Kravis Prize, One of New Music’s Largest Awards, Goes to Unsuk Chin

Janos Gereben on October 22, 2018
Composer Unsuk Chin | Credit: Priska Ketterer

Familiar to Bay Area audiences as one of Kent Nagano’s favorite contemporary composers, Unsuk Chin has won the $200,000 Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music.

The New York Philharmonic award also includes a commission to write a work for the orchestra. The three previous prize winners are Louis Andriessen, Per Nørgård, and Henri Dutilleux.

One of the world’s largest new-music prizes, the Kravis Prize recognizes a composer for extraordinary artistic endeavor in the field of new music. The Korean composer, 57, who lives in Berlin, is a multiple award-winner, having been recognized with the 2004 Grawemeyer Award for her Violin Concerto, the 2005 Arnold Schoenberg Prize, the 2010 Prince Pierre Foundation Music Award, and the 2017 Wihuri Sibelius Prize.

She has served as composer-in-residence with the Lucerne Festival, the Festival d’Automne, Stockholm International Composer Festival, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Cologne Philharmonic’s Eight Bridges festival, the São Paulo Symphony, BBC Symphony’s Total Immersion Festival, Melbourne Symphony, and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

Rachele Gilmore as Alice in Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland | Credit: Barbican Centre

Her collaboration with Nagano started when the conductor headed the Deutsches Symphonie, 2000-2006, and he brought her and several of her works here during his 31-year tenure as music director of the Berkeley Symphony. Besides Chin, Nagano has championed many contemporary composers here and elsewhere besides Chin, including Olivier Messiaen, Elliott Carter, George Benjamin, and Thomas Adès. Among the Nagano-Chin collaborations was his premiering of her opera, Alice in Wonderland, in Munich.

Upon receiving the Kravis Prize, Chin spoke of her association with the New York Philharmonic where, she said, “I immediately felt at home, both musically and personally, feeling such a close connection and such an intriguing sense of adventure with these wonderful musicians. I hugely admire the New York Philharmonic’s commitment to new composers and I am thrilled to have a chance to collaborate with them on a new work of mine.”

Philharmonic Music Director Jaap van Zweden said, “Unsuk Chin’s musical language speaks with unique color and poetry, and we look forward to sharing the musical worlds she creates.”

The Philharmonic has performed three major works by Unsuk Chin: the U.S. premiere of Gougalon: Scenes from a Street Theater, conducted by Alan Gilbert, her Clarinet Concerto, with Kari Kriikku and conducted by Gilbert; and her Fantaisie mécanique by the Ensemble of the Lucerne Festival Alumni led by David Fulmer.

Chin has two world premieres coming in the United States: Gran Cadenza for violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Ye-Eun Choi on March 12 at Carnegie Hall, and a new orchestral work for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, commissioned as part of the orchestras centennial celebrations, to be premiered on April 5-7, led by conductor Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla.