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HK Gruber

Composer, Chansonnier, Conductor

  • Composer, conductor and chansonnier, HK Gruber was born in Vienna in 1943 and sang with the Vienna Boys’ Choir as a child, going on to study at the Vienna Hochschule für Musik. In 1961 he began playing double bass with Ensemble die reihe and from 1969 to 1998 in the Radio Symphonieorchester Wien. Gruber first began performing as a singer/actor with the ‘MOB art and tone ART’ ensemble which he co-founded in 1968 with fellow Viennese composers Kurt Schwertsik and Otto Zykan. Composing in his own highly individual style, his music is performed internationally by the world’s leading artists and orchestras. Gruber was awarded Austria’s most prestigious cultural prize the 2002 Greater Austria State Prize, and in 2009 was announced as an Honorary Member of the Wiener Konzerthaus, following a great tradition of musicians to also receive this accolade, including Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, Leonard Bernstein and Claudio Abbado. Gruber is an Honorary Lifetime Trustee of the Kurt Weill Foundation. 

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  • Gruber’s compositions have been written for and performed by the foremost orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Berliner Philharmoniker and at Lucerne Festival, Carnegie Hall and BBC Proms. Gruber is particularly noted for his concertos, including Aerial for trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, which has received over 60 performances, the Cello Concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma and premiered at Tanglewood in 1989, his percussion concertos Rough Music and Into the Open premiered by Colin Currie in 2015, and his Piano Concerto for Emanuel Ax which was co-commissioned by New York Philharmonic, Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. His orchestral scores include Dancing in the Dark, premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle in 2003, and his operas include Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Woods), premiered at the Bregenz Festival in 2014. Gruber’s most recent orchestral work, Short Stories from the Vienna Woods, was co-commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Leipzig Gewandhausorchester and premiered in 2022.  
    An active conductor with many major international orchestras, highlights of Gruber’s conducting career include engagements with the Vienna Philharmonic, Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and he was Composer/Conductor with the BBC Philharmonic from 2009-2015.  
    Gruber has performed extensively as chansonnier, most notably in Frankenstein!!, his most popular work which he premiered with Sir Simon Rattle and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 1978 and has received more than 600 performances around the world. He has also performed and recorded as chansonnier in the works of Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler as well as Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon and Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King
    Highlights of the 2023/24 season include conducting the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in an all-Gruber portrait concert at the Vienna Konzerthaus, and a portrait weekend with the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Mainz including concerts conducted by Gruber, a Weill-Eisler song evening and an open workshop.  Gruber returns to the Ensemble Modern for a new programme of works by Hindemith, Korngold, Schonberg and Weill, performing in Frankfurt, Houston and at Carnegie Hall. As Chansonnier, he performs a Weill-Eisler song evening with Kirill Gerstein at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and appears with the Munich Chamber Orchestra in Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon.  
    Gruber’s discography encompasses a wide range of repertoire including his own music on the BIS and Chandos labels, music by Brett Dean for BIS and works by Kurt Schwertsik with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos. His recording of von Einem’s Der Prozess with the Vienna Radio Symphony was awarded the prestigious Diapason d'Or and Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik in 2019. His most recent release of Weill Symphonies with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra on BIS has received wide-spread critical acclaim, with the New York Times describing Gruber as “a standard-setting interpreter of Weill’s music”.

    The works of HK Gruber are published by Boosey & Hawkes.

    2023/24 season / 637 words. Not to be altered without permission from Intermusica Artists' Management.


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Livestreams & Broadcasts

Swedish Chamber Orchestra | April 2021
Weill: Der Silbersee: I.1a: Overture
Weill: Symphony No.1 'Berliner Sinfonie'
Weill: Symphony No.2
Weill: Der Silbersee: I.3: "Der Bäkker bäckt ums Morgenrot"
Weill: Der Silbersee: Lied des Lotterieverkäufers
HK Gruber (conductor&chansonnier)
Click here to watch on YouTube

Boston Symphony Orchestra | January 2022
HK Gruber: Short Stories from the Vienna Woods
Click here to listen on Classical Radio Boston

Conducting Programmes

Gruber has conducted many of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, New World Symphony, Bergen Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchester, Baltimore Symphony, Seattle Symphony, and was Composer/Conductor with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra 2009-2015.

Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France / Anne Sofie von Otter
Weill Kleine Dreigroschenmusik
Weill Songs
Weill Seven Deadly Sins

Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Antheil A Jazz Symphony
Gruber Rough Music
Bernstein On the Waterfront: Suite
Stravinsky The Firebird Suite (1919)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Antheil A Jazz Symphony
Cerha Five pieces from Wiener Kaleidoskop
Stravinsky Violin Concerto in D Major
Gruber Frankenstein!!
Bernstein Prelude, Fugue & Riffs

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Stravinsky Feu d'artifice, op.4
Hindemith Ragtime (wohltemperiert)
Antheil A Jazz Symphony
Stravinsky Tango
Bernstein Prelude, Fugue & Riffs
Strauss, J. II Perpetuum Mobile
Gruber Charivari
Stravinsky Scherzo à la Russe
Weill Filmscene from 'Royal Palace'
Weill Overture to 'Silbersee'
Weill Berlin im Licht; Live, Love and Laughter; Lied der Jenny; Speak Low

BBC Philharmonic
HK Gruber Northwind Pictures
Schwertsik Nachtmusiken Op.104
Stravinsky Oedipus Rex (soloists: Ian Bostridge, Angelika Kirchschlager)

BBC Philharmonic
MacMillan The Sacrifice: Three Interludes
Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
HK Gruber Dancing in the Dark
Bernstein Overture and Dances from On the Town

Strasbourg Philharmonic
Gruber Charivari
Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
Adams Slonimsky's Earbox
Stravinsky Le Chant du rossignol

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Stravinsky Feu d’artifice, Op.4
Weill Schlaraffenland-Song
Weill Lied des Lotterieverkäufers
Weill Overture to Der Silbersee
Weill Der Bäkker bäckt ums Morgenrot
Weill The Pimp’s Ballad
Weill Speak Low
Gershwin Cuban Overture
Debussy Feux d’artifice
Gershwin I Got Rhythm
Gershwin Shall We Dance
Bernstein Somewhere from West Side Story
Bernstein Overture to Candide

Essen Philharmonic
HK Gruber Charivari
J. Strauss II Perpetuum mobile
Milhaud Le Boeuf sur le Toit
Antheil A Jazz Symphony
Shostakovich Suite for Jazz Orchestra No.2
Gershwin Piano Concerto in F major

Composing Highlights

Gruber has been commissioned at the highest level, including recent projects for the Vienna Philharmonic, Lucerne Festival, BBC Proms, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta. In summer 2014 Gruber’s opera Tales from the Vienna Woods (Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald) was premiered to great acclaim at the Bregenzer Festspiele, with performances following at Theater an der Wien in Spring 2015 and Komische Oper in May 2016. Also in October 2016 the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform trumpet concerto Aerial and into the open... receives its US premiere in December 2016 with the New World Symphony conducted by Gruber; elsewhere in recent seasons Gruber’s music has been performed by orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, NDR Sinfonieorchester, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and many more.

Piano Concerto (2015-2017) 20'
Concerto for piano and symphony orchestra, soloist Emanuel Ax 

Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (2011-2014) 140'
Opera in three acts

Northwind Pictures (2011) 25’
symphonic poem for orchestra

into the open...(2010) 24’
symphony for solo percussion and orchestra, soloist Colin Currie

Busking (2007) 30’
Trumpet concerto with strings, accordion and banjo (soloist Hakan Hardenberger)

Dancing in the Dark (2002) 24’ 
Concert piece for large orchestra

Aerial (1999) 25’
Trumpet concerto (soloist Hakan Hardenberger)

Frankenstein!! (1977) 28’
With HK Gruber as Chansonnier (baritone) with symphony orchestra or ensemble

The works of HK Gruber are published by Boosey & Hawkes


Frankenstein!! is Gruber’s best-known work, a “pan-demonium for chansonnier and orchestra after children’s rhymes by H.C. Artmann”. Premiered in 1978 by Sir Simon Rattle, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and HK Gruber as chansonnier, Frankenstein!! is Gruber’s most “naughtily notorious” work and has been performed by major orchestras around the world including the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and many more. It is a concert piece, music theatre, witty, fun and ironic with an irrepressible strain of Viennese black humour.

Frankenstein!! can be performed in two ways, with Gruber taking on the dual role of conductor and chansonnier, or the work can be directed by another conductor, with Gruber as soloist (German or English).

“With its extremes of gentleness and savagery, its delirious tangos and bossa novas, and Mr. Gruber’s surprisingly bitter toy-saxophone riffs, the surreal 30-minute work captures the energy of a Weimar cabaret gone terribly weird and wrong, which is one way of looking at the story of the 20th century.”
New York Times, December 2011

Frankenstein!! (1977) 28’
For Chansonnier & symphony orchestra or ensemble
Published by Boosey & Hawkes 

Orchestral version
Ensemble version

Gruber’s scores are prodigiously multi-layered... For Gruber, cabaret, jazz, pop and even rock are as vital to serious composition as the unspurned devices of the serial composers…

The Times

conducted by HK Gruber, a standard-setting interpreter of Weill’s music… The second symphony unfurls with an ease that becomes more disturbing as, from behind the wit and tunefulness, emerge flashes of heartbroken nostalgia and martial terror.

New York Times

one of the world's leading authorities on Weill's music

The Guardian


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Intermusica represents HK Gruber worldwide

Catherine Gibbs
Associate Director
+44 20 7608 9946

Lucy Evans
Assistant Artist Manager
+44 20 7608 9940

All artists


HK Gruber


Tim Mead


Richard Egarr

Piano accompanist

Roger Vignoles


Jess Gillam


Avery Amereau