Just in: Gender bender wins biggest composing prize

Just in: Gender bender wins biggest composing prize


norman lebrecht

December 06, 2021

The Austrian Olga Neuwirth has won the 2022 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award, worth $100,000.

She was cited for her opera ‘Orlando, based on the Virginia Woolf novel about a poet of flckering sexual identity.

‘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,’ said Neuwirth. ‘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.’

She’s a fashionable choice.


photo (c) Priska Ketterer


  • M Linklater says:

    She is a fine composer who has been writing operas for years. There is nothing ‘fashionable’ about this choice.

  • Mark says:

    I first heard her music over 20 years ago, conducted by Pierre Boulez with the LSO. “Fashionable”? No. Distinguished, accomplished, and proven.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The only thing proven is that N’s work stems from the same spirit as ‘works’ of conceptual art, like ‘Piss Christ’ by Serrano, also a big prize winner…..


      …. and Manzoni’s ‘Merda d’Artista’:


      This trend stems from the famous urinal that Duchamp exhibited as ‘Fountain’:


      The ‘Fountain’ stems from 1917, in a period of war and general eclipse of civilisation and loss of faith in humanity. Later-on, it was developed as a perfectly legitimate modern movement, first meant as a middle finger towards art, the art world, Western civilisation, and later as a totally acceptable expression of cynicism, filling museums of modern art.

      Music followed after WW II, trying to combine the mask of high art with cynical mockery. Why do so many people take such phenomena seriously? Because conceptual art and conceptual music have been labelled legitimate expressions of modern times. That the whole movement has nothing to do with art or music, is a minor disadvantage – it is simply something else: theatrical gestures with ideas, but without artistic talent.

  • Phillip says:

    “…with no end in sight.”
    Here’s to a little optimism for music and life yet to come.

  • Iw AnTs OmEo FiT says:

    ‘I want some of it
    I want some of it
    I want some of it
    I want some of it
    I want some of it
    If it’s all the same to you’

  • John Borstlap says:

    She is bending more than gender:


    • JB says:

      I am no modernist but this music is interesting and engaging.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It’s the best woke punk around, for sure. It’s sticking-up the middle finger, to music, to music life, to males, to the world – with the appropriate ugly hysteria. It’s neurotic sound art.

  • Joseph says:

    A few years ago I was a part of a performance of her contribution to the “Brandenburg Project,” new works inspired by each of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. I was initially dubious, but found myself becoming quite convinced with her work. Very clever (and that is not a bad thing in itself) writing, and a very inventive and fine piece. I need to get to know her music better.

  • N/A says:

    ‘Fashionable choice’? Are you kidding [redacted]

  • IP says:

    And it is in 19 scenes. . . But there is a ray of hope: at least the libretto is not by Elfriede Jellinek.

  • MJA says:

    “Gender bender”? Language matters, Mr Lebrecht, and you ought to know better. Or are some animals more equal than others when it comes to this kind of thing?

  • Sophie says:

    Wouldn’t it be more professional and, frankly, classier to maybe discuss the quality of her music rather than stooping to childish, bigoted name-calling and snide implications that her gender/sexuality are the only reason she’s succeeded?
    Presumably you would prefer artists to be judged solely on merit; why don’t you set an example by doing just that?

    • John Borstlap says:

      The merits of this woke punk are there for everybody to hear. It is the best woke punk available for people who love this kind of thing. For musicians however, it is fraudulent rubbish.

  • Hannes says:

    Darmstadt nonsense died 70 years ago, but since there is no easier way for composers without talent and musicality to suck on the academia teat of prizes, grants, festivals and salaries, the Ivory tower continues bringing it back over and over. Of course, adding currently popular PC/woke ideology helps a great deal. It does not matter audiences and musicians are sick of it.