When he wasn’t writing music, he was reading ancient spiritual texts. And when he was almost finished, he spread more than 80 pages of music on the floor and walked from page to page with a metronome, making sure the timing was perfect.

The result was “On the Guarding of the Heart,” a three-movement, 20-minute chamber orchestra piece that had been commissioned for an ensemble in Vienna. With it, Zivkovic won the 2014 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

The Serbian-born Zivkovic told students, faculty and others during a talk April 10 at the UofL School of Music that one of his biggest challenges in writing the piece was knowing there were no limits on what the Vienna ensemble could perform, and he rewrote the music several times at the beginning of the process. There was no compromise.

“What is ‘On the Guarding of the Heart?’” he asked the audience. “Actually, it is the way … we can guard ourselves from the world we live in.” He listed many traps of modern life such as the being barraged daily by bad news on television, being asked to do too many things, and worrying about whether your Facebook friends like your post.

“We are always somewhere else,” he said. “We always live in a hurry. We don’t stop and really don’t think. And I think this guarding of the heart is just trying to remove all this stuff and to put … the world in ordered peace.”

Born in Belgrade in 1975, Zivkovic has lived in Stockholm, Sweden, since 2000. He is active as a violinist and violist—with a special interest in improvisation—and teaches at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.

Austrian ensemble Klangforum Wien gave the first performance of On the Guarding of the Heart in November 2011 in Belgrade. The piece also has been performed in Vienna and Bergen.

Watch a video of Zivkovic discussing his work here.

UofL presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.

Janet Cappiello covers student success for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She has more than 30 years’ experience in journalism, including working for The Associated Press and magazines such as Vegetarian Times and Sustainability: The Journal of Record. She has been at UofL since 2014.