Winner of the 2018 Composition Award: Agata Zubel

Agata Zubel, born in 1878 in Wrocław, Poland, is the recipient of this year’s Erste Bank Composition Award. 

Trying to reduce the work of the Polish composer to a common denominator, would, ipso facto, miss the objective of such an effort. It may be easier to approach her iridescent musical work (more about that later) by tentatively suggesting, rather than stating, some assumptions: Carefree but not indifferent. With a clear line but absolutely undogmatic. By no means characterless, but without a tangible personal style.

The latter, the lack of a personal style, of an unmistakeable musical expression and (private) vocabulary, of a sonorous own brand, is generally regarded as an odium, a sign of failing to meet the (highly questionable) ubiquitous demand for originality – in short: as a mistake and certainly not as a quality certificate. In the case of Agata Zubel, the situation is different. She approaches every new composition like a blank slate and makes every effort to start from scratch again during the composing process: asking, searching, exploring, wondering, excited and full of an almost naïve curiosity for what is yet to come. That approach is a conscious decision against solidification and for life in all its unpredictability.

Agata Zubel is a musician who started out as a percussionist, a soprano, whose repertoire covers several centuries, and a composer with a strong penchant for literature and an explicit lust for celebrating life that becomes audible and tangible in many of her works.

Text: Sven Hartberger