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Born: 1943, Vienna, Austria
“Gruber’s own Viennese experience, whatever else it may have done, has developed in him an anarchic, typically black humour, one of whose musical manifestations is a vast textural exuberance. His orchestral scores are prodigiously multi-layered in a way that seems to reflect the atonal complexity of post-war Austro-German music while, as it were, tonally “correcting” it. For Gruber, cabaret, jazz, pop and even rock are as vital to serious composition as the nevertheless unspurned devices of the serial composers. His synthesis is patently effective — his large, complex statements never at the expense of realistic aural clarity — boisterously enjoyable and polemical, even political. This is the music of the Third Viennese School, the disaffectedly democratic one.” - Paul Driver, Times, 2012
"Both system and freedom are important to me and, though they seem to be opposites, they act together to provide my musical philosophy" - HK Gruber
Composer, conductor and chansonnier HK Gruber was born in Vienna in 1943 and sang with the Vienna Boys’ Choir as a child, going on to study at the Vienna Hochschule für Musik. In 1961 he began playing double bass with ensemble die reihe and from 1969 to 1998 he played in the Radio Symphonieorchester Wien. Gruber first began performing as a singer/actor with the ‘MOB art and tone ART’ ensemble, a group he co-founded in 1968 with fellow Viennese composers Kurt Schwertsik and Otto Zykan. Composing in his own highly individual style, he is one of the most well-loved figures in contemporary music and his music is performed by the world’s leading artists and orchestras. Gruber was awarded Austria’s most prestigious cultural prize, the 2002 Greater Austria State Prize (Groβer Österreichischer Staatspreis) and in 2009 was announced as an Honorary Member of the Wiener Konzerthaus, following a great tradition of musicians to also receive this accolade, including Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, Leonard Bernstein and Claudio Abbado.
Gruber’s compositions have been written for and performed by orchestras at the highest level, including the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Lucerne Festival, Carnegie Hall, BBC Proms and Zurich Opera. Gruber is particularly noted for his concertos, including Aerial for trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, which has received over 60 performances since its premiere in 1999, two for violinist Ernst Kovacic, the Cello Concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma and premiered at Tanglewood in 1989, the percussion concerto Rough Music, and Busking for trumpet, accordion, banjo and string orchestra, premiered by Hardenberger in 2008. Orchestral scores include Dancing in the Dark, premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Simon Rattle in 2003. Gruber's recent works include the orchestral suite Northwind Pictures premiered in 2011, a new work for percussion and orchestra entitled into the open... to be premiered in 2015 by percussionist Colin Currie, and an opera based on Horváth's Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Woods) premiered at the Bregenz Festival in 2014, conducted by Gruber.
Gruber has appeared extensively in the role of Chansonnier, most notably inFrankenstein!!, Gruber’s most popular work which received its premiere performance by Gruber with Sir Simon Rattle and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 1978. He has also performed and recorded as Chansonnier in the works of Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler as well as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King.
An active conductor with many major international orchestras, recent highlights of Gruber’s conducting career include engagements with the Vienna Philharmonic, Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Seattle Symphony. He has appeared at festivals such as the BBC Proms, Gstaad, Lucerne (as Composer-in-Residence in 2006), as Artist in Residence at the Wiener Konzerthaus in 2008/9 and at Grafenegg Festival (as Composer-in-Residence in 2011).
Gruber is currently Composer/Conductor with the BBC Philharmonic, conducting concerts and recordings with the orchestra as well as touring projects including their prestigious Vienna residency in 2013 which culminated in Stravinsky’sOedipus Rex at the Wiener Konzerthaus. In the 2014/15 season he conducts the BBC Philharmonic in a concert celebrating the 80th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies as well as a programme including Gruber’s Cello Concerto alongside Weill and Schwertsik. Elsewhere in 2014/15 Gruber conducts the world premiere of his new opera Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Woods) at the Bregenz Festival in July 2014 and the Theater an der Wien in 2015 with the Vienna Symphony. Other highlights include conducting the Dresden Philharmonic, Strasbourg Philharmonic, a European tour with Swedish Chamber Orchestra including Angelika Kirchschlager performing Weill’s Seven Deadly Sinsand concerts featuring Kurt Weill with Ensemble Modern, with whom he has had a long-standing close association.
Gruber’s latest CD release sees him conduct music by fellow Austrian composer Kurt Schwersik with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos, and other highlights as conductor include a BIS release of music by Brett Dean with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. He has also recorded a number of his own works for Chandos and BIS.