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In Memoriam: Vuk Kulenovic

Dear members of the Berklee community,

Vuk KulenovicWith much sadness, I write to inform you that the college has lost another member of its community. Vuk Kulenovic, professor in the Composition Department, passed away on Monday, April 10.

Since 2006, Vuk has been a constant presence at Berklee. During his 11 years, he taught several counterpoint and orchestration courses, as well as directed study. Born in Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia in 1946, he studied piano and composition at Ljubljana Music Academy in Slovenia and later at Belgrade Music Academy, where he received his Master of Arts in music composition. He also studied with Milko Kelemen in Stuttgart, Germany. During his studies, the popular approach to composition was in 12-tone technique introduced to the world by Arnold Schoenberg. This had little impact on Vuk, since he was writing in a minimalist style before it was given that moniker and popularized by composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Vuk’s influences were wide-ranging, including jazz, Indian ragas, Balkan folk music, rock, and many other contemporary styles. In the spring 1997 issue of Berklee Today, Vuk stated, “My music was always closer to popular genres in a way. For instance, there are rock elements in my string orchestra piece, Mechanical Orpheus. One of my piano concertos, “Boogie,” dealt with influences not normally found in so-called, “classical music.” His Electric Symphony, essentially a combination of many different musical styles, was inspired by Berklee students. The idea for the piece “came to me one morning as I heard a group of students playing electric guitars at Berklee. I immediately realized that I had to write for that instrument. As I walked through the hallways of the school, I was constantly engaged by the sound of electric guitars or South American percussion instruments, synthesizers, and so on. Groups playing blues or bebop, in fact, all possible styles of music. Berklee is full of those sounds.”

Vuk was professor of composition and analysis at Belgrade Music Academy from 1979-1994 and a visiting professor at the Institute of Music in Calcutta, India in 1992. In June 1992, he organized a protest of musicians and artists against the policies of Slobodan Milošević in Belgrade—the first of its kind. His actions were consequently noticed by the media and put him in an unfavorable position with the government against which he was protesting. After his property was destroyed and an extremist newspaper called for his execution, Vuk, his wife, and two sons fled the country to the United States, specifically to Boston, where from 1993-1995, he was a Fulbright scholar at the New England Conservatory. During the following period, he lectured at several colleges, including Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Harvard University, Miami University, and Wesleyan University. He decided to make Boston his home and began teaching at Berklee.

Hailed by Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe in 2005 as “one of the most important and interesting composers working in the area—or anywhere—today,” Vuk’s works have been performed to critical acclaim in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. His catalog includes seven symphonies, 16 instrumental concerti, an oratorio, a ballet, six film scores, more than 30 works for chamber orchestra, and numerous works for other chamber groups and solos.

Vuk’s music has been commissioned and widely performed by some of the most prominent orchestras in Europe, including the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, and the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the philharmonic orchestras of Belgrade, Zagreb, and Sarajevo. He was chosen to write the opening cantata for the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, which took place in his hometown of Sarajevo. In addition to his Fulbright, Vuk received several European awards, including first prize at the International Annual Review of Contemporary Music, the Bemus Festival Award, the prize of Balkan Radio Stations, the prize of European Radio Stations, and the Preshern Award.

Greg Glancey, assistant chair in the Composition Department, mentions that “Vuk had a unique and unconventional teaching style that could transform timid young composers into bold and mature artists. Many accomplished alumni often credit Vuk as one of their most significant influences during their time at Berklee. He will be sorely missed and never forgotten.”

Jim Smith, former assistant chair of the Composition Department, shares that, “This is a crushing blow to us all, yet Vuk’s legacy as a friend and as a supreme artist lives on.”

Richard Carrick, chair of the Composition Department, writes that “Vuk’s deeply unique and individualistic approach to music and life is palpable by everyone who met him or has heard his music. He made strong, lasting connections with people and will be remembered by many, especially the alumni who studied with him and his current Berklee family of faculty, colleagues, and students.

Kari Juusela, dean of the Professional Writing and Music Technology Division, offers these thoughts: “Vuk Kulenovic was one of the finest composers of his generation. As a composer, teacher, and citizen of the world, Vuk displayed a ferocious intellect and commitment to the highest artistic ideals and actions. His brilliance and unbridled passion was evident to all who knew him. We were lucky to have known him and we will all miss him tremendously.”

I invite you to share your stories and memories of Vuk Kulenovic in the comments section below.

Sincerely,

Jay Kennedy
Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost
Berklee

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2 Comments

  1. H.A. Hendricks

    I’m deeply sorry to have only just learned of the passing of my former teacher and mentor. Words cannot convey all that I learned about music and life from having known and worked with him, from having heard his music.

  2. Andys

    I read the news a bit late…I am so sorry to hear Vuk is gone…Vuk was one of these souls, so powerful, with eyes that would inspire and make you want to compose without any restrictions or limitations. Farewell dearest…I hope somehow I could return you the beautiful gift you have given us

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