Composer Petra Strahovnik wins prestigious Berlin Art Prize

19 March 2021

Slovenian composer and alumna Petra Strahovnik has been awarded the prestigious Berlin Art Prize 2021 in the category ('section') Music.

The Berliner Kunstpreis (Berlin Art Prize), officially Großer Berliner Kunstpreis, is a prize for the arts by the City of Berlin. It was first awarded in 1948 in several fields of art. Since 1971, it has been awarded by the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste) on behalf of the Senate of Berlin. Annually one of its six sections, fine arts, architecture, music, literature, performing arts and film and media arts, is awarded the grand prize, endowed with €15,000, whereas the other five sections receive €5,000.

The professional jury, consisting of Akademie members Ulrich Peltzer and Monika Rinck, and literature critic Wiebke Porombka, commented as such: "As a researcher of sound, Petra Strahovnik looks for sounds, structures and forms that defy conventional notions of music and transcend the traditional dichotomy of thought and emotion, body and mind in order to ‘make the mind tremble’, as she puts it herself. At the centre of her work and research are the expressive power of music and the conviction that it alone can move, affect and unsettle a person in their entirety. Her instrumental compositions resemble immersive soundscapes that do not exhibit the specific characteristics of individual instruments but instead generate a total sound with an often suction-like effect. In large part, this total soundscape conceals how it is created using traditional orchestral instruments, until suddenly, out of the dense and at times drone-like textures, individual voices emerge, reminiscent in a phantom-like way of familiar timbres and styles of playing. New, fascinating possibilities for preparing wind and, in particular, stringed instruments (strings, piano, harp) are key to Petra Strahovnik’s work. Special magnets are attached to very specific contact and connection points, such as along the violin strings between the fingerboard and bridge, a technique which gives the violins different playing, vibration and radiation qualities. The results are microtonal structures rich in overtones that appear to be electronically enhanced, even though all the sounds are generated purely instrumentally. The fact that the composer is not interested in superficial effects that can be arbitrarily substituted is evident in the experiments she has been systematically carrying out in her various pieces for years, as well as in her exact notation of bowing, speed, pressure and contact point on the strings and her precise notion of the acoustic results. Despite her young age, Petra Strahovnik can already look back on a surprisingly extensive, varied and original oeuvre, with nearly eighty works played by a diverse array of ensembles. Her work is deserving of the Kunstpreis Berlin in the Music Section and of being made known to a broader audience."

This year's award ceremony took place online on Thursday, March 18 and was hosted by Ulrich Peltzer (Director of the Literature Section), the President of the Akademie der Künste Jeanine Meerapfel and Berlins Governing Mayor Michael Müller. The recording can be reviewed here.

Petra received her Master's degree in Composition from the Royal Conservatoire in 2014, where she studied with Martijn Padding and Peter Adriaansz . She resides in The Hague, the Netherlands. Besides being a successful composer, she is often invited as a guest teacher and speaker at universities and conservatoires around Europe.

More information on the website of the Akademie der Künste.