On March 18th, 2021, the Slovenian-Dutch composer Petra Strahovnik received the prestigious Berlin Art Prize for Music. In the words of the jury, “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”…
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 a very specific contact and connection points, such as along the violin strings between the fingerboard and bridge, a technique that 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.
Rainer Nonnenmann, Köln / Cologne
Rolf Riehm, Frankfurt am Main
Iris ter Schiphorst, Wien / Vienna
In 2019 Petra Strahovnik won the International Rostrum Price for Composers for her work Prana.