Opera exploring gender identity wins Grawemeyer music award
Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth has won the 2022 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for “Orlando,” an opera based on a Virginia Woolf novel about a gender-switching poet whose adventures span more than three centuries.
The opera, an unconventional piece embracing a vast range of musical styles from Tudor-era ballads to modern electronic sound layering, was commissioned by Vienna State Opera and premiered on its stage in 2019.
Neuwirth drew inspiration for the three-hour work from “Orlando: A Biography,” Woolf’s 1928 fictional account of a young male poet in 16th century England who mysteriously becomes female at age 30 and lives until the early 20th century. The book, which shows how gender can be fluid in different circumstances, is considered a feminist classic and has been extensively studied by scholars focusing on women’s, gender and transgender issues.
“I wanted to reflect the wonderful diversity of life and evoke a subtle form of sexual attraction that cannot be pigeonholed into a single gender,” Neuwirth said. “What’s more, the main character refuses to be patronized and treated in a condescending manner, something that continually happens to women with no end in sight.”
Neuwirth studied composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and painting and film at San Francisco Art Institute. She lives and teaches in Vienna.
Earlier this year, she won the 2021 Wolf Prize in Music, a prestigious international award presented in Israel that also went to Stevie Wonder.
“’Orlando’ is an enormous, supremely ambitious work,” said Marc Satterwhite, who directs the Grawemeyer music award. “The libretto and multifaceted score challenge our preconceptions of gender and sexual roles and test our ideas of what opera is and is not. It also seems appropriate that the first female-composed opera to be performed at the Vienna State Opera, a venue long regarded as a bastion of tradition, should take aim at these issues.”
Ricordi Berlin, the German branch of Italian music publisher Casa Ricordi, published the winning work.
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Ben Sollee '06
Cellist, singer songwriter, and composer, Sollee has released six albums. He has composed ballets and music for films and for stage. Sollee has performed at Carnegie Hall, toured in Europe, and has performed in the United States with the Charlotte Ballet and the North Carolina Dance Theater. His music incorporates banjo, guitar, and mandolin along with percussion and unusual cello techniques. Sollee’s songs exhibit a mix of folk, bluegrass, jazz, and R&B elements.
Sollee’s music can be heard in film and on television. Shows like ABC’s "Parenthood" and HBO’s "Weeds" have used his songs. In 2013, he was invited by director Mark Steven Johnson to write a song for the film "Killing Season," starring John Travolta and Robert De Niro.
In 2009, Sollee packed his touring life on to his bicycle. He rode over 5,000 miles by bike, towing his cello that he named Kay behind him as part of his Ditch the Van tour. Sollee complemented his musical releases with virtual reality app The Vanishing Point, film scores like Maidentrip, a technology-infused production of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and an interactive sculptural installation called “Livestream.”
Sollee is devoted to raising awareness of Mountain Top Removal Strip Mining in Central Appalachia. His 2010 collaborative album, "Dear Companion," brought together Kentucky artist Daniel Martin Moore and producer Jim James of My Morning Jacket to shed light on the issue. Sollee has also teamed up with international organizations such as Patagonia Clothing and Oxfam America to help raise awareness.
Ben and his wife Caitlin, and their son, reside in the Louisville area.
Emeritus Professor T.Y. (Tsung-Yao) Huang and Mrs. Mary Huang Music Awards Fund
Thanks to the generous gift from Emeritus Professor T.Y. (Tsung-Yao) Huang and Mrs. Mary Huang the UofL School of Music is able to hold 3 student competitions each year. The winners of the Aria, Concerto, and Composition competitions are presented with a monetary prize and a performance opportunity.
Dr. T.Y. Huang is emeritus professor in the Department of Radiology, who retired from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 2011. During his 32-year tenure at the University of Louisville Hospital, he served as a section chief of Neuroradiology and Vascular/Interventional radiology. Additionally, Dr. Huang was recognized with the Outstanding Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Man of the Hour Award. Dr. Huang and his wife, Mary Huang, who was a nurse and mid-wife, are avid supporters of the arts.
This year’s winners are: Timothy Smith for Composition, and Lize Dreyer and Roman Wood for Concerto.
Emeritus Professor T.Y. (Tsung-Yao) Huang and Mrs. Mary Huang Aria Competition
No award was given out in 2021 due to Covid-19.
Emeritus Professor T.Y. (Tsung-Yao) Huang and Mrs. Mary Huang Concerto Competition
2021 award winners:
Lize Dreyer graduated in May of 2021 with a BM in Cello Performance and minor in economics. Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Lize has lived in Louisville with my families for seven years.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and limited performance opportunities of the past year have meant that any chance I get to play for people is an invaluable experience, and I can’t wait to come back next year and perform with the U of L Symphony Orchestra! The piece radiates a barely controlled frenetic energy that I think many of us can understand at a deeper level after the year we’ve had! More than anything, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had while studying at U of L, especially the chance to study and grow with Mr. York.”
Roman Wood graduated in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in cello performance. He is from Mount Sterling, Kentucky. Additionally, he will be returning to U of L for graduate work.
“I do not come from a music family. Truly, my parents do not know the first thing about classical music. However, that has never stopped them from pushing me to become the best person and musician that I can be. Even when I have had extreme doubts about my abilities, they have given me the courage, strength, and will to preserve. I am extremely grateful to have received this award and recognition, but truly, it also belongs to my family.”
Emeritus Professor T.Y. (Tsung-Yao) Huang and Mrs. Mary Huang Composition Competition
Timothy Amalavage-Smith just finished his MM-Composition from UofL, writing an orchestral piece as his thesis under the direction of Professor Marc Satterwhite. He got his bachelor's degree of music in composition from the University of Alabama.
“I have often thought about music visually and so this piece draws on that connection. Specifically, I have always been a fan of impressionistic art and, inspired by Lei Liang's Grawemeyer lecture, decided to study the technique and ideas behind visual impressionism in order to create rules for the piece to follow.”