Born in 1968 in Graz, she studied composition in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (with Elinor Armer in her class of composition and theory, 1985–86), later at Vienna’s High School of Music and Performing Arts (in Erich Urbanner’s class of composition and the Institute for Composition and Electroacoustics, 1987–93) and at IRCAM in Paris with Tristan Murail. She was strongly influenced by her private consultations with Adriana Hölszky and Luigi Nono. During her stay in San Francisco, she also studied painting and film at the Art College.
She first burst onto the international scene in 1991, at the age of 22, when two of her minioperas with texts by Elfriede Jelinek were performed at the Wiener Festwochen. In 1998 at the Salzburg Festival two concerts of the Next Generation series featured her work. In the following year she won three prestigious awards: the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for promising composers, the international Hindemith Prize of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, and the Ernst Křenek Prize for her music drama Bählamms Fest, staged as part of the Vienna Festival. A year later, Pierre Boulez commissioned Clinamen/Nodus for his 75th birthday tour with the London Symphony Orchestra. In 2000–1 she was a composer-in-residence at the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, and in the following year at the Lucerne Festival (together with Pierre Boulez). Since 2006 she has been a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. In 2008 she was awarded the Heidelberg Artist Prize. In 2010, as the first woman ever in the category of music, she received the Grand Austrian State Prize as well as the Louis Spohr Prize of the City of Braunschweig.
Olga Neuwirth frequently collaborates with the most eminent living Austrian prose writer, Elfriede Jelinek. Their cooperation has given life to two radio plays and three operas. Her opera Lost Highway, based on the film by David Lynch, was premiered in 2003 and won a South Bank Show Award for the production presented by English National Opera at the Young Vic in 2008.
In 2012 Olga Neuwirth completed two new operas while living in New York: The Outcast after Hermann Melville and American Lulu, a version of Alban Berg’s Lulu which was premiered in Berlin and subsequently given a new production in Bregenz, Edinburgh and London in 2013, and then in Vienna in 2014. Olga Neuwirth was the 2016 Lucerne Festival’s composer-in-residence with multiple performances and the premiere of her percussion concerto Trurliade-Zone Zero. Her new opera Orlando after Virginia Woolf was premiered at the Vienna State Opera in December 2019, thus Olga Neuwirth being the first woman commissioned in the 150-year history of the house; the work was named World Premiere of the Year by the magazine Opernwelt. A new work for orchestra, countertenor and children’s chorus, Keyframes for a Hippogriff – in memoriam Hester Diamond, was commissioned for world premiere by the New York Philharmonic in May 2020, sadly that performance was postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Her music has been released under the Kairos and col legno labels. She lives and works in Vienna.
Selected works (since 2000): Incidendo/Fluido for piano (2000), ana ptysix for orchestra (2000), Der Tod und das Mädchen II, ballet music for tape to words by Elfriede Jelinek (2000), The Long Rain for four soloists, four chamber ensembles and live electronics, music for Michael Kreihsl’s eponymous movie (2000), Construction in Space for four soloists, four chamber ensembles and live electronics (2000), ecstaloop for soprano, speaker, sampler and chamber ensemble (2001), locus...doublure...solus for piano and orchestra (2001), Lost Highway, opera to a libretto by Elfriede Jelinek and the composer based on a screenplay by David Lynch and Barry Gifford (2002–3, rev. 2006), ...ce qui arrive... for two chamber ensembles, samples and live electronics to words by Paul Auster (2003–4), Zefiro aleggia... nell’in nito... for bassoon and orchestra (2004), Tintarella di luna, songs for baritone and piano to words by Michelangelo Buonarotti, Giacomo Leopardi and Sappho (2005), spazio elastico for instrumental ensemble (2005), ...miramondo multiplo... for trumpet and orchestra (2006), Diagonal Symphony for ensemble and CD, music for a film by Viking Eggeling (2007), horizontal/vertikal for trumpet, trombone, electric guitar, piano, two cellos and percussion (2007), Kloing! for live pianist, Bösendorfer CEUS computer-controlled grand piano and live video (2007), “...ich möchte den Himmel mit Händen fassen...”, radio drama (2007), Lost Highway Suite for six soloists, live electronics and ensemble (2008), un posto nell’acqua for ensemble (2009), String Quartet no. 3 “in the realms of the unreal” (2009), Addio... sognando for trumpet and 4-channel sound projection (2009), Remnants of Songs... An Amphigory for viola and orchestra (2009), L’Ève future remémorée, radio drama (2009), American Lulu, reinterpretation of Alban Berg’s opera (2006–11), The Outcast – Homage to Herman Melville, music installation – music theatre (2009–11), Kloing! and a Songplay in 9 Fits – Hommage à Klaus Nomi, music theatre (2011), Ishmaela’s White World for soprano and ensemble (2012), Masaot/Clocks Without Hands for orchestra (2013), Weariness Heals Wounds I for viola (2014), Maudite soit la guerre, film music (2014), Eleanor for female blues singer, percussion kit, ensemble and samples (2014–15), delle meraviglie for six spatially arranged ensembles, samples and live electronics (2015), Trurliade-Zone Zero, concerto for percussion and orchestra (2015–16), Trurl-Tichy-Tinkle for piano (2016), Aello – balet mécanomorphe for flute, two trumpets, strings, synthesizer and typewriter (2016–17), Die Stadt ohne Juden, music to a renovated version of a 1924 film (2017), Quasare/Pulsare II for piano trio (2017), Hyper ne Splitting 008_Mediations on Jakob’s Ladder, music to an installation by Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture (2017), Tinkle for P.Z., installation (2017).