Composer, conductor, chansonnier and double bass player HK Gruber is one of the most well-known and well-loved figures in contemporary music, and yet he remains something of an enigma. Composing in his own highly individual style, he has been labelled ‘new-Romantic’, ‘neo-tonal’, ‘neo-expressionistic’ and ‘neo-Viennese’, but his music remains refreshingly non-doctrinaire—a deceptively simple and darkly ironic idiom which often includes a heavy dose of black humor. Berg, Stravinsky, cabaret and pop music are all influences, but whatever stylistic ingredients he uses in his works, he remains inimitably himself: one of the major talents of post-war music. As such, Gruber was recently awarded Austria’s most prestigious cultural prize, the 2002 Greater Austria State Prize (Groβer Österreichischer Staatspreis).
Born in Vienna in 1943, Mr. Gruber sang with the Vienna Boys Choir as a child and then studied at the Vienna Hochschule für Musik—double bass with Ludwig Streicher, theory with Hanns Jelinek, and composition with Erwin Ratz and Gottfried von Einem. In 1961 he began playing double bass with the Ensemble “die reihe” and from 1969 to 1998 he played in the Radio Symphony Orchestra-Vienna. 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. Since then he has appeared extensively in this role, most notably in his own work Frankenstein!!, and also in Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire and Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, as well as in the works of Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler.
Gruber’s most popular and beloved composition, the neo-gothic ‘pan-demonium’ Frankenstein!!, was premiered in 1978 by Simon Rattle and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with Gruber as chansonnier. Since then it has travelled across several continents in several languages and in different guises: in concert, in staged performances, on television, and on film. In 1997 the work was released on CD by EMI Classics with Gruber and Camerata Salzburg / Welser-Möst and more recently on Chandos with the BBC Philharmonic. Among Gruber’s other compositions are two violin concertos written for Ernst Kovacic, a cello concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma (premiered at Tanglewood in 1989), the percussion concerto Rough Music, the trumpet concerto Aerial written for Hakan Hardenberger and orchestral work Dancing in the Dark, which was commissioned and premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle in 2003. His dramatic works include Gloria von Jaxtberg (a pigtale), and the opera Der Herr Nordwind which was premiered at Zurich Opera in 2005, conducted by Gruber. His most recent premiere, an orchestral work Hidden Agenda, was premiered at the Lucerne Festival where Gruber was Composer-in-Residence in 2006.
Mr. Gruber is in demand internationally as a conductor, having conducted orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Ensemble Modern, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New World Symphony; he has appeared at festivals such as the BBC Proms, Lucerne, Gstaad and Musica Nova. Gruber has also appeared as chansonnier in his work Frankenstein!! with many orchestras, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Malaysian Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony.
During the 2007–08 season Gruber conducts at Carnegie Hall as part of their Berlin in Lights Festival, and elsewhere in the USA he conducts the Baltimore Symphony, is Composer-in-Residence at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and chansonnier in Frankenstein!! with the Indianapolis Symphony. In Europe this season Gruber conducts the Bayerische Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, MDR Leipzig Symphony, Ensemble Modern, Netherlands Radio Philharmonie, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Malmö Symphony, BBC Philharmonic and Northern Sinfonia. He also conducts the opening concert of the 2008 Edinburgh Festival in a concert performance of Kurt Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny and further ahead conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and returns to the Vienna Philharmonic.
Passionate about the music of Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, Gruber is a frequent interpreter of their works and has made several recordings of their music for BMG and Largo. More recently he has recorded a number of his own works—for Chandos with the BBC Philharmonic including Dancing in the Dark; for BIS with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, including Zeitfluren; and also for BIS Zeitstimmung with the Tonkünstler Orchestra. For Deutsche Grammophon's 20-21 series, Hakan Hardenberger recently recorded Aerial with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
© 2001–2007 Carnegie Hall Corporation