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A conversation with Aleksandra Vrebalov, winner of the 2024 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition

Composer Aleksandra Vrebalov
Aleksandra Vrebalov

A work, described by its composer, to “express emotion beyond verbal narratives” has won the 2024 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition from the University of Louisville. Aleksandra Vrebalov’s “Missa Supratext” (literally, “Mass above words”) for young women's chorus with handbells and Tibetan bowls, string quartet and optional singing saw, was written for the San Francisco Girls Chorus and the Kronos Quartet, the latter an ensemble who’ve championed Vrabalov’s work for over two decades.

Premiered in 2018, “Missa Supratext” features a chorus to convey sounds and syllables, rather than text from any actual language. The singers are instructed to make up words, and to speak them in a whisper tone. They are asked to imitate the sounds of the string quartet as they hear them, resulting in a mimicking call-and-response between the two ensembles. She blends the voices and strings to create a texture that is non-hierarchical, and unified in purpose and direction.

Vebralov’s catalog and artistic pursuits regularly touch on themes of human relationships, nature, and a deeper connection between life on earth. Her musical language is experimental, with polyrhythmic layers and delicate gestures, hints of folk music and chants from her native Serbia to the Middle East.

The University of Louisville awards the Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition “in recognition of outstanding achievement by a living composer in a large musical genre.” Vebralov, who resides in New York City, will receive a $100,000 award at the recognition ceremony held in the spring.

Daniel Gilliam is Program Director for LPM Classical. Email Daniel at dgilliam@lpm.org.