Mahler-inflected Serbo-Swede wins world’s biggest composition prize

Mahler-inflected Serbo-Swede wins world’s biggest composition prize


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2013

The 2013 Grawemeyer Prize has gone to Djuro Zivkovic for a chamber orchestra work, On the Guarding of the Heart.

Belgrade born in 1975, Zivkovic went to study violin at the Royal Academy in Stockholm when he was 25 and has lived there ever since. His award-winning work was premiered this year at the Wiener Konzerthaus.You can hear it below. The opening riff is oddly reminiscent of Mahler’s second symphony.


The Grawemeyer, founded in 1989, is worth $100,000. Recent winners include Michel van der Aa, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Louis Andriessen.



    A fine sonic work, using scoring techniques as developed since the fifties (including the boulezbian variety), where all interest and effort goes into the surface of the sound. (Why Norman refers to Mahler’s Second is a great mystery.) With every work of art, we should ask ourselves: ‘what does it say?’ The movie which goes with the recording, is quite appropriate: this work is about how it feels in your space capsule, floating between the planets, very, very far away from any human presence. It is the universe as seen without any meaning, without any order: the emptiness and timelessness of space. But interestingly, there are snippets of music sprinkled over the score, like reminiscences of human civilization, now very far in the distance – but remembered, like things are sometimes remembered in dreams: fragmented, chaotic, meaningless, like a veil of nonsense covering ‘the real thing’ that is out of reach. We are very far from planet earth. But gradually the piece focusses upon a fifth and octave, the most tonal combination in music – like a child, clinging to the leg of a table the surface of which it cannot reach. In this sense, the piece appropriately and metaphorically ‘describes’ the situation of people, musically gifted but developing within the sphere of conventional modernism, which has created a mental space of its own separate from classical music. Something like a musical impulse seems to try to escape from this inhibition, which is confirmed in the composer’s biography as presented on his website:

    “His interest in the harmonic organization (after the year 2002) has resulted in a new approach to his composition process. Živković finds importance in the so-called harmonic field, the way that chords exist in coherence or in symbiosis with themselves, thus creating the harmonic path.”

    Translated from the modernist jargon, this means that the composer begins to realize that there exists something like harmonic organization, where combinations of notes form a bedding through which a musical narrative can flow. The tragic alienation of young sonic artists from music, the common art form existing since late medieval times, and as it is still much alive in the central performance culture, could not be better formulated.

  • Ivan Moody says:

    Djuro is a really talented composer. I am glad that the Grawemeyer had the imagination to award the prize to him. Mahler? What?

  • Martin says:

    Recent tweet of mine (21 Nov 13), I forgot about until I saw this article:

    Zivkovic’s Cello Concerto. Heared and will soon forget. Promising start, but after cello soloist destroyed the mood I lost interest quickly.

  • puyuga says:

    I have heard on his homepage the cello concerto too. I love the cello entrance, and this concerto is a true masterpiece.

    His winning piece On the Guarding… is fascinating, colorful, masterful written, in an endlessly mystifying mood.

  • pzplaf says: