About

Photo: Alexander Wätzel

Munich-born German-Austrian composer and conductor Kai Johannes Polzhofer (*1989) received his first composition lessons during benedictine grammar school with Kay Westermann at Hochschule für Musik und Theater München. After graduating with a diploma in composition (with high distinction) from Hochschule für Musik und Theater Leipzig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, and a Bachelor’s of Arts (with high distinction) in philosophy from the University of Leipzig, he received a Doctorate at Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts). His primary teachers in composition are Klaus Lang, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Chaya Czernowin, and Steven Kazuo Takasugi. He also studied with Hans Tutschku, Wolfram Schurig, Friedrich Schenker, Gösta Neuwirth, Rick Burkhardt, and Michael Pisaro. Currently he studies orchestral conducting with Alexander Alexeev (a former student of Hans Swarowsky) at the Rimsky- Korsakov State Conservatory in St. Petersburg (Russia).

Polzhofer’s music has been performed both in Europe and North America by ensembles such as JACK Quartet, Ensemble Surplus, Ensemble Dal Niente, Parker Quartet, Elision Ensemble, Mivos Quartet, and Ensemble Recherche. Broadcast in Austria and Germany (e.g. Österreich 1, Bayern Klassik), he also won several prizes and fellowships including the Austromechana Composition Prize, the Academy Schloss Solitude Fellowship, Francis Boott Prize, the Blodgett Prize, and a national scholarship (Deutschlandstipendium). Polzhofer curated conferences and panels about contemporary composition among others at Harvard University, Musikhochschule Leipzig, and the Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik. In addition, he authored numerous articles on musicology, composition and philosophy, and in 2016 he released the book Perspectives for Contemporary Music in the 21st Century (Wolke), an interdisciplinary and critical discussion of current trends in contemporary music.

As an advocate for music education and New Music in the public sphere Polzhofer is co-founder and former Music Director of the Du Bois Orchestra at Harvard (a diverse group focused on social outreach and advocating for social and racial justice through classical music), as well co-founder of forma Leipzig e.V., a group focused on linking contemporary music and literature, for which he remains music director. As a conductor he has also served as Music Director of the Symphony Orchestra of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, as well as Assistant Conductor of the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, America’s oldest symphony orchestra. Polzhofer was selected as active participant for masterclasses with conductors Jorma Panula, Daniele Gatti, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, and Sian Edwards. He served as assistant conductor to Federico Cortese and Ilan Volkov. Besides his work as artistic advisor for forma Leipzig e.V., Polzhofer currently volunteers as executive consultant for The Diakron Institute for Cross-Cultural Exploration and Interdisciplinary Studies. He taught music theory and composition at Harvard University as well as philosophy as lecturer at University of LeipzigSince 2013 his compositions are published by Edition Gravis (Berlin).