Aleksandra Vrebalov, the 2024 Grawemeyer Award winner in Music Composition, spoke at the School of Music on April 11.
Aleksandra Vrebalov, the 2024 Grawemeyer Award winner in Music Composition, spoke at the School of Music on April 11, 2024. UofL photo.

For Aleksandra Vrebalov, visiting Louisville to give a public talk on “Missa Supratext,” her nontraditional choral work, was more than your typical lecture.

It was an opportunity for her to put her work in context for herself in a way she had never done before, Vrebalov, 53, told the audience at the University of Louisville on April 11.

Vrebalov, a Serbian-American composer who now resides in New York City, was awarded the 2024 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition for “‘Missa Supratext.”

The Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, which was the first of the five Grawemeyer award categories, typically receives 150 to 200 entries each year from around the world.

The work’s Latin title translates to “Mass Above Words” in English. The nontraditional work, which is performed by string quartets and girls’ chorus, features just two words in English.

“Words are not essential,” she said. “And I will say again – words are not essential for us to understand, and have insight into the abstract concepts of creativity, truth, beauty and love. These concepts represent the mental aspects of human existence and transcend language.”

Kronos Quartet, a group long known for nurturing musical innovation, and San Francisco Girls’ Chorus, a Bay Area group for young women from diverse backgrounds, premiered the work in 2018 in San Francisco.

Following her presentation, the audience had the opportunity to fully take in “Missa Supratext” by listening to the 22-minute work, which includes handbells, Tibetan bowls and musical saw.

Vrebalov said through her music, she hopes to bring people together.

“It’s about my own yearning for a world that’s filled with love and a world in which we can experience connection and belonging,” she said.

 That’s why “Missa Supratext” deliberately has no recognizable language, she said.

“We have reached a point of realizing individual freedoms as never before in history, and at the same time, our communities are fragmenting into increasingly separate worlds that often exclude each other,” Vrebalov said.

Her idea – to create a work that forces people to confront human existence – inspired her to “bypass traditional language elements and focus on a nonverbal dramatic narrative.”

“Words move us, but music can move us in ways that are not always easy to explain because it doesn’t require language,” Vrebalov said.

The $100,000 Grawemeyer prizes also honor seminal ideas in religioneducationpsychology and ideas improving world order. Winners visit Louisville to accept their awards and give free talks on their winning ideas.

View photos from Vrebalov’s lecture on UofL’s Flickr albums