Winner of the 2019 Composition Award: Mirela Ivičević

Raw, imperfect, political, sensual

What motivated the jury to present the Erste Bank Composition Award to Mirela Ivičević at Wien Modern

Statement: Gerd Kühr

Where and how to begin, when it comes to putting down thoughts about the composer Mirela Ivičević and her work, thoughts that are supposed to provide a rationale for presenting the Erste Bank Composition Award 2019 to her? After all, Ivičević firmly declares that she doesn’t draw any boundaries, that she keeps an eye on everything, that she takes everything into consideration. In view of her uncompromisingly open aesthetics, one can rule out that her attitude is naïve or even arrogant. And if one takes a look at the prizewinner’s oeuvre to date, one immediately notices a remarkable range – both in terms of theme, sources of inspiration and instrumentation as well as stylistic means, aesthetic approaches and the use of various composition techniques.

In an interview, Ivičević herself used the word “dirty” to describe her music, and this brings to mind a historical parallel. It was Hans Werner Henze who applied Pablo Neruda’s concept of a “poesía impura” to music, thus introducing an aesthetic category for his own music and calling it “musica impura”. In the mid-1930s, Neruda felt challenged to differentiate his literary work and artistic self-image from the concept of “pure” poetry in search of the perfect, the divine – a “poesía pura”.

Just how clearly Ivičević distances herself from this “poesía pura” is demonstrated by other vocabulary that she likes to use again and again: “raw, imperfect, unpolished”. We are dealing with a composer who focuses on something that has been of little relevance in new music for several decades: the political in music. The manifestations today, as in the case of Mirela Ivičević, are – in accordance with a far more complex world – more diverse and multifaceted than in the 1950s and 1960s, if we think, for example, of compositions by Luigi Nono and Henze. Ivičević’s political demand mostly also comes across more light-footed than in the past, but no less urgent. Her music is seldom agitational, but nonetheless determined and unmistakable, often taking us listeners by surprise and sweeping us away.

In order to render all this in a musically convincing way – which is, of course, crucial for every compositional work – Mirela Ivičević draws on a broad and profound education: strict, traditional music theory and composition studies with Željko Brkanović in Zagreb, media composition and applied music with Klaus-Peter Sattler in Vienna, and, finally, postgraduate studies with Beat Furrer in Graz. From craftsmanship to the creation of concepts that are based on both everyday and music-philosophical considerations – all of this provides her with the appropriate range of compositional options to face the topic of pluralism and to do justice to it by means of different techniques. Her activities as a performer and curator complement and influence her compositional work.

Mirela Ivičević likes to take composing (“componere” = to arrange) literally, making collages and sampling material. She calls the result “sonic fiction”: fragments of reality create their own surreal world. Already known and recognizable sound material is on a par with the innovative. Her world of sound can be described as an extremely dynamic, entertaining up-and-down ride, which holds surprises in store and attests to a general alertness of the author, whose imagination seems to know no bounds. Her new work Sweet Dreams for instrumental ensemble is highly promising in this regard, as it primarily explores the rapid change between sleeping and waking states. Her lively, sensual sound language (she speaks of the “subversive potential of sound”), which crosses genres in every respect, is a plea for diversity, for the coexistence of different things, and thus takes a stand in the centre of society.