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Musical World

Olga Neuwirth

  • Composer


Olga Neuwirth's sophisticated sound universe combines acoustic with electronic (tape and live transformations) and electro-acoustic instruments (electric guitars in Photophorus). Her compositions resemble winding labyrinths that never quite reveal themselves upon a first hearing. Those who will be looking out for landmarks will be looking in vain: fixed points of support, such as pitch, instrumental timbre and formal processes are all absorbed or erased by the music. Even that what is familiar and well known feels strange due to the systematic deconstruction of the everyday acoustic experience. However, the harder it is to recognize individual sounds, the easier it is for the listener to create his/her own associations.

Because of their rich frame of reference, their uncompromising nature and their aggressive acquisition of material, her compositions demand re-assessment of everyday values, even when something is not called into question. In this sense, her work could also be interpreted as a permanent revolt against the absurdity of (contemporary) life. During a protest demonstration last February, she remarked that 'to me, the purpose of music cannot possibly be to lull people to sleep with the promise of creating a unity overcoming all contradiction and to make them docile…  I cannot make reality any better than it is. I would like my audience to consist of people who are fully aware, who consider art to be a reflection of an enquiring mind wishing to understand that what is familiar, and to conquer that what rules and to venture into the unknown.'

Olga Neuwirth has studied at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, at the Elektroakustisches Institut in Vienna and the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco. Inspiring encounters with Adriana Hölzsky, Tristan Murail and Luigi Nono definitively steered her towards composition. In 1994, she was a member of a composers' forum whilst on a Holiday Course in Darmstadt, and in 1996 she was a guest in Berlin with a grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst. In 1998, the Salzburg Festival dedicated two concerts to her, set in the 'Next Generation' series. In September 2000, she succeeded Magnus Lindberg as In-House Composer at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders.