function, and the fragmented chords begin to crystallise into long, microtonal harmonies that shift glacially over time. Eventually, even these chords separate from each other and become distinct entities with pauses in between, with the movement grinding almost to a standstill. When movement does resume again, it is not with the cultivated chaos of the opening, but instead with rhythmic pulsations on orchestral tutti chords, the harmonies now having established themselves as permanent and comprehensible structural entities. After reaching an emphatic climax, the chords begin to dissolve into uncertainty again, and the triumphant resolve that seemed firmly established dissolves into nothingness.



CONCERTO for clarinet and orchestra (2006/2009)

Instrumentation: 2 (1-2 picc.)-1-c.ing-2 (2.cfg), 4-2-2-1, timp, 3perc, arp, cl-A, archi (12-10-8-6-4)

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 21st May 2009

Festival Mouvement Saarbrücken 2009

Sebastian Manz, clarinet

Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Kaiserslautern Saarbrücken

Conductor: Johannes Kalitzke

 

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See work description of CONCERTO for saxophone and orchestra


CONCERTO for alto saxophone and orchestra (2006)

Instrumentation: 2 (1-2 picc.)-1-c.ing-2 (2.cfg), 4-2-2-1, timp, 3perc, arp, alt.sax, archi (12-10-8-6-4)

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 5th July 2006

13th World Saxophone Congress, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Dejan Presicek, alto saxophone

Slovenian Philharmonics

Conductor: David Itkin

 

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Zuraj's saxophone concerto began life as a work for saxophone and chamber orchestra. Two further versions with a full symphony orchestra followed, one for solo saxophone and the other for solo clarinet in A. The work is in thee movements lasting a little under a quarter of an hour altogether. The soloist is pitted against a medium-sized symphony orchestra with double woodwind and an extensive percussion armoury. The opening of the work presents an almost chamber-musical intimacy, with a quintet of bass clarinet, French horn, percussion, violin and cello presenting a fluttering texture based on figures that oscillate between two notes, typically at a considerable remove from each other. The soloist joins them and the music quickly builds to a climax. The oscillating motif dominates the early stages of the movement, with the soloist emancipating themself from it and thus achieving soloistic independence. The first movement is an altogether vigorous composition, with the saxophone's (or clarinet's) prowess as an instrument of unparalleled agility and the ability to affect great leaps effortlessly on show.
After a rousing finish to the first movement involving shrieking multiphonics in the solo part and a stroke on the tam-tam, the second movement follows without pause, opening with rumbling glissandi in French horn, bass clarinet and contrabassoon. It is a more sedate affair than the first, with the solo part projecting a calm expressivity. In spite of this, the movement is by no means a lyrical contrast. Instead, the solo part revolves around single, sustained notes with extensive use of expressive glissandi, multiphonics and repeated high pitches like the desolate cries of an exotic bird.
The third and final movement also proceeds without pause on the heels of its predecessor. Much like the first movement, it opens with in a manner verging on chamber music, this time with a figure in rapid semiquavers shared between two piccolos. The soloist comments on the piccolo line with brief, staccato interjections. The semiquaver motion continues virtually unceasingly throughout the finale, although one of the movements most arresting moments involves a long legato line in sustained chords shared by the wind and brass sections, during which semiquaver flow is only maintained almost subliminally by the soloist and percussion. After a short, sharp cadenza, the concerto hurtles to a close, finishing in fitting fashion on a mad glissando in the solo part that is taken up by the brass section and rounded off by a resounding blow to the bass drum.



IN MEDIAS RES for orchestra (2004)

Instrumentation: 3 (1-3 picc)-2-cor.ing-2-cl.bas-2-cfg, 4-4-3-1, timp, 4perc, pf, cel, arp, org, archi (14-12-10-8-8)

Duration: 20 min

First performance: 13th February 2004

Subscription series of Slovenian Philharmonics

Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenian Philharmonics

Conductor: Marko Letonja

 

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In medias res ("In Mid-Sentence") was Zuraj's first large-scale orchestral composition to be constructed according to strict structural principles. Featuring a very large orchestra including triple woodwinds, four trumpets, four percussionists, organ, piano and celesta in addition to the standard symphonic forces of strings and other brass, it is an ambitious composition of twenty minutes' duration. Beginning almost literally in mid sentence with an accent and microtonal glissandi around a central D, it builds in a series of threatening crescendi and a battery of bass drum strokes to an initial French horn solo. The French horn and the clarinet are afforded especial prominence as soloists in the highly-charged orchestral texture, as is the piccolo trumpet. Despite the large orchestra, the work is full of quieter moments, especially an extended period involving string harmonics and bowed percussion, to which the woodwinds gradually add rapid, whispering figures.
The calm is interrupted by a passage of busy textures and sheets of sound, with the horn making a return to prominence and a virtuoso percussion solo before the floating string harmonics return. This time, the rapid figures are given to percussion and organ, before building with ever louder insistence in the brass. This culminates in a tumultuous tutti, after which the bass-drum blows of the opening return. A barely audible glissando in clusters in the strings, and a similarly soft tapping on the woodblocks seem to see the piece fade out, before it is abruptly brought to a close by three rapid, forceful strokes on the bass drum.



CHOPO MUERTO for soprano and orchestra (2002)

Instrumentation: 3 (2+3 picc)-2-cor.ing-2-cl.bas-2-cfg, 4-3-3-1, timp, 4perc, pf, cel, soprano solo, 2arp, archi (16-14-12-10-8)

Duration: 7 min

 

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Chopo muerto ("Dead Poplar") Is a setting of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca's poem of the same name. Scored for soprano and symphony orchestra with triple woodwind, it is a brief, sombre song which affords considerable prominence to the expressive vocal line. The large orchestra is often used sparingly and apart from a single, shattering climax, remains largely in the shadow of the singer. The vocal line reflects the heartfelt text with an impassioned ebb and flow reminiscent of operatic writing in the first half of the twentieth century. The harmonic structure is similar to that of Zuraj's other early compositions, with mixtures of superposed major and minor triads giving rise to an atonal expressivity which nonetheless retains the feeling of chord progressions and the polar tensions and releases of major/minor harmony.


TANGO for flute and orchestra (2000)

Instrumentation: 2-2-2-2, 2-2-1-0, timp, 1perc, arp, fl solo, archi (10-8-6-4-2)

Duration: 6 min

First performance: 12th June 2006, Ljubljana

Slovenian Philharmonics Orchestra

Matej Grahek, flute

Conductor: George Pehlivanian

 

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See work description of TANGO for flute and piano


BURLESQUE for orchestra (2000)

Instrumentation: 2 (2.picc)-2-2-2, 2-2-1, timp, 2perc, archi (mind. 12-10-8-6-4)

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 12nd October 2000

Slovenian Radio Orchestra

Conductor: Lior Shambadal

 

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Burlesque is a light-hearted concert overture predominantly in triplet metre. With dashes of the early Stravinsky of Fireworks and Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, it makes for a suave and entertaining ten minutes. Already in evidence are Zuraj's predilection for tone colours based on percussion, with prominent accents provided by c-trumpets and piccolo. The prevailing carnival atmosphere as contrasted with a misterioso middle section which provides an inkling of the highly individual and inventive timbres that Zuraj was to conjure up in his output over the ensuing decades.


TORKLJA, symphonic overture (1999)

Instrumentation: 2 (2.picc)-2-2-2, 4-3-2-1, timp, cel, archi (mind. 12-10-8-6-4)

Duration: 11 min

First performance: 23rd November 1999, Maribor

Maribor Philharmonics

Conductor: Simon Robinson

Other performances: Ljubljana 24th May 2001

Slovenian Philharmonics

Conductor: Marko Letonja

 

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Torklja, a concert overture based on the story of a witch from Slovenian folklore, is Zuraj's first large-scale orchestral work. A colourful work showing an early mastery of timbres in orchestral tutti, it reveals an affinity with the orchestral textures of composers as diverse as Rimsky-Korsakov and the early Schoenberg. After a mysterious opening with high trills in the violins and interplay between celesta and piccolo, it erupts into an extended and tumultuous orchestral tutti, culminating in soli for trombone, underscored by thundering chords in the strings. The celesta and the trills return, this time in the clarinets, and a haunting violin melody soars over shimmering, impressionistic harmonies. After an extended period of calm, a crescendo leads to an outbreak of urgent triplet rhythms in the strings, with the trills taking on a sinister tone. Menacing figures in the trombones carry the work uneasily forward and the work rushes to a calamitous conclusion.


 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

ENSEMBLE WORKS

 

 

 

 

 

UBUQUITÉ for soprano and instrumental groups (2013/2017)

Text and concept: Alexander Stockinger

French translation of libretto: Bernard Banoun

Instrumentation: 1 (d. picc).1 (d. cing).2 (2. d. bcl).

1.(d. cfg) - 2.1.1.0 - 2perc-pno - soprano - 1.1.1.2.1

Duration: 20 min

First performance: 21st January 2017

Philharmonie de Paris

Ensemble intercontemporain

Hélène Fauchère - soprano

Conductor: Matthias Pintscher

Commissioned by Ensemble intercontemporain

 

PDF

See work description of ÜBÜRALL


MOONBALLS for woodwind quintet and ensemble (2015)

Instrumentation: 1.1.1.1.1 - 1.1.1.0 - 1perc-pno - 1.0.1.1.1

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 25th October 2015

Festival Slowind 2015

Slowind Woodwind Quintet

Ensemble Contrechamps

Conductor: Michael Wendeberg

 

PDF

(Programme note coming soon)


AFTERTOUCH for ensemble (2015)

Instrumentation: 0.0.2 (2. bcl).1 (d. cfg) - 0.0.0.0 - br

1perc-acc-pno - 0.0.1.1.1

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 26th April 2015

Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik 2015

Österreichisches Ensemble für neue Musik

Conductor: Johannes Kalitzke

 

PDF

(Programme note coming soon)


RUNAROUND for four brass soloists and instrumental groups (2014)

Instrumentation: 1(picc)-1-2(2:bcl)-1(cfg) 1-2-1-0 1perc 2-1-1-1

Duration: 15 min

First performance: 3rd December 2014

Auditorium Parco della Musica Roma, Sala Santa Cecilia

Ensemble Modern

Conductor: Franck Ollu

 

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The piece Runaround is composed for instrumental groups which are dispersed throughout the entire concert hall. Four brass soloists play from the stage, with the percussionist being placed behind them, accompanied by the five more instrumental groups - each consisting of a woodwind and a string player - situated around the audience. The piece could be described as a kind of rhapsody where the soloists are brought into various contexts with the accompanying groups.
In the beginning of the piece the soloists are exposed one by one and subsequently exchange short figures with the groups around the audience, creating vortex-like moments. After a brief intermezzo by ensemble the soloists introduce a section based almost entirely on natural harmonics. Overtone glissandos by brass are performed in various speed ratios, confronted with the imitation of same structures played time-stretched by the ensemble which subsequently make a smooth transition to the following section, build on pointillistic principles. The four soloists basically merge into a single four-lipped player, performing a mosaic-like structured interweaving of multiple staccato lines. Suddenly the listener is thrown onto a different planet with a delusive fairy tale environment. Out of nowhere sounds of duduk and shakuhachi emerge. The interaction between the soloists and ensemble seems to be transformed into a slowly pulsating atmosphere. That intransparent liquid surface becomes clear after the groups start sharing pendulum-like impulses which make a transition to the finale. A walking bass suggests the upcoming contact between the existing and unexpected. The soloists seem to play jazz on their mouthpieces only, accompanied by a space consisting of harmonic impulses by the instrumental groups. Occasionally that flow is interrupted by strings playing structures which sound like fragments of a "fin-de-siècle"-like viennese waltz. After a dense culmination there follows a cut whereupon only a soft walking bass and the buzzing lips of the soloists are audible. And why does the piece end like that?
Once I heard the brass quartet of Ensemble Modern recording the variations on "Let's call this" arranged by one of their trumpet players, Valentin Garvie. Their improvisation abilities made a great impression on me and I decided to melt their creative skills with my compositional structures. Over the walking bass I wrote four lines of rhythmic material for playing on mouthpieces only and drew approximate pitch contours in order to leave room for interpretation to the brass players. The element of walking bass remains active until the end of the piece and varies form the double bass original over the lowest trumpet register to the tutti of low instruments. In order to achieve a pulsating musical form I decided to interrupt the walking bass flow occasionally. Therefor I was looking for a contrasting rhythmical element which has a strong historical reference. In one of my previous pieces I composed a kind of a "broken waltz" and in Runaround it seemed appropriate for me to insert the waltz gesture in order to break the repetitive rhythmic structure of a walking bass.



OVERHEAD for string ensemble (2014)

Instrumentation: strings 4-4-3-2-1

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 30th September 2014

National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

Slovene Philharmonic String Chamber Orchestra

 

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Overhead is a ten-minute work for string chamber orchestra. As with the other additions to Zuraj's canon in recent years, it focuses especially on the percussive capabilities of that family of instruments. Aside from the usual array of imaginative pizzicato effects, pencils are struck gently against the strings to produce droplets of sound that are at once surprisingly voluminous and highly precise, and each player is furnished with a sounding bowl (from a bell tree), with the deepest instruments taking the highest-pitched bowls, the highest instruments taking the deepest. For almost a full minute at the beginning, the only bowed sound to be heard is a muted violin, directed to sound like a mosquito in flight. When "conventional" string playing enters, this also heralds a change in the texture; the previously scattered impulses disappear with the upper strings suddenly falling into lock-step in a fortissimo rhythmic unison, tracing an upward line that accelerates and converges into a cluster, while the lower strings continue a pizzicato crusade beneath.
This interplay continues in various guises throughout the work, with the lower strings often presenting an independent sound colour and texture, while periods of comparative rhythmic "chaos" alternate with strict rhythmic unisons. The sounding bowls first appear almost a third of the way through the work, and quickly become the dominant voice, as the string playing vanishes entirely. The sounding bowls are subjected to a range of different playing techniques, ranging from sustained ringing to dry, muffled attacks - a timbral "scale" roughly analogous to the string effects, which range from pizzicato via col legno (with the wood of the bow or a pencil) to short, bowed impulses and (rarely) strings of legato notes.
The sounding bowls dominate for some time, being increasingly complemented by different types of glissando. The final third of the work sees string playing and the sounding bowls "fighting it out" for the upper hand, with the latter eventually winning, although the last laugh is afforded the double bass, strumming a single, resonant pizzicato over all four strings, which slowly vanishes in a long glissando upwards from the depths.



ÜBÜRALL, farces for soprano and instrumental groups (2013)

Text and concept: Alexander Stockinger

Instrumentation: 1(picc,bass) - 1(cing, lupo) - 2(1.TSax,Tubax-B;

2.inB,cb-cl) - 1(cf) 2-1-1-0 2perc, pno, cemb(clavicord), acc

2-1-2-1

Duration: 20 min

First performance: 21st November 2013

cresc...Biennial for Modern Music Frankfurt-Rhein-Main

Ensemble Modern

Hélène Fauchère - soprano

Conductor: Brad Lubman

 

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Übürall is a semi-theatrical work for ensemble and soprano, taking its inspiration the character of Ubu Roi from the proto-modernistic play by the French symbolist author and dramatist Alfred Jarry. A play on words, the title "Übürall" is a portmanteau word generated from "Ubu" + überall", the latter being the German word for "everywhere" or "ubiquitous" (an appropriate English translation would perhaps be "Ubuquitous"). The work is "compered" by the soprano, who represents the figure of Madame Ubu, commenting on five "basic human behavioural patterns" reminiscent of the seven deadly sins: self-pity, egomania, carnality, cowardice and brutality. The libretto is presented in a mishmash of languages, an affectation particularly in vogue in Germany's contemporary avant garde music theatre. Both text and music are sprinkled with quotations, a reference to the composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann's highly-regarded work Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu, which is essentially a collage of quotations from works from the classical repertoire. In Übürall, however, the quotations are more subtle and not integral to the overall form and texture of the work. For Übürall, the ensemble is distributed on stage and throughout the auditorium in such a way as to surround the audience, enabling the sound to rotate around the listener. Constructed from Zuraj's trademark repertoire of gestures constructed from swarms of individual notes and percussive effects, Übürall turns the concert hall into a refined and complex instrument in contrast to the uncouth brutality of the text. The pointillistic gestures of the individual ensembles merge in the auditorium to create the impression of a continuous sound that shifts its position and weighting from one part of the hall to another. Hearing individual notes from different directions enables the listener to perceive the lush, microtonal harmonies with added clarity and transparency.


FIRED-UP for ensemble (2013)

Instrumentation: 1(picc)-1-1-1(cfg) 1-1-1-0 1perc pno 2-1-1-1

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 13th September 2013

MiTo Settemble Musica Milano, Auditorio San Fedele

Klangforum Wien

Conductor: Jean-Michaël Lavoie

 

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Zuraj writes of Fired Up, "One of the foremost images in my mind while writing Fired Up was the idea of friction as a means of igniting something, which I envisaged not chiefly in terms of starting a fire, but as the "ignition" of a chain of complex, interconnected musical structures in which each sparks off the next. I have observed examples of friction in various aspects of sound sculpting, such as narrow intervals, combination tones, overlapping rhythmic patterns, multiphonics and the physical act of producing sound."
One of the most striking aspects of Fired Up is the use of pairs of stones by the ensemble players as additional percussion instruments. What is striking is not so much that the stones are used, but how they are employed. At the very opening of the piece, the sound of several pairs of stones being rubbed together emerges from toneless blowing through the wind instruments. This builds to a crescendo, with one pair after the other transitioning to being struck together. Sparing use of percussion instruments adds an extra dimension to the stones' chatter. When at last the first clear, sustained pitches ring out from the crotales, it appears to emerge entirely organically from the sound of the stones themselves. Percussive strumming of the strings, each with a plectrum, also seems to be an extension of the harmonic spectrum of the stones.
Indeed, it is a long time before the ensemble emerges out fully from the chatter of the stones, and when it does, the sound still seems to be informed chiefly by the timbre of the stones, dominated by the secco strumming of the strings and splintered figures in the wind instruments. Alongside this, Zuraj's trademark use of extreme registers - often simultaneously - and rapid chromatic figurations puts a clear personal stamp on the work.



INSIDEOUT for soprano, baritone and ensemble (2013)

Text and concept: Alexander Stockinger

Instrumentation: 1-1-1-1(cfg) 1-1-1-0 2perc arp pno 2-1-1-1

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 24th August 2013

Salzburger Festspiele, Mozarteum

Scharoun Ensemble Berlin

Mojca Erdmann - soprano; Dietrich Henschel - baritone

Conductor: Matthias Pintscher

 

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Insideout is a semi-theatrical work presenting a potentially never-ending cycle of a man and a woman falling in love, out of love and in love again. Initially hopelessly enamoured of each other, they are torn apart, as first she rejects him, then he learns to reject her even as her love for him is rekindled. The different characters of the two protagonists are presented contrastingly both in their language and in their singing style, he being slow and deliberate, she rapid and imaginative. The work is structured in an instrumental introduction and three principal sections: the lovers' first encounter, a love scene, the lovers' estrangement.
The vocal style is carefully conceived with a view to clarity and intelligibility, although this is employed in diverse ways. In the first section, the lovers sing over each other and at cross purposes, the text being understandable in snippets. The love scene is a true love duet, with lines repeated and the two lovers singing simultaneously but with bold gestures at a tempo that speaks clearly and directly. The final section incorporates considerable spoken passages and a more matter-of fact, conversational style. There follows a brief instrumental postlude. The handling of the instrumental ensemble throughout is highly coloristic and expressive - almost orchestral, without ever attempting to overshadow the signers.



RESTRUNG for ensemble (2012)

Instrumentation: 1(picc,bass) - 1(cing) - 2(1.TSax,Tubax-B;

2.inB,cb-cl) - 1(cf) 2-1-1-0 2perc, pno, cemb(clavicord), 2-1-2-1

Duration: 20 min

First performance: 18th January 2013

Frankfurter Positionen 2013, Frankfurt LAB

Ensemble Modern

Conductor: Kasper de Roo

 

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In the years following his studies with Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe, Zuraj developed an increasingly complex and nuanced system for computer-aided composition, in which the more mundane work of testing structural models for chords, rhythms and textures is simplified by generating large numbers of possible realisations algorithmically, after which the composer analyses the results, chooses the most appropriate elements - possibly undertaking his own alterations as necessary in accordance with his musical aesthetic - and sculpts the resulting material into a finished form. A comparison might be made with writing an historical or science fiction novel. Large amounts of research may be undertaken via the internet and in libraries, sources analysed and compared, existing data and academic opinions noted, but all of this pertains directly to an initial idea originating from the author, while the form, language and presentation of the finished result are all expressions of that author's highly personal aesthetic.
Of course, as with any compositional technique, this use of tools to calculate the minutiae of a composition can be employed in a wide range of compositional processes. For the highly expressive and energetically charged quality of Zuraj's composition, the analogy with a novelist is appropriate. For others, the process of composition might be more akin to the meticulous and unforgiving planning of an architect, or reflect the restrictions placed on a sculptor by their chosen material. An artist is not defined by their tools, but by the choice of these tools and the decisions they make in using them.
Restrung is an especially complex and refined example of this compositional technique. The large ensemble is fashioned into a mighty yet subtle string instrument, "restrung" in an infinitely complex tuning system. Zuraj's trademark glissandi and percussive effects involving tapping, plucking and strumming the strings are extended through the use of a clavichord, a 'cimbalo cromatico' (a harpsichord tuned microtonally) and Zuraj's signature use of a quarter-tone kalimba. Further extensions to the timbre are provided by a significant battery of percussion, and sounding bowls played by the string and wind players. The clavichord provides an important link between string instruments and percussion, being the only acoustic keyboard instrument capable of bending its pitch to create vibrato and glissandi.
No work composed for the Ensemble Modern would be complete without making use of the sterling capabilities of their woodwind and brass players, and these instruments are used here to provide sustained and occasionally melodic extension of the percussive string and keyboard textures - a curious reversal of the traditional roles in a symphony orchestra.



RE-SLIDE for trombone solo and ensemble (2012)

Instrumentation: 1(picc, alto) - 1(cing) - 1(bcl-B) 1(cfg) 1.1.0.0 1perc, pno, trbn solo, 2.1.2.1

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 29th June 2012

Konservatorium Bern

Members of Camerata Bern, students of Hochschule der Kuünste Bern

Mayumi Shimizu, trombone solo

Conductor: Michael Wendeberg

 

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Re-slide is the fifteenth in Vito Zuraj's cycle of compositions with tennis-themed titles. In this case, "slide" has the double meaning of a trombone's slide and a tennis player's slipping and losing balance.
An ambitious work for solo trombone and large ensemble, it is a concerto in all but name. Indeed, the degree of prominence afforded the trombone in this work is rare even in Zuraj's works that are explicitly designated as concerti. The dominance of the trombone is not immediately apparent, however. The work opens with precisely the sort of arresting timbral mixture on which Zuraj's music thrives; the trombone, replete with wah-wah mute, holds sustained notes, ghosted at close intervals and rhythmic unison by a bowed vibraphone. This unlikely lyrical duo is supplied with a running commentary by the piano, which takes on the role of a percussion instrument, hammering regular interjections aggressively on its heavily dampened deeper strings.
Presently, however, the trombone detaches itself from its partners and embarks on an array of bold virtuoso gestures. The essence of the solo trombone part in this piece is the use of the overtone row that forms the basis of its tuning. By emphasising the overtone row, Zuraj effectively turns the trombone into an infinite number of "natural" brass instruments, with a new "instrument" being created every time the trombonist moves the slide. The quarter-tone kalimba, a feature in much of Zuraj's work of this period, provides a bridge between the microtonal tunings of the trombone and the evenly tempered semitones of the piano and the rest of the percussion.
Lending weight to the concerto character is the use of full ensemble tutti to accompany the trombone, tutti in which the entire ensemble unites in common gestures. There are even extended passages - especially for the strings - in which the typical dovetailing of complex rhythms and gestures is suddenly abandoned in favour of a rhythmic unison across the entire ensemble. The ensemble settles into two opposing rhythmic "camps", the strings on the one hand and the winds on the other - the fact that the trombone sides with the strings emphasises the independence of its tone colour, before the work reaches a climax in which the entire ensemble proceeds in a shattering rhythmic unison. Soon, the ensemble splinters again, although the tutti character remains for a time, eventually dispersing, before the work peters out into a questioning conclusion.



FRAMED for ensemble (2011)

Instrumentation: fl, ob, cl, pno, perc, vn, vla, vc

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 24th September 2011

Royaumont - Voix Nouvelles concert series, France

Ensemble Recherche

Conductor: Geoffroy Jourdain

 

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The ensemble composition Framed represents a continuation of Zuraj's series of compositions with titles drawn from tennis terminology.
The title Framed refers to the game of tennis as well as to the placement of the ensemble. In tennis terminology a ball is "framed" when it is accidentally hit with the frame of the racquet. Once that happens the player no longer has control over the trajectory of the ball, while their opponent has not a clue as to what direction the ball might bounce on their own side of the net. A framed ball usually flies directly off court where it is caught by a lucky spectator. In Framed, the woodwinds and strings - placed as a sort of frame around the audience - play the spectators' role.
Framed features a highly distinctive use of the ensemble, with tutti passages in which the ensemble is treated almost as a single instrument, highly exposed soli for single instruments with minimal accompaniment, and very little in between. Often, the tutti passages involve the instruments tonelessly blowing, clicking and stroking to provide a varied texture of pure noise. The work is dominated at its opening by the spring drums, the work's first solo. For a few minutes, the ensemble ebbs and flows with little directly comprehensible structure until a low C crystallises in the contrabass clarinet. There follow extensive soli for the piano and the violin.
The piano plays an altogether unusual role in Framed, generally being treated as a percussion instrument or as a high-pitched melody instrument. Not once is it used for a full texture, multiple voices or chordal punctuation.



NET CORD for string ensemble (2010)

Instrumentation: strings 3-3-2-1-1

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 3nd October 2010

Festival Unicum, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenian Philharmonics, Kozina Hall, Ljubljana

KOS Ensemble

Conductor, Marko Hribernik

 

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Net Cord is something of an oddity within Zuraj's series of pieces with titles pertaining to tennis nomenclature, being scored for an ensemble consisting entirely of strings, rather than the sort of mixed ensemble normally preferred by the composer. A "(dead) net cord" is the description for a fortuitous point, scored when one player's shot takes the upper edge of the net and bobbles over to the opposing side, leaving that player's adversary no chance of reaching the ball before it bounces twice in their own half.
A decet consisting of six violins, two violas and one each of the violoncello and double bass, Net Cord counters the conventional uniformity of its instrumentation by eschewing the sorts of timbres and gestures normally associated with string ensembles. It is fully two minutes before a bowed note is heard, and even then, the foray into the voluptuous sound of the string ensemble is brief, with col legno (with the wood of the bow) and other non-standard tone colours soon taking the foreground. Not that Net Cord is a self-consciously negative piece of music, trying to avoid all traditionally musical flow or association; it is simply that, with the asynchronous pizzicato glissandi that start and end the piece and the disjointed gestures in between, it aims to create musical contexts that, while accessible in themselves, are not generally considered native to the ensemble in question.



COURTNR2 for ensemble (2010)

Instrumentation: fl (picc, vocal), cl, tr, vno, vla, vc, 2perc, 2pno

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 27th September 2010

HfMDK Frankfurt am Main, Germany

International Ensemble Modern Academy

 

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CourtNr2 is a further work in Zuraj's cycle of tennis-related compositions. Scored for large ensemble, it is a work that develops in largely subdued tones, with Zuraj's unmistakable glissando and scurrying textures slithering around in an almost constant undertone. Those instruments that can be muted almost always are, with the strings using particularly heavy, metal mutes, and the brass a variety. In the early stages of the work, the French horn plays a dominant role, adding a sharp profile to the sinuous, heterophonic lines of the ensemble. Later, an extended solo for the violin, barely audible at the uppermost extreme of its range, ushers in a new sound-world, in which the ensemble is joined by a throat singer. The throat singing adds a new dimension, as though the fundamental sound were suddenly revealed, to which the music had previously simply been overtones. The throat-singer, however, is not a soloist, merely a momentary colour which is used sparingly and presently withdraws entirely, allowing the subterranean virtuosity of the instruments to flit and flicker to its conclusion.


DROPSHOT for two French horns and ensemble (2010)

Instrumentation: 2 cor solo (2nd change to Wagnertuba), fl (picc), cl (bcl), tr, 2vno, vc, 2perc, 2pno

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 9th March 2010

HfMDK Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Saar Berger and Sharon Polyak, French horns

International Ensemble Modern Academy

 

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With Dropshot, Zuraj continues his extensive cycle of compositions with titles lifted from the tennis manual. In tennis, a "drop shot" is a relatively light shot that bounces approximately one metre over the net and then ideally changes direction owing to the spin imparted upon the ball when it was struck. A drop shot typically alters the dynamics of play, since the opponent is forced to leave their default position at the base line and make a spirited dash towards the net.
Following on from the chamber works Deuce and Crosscourt, Dropshot is the first work to take the form of a concerto. A concertino for two French horns and a mixed ensemble of ten musicians, Dropshot opens in the grand tradition of concerti with an "orchestral" tutti introduction, in which all of the instruments except the two soloists are present. This introduction begins almost imperceptibly in the instruments' highest registers, and descends with increasing rapidity and a powerful crescendo to announce the entry of the soloists with a bang. These then indulge in a bold and glittering double cadenza, underscored by sparing accompaniment from the ensemble.
Although the soloists parts are both fiendishly difficult, the challenges faced by the instruments in the accompanying ensemble are not overshadowed easily. The first solo horn player also plays for an extended period on the Wagner tuba, the French horn's somewhat deeper and darker cousin. The work ends as imperceptibly as it had begun, with horn glissandi fading into thin air and a subtle percussion gesture.



QUADRIPTYCH for ensemble (2008)

Instrumentation: 1-1-1-1, 1-0-0-0, archi (1-1-1-1-1)

Duration: 22 min

First performance: 16th May 2008

Festival Uncum

City Museum Ljubljana, Slovenia

Cantus Ensemble

Conductor: Berislav Sipus

 

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Quadriptich is a pivotal work in Zuraj's oeuvre. A substantial work for ten players lasting over twenty minutes, it represents a "taking stock" at the end of the composer's years spent under the tutelage of Wolfgang Rihm. Each four movements, which proceed in a single unbroken chain from start to finish, is in fact a re-instrumentation of an earlier ensemble composition composed towards the end of Zuraj's time under Rihm. The movements, in order, are: I. Relief, II. Octet, III. Nachspiel zum Lied "Letzte Hoffnung" aus Franz Schubert's Winterreise, IV. Reflection. The solo part in Relief is distributed imaginatively across the instruments of the ensemble.
That these works are able to be brought together in this way with minimal linkage has to do with the clear and distinctive compositional language Zuraj had developed up to that point, and which is common to all of them. The biting wit and instrumental mastery already present in his early works is complemented by the structural stringency honed in works such as In medias res for orchestra.



REFLECTIONS for ensemble (2007)

Instrumentation: rec, fl, cl, hpschd, vno, vc

Duration: 8 min

First performance: 1st September 2007

International Takefu Festival, Japan

Echizen-shi Bunka Center, Takefu

Next Mushroom Promotion Ensemble, Duo Caput

Toshiya Suzuki, recorder

Conductor: Ken-chi Nakagawa

 

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Reflections boasts one of the most unconventional ensembles in Zuraj's entire output. The recorder and the harpsichord, both inherently quiet instruments, join with the loud violin and cello and the even louder flute and clarinet. Reflections exploits wide range of gestures, from the splintered and isolated fragments of its beginning to the rapidly flowing rhythms of its middle section and the slow, glacial chords at its end. In the two years leading up to its composition, Zuraj devoted much of his compositional efforts to experimentation, with each new work exploring a particular new frontier for the composer. His first serious forays into the quarter-tone harmony and computer-generated note-structures that were to dominate his work for the next several years were undertaken during that period, and Reflections is the first work to integrate large numbers of those elements into a single composition. In its more animated passages, it reveals a particular affinity to the rapid figurations employed in the work Perpetuum for organ and electronics.


OKTETT for ensemble (2006)

Instrumentation: ob, c.ing, cl, bcl, fg, cfg, 2cor

Duration: 5 min

First performance: 29th June 2007

Nachtklänge, Staatstheater Karlsruhe, Insel, Germany

Members of Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe

Conductor: Ulrich Wagner

 

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Scored for six reed instruments and two French horns, Octet is a short work which, unusually for Zuraj, is dominated by a single motif, a legato line that zigzags downwards from a sustained high note, accelerating as it falls. The motif is announced in almost classical fashion in a unison incorporating the five uppermost reed instruments, settling on a sustained low note in the contrabassoon and French horns. From that point, the instruments progressively branch out from each other, diverging from the initial unison to create increasingly independent textures. This process is complemented by the emergence of quarter-tone harmonies, which are paradoxically quite unconventional in larger woodwind groups, but also conducive to singularly rounded, organic-sounding harmonic timbres. At the close of the piece, the initial motif returns, this time with chords in rhythmic unison. After three, insistent reiterations of this motif, the piece concludes with two tender, sustained quarter-tone sonorities.


RELIEF for tenor saxophone and ensemble (2007)

Instrumentation: ten-sax, c.ing, cor, tr, tr, vla, vc

Versions for other solo instruments available: flute and clarinet

Duration: 6 min

First performance: 3rd February 2007

ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany

Ensemble for new music at the HfM Karlsruhe

Marcus Weiss, Tenor Saxophone

Conductor: Gerard Buquet

 

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Relief is an immensely virtuosic work for ensemble, a semi-concertant piece in which the saxophone (versions also exist for flute and clarinet) plays the dual role of soloist and ensemble member. It opens with a staccato chords in irregular rhythms played by the entire ensemble. The different qualities of these chords are brought about as much by the changing registration as the changing notes (for example, the trumpet may be the uppermost instrument in one chord, but below violin, saxophone and French horn in the next). Only gradually do the instruments take on independent roles, with the soloist continuing the irregular rhythms of the opening, while other instruments accompany with a mixture of sustained notes, glissandi and staccato figures. The extended first section culminates in a torrent of legato cascades in the ensemble, over which the soloist hovers with sustained notes in its highest register.
There follows a lull, in which the ensemble restricts itself to pointillistic interjections by individual instruments, while the soloist engages in a subterranean yet frenzied cadenza of key clicks, only intermittently bursting above the surface with the instrument's normal timbre. Presently, even these die away, and all that remains is a collection of disparate gestures in a static and slightly unnerving texture that Zuraj was to employ so effectively in the ensemble work Reflections, composed shortly after. This lull is brought to an abrupt halt by a return to the tutti chords from the opening, this time in a massive sostenuto, rather than the delicate staccato of the opening.
The work's final section centres around an expressive cadenza for the soloist, accompanied in the manner of a recitative, after which the Relief quickly dies down to an understated conclusion.



NACHSPIEL ZUR LETZTEN HOFFNUNG for ensemble (2005)

Instrumentation: 1-1-bcl-1, 1-0-0-0, 1perc, archi (1-1-1-1-1)

Duration: 3 min

First performance: 27th May 2005

Kulturjahr der Zehn, closing concert

Berliner Philharmonie, Kammersaal, Berlin, Germany

Lepzig Sinfonietta

Conductor: Johannes Harneit

 

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The Nachspiel zum Lied "Letzte Hoffnung" aus Schuberts Winterreise ("Postlude to the song 'Final Hope' from Schubert's Winterreise) was written to mark the admission of Slovenia, among other eastern European countries, into the European Union. The direct allusion to Letzte Hoffnung is apparent from the very first bars, with a disjointed figure in the winds reflecting both rhythm and contour of the similarly forlorn opening piano motif in Schubert's song, despite the entirely different intervals involved. A further parallel is to be found in the undulating back and forth between two notes a minor third apart, which is omnipresent in both works. More direct quotations (or at least near quotations) are to be found, with the oboe recalling a snatch of melodic line just before a tutti outburst which forms the loudest point in the piece - directly analogous to an outburst following the same motif in Schubert's song. Further melodic fragments, for instance in the horn and towards the end in the bass clarinet, seem to be direct references to Letzte Hoffnung, but always just elude full recognition.


KONTRA for ensemble (2002)

Instrumentation: cl, cor, 1perc, 2vni, vla, vc, cb

Duration: 15 min

First performance: 26th September 2002, Maribor

Chamberensemble Musical September

Conductor: Arvid Engegard

Other performances: Dresden 23rd January 2003

 

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Kontra features the French horn and the clarinet as soloists over an ensemble of percussion and string quintet. The work opens quietly with veiled tremoli in the tam-tam, which is soon joined by the double bass, the lowest register of the French horn and the cello. Presently, he upper strings enter, starting in the stratosphere and gradually descending over the course of two minutes to join the lower instruments. Against the string backdrop, the horn and the clarinet perform soli over the full gamut of their respective ranges, both in terms of register and in terms of their technique. The upper strings having descended as far as possible, the cello ascends to its highest register and performs its own, wailing (and very difficult) recitative, followed by a smaller solo for the viola. The entire ensemble builds to a climax, consisting of rapid, repeated cascades. Against this backdrop, the horn enters with a sustained crescendo on a single pitch. The other instruments subside and the horn performs an extensive cadenza (released separately as the Cadenza per corno). As the candenza draws to a close, the other instruments re-enter, with the clarinet engaging in a smaller cadenza to follow that of the horn. The horn player leaves the stage after his/her cadenza, followed by the clarinet in its turn. One after the other, the other players conclude their roles and leave, until only the percussionist remains. Leaving their instruments to resonate, the percussionist also takes his/her leave and the music concludes to an empty stage.


MUSICA DA CAMERA for ensemble (2001)

Instrumentation: 1-1-1-1(bcl)-1, 1-1-1-0, 4perc, pf, musical saw, archi (1-1-1-1-1)

Duration: 17 min

First performance: 17th April 2001, Maribor

Composer's evening - awarded with "Preseren Prize" of University of Ljubljana

Chamberensemble of the Maribor Philharmonics

Matija Terlep, musical saw

Conductor: Stefan Garkov

 

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Musica da Camera is a work that combines the characteristics of chamber ensemble and chamber orchestra. A single, expansive movement stretching over more than a quarter of an hour, it is the earliest of Zuraj's instrumental works to eschew in large part the ironic and burlesque overtones of works such as the Divertimento and the Tango. It is also the first work in which Zuraj's distinctly colourful handling of percussion comes to the fore as the fundamental tone colour of the ensemble.
From lyrical beginnings, Musica da Camera wends its way through impressionistic passages full of trills, harmonics and rich tone-colours, including a musical saw, until the work's steady build-up is interrupted by a dramatic percussion cadenza. Following this cadenza, the texture, while never losing its colourful aspects, tends to be dominated by more clearly-defined solo textures. Towards the end, the trills and fluttering textures return, accompanying rapid solo figurations in the glockenspiel and the piano. The work fades out with the sinking pitch of a tubular bell being lowered into water, the quiet chiming of the triangle and a barely audible stroke on the tam-tam.



 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

CHAMBER WORKS

 

 

 

 

 

QUIET, PLEASE for three brass mouthpieces (2014)

Duration: 3 min

First performance: 10th January 2015

Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Trio Savasa

 

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(Programme note coming soon)


SCHUB’RDY G’RDY for soprano, quartertone-accordion, percussion and piano (2015)

Duration: 15 min

First performance: 12th April 2015

Movimentos Festwochen Wolfsburg 2015

Alessia Park - soprano

Stefan Hussong - accordion

Simon Klavžar - percussion

Annika Treutler - piano

 

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(Programme note coming soon)


CHRYSANTHEMUM for clarinet, violoncello and piano (2014)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 25th January 2015

Ultraschall Berlin 2015

Trio Catch

 

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(Programme note coming soon)


SCRATCH for string quartet (2012)

Duration: 6 min

First performance: 15th September 2012

The 4th International Pharos Contemporary Music Festival

The Olive Grove, Delikipos, Cyprus

Quartetto Prometeo

 

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The short movement Scratch joins the earlier Fragment and the youthful String Quartet No. 1 as one of Zuraj's rare contributions to the string quartet genre. "Scratch-tones" are the timbres string players produce by drawing the bow across the strings with excessive pressure. The result typically has no defined pitch, and can range from a tender, abstract "scratching" to an aggressive "crunch". Scratch opens with a plethora of such tones in varying dynamics. What ensues is an interplay of glissando contours, each featuring one of the numerous timbral variations typical of string instruments - from massive chords across all four strings to ricochets with the wood of the bow (col legno) and pizzicato. The prevailing glissando gestures give way shortly before the work's close to a sudden and surprising moment of clarity, in which all four instruments join forces in a single, melodic line in legato chords and rhythmic unison. The four instruments quickly disperse again, however, and the work finishes on a splintering of col legno and, finally, a return to the opening scratch-tones. Unlike the earlier Fragment, Scratch flows as a largely cohesive movement, and treats the string quartet as a single entity, rather than a deliberately disparate collection of four individual instruments.


CONTOUR for woodwind quintet (2012)

Instrumentation: fl (picc, alto), ob (cing), cl (bcl), fg (cfg), cor

Duration: 13 min

First performance: 6th June 2012

Hochschule für Musik Saarbrücken

Members of Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern

 

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At the heart of Contour lies a series of mosaic-like structures, in which each of the five instruments contributes to a single overall sound texture. The individual notes serve as "atoms" with in an "irregular regularity", perhaps comparable to ocean waves, all of which may look very much alike, but in fact all differ subtly from one to the next. Another comparison might be with the silhouette of a mountain range, which, while consisting in reality of a mass of different points at varying distances from the viewer, appears from afar to be a single, uninterrupted contour.
The mosaic structures are presented in Contour in varying "distances" and perspectives. At the opening, the individual impulses and gestures of each instrument appear sparsely, each able to be heard and savoured for itself. Soon, however, the single events accumulate into a dense flow that draws the listener along irresistibly, while always containing just too much information to be entirely comprehensible. Even within the denser ensemble passages, however, there is variation and clarity, with instruments at times splitting off into groups that present a single, audible "contour". A particularly prominent role is played by the pairing of piccolo and contrabassoon.



WARM-UP for French horn and two percussionists (2012)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 13th March 2012

Slovenian Philharmonics, Kozina Hall, Ljubljana

Saar Berger, French horn

Franci Krevh, Matevž Bajde, percussion

Conductor: Steven Loy

 

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Warm-up, for French horn and percussion, is a further chapter in Zuraj's impressive portfolio of contrasting compositions for the French horn. Profiting in this case from a close collaboration with the virtuoso horn player Saar Berger, Zuraj produced a work that provides a marked contrast to the highly-charged and energetic character of earlier works such as the Cadenza per corno and the Concertino for horn and four woodwind instruments. The title "Warm-up" was also a brainchild of Saar Berger's, who suggested that a piece dedicated to warming up would be a fitting complement to Zuraj's cycle of compositions dedicated to match-situations in tennis. The more introverted style of writing for the horn is paired in numerous passages with a 'native' notation for the instrument - instead of being notated as pitches on a scale system, the horn's notes are notated as points on the natural harmonic series that underpins the instrument's tuning. The resulting departure from traditional Western scale-systems is underlined by the presence within the percussion section of a kalimba tuned in quarter-tones. The work is organised along clear formal principles with sections of varying instrumentation, while the density of the texture is controlled according to algorithmic principles based on periodicity versus aperiodicity.


TOP SPIN for percussion trio (2011)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 28th June 2011

Festival MainzMusik

Hochschule für Musik Mainz, Germany

Ensemble Modern

 

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Top Spin is a continuation of my series of compositions bearing tennis-related titles. As an avid tennis player myself, I attempt in each of these works to portray in music my own personal impressions of the aspect of the game described in each work's title. In tennis, Top-spin describes the forward revolutions imparted upon tennis ball when a player's shot brushes the ball from below, causing the ball to dip earlier and more dramatically than would otherwise be the case.
Top Spin presents the novel setup of three similar sets of percussion instruments arranged on a circular table. Aside from their sizes (one large, one medium, one small), these sets are identical, consisting of the unusually simple combination of three each of hand drums, wooden bars and metal tubes. In addition, a "spring drum" is hung from a stand next to each table-top setup. Three percussionists play these setups, at various points stipulated in the score switching from one setup to another, playing the instruments form neighbouring setups and moving at varying speeds around the table. The result is a veritable "match situation" in keeping with the work's title and the character of the entire tennis cycle.



DEUCE for tenor saxophone and percussion (2008)

Versions for other solo instruments available: bass clarinet and lupophon

Duration: 7 min

First performance: 6th June 2008

Université de Saint-Denis, Amphi X, Paris

Pedro Bittencourt, Tenor saxophone

Simone Beneventi, percussion

 

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With Deuce, Zuraj began an extensive and varied cycle of compositions dedicated to the game of tennis, in which each work bears a title taken from the nomenclature of that sport. An avid tennis player and aficionado, Zuraj presents in each work his own psychological reaction to the aspect of the game described in the title. None of this is presented programmatically, but rather serves as the point of departure for the musical structure of the composition concerned. "Deuce" describes a situation towards the end of a single game within a tennis match, in which both players (or teams) are locked on an identical score, requiring a single point to secure the game. In order for this point to be secured, however, two rallies must be taken in succession.
Deuce opens almost imperceptibly, with the marimba being played with soft mallets, producing a diffuse humming, and the saxophone joining in very gently. The instruments both build to a sharp duet in rhythmic interplay with one another, before subsiding once again and fading into the diffuse timbres from whence they came. The closing passages of the saxophone part are particularly notable for the subtle use of multiphonics blending with the soft-malleted timbre of the marimba.
Deuce spawned several offshoots, including versions for percussion with lupophone and with bass clarinet, as well as re-imaginings for chamber ensemble and for percussion with violin.



AIRPHONES for saxophone quartet (2007)

Duration: 6 min

First performance: 8th August 2007

Davos Festival, Switzerland

Congresszentrum Davos

Quatuor Osmose

 

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Airphones presents the saxophone quartet as a unified entity, with all four instruments rising and cascading together as if in a series of inhalations and exhalations. The natural ebb and flow thus created is maximised by the singular ability of saxophones to blend with each other, generating the impression of a single instrument, a single contour of constantly shifting harmonies that expand and contract. This seamlessly undulating texture is counterweighted by brief outbursts of punctuated chords, again involving the entire quartet in rhythmic unison. These outbursts and the constantly shifting rhythms of the flowing passages lend powerful contrast and variation to the prevailing sense of unity. As the work draws to a close, the instruments attempt to assert their individuality, moving independently of one another in longer, sustained notes. After seemingly settling on such a note, the work ends with a single, almost quizzical staccato chord uniting the contrasting registers of the soprano and baritone saxophones.


FRAGMENT for string quartet (2006)

Duration: 5 min

First performance: 6th July 2006

Night of Slovene Composers

Pretorian palace, Koper, Slovenia

 

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Works for pure string ensembles are unusual in Zuraj's oeuvre. As such, the Fragment for string quartet is one of his more unusual compositions. In spite of this, it is here that one can hear unmistakably the beginnings of the textures that were to dominate his string writing in subsequent works, most notably the use of simultaneous glissandi in staggered pizzicati between instruments. Fragment is an appropriate description for the work, which is not only very brief and intense, but also full of individual, bold gestures in all four strings, utilising the full gamut of timbres available to that most versatile family of orchestral instruments. From the opening pizzicato in the depths of the cello to the final alternations of plucked strings and sustained chords, the Fragment eschews all temptation towards the cantilena or polyphonic textures that are typical in traditional string quartet writing, focussing instead on individual, carefully sculpted moments. The resulting clarity makes Fragment a fresh and quirky take on the possibilities available to the medium.


CONCERTINO for French horn and wind quartet (2005)

Instrumentation: cor solo, fl (picc), ob, bcl, fg

Duration: 11 min

First performance: 8th April 2005

Night of Slovene Composers

Galery of Contemporary Art, Celje, Slovenia

Andrej Zust, French horn

Wind Quintet Ariart

 

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One of the consistent threads running through Zuraj's opus is a fascination with the French horn as a virtuoso instrument. There can be few composers who are as absolutely at home with writing thrilling and idiomatic passages for the instrument. All of this is on display in the Concertino for horn and four woodwind instruments. Conceived in three movements, the Concertino nonetheless runs as a continuous stream of music from beginning to end. Particularly on show here is Zuraj's ability to create a unique musical energy by mixing the techniques of the avant garde with an ability to reimagine the principles of classical forms. The Concertino effortlessly straddles the divide between concerto and traditional wind quintet. Solo horn passages with declamatory, chordal accompaniment from the other four instruments recall the romantic solo concerto, whereas numerous passages also present the entire "quintet" as a nuanced chamber ensemble. The transition from the first to the second movement is a cadenza, as one might expect in classical and romantic concerti, with the difference that it is not the solo horn, but the other four instruments - and finally the flute alone - that presents this "cadenza". The second, slower movement has more of the character of a transitional interlude between the lively (and fiendishly difficult) outer movements, and alternates between lyrical horn soli over fluttering, impressionistic tremoli, and densely polyphonic melodic passages shared by the entire group. The final movement is the most energetic of the three, and concludes with an emphatic and rousing "orchestral" tutti.


WANT TO PRACTISE for flute and French horn (2003)

Musical scene for two players

Instrumentation: fl, cor

Duration: 7 min

First performance: 2nd October 2003, Ljubljana

ISCM World Music Days 2003 in Slovenia

Milena Peric, Bostjan Lipovsek

 

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Want to Practise... is a light-hearted, semi-theatrical work, envisaging a situation in which two musicians - a flautist and a horn player - are both intent on practising their respective instruments, but face the misfortune of having been assigned to a single room together. The performance sees the two musicians beginning on opposing sides at the back of the hall. They progress from there to the stage, both playing a string of generically idiomatic figures in free succession. Having reached their positions on stage, they begin to play more formalised musics, crystallising in quotations from Stravinsky's Petrouchka and R. Strauss' Ein Heldenleben, in which they successively attempt to outdo each other. A duel of quotations from Rossini (The Barber of Seville) and from Zuraj's own works (Tango and the Cadenza per corno) ensues, until the two end up angrily playing randomised gibberish at each other, before finally reconciling their differences on a waltz from Johann Strauss Jr's Die Fledermaus and exiting graciously with the same generic idiomatic figures they had played at the outset, each taking the side of the hall that his/her opponent had occupied at the work's beginning.


CLOOP for alto flute, musical saw and percussion (2001)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 26th September 2001, Ljubljana

First composerŽs evening in the National Assembly in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Andreja Humar, Matija Terlep, Franci Krevh;

Conductor: Stefan Garkov

Other performances: Ljubljana 23rd April 2003

 

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Cloop is a haunting and evocative trio for alto flute, musical saw and percussion. It is predominantly in an almost improvisatory vein, with the flute and percussion adorning the long cantilena of the musical saw with arabesques exuding a whiff of the orient. The musical saw's naturally sinuous lines, sliding from one note to the next, are complemented by a considerable degree of rhythmic freedom in the other instruments. Deftly concealed behind this appearance of expansive freedom is the unerring control of Vito Zuraj, who provides subtle but judicious contrast to the prevailing improvised character by occasionally doubling the musical saw's lines with the other instruments, resulting in moments of crystal clarity clothed in unexpected timbres.


TANGO for flute and piano (2000)

Versions for other solo instruments available: clarinet, violin and violoncello

Duration: 6 min 30 sec

First performance: Ljubljana, 7th March 2000

Elena Hribernik, Marko Hribernik

Other performances: Maribor 17th April 2001; Ljubljana 8th May 2000, 29th September 2000, 14th March 2001, 26th September 2001, 10th February 2002, 10th March 2002; 31st March 2003, 5th May 2003; Velenje 29th August 2001; Rogaska Slatina 25th August 2000, 12nd July 2002; Race 29th December 2002; Dresden 12nd December 2001; Salzburg 4th June 2002; Luzern 27th January 2003

 

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Tango is a bravura piece, conceived as a highly virtuosic caprice for melodic instrument (versions exist for flute, clarinet, violin and viola) and piano. Zuraj has also produced a version for orchestra. Drawing on the familiar rhythmic characteristics and arabesque melodic idiom of the eponymous dance, Tango takes the free form of a rhapsody, with a dramatic introduction subsiding into a calmer main theme with a slinky, almost serpentine melody wending its way over a tango accompaniment. There follows a contrasting middle section, which frees itself from the rhythmic gestures of the tango accompaniment and takes on a driving character with rhythmic patterns at times redolent of other latin-american dances such as the rumba, but in the end always just eluding definition. Following this, the serpentine melodic strains of the opening return, before the driving rhythms of the middle section take over in a frenzied coda that brings the work rushing to a close.


SPACE ECHOES for flute, synthesizer and 5 percussionists (1999)

Duration: 11 min 30 sec

First performance: 4th May 1999, Ljubljana

Percussion group SToP, Andreja Humar, Tomaz Pacnik

Conductor: Stefan Garkov

Other performances: Maribor 19th January 2000, 17th April 2001; Ljubljana 17th October 2000, 12nd December 2000, 26th January 2001 (unofficial performance), 14th March 2001

 

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Space Echoes is a welcome curiosity in Zuraj's early work. Scored for four percussionists, flute and synthesiser, it reveals diverse influences, from Edgard Varése to the sounds and gestures of science fiction film and television. The idiomatic writing for the flute is in the same exotic vein as in the wind quintet In stile orientale, composed shortly beforehand, while the treatment of percussion already carries the hallmarks of Zuraj's treatment of acoustic space, which is such a distinctive feature of his more recent compositions. Figures and timbres are passed seamlessly from one player to another in an interplay that almost takes on the character of a multi-dimensional sculpture in sound. The synthesiser itself is employed chiefly to evoke atmosphere, and to provide an harmonic and timbral canvas onto which the flute and percussion project their own - paradoxically much more otherworldly - musical gestures. The highly descriptive title Space Echoes seems entirely appropriate.


IN STILE ORIENTALE for woodwind quintet (1998)

Duration: 11 min

First performance: 25th May 1999, Ljubljana

Andreja Humar, Manca Globokar, Tadej Kenig, Arpad Piri Balasz, Neza Gruden

Other performances: Maribor 17th April 2001 (Ariart); Ljubljana 24th October 2000 (Slowind)

 

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In stile orientale ("In an Oriental Style") is Zuraj's earliest chamber composition. A traditional wind quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn, it features both characteristic polyphonic writing for the combination and virtuoso soli for the individual instruments. Featuring melodies reminiscent of oriental or middle-eastern modes and a colourful, liberally ornamented melodic style, it consists of a single movement in rhapsodic form. Zuraj's instinctive command of form is already apparent, with a vivacious introduction giving way to a more lyrical and expansive "first movement", which in turn leads to a scherzando interlude, after which a series of increasingly virtuoso utterances builds to a climax in which the entire quintet intones a repeated, declamatory figure in chordal unison. There follows a more tranquil coda, which is brought wittily to a close with a flourish in the flute and a single, solo b-flat in the depths of bassoon.


 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

SOLO WORKS

 

 

 

 

 

INTERFRET for guitar solo (2017)

Duration: 8 min

First performance: 6th September 2017

ARD International Music Competition 2017, Semifinals, Munich

 

(Programme note coming soon)


ETOUFFÉE for prepared piano (2016)

Duration: 7 min

First performance: 17th April 2016

Movimentos Festwochen Wolfsburg 2016

Marija Skender - piano

 

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(Programme note coming soon)


SILHOUETTE for accordion (2012)

Duration: 9 min

First performance: 30th March 2012

Maribor 2012 - European Capital of Culture, Union Hall

Luka Juhart, accordion

 

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Silhouette is a substantial solo piece for the accordion. With its unique fingering system and mechanics of sound production, the accordion presents a singular difficulty to composers writing for it. On the other hand, it is capable of techniques and subtleties far beyond the simple melodies and chords that are often associated with it.
The opening of Silhouette showcases the accordion as a highly dextrous melodic instrument, and one can almost feel Zuraj's relish in composing for an instrument that has all of the chiselled precision of the piano, the quasi-electronic, sustained timbre of the organ and the ability to affect dynamic change with both raid violence and hushed subtlety on sustained notes. Indeed, there is an unmistakeable similarity in these melodic lines and gestures to those in Zuraj's organ work Mouvement and in Perpetuum, for organ and electronics. This similarity is perhaps not entirely coincidental, since Zuraj writes of Silhouette, "While experimenting [at the SWR ExperimentalStudio in Freiburg] with the violoncello and live-electronics, following a sudden acoustic feedback, cascades of seemingly uncontrollable sine tone patterns resulted, which I managed to record, analyse and subsequently use as a material for my new composition."
The opening melodic lines span several octaves, and are soon joined by a second layer of guttural, staccato chords. This section is followed by an extended passage involving percussive, toneless striking of the instrument's buttons. Passages of juxtaposed major and minor triads add a touch of more authentically "accordionistic" colour, which seems to take on an entirely unfamiliar aspect in the unusual context.
Silhouette is largely dominated by the higher registers of the instrument and rattles along with almost relentless energy until, mere bars from the end, it seems to run out of breath, with sighing glissandi in its deepest register. It summons up the willpower for one final, frenzied dash, but sags under the weight of another glissando, with nothing more to offer than a toneless, surprise flutter on the buttons to finish it off.



BEST-OF-FIVE, five etudes for organ (2011)

Duration: 12 min

 

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Best of Five, a set of études for organ, is the tenth in Zuraj's series of musical works bearing titles from tennis nomenclature. A keen tennis player himself, Zuraj uses his own impressions and emotions in particular match-situations as the starting point for these compositions, although the finished compositions should not be seen as programmatic representations of the situations derived from their respective titles. Instead, they are simply the initial germ of an idea, inspiration for what becomes an entirely independent piece of music.
As the title implies, the work comprises five études. Each of the first four études is dedicated to its own particular principles of pitch organisation. The fifth and final étude represents a synthesis of the full range of structural principles employed in its predecessors. This in itself invites an analogy with a tennis match in five sets, in which all players are required to pull out all the stops in their repertoire in order to emerge victorious.



ČMRLJ for piano (2011)

Duration: 3 min

First performance: 6th June 2011

Centro San Fedele Milano, Italy

Maria Grazia Bellocchio, piano

 

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Čmrlj means "bumblebee" in the Slovenian language. In at the outset of this piece, associations with Rimsky-Korsakov's perpetuum mobile Flight of the Bumblebee would not seem entirely unjustified. It even begins with a rapid pattern circling in close semitones. The similarities end there, however, and Čmrlj is in fact more closely associated with another work from the historical repertoire, being intended for performance either on its own or as an interlude between the fourth and fifth bagatelles of Beethoven's Six Bagatelles op. 126, proceeding without break from the fourth leading directly into the fifth. Čmrlj is predominantly a very quiet work, murmuring and tinkling along in veiled tones, with just a very few sudden, loud outbursts. Alongside the bustling semiquaver passages, it also contains rapid successions of staccato cords, disjointed rhythmic passages, atmospheric arpeggiandi and prolific use of cluster chords, which on closer inspection are actually quite varied in structure. In addition to the clusters and close chromatic melodies, the piece contains a proliferation of chords stacked in fourths and arpeggio figures rising and falling in perfect fourths and fifths.


THE FRENCH OPEN for French horn (2010)

Duration: 5 min

First performance: 30th June 2010

International Ensemble Modern Academy Composer's portrait

Saar Berger, French horn

 

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The French Open is a reimagining of the Cadenza per corno for solo French horn, with a more varied spectrum of tone colours and updated notation.


MOUVEMENT for organ (2007)

Duration: 5 min

First performance: 23rd October 2007

2. Internationales Düsseldorfer Orgelfestival

Church of St Franziskus-Xaverus, Düsseldorf, Germany

Torsten Laux, organ

 

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Mouvement is a short, single-movement work for organ. Its timbres are dominated especially by trills and clusters in the stratospheric 1' register of the organ. The high clusters produce an audible interference that is almost as prominent as the notes themselves, resulting in a highly unconventional sound. In Mouvement, these timbres tend to be used in conjunction with very rapid, ornamental figurations. A second, contrasting musical element consists of repeated chords, stacked in thirds and layered over each other in contrasting rhythmic proportions. These disparate and often elusive elements are frequently held together by sustained pedal points. These last, however, vanish just before the end, leaving the piece to taper off into the stratosphere.


CADENZA PER CORNO for French horn (2002)

Duration: 4 min 30 sec

First performance: 26th September 2002, Maribor

International Music Festival "Musical September 2002"

Radovan Vlatkovic

Other performances: Dresden 23rd January 2003, Ljubljana 23rd April 2003

 

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Cadenza per corno (cadenza for the French horn), one of Zuraj's early solo works, presents the French horn in the full range of its virtuosity, combining extensive use of stopped and fluttertongue timbres with rapid figurations, as well as "reminiscences" on the melodic and fanfaric gestures traditionally associated with the instrument. While the work puts the player through their paces in terms of extreme registers, precision and the ability to sustain pure notes, the virtuoso writing is deliberately constructed to use the instrument's natural pitch-structures and showcase the possibilities of breathtaking virtuoso flair inherent to this incredibly difficult instrument, rather than creating an impossible monster that only a select few brilliant players may be able to master in spite of it.


RUÉE for clarinet (2002/2010)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 24th July 2002, Lugano (Switzerand)

International Music Festival Ticino Musica 2002

Fausto Ghiazza

Other performances: Dresden 4th May 2003, 14 May 2003; Hamburg 5th May 2003

 

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Ruée ("Rush") is a bravura piece for solo clarinet, in much the same vein as the roughly contemporary Cadenza per corno for French horn. One of Zuraj's earliest solo compositions, Ruée concentrates especially on the clarinet's almost unmatched ability to realise breathtakingly rapid passagework with a minimum of effort, but also presents a wide range of extended techniques, such as playing in quarter tones and playing multiphonics. In addition, Ruée places demands on the traditional musical finesse of the soloist, requiring rapid and often violent changes in dynamics, playing very long phrases in one breath, and simulating polyphonic textures via dynamics and agogical emphasis.


 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

VOCAL WORKS

 

 

 

 

 

UEAUEOI for six male voices (2016)

Text and concept: Vito Žuraj

Duration: 3 min

First performance: 7th October 2016

Musikprotokoll Graz

Vokalensemble Nova

Conductor: Colin Mason

 

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(Programme note coming soon)


LA FEMME 100 TETES for soprano and double bass (2015)

Text and concept: Patrick Hahn

Duration: 7 min

First performance: 13th March 2016

Archipel Genève

Hélène Fauchère - soprano

Uli Fussenegger - double bass

 

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(Programme note coming soon)


RECITATIVI for high voice and cimbalo cromatico (2012)

Duration: 8 min

First performance: 18th October 2012

Alte Oper Frankfurt

Daniel Pataky, tenor

Johannes Keller, cimbalo cromatico

 

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The Recitativi are a series of four recitatives for voice and "cimbalo cromatico" (a microtonally tuned harpsichord) set to texts that were created as part of Alexander Stockinger's libretto to Zuraj's opera Orlando: Das Schloss. Beginning in the manner of baroque recitative, the four movements progressively depart from this anachronistic pretence and take up a new habitat in the harmonic and melodic world of Zuraj's own style.
The first recitative begins with the customary sixth-chord of baroque recitative and makes exclusive use of harmonies that are conceivable on a standard, evenly tempered keyboard. Quarter-tones are used to expand the palette of chord progressions available in a tonal harmonic context, a technique reminiscent of the works of the early twentieth-century composer Alois Haba.
The second recitative also begins with the obligatory sixth chord, but departs from the sonorities of tonal harmony, making use of spectral harmonies and microtonal dissonances while largely retaining the affect and gestures of its baroque models. Occasionally, the more impassioned vocal style of the late romantic and expressionistic periods bursts through.
Although the third recitative begins with an expansive arpeggio in the harpsichord, the latter is no longer even remotely reminiscent of a sixth-chord. This recitative quickly dispenses with all pretence of baroque gesture, making liberal use of microtonal trills and frantic bundles of cluster chords. The vocal part, too, experiences a transformation, with passages in the half-spoken Sprechgesang style often associated with Arnold Schoenberg.
In the fourth and final recitative, the traditional framework of the recitative is turned on its head, with the singer with a florid solo line. The relationship of solo singer and keyboard accompanist is nullified, with the entire recitative being an equal dialogue between singer and keyboard, in which the two strive to outdo each other with acrobatics and glissandi. The cycle is brought to a startling close with a warning shriek of "Alarmglocke" ("alarm bells") and a monumental cluster in the cimbalo cromatico.



ZUR FREUDE for children's choir and brass quintet (2010)

Duration: 2 min

First performance: 8th May 2010

31. International Children's Choir festival Halle

Marktplatz, Halle, germany

Adolf Fredriks Girl's Choir

Brass Quintett Pfeiferstuhl Music

Conductor: Vito Zuraj

 

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Composed in 2010 for the 31st International Children's Choir Festival in Halle, Germany, Zur Freude ("To Joy", or perhaps more accurately "for the delight of us all") represents something of a departure from Zuraj's normal choral style. A pièce d'occasion for children's choir and brass quintet with a straightforward text, it utilises a simpler and more direct musical language than much of the composer's output. The extensive use of the natural harmonic series that dominates the brass instruments' tuning enhances the jubilant character of the work. It opens with a paean to music and to the city of Halle with fanfaric writing in the brass, before settling into a calmer, celebratory verse. Afterwards, the fanfaric character returns, and the work ends with a flourish in brass and choir alike.


TRILOGUS for 3 sopranos (2008)

Duration: 5 min

First performance: 13th August 2008

26th Festival Radovljica

St Peter's Church, Radovljica, Slovenia

Trio Mediaeval

 

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Set to a Latin text and notated in the square neumes of the late middle ages, the Trilogus is a set of three movements for three sopranos. The work is an extensive and considered confrontation of the antique and the modern, containing extensive passages of single melodic lines, reminiscent of gregorian chant, at times even to the point of diatonic simplicity, evoking the mediaeval church modes in amongst the prevailing chromaticism. Even when the voices diverge from one another, they tend to hold to a common rhythm, giving the impression of organum, the very earliest form of vocal music to incorporate more than one voice. In addition, the first and third songs of the trilogy finish on an almost identical perfect fifth, in accordance with mediaeval ideas of perfection in a closing chord. These anachronistic touches, however, are counterweighted by a melodic invention that makes liberal use of the intervals and gestures of modern writing, and a harmonic style that sees the voices predominantly winding mysteriously about each other in dissonant clusters.


VOCALISE for soprano, viola da gamba and harpsichord (2006)

Version for soprano and piano also available

Duration: 4 min

First performance: 21st August 2006

24th Festival Radovljica

Church of St Kancian, Kranj, Slovenia

Musica Cubicularis

 

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Vocalise was initially scored for voice and piano, with a later version for voice, viola da gamba and harpsichord. As the title indicates, the piece is a wordless monologue for soprano with instrumental accompaniment. The soprano indulges in fanciful acrobatics, trills and - rarely - sustained cantilena. The accompaniment punctuates and comments on the soprano's melodic line, evoking the impression of a sort of latter-day recitativo accompagnato.


SPRICH AUCH DU for mixed choir (2006)

Voices: SATB

on a poem by Paul Celan

Duration: 6 min

First performance: 5th November 2006

Tenso Days Berlin

Radialsystem V, Berlin, Germany

RIAS Kammerchor

Conductor: James Wood

 

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Sprich auch du ("Speak, You Also"), to a poem of the same name by the German-Romanian poet Paul Celan, represents a departure from the manner of Zuraj's earlier choral compositions. Perhaps in keeping with the title, the emphasis here is more on the developing vocal line, rather than the chord and sonority orientated soundscapes of Zuraj's earlier works for choir. Beginning with a single vocal line, outwardly simple but vocally challenging, Sprich auch du wends a tortuous and highly contrapuntal path as more and more voices are added, rising in intensity to a chordal climax, in which the voices suddenly and momentarily join forces declaim the text in rhythmic unison. Following this, the voices disperse rapidly, receding into murmur, then to a whisper and, at last, into silence.


THE CAT for soprano and piano (2004)

on a poem by Svetlana Makarovič

Duration: 5 min

First performance: 29th May 2004

Pfingstwerkstatt Neue Musik Rheinsberg, Germany

Teja Saksida, sopran

Vito Zuraj, Piano

Other performances: Berlin 2nd June 2004

 

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A nimble coloratura recitative in an impulsive and expressionistic style, Mačka ("The Cat") describes the deceptive innocence of a cat by day in comparison with what it is presumed to get up to at night. The piano operates on two levels, one as a sedate chordal accompanist, providing a foundation to the skittish figures of the soprano, and one as an equal partner to the vocal line, with nimble arpeggios and playfully insistent, repeated chords acting as an extension of the singer's phrases and broadening the inventiveness of the vocal line. It is with one such arpeggio that the piece concludes, almost nonchalantly rounding off a brief coda in the piano, as if vanishing into thin air.


O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM for mixed choir (2001)

Voices: SATB

Duration: 4 min

 

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O magnum mysterium is a short work for mixed choir, setting the text from the responsory of the same name. It draws on elements of modal writing and imitative polyphony reminiscent of renaissance models, without actually applying the associated compositional techniques concretely. At the work's opening, soprano and tenor soloists intone a melody over a sustained choral chord. The work concludes with a serene, unison allelujah and a final return to the chord and soli from the opening, but the writing in O magnum Mysterium is otherwise generally densely polyphonic. The chord which opens and closes the piece bears a close resemblance to the natural harmonic series, a structure that has played a significant role in Zuraj's later compositions.


MEMENTO MORI for soprano and piano (2000)

on a poem by France Prešeren

Duration: 5 min 30 sec

First performance: 29th September 2000, Ljubljana

Teja Saksida, Vito Zuraj

Other performances: Maribor 17th April 2001; Ljubljana 11th December 2000, 26th September 2001; Dresden 13rd May 2002, 9th November 2002

 

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The youthful Memento mori, to a Slovenian text, is not so much an art song as an aria for voice and piano. The piano provides an almost orchestrally impressionistic accompaniment that evokes similar arabesques and shimmering tremolo figures to those found in his early ensemble compositions, while the coloristic and bitonal harmonies reveal close parallels to his early choral works. Despite the predominantly doom-laden atmosphere of the composition, the soaring cantilena of the soprano and the sparkling accompaniment in the extreme registers of the piano lend the work a sensual quality.


 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

ELECTRONIC WORKS

 

 

 

 

 

TIME-OUT for guitar and electronics (2017)

Duration: 8 min

First performance: 28th May 2017

Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia

SWR ExperimentalStudio Freiburg

Klara Tomljanovič, guitar

Joachim Haas and Vito Žuraj, sound direction

 

ROUND-ROBIN for accordion and live-electronics (2014)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 22nd October 2014

Academy of Arts Berlin, Schwindel der Wirklichkeit

Teodoro Anzellotti, accordion

Gregorio Karman, sound direction

 

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(Programme note coming soon)


MATRIX for Disklavier and electronics (2013)

Duration: 7 min

First performance: 7th September 2013

Gaudeamus Muziekweek Utrecht, Netherlands

Vito Zuraj, live-performance

 

 

Matrix was written for the Ulysses Network's project "Disklavier Plus" in 2013 and was performed at important festivals such as the Gaudeamus Music Week and the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt. The project saw a series of works produced for Yamaha's "Disklavier" (a form of automated grand piano) and electronics. In the case of Matrix, the electronic component is a piano sampler, which supplements the tuning of the piano by adding quarter-tones between the semitones of the Disklavier keyboard. In contrast to Zuraj's normal compositional method, Matrix does not have a predetermined form, but is instead a live performance in which compositional parameters such as tempo, intervals, textural density and volume are manipulated by means of MIDI controls.


ZGÜBLENI for alto, ensemble and live-electronics (2010/11)

based on Slovenian folksongs from Prlekija region

Instrumentation: alto, fl, cl, vla, vc, perc, live electronics

Duration: 7 min

First performance: 22th May 2011

Tage der Neuen Musik 2011, Würzburg

Hochschule für Musik, Theter Bibrastra§e, Germany

Noa Frenkel, alto

ensemble experimental

Conductor: Detlef Heusinger

Sound projection: Gregorio Karman, Joachim Haas, Thomas Hummel

 

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Being an artistic reply to the work Folksongs, by the late Luciano Berio, Zgübleni fittingly represents the fruits of my own immersion in the folk music of my native Slovenia. I took an especial ethnomusicological interest in the music of the Prlekija region in the north-east of the country, noting that many seemingly simple melodic strains required a highly complex rhythmic notation, since the singers would interpret them according to an innate feeling, rather than the strictures of a systematic musical discipline.
For the basis of my own composition, I restricted myself to three songs, which I then had recorded by the Mongolian throat-singer Enkhjargal Dandarvaanchig. These recorded samples are to be found within the composition, in both unadulterated and heavily processed forms. The Slovenian language contains a wealth of tongue-twisting consonant blends, which to my astonishment seemed to present no real difficulty to the Mongolian singer, who read the entirety almost flawlessly at first sight, despite being unable to understand a blessed thing. The text sung by the mezzo-soprano is a fusion of two separate song texts.
Sometimes, artists find themselves in search of a universally understandable mode of speech. In the work Zgübleni, my own mother tongue is transformed with the aid of heavy electronic manipulation into an almost abstract collection of phonemes, a mode of speech that nobody can understand. The work's title is in part a reference to this, meaning "The Lost" in the dialect of the Prlekija region.



FLUCTUS for 8-channel-electronics (2009)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 22nd January 2009

ZKM Kubus, Karlsruhe, Germany

 

 

In Fluctus, the percussive impulses are set against an etherial, slow-moving backdrop based on a spectral harmony. The resulting soundscape is an attempt at describing in music the state between sleeping and consciousness.


ODTRG for 8-channel-electronics (2008)

Duration: 7 min 31 sec

First performance: 18th January 2008

ZKM Kubus, Karlsruhe, Germany

 

 

Odtrg is a Slovenian word meaning "shred", and is a curiosity on account of its preponderance of consonants. Permutations of the five letters of this title can be used to form a variety of everyday words in the Slovenian language, such as "od" (from), "do" (to), "to" (that), "drg" (friction), "god" (name-day), "gor" (upwards), "grd" (ugly), "rog" (horn), "rod" (generation), "tod" (here), "tog" (rigid), "trd" (hard), "trg" (market) and "drog" (pole). Individual percussive impulses are organised into arpeggiando figures, equivalent to the different pronunciations of the consonant-heavy words from that list.


CROSSCOURT for ensemble and electronics (2008)

Instrumentation: fl (picc), bcl, ten-sax, tr, vno, vc, perc, koto, keyb; multichannel electronics

Duration: 11 min

First performance: 2nd October 2008

QuantensprŸnge ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany

ZKM Kubus, Karlsruhe

International Ensemble Modern Academy

 

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A further instalment in Zuraj's cycle of compositions with titles pertaining to tennis, Crosscourt is scored for electronics and amplified instrumental ensemble. A "crosscourt" shot is one that is struck diagonally across the tennis court, often forcing one's opponent to assume a position outside the field of play in order to effect a return. In keeping with this particularly competitive idea, the instruments in Crosscourt are paired off against each other as musical "opponents". This unusual situation is enhanced by the presence in the ensemble of the koto, a plucked string instrument originating in Japan, and an electronic keyboard that is tuned to a non-standard pattern, lending the music a curious harmonic quality. The electronics serve a dual function. On the one hand, they extend the tonal palette of the acoustic instruments. On the other, the sound of the keyboard is made to "move" about the auditorium. These processes are controlled by the somewhat curious trio of two joysticks and a set of electronic pedals.


iSLIDER for 8-channel-electronics (2007)

Duration: 6 min 41 sec

First performance: 9th January 2007

ZKM Kubus, Karlsruhe, Germany

 

 

iSlider is a play on words, adding the standard lower-case "i-" of Apple products (iPhone, iPad, etc.) to the word "slider", which in this case refers to the sliders on a mixing desk or similar device. The "slider" in this case is in fact virtual slider used to manipulate an algorithm within the program devised to compose the piece. In this piece, the percussive raw material is morphed into numerous sound structures evoking varied sensations and associations.


PERPETUUM for organ and electronics (2006)

Duration: 10 min

First performance: 18th April 2006

Concert Atelier by the Society of Slovene Composers

Slovenian Philharmonics, Kozina Hall, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Tomaz Sevsek, organ and electronics

 

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The Organ, a large, implacable and infinitely complex mechanical beast of an instrument, lends itself like no other to blending with electronics. In Perpetuum, the sound of the organ is blended with electronic samples, which realise possibilities unknown to the acoustic instrument, such as glissandi, microtones and filtering, as though they were a perfectly part of the instrument itself. As its title insinuates, much of the composition takes the form of a Perpetuum mobile, a seemingly ceaseless and unstoppable motoric rhythm that drives the music forward. This alternates with massive chordal aggregates, making the work a sort of modern and grandiose toccata.


PEGAM&LAMBERGAR for mixed choir, organ and electronics (2005)

Voices: SATB

Duration: 12 min

 

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Scored for mixed choir, organ and six-channel electronic tape, Pegam in Lambergar is a treatment of the legend of Slovenian folk hero Lambergar, who did battle with the three-headed demon Pegam, defeating the latter by aiming for its middle head. It is a dramatic choral setting, evoking the mythical setting at its opening with an archaistic unison involving the entire choir. This unison continually branches out into clusters, before punctuated chords in the organ trigger a dispersal of the choir into dense and complex textures that interweave with the entry of samples from the electronic tape. Throughout the piece, the organ generally provides dramatic punctuations, with four channels of the tape acting as an extension and spatialisation of the choir, with the fifth and six channels used as orientation for the singers' intonation. At the close of the work, the density of the choral textures subsides, the organ descends into the depths and only the last strains remain in the electronics, fading from the speakers.


PIANOFONICS for piano and electronics (2002)

Duration: 12 min

First performance: 28th January 2003, Dresden Live broacast concert (DeutschlandRadio Berlin), stereo Vito Zuraj

Other performances: Ljubljana 14th April 2003 (quadro), 26th November 2003 (stereo); Dresden 14th May 2003 (stereo), 16th June 2003 (quadro); Lugano 28th July 2003 (stereo); Berlin 3rd September 2003 (stereo); Darmstadt 20th August 2004 (quadro)

 

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What transpires when a composer and pianist, embodied within a single person, delves into the realms of electronic music? All sound material generated while producing of the electroacoustic facet of Pianofonics is derived from timbres produced directly by the piano. It was an altogether delightful experience discovering the vast reservoir of different and often surprising sounds that could be coaxed from within the instrument. Mostly, this involved doing anything and everything with the piano except playing on its keyboard. To counterbalance this, the electronic element is matched by a pianist performing a highly virtuosic part of their own.
The work unfolds as a constant dialogue between the electronic timbres and the pianist. At the outset, a great cloud of electronic sound billows forth from the figures played by the pianist, kicking off an extensive and developing altercation between the live elements and their recorded counterparts. Presently, the pianist rolls up their sleeves and dives headlong into a cadenza, after which the work proceeds in sparkling timbres to its zenith, followed by turbulent passages from pianist and electronics alike. A slow build-up, drawing on all of the material presented up to that point, culminates in a gigantic final crash, the mighty reverberations of which then slowly die away into silence.