Olga Neuwirth

Olga Neuwirth: Composer

This remarkable creator – of orchestral pieces and chamber works as well as hybrids of film and performance art – draws on a plethora of influences, yet devises her own astonishing sound.  – Catherine Saxon-Kerkhoff (Berlin 2015)

Olga Neuwirth burst onto the music scene at the age of fifteen. It was the mid 1980s and contemporary classical music was still in the grips of purism. A spirited and inquisitive young woman who by nature had no intention of limiting herself, but was open to nearly everything. She focused on her own potential while resisting peer and societal pressures. From early childhood on, she had been exposed to a wide range of art forms and media, schools and movements due to her family’s love of the arts – be it music, literature, painting, architecture, film; artists of all kinds frequented their home. Little, if anything, was taboo. Her music, as the composer herself recently wrote, evolved from “the multi-voiced sound” of her fragmented origins and her desire for an “uninterrupted flow”. She sees herself as “an Austrian composer who feels ‘in a negative sense free’ to compose whatever she wants.”

Neuwirth is internationally renowned for the versatility of her musical statement that pushes boundaries to explore the possibilities of renewal and chart the unknown. Her exciting and relevant output over the past 30 years has made her one of the most celebrated personalities in the contemporary art world. Her genre-crossing works, which cannot be associated with any one school, are free and uninhibited.

Neuwirth came to fame at the Wiener Festwochen in 1991 with two short operas based on texts by Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek. Ever since she has had an resounding impact on artists of many fields, and been a role model for women composers. Her focus on intermediality, identity, gender, metamorphosis and social issues has allowed her to break with inner and outer conventions. Noteworthy here is that Olga Neuwirth has also always seen the necessity for art and science to interact, and so has often incorporated the natural sciences in her work and referenced what Alexander Luria called “romantic” science: for example, botany (in Lonicera caprifolium/1992-93), physics and geophysical data (in Kloing!/2008), neurology and brain studies (in Composer as mad scientist/2007) and acoustics (in Le Encantadas/2015).