11 December 2016

Julius Juzeliunas - Zaidimas



Last night was an event I had been waiting months to happen. Admittedly it also came alongside the small dilemma of a which event do I choose; Julius Juzeliunas's Zaidimas or Kaija Saariaho's l'Amour de loin, both of which are operas I without a doubt adore, but for the significant reason that this was the first 'fully produced' rendition of the Zaidimas; and because Julius Juzeliunas features heavily in my dissertation Zaidimas outright won. 

I have discussed the wonderful Juzeliunas a lot this year, 2016 being his centenary, so I do not need to go in depth about his work; however I do recommend people investigate my other posts about the composer. But the opera Zaidimas is a fascinating item to observe. Firstly the opera was written in 1967, and after an unsuccessful attempt to put on a production in 1970, a private rendition was done in 1971; this was merely to try and convince the singers and sadly to no avail (singers not likely contemporary music!? How could this be a real thing). Due to this, the first rendition of the piece did not appear until 2006 when it was decided it would be a wonderful token to mark Juzeliunas's 90th; an occasion he missed by only a few years. This rendition was recorded and produced by the music information centre and was ultimately how I became aware of the work of Julius Juzeliunas at all. 

The opera is in two acts and in based on the text Die Panne or The Breakdown by Friedrich Durrenmatt. The plot depicts our main antagonist Alfredo Traps, who after his car breaks down, finds himself in a countryside tavern where he is greeted by the host who offers to play a game where he and former colleagues 'act out' a trial with Alfredo Traps as the defendant. The first act shows Traps as a confident character who is successful, a womaniser of some degree, and most of all important. As the opera progresses we discover this bravado is for show and the cross examination from the lawyers break this down. The second act, is entirely different in mood as the is a sense of impending doom, like the 'trial' has transcended imagination and has become real. We discover Traps did have an affair with the wife of his boss which the four 'judges' decide is a criminal offense and sentence him to death. The opera ends when the 'judges' have discovered Traps had hung himself. 

This farcical is full of twists and turns, and ultimately you never know where you stand. The psychological tension is huge but indescribable. In last night's programme notes, Jurate Katinaite, had draw parallels between this opera and the likes of Shostakovich and Janacek, but I think there are stronger similarities between this opera and Britten's Turn of the Screw (admittedly the only opera by Britten I actually enjoy) it is also a two act opera, but the emphasis on little action and focus on psychological tension, which in both cases is dictated by the orchestra, shows two operas producing a very similar effect on the audience. 

With last night's performance the seven soloists mostly consisted of singers who were involved in the premiere recording ten years ago, with the exception of Tadas Girininkas (Alfredo Traps) and Lina Dambrauskaite (Ponia Gigaks). Each of them really bought out the charm and wit of every character but also everyone was able to bring out the darker sides of everyone further adding to the great psychological tension in the air. I was remarkably impressed with Tadas Girininkas, he really made the role his and I hope it is one I witness him repeating in the future. All the judges were very skilled in their parts, but I felt Rafailas Karpis (Cornas) and Arunas Malikenas (Kumeris) really stood out. Jovita Vaskeviciute (Simona) was a gorgeous voice and it was a joy to hear again, but most of her arias I felt were rushed; admittedly her parts mostly consist of singing about salads, meat, and soups that are on offer, but taking the time in them really neutralises the mood and further blurs the direction of the opera. 

The orchestra, under the baton of Gintaras Rinkevicius, were on pretty solid form throughout. The balance at times was questionable, but when I was sat so close to the percussion section that I could have brushed their hair its hard to say if what I heard was entirely accurate. The live performance is far more visceral and also I have the distinct feeling that as Gintaras has returned to the piece he has found new life within it, which he didn't find in the recording ten years ago. 

The night was fantastic and I think the fact the venue was overflowing with people that the opera needs to see the light of day again. A part of me hopes that companies like Glynebourne, Opera North, and that ilk discover this opera mostly so we can put Shostakovich to bed; I am just bored of opera companies turning east and choosing only Russians we have heard thousands of times before, this opera is wonderfully fresh and would be great to add a bit of diversity to British shores. 

Rant over,  and in all seriousness I am so glad I had the opportunity to witness this opera as it does stand as a personal favourite. And to quote Mindaugas Urbaitis, who I had a little chat with after the concert; 'My teacher did good'. And on that charming note, have a listen to the sixth scene of the opera which was released in 2009. Also as the year is coming to the end 2017 will have a lot of new things in store and I will be starting a few new little entities for this blog, so look out for those in the future. 

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3 December 2016

Su Gimtadienu Onute Narbutaite!

Last night, in the wonderful setting that is Filharmijos Didzioji sale, was the finale in a triptych of concerts celebrating Onute Narbutaite's 60th Birthday. As it was the finale of a collection of concerts, of course this concert would be the largest one. The repertoire of this particular concert consisted of three significant orchestral works by the composer: La Barca (2005), Krantas upe simfonija (2007), and her leviathan Symphony No. 2 (2001). The three works written within six years of each, depict a composer at her seminal moment; the moment where she has stepped out of the shadows and has appeared purely as Onute Narbutaite. 

The first work to be performed was La Barca written in 2005, the stand alone orchestral work is a wild beast. With its opening clatter and roar (which was evidently too much for one audience member who promptly left after the first stanza) shows Narbutaite at her most ferocious. The work is powerful, colourful and quite simply intense. This piece, which is full of drama, intrigue, and flourishes really should be better known worldwide! The orchestra tackled it with almost a sense of ease, or simply they felt at one with Narbutaite's work. The latter is definitely apparent of the conductor Robertas Servenikas who seems to always be present when someone is performing Narbutaite.

After the usual shuffling came Narbutaite's Krantas upe simfonija (Symphony No.4) (2007). Out of all the works in the programme, this was the only piece I was not familiar with before last night's performance. In short, it is a real curiosity. Mostly because it seems to be on the edge off an imminent shift in the sensibilities of the composer. It features all the hall marks of Narbutaite, with its rich orchestration and sheer potency, but also featured an out of character sense of calm. Of course, preceding works by Narbutaite have had calm sections, or felt calm, but the sense of calm was quite different in this circumstance. Ignoring the almost spectral sensations of resonance that appeared in some of the calm moments, the sheer mood of the work was simply different; even now I am struggling to put my finger on exactly what was different about this symphony. Maybe it is just something as simple as the posturing towards a symphony. Symphonies have a world of different approaches and semantics behind them which many composers have tapped into in various ways. So this one maybe approached the symphony in a more Beethovian manner, with the sense of holding a place, allowing it to extend into the next thing but never feeling overtly destructive or at odds with itself. The work is truly astounding, and I really hope a recording exists!

The finale came in the form of the elegant Symphony No. 2 (2001). A truly seminal work, and a personal favourite of mine. Those of you who are familiar with this blog will know I covered the work quite recently responding to Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla's article in BBC Music Magazine. You can see it here. The orchestra were on solid form within this piece, and hats off the trumpeter for performing one of the most terrifying solos I think there is for the instrument. Nothing causes stress quite like a solo where any split note could ruin the whole symphony. What is interesting to observe is the change in mentality towards the symphonic form. Symphony No.2 and Tres Matris Symphoniae  both share an almost Mahlerian quality, with their potent drama and long extended melodies. Whereas I mentioned in Krantas upe simfonija the sensation is more in line with Beethoven. Either way it is fascinating to observe, and as one of Lithuanian's most prolific symphonists (Balakauskas has 5 and Juzeliunas wrote 6) she is a vital source of work for the nation and for the symphonic repertoire. 

The whole concert was wonderfully performed. The performing felt as natural as breathing, you could tell the orchestra felt at one with the work of the profound composer. It was particularly joyous to see Robertas Servenikas truly in his element, watching conductors conduct, you do notice the moments they really lose themselves to the performing and just truly madly and deeply love what their arms are making an orchestra do. My only thought about the whole night, is why wasn't there a new work from Onute Narbutaite? I know her collection of work is huge and magnificent, but particularly after having three concerts to celebrate her, it would have been wonderful to commission a new work; a concerto perhaps or even a song cycle to rival Das Knaben Wunderhorn? Beyond that there is nothing I can add to last night. A true joy and I hope she continues to write for a long time to come!  

26 November 2016

Raimo Kangro - Clicking Symphony

As it has been a while since I did a little look at a singular piece and considering the world around us currently I couldn't think of anything better than to look at Raimo Kangro. As the world around us is becoming an incredibly scary place what with Herr Trump and Britain playing Russian Roulette we all kind of need something just to give us a brief moment of respite. 

Raimo Kangro, born in 1949, is one of the most significant voices of the Estonian neo-classical trends which had manifested in country during the Soviet years. Kangro's music is fascinating to observe because of its wit and charm. A student of Eino Tamberg and Jaan Raats, Kangro's music seems to thrive on an overt simplicity and stability of harmonic language which in turn is used as a platform for everything else to spring from it. Within Kangro's large body of works are a huge collection of concerti, symphonies, and piano works. I have previously discussed one of his concerti for two pianos which not only exploits the full potential of dialogue between the forces but also explores a full spectra of extended techniques to build quite a magnificent work. 

The neo-classical elements within Raimo Kangro's work stuck with him throughout his working life. Another curious element of his works are his hommages. He produced a curious cycle of twelve portraits all of which celebrate composers he admires from Mozart and Vivaldi to Reich and Schubert. This connection to history never makes his music feel conservative or backwards, and dare I say; may even put him in a better light than other prominent neo-classicists like certain members of Les Six or even Stravinsky (whose neo-classical works do make we want to cry sometimes, as they never quite match the wonder of earlier works and just make Stravinsky look like a bit of a charlatan).

Anyways back to the Clicking Symphony (Ploksuv sumfoonia) (1993). The four movement symphony, written for an army of mandolins (the composer does specify mandolin orchestra, but I do feel a large gather of mandolins can only really be described as an army or armada) has all the 'typical' architecture of a symphony, with a lively vivo for the first movement, a contrasting con moto and sostenuto for the middle movements, and a brief vivo to conclude. The four movement are more akin to Haydn in character, as they only last about approximately four minutes each, and the finale is a blink of just a minute, so there is no Wagnerian or Mahlerian self indulgence in this symphony.

The first movement starts with a brisk articulated driving momentum. The first subject is energetic and the discourse between all the forces extremely conversational. The pulsing accompaniment and strong force in the lower elements of the orchestra give the music its unique twang (pardon the pun). What is fascinating to observe in the symphony is the fact this symphony functions identically to say a symphony written purely for string orchestra, there is no hint at trying to adapt the musical dynamic to the forces. The other fascinating element is due to the brevity of the first movement you can just sit make and marvel at the wondrous craft of the architecture.

The second movement, has an air of scherzo about it, it is playful and spritely. It is a smidgen steadier but this doesn't deaden the jollity of the work. The use of pulsing cycles and irregular rhythms makes the work a joy to listen to, and is like some of the more overtly playful works of Bartok.

The third movement is rather serene and stands as the largest movement of the symphony. The rolling harmonies and sustained sound of a double bass give the perfect backdrop to a moving melody. The melody steadily grows and the anticipation and excitement grows with it. The beauty and serenity of the melody never feels sentimental as the inner dialogue is still bustling with energy and there is still a spring in the step of the orchestra throughout. It is hard to say which movement is my favourite, but it is definitely a contest between this and the opening.

The finale is brief but fun. Maybe I love the whole symphony because it never takes too long and just says what it needs to. The drive in finale is rather extremely, especially after the calm of the third movement. In the finale we see brief snippets of the opening movement, almost alluding to an overarching sonata form throughout the four movements. A neo-classicists equivalent of Inception, a sonata form within a sonata form.

The whole symphony is just a treat, and I think the perfect tonic to the recent dark days we have been witnessing. The whole symphony has a brief tang of Vivaldi within it, but it is hard to say if it is because of the musicality of the work, or the fact there are mandolins. The whole symphony is on Spotify and is accompanied by a surreal but wonderful mix of works written for mandolin orchestra, definitely worth a listen. Anyways until next time! 


4 November 2016

Quick look back at GAIDA 2016

As GAIDA 2016 is coming to its close, admittedly there are three concerts left, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to reflect over the festival this year and contemplate my highlights and so on. Also for those who are curious, I am doing this now as the final three concerts have no connection to Baltic music, and almost everyone internationally knows Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, so I don't need to fill people in on it.
This year's festival has been wonderfully varied with ensembles from all over Europe being involved, performing music from across the globe. Like every year, there are multiple world premieres from Lithuanian composers and this year there were some real treats indeed. 

For those who read my review of the Quartettissimo concert, know how struck I was by ArtVio's wonderful performing, but also by the premiere by Ramunas Motiekaitis. X Ciklai by Ramunas Motiekaitis, was a truly masterful work, the colourful dectet really demonstrated the breadth of the composer's musical palette. The modest brilliance of the work still strikes me, this long after the premiere, a real joy to behold and I desperately need to get hold of the recording! 

The premiere of Vykintas Baltakas's commentum for cello and orchestra for me was another great highlight. Admittedly I don't know what I loved more, Baltakas's wonderful music or the wonderful performance of Francesco Dillon. Either way it really was wonderful to watch. 

Juste Janulyte's Harp is a Chord was another surprise. For me the previous excitement was mostly in the curiosity of how Juste would tackle the confusing combination of Harpsichord and Accordion, especially when many of her previous works depend on the similarity in colours. The work was truly glorious, the interaction between the two was inspired. A wonderful piece indeed!

So they were my favourite premieres, but what about concerts? Well for me the many of the concerts were grand, and to be honest some of my favourite concerts I didn't previously review simply due to the lack of Baltic music within the concert. So in no particular order, here are my three favourite concerts. 

I think I should start with Ensemble Synaethesis's debut. The young'uns made their GAIDA premiere, and their premiere in such an international platform. There choice of repertoire was broad and daring, including a premiere by the French Matthias Leboucher, multiple pieces by Michael Gordon, a work by the magical Dane Simon Steen-Anderson, and the majestic Vortex Temporum by Gerard Grisey. I was excited about this concert, mostly because of the performance of Grisey and Leboucher. I was also extremely nervous for the ensemble as it was quite a momentous occasion and I only wanted them to nail it. And damn, did they nail it. They were on the strongest form I have ever witnessed. For such a debut, they gave the perfect performance. They met expectations and smashed most of them, they really showed they are an ensemble on their way onwards and upwards! I was particularly impressed by Synaethesis's pianist, Marta Finkelstein, I say this mostly because Vortex Temporum's piano part is just devilish, and she was just remarkable. The whole ensemble were great, but Marta definitely needs the extra mention. Bravo one and all. As I said in a previous post about them, as long as they continue to broaden their musical horizons, they will be a truly magical ensemble very soon. 

Goska Isphording and Maciej Frackiewicz's duo concert was another joy. As with my curiosity of Juste's piece, I was curious to hear such a peculiar combination in a full concert. Every piece they played, they played with brilliance and panache. Without a doubt one of my favourite concerts. The mix of repertoire combined with wonderful performing was perfect. 

My third highlight of the festival was Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra's opener to the festival. The combination of Kurtag, Baltakas, and Liza Lim was just a magnificent choice indeed. Such a great complimentary combination of repertoire, similar enough they could be paired together, but not so similar it becomes tedious. The orchestra were on pretty solid form, Jonathan Berman was a fine conductor to watch and particularly came to life performing Kurtag's Double Concerto.  A glorious night indeed.

So there we have it GAIDA 2016, bring on next year, and bring on more wonderful concerts this year!

28 October 2016

64 strings

Last night saw the most Baltic filled of all the concerts of this year's GAIDA festival. And for me was the concert I waited for with most anticipation; admittedly this was mostly because of the three premieres anything could have happened, and the mix of composers involved I have a real soft spot for their work. The concert was extremely well attended, and had the extra zing of excitement due to the presence of LRT film crew. So lots of anticipation for this particular concert.

So to start off our string extravaganza was a glorious work by the Lithuanian behemoth, Julius Juzeliunas. The performance was a gesture of celebration of the composer's great work, and to mark his centenary which is nice very year. The work chosen to mark this momentous occasion was the composer's fourth quartet, or as it is nicknamed Raga keturiems (Raga a quattro). The quartet is a marvelous conversational work for quartet and rather wonderfully explores the harmonic potential of different ragas without it starting to sound like mere exoticism or cultural appropriation. Like all of Juzeliunas's works it is charming witty and elegantly crafted. His quartets are without a doubt, on par with the likes of Bartok, Janacek, and Schoenberg in regards to significance and brilliance. The performance of this work fell to the CHORDOS quartet, who sadly played it all rather flatly. All the character and nuance of the work ultimately disappeared because dynamic range was too small, very little conviction in the interpretation, and some of the simple gestures like moments of increased bow pressure felt clumsy or even uncomfortable for the group. It was a real shame indeed, I do hope other quartets adopt the work, so they can really hammer home the charm, wit, and brilliance of this quartet.

Next came the ArtVio and Ciurlionis quartet to show us what they could do, in the premiere of Zibuokle Martinaityte's new octet (or double string quartet) Sort Sol. This premiere I was particularly excited about as I have a real love of the work of Martinaityte. Ever since I heard her piece Completely Embraced by the Beauty of Emptiness I have found her work to be brilliantly constructed and full of a unique character and charm. The word Sort Sol is Danish for Black Sun; which is the name for the natural phenomenon where lots of birds fly in a huge dense flock. I was curious to see how this could be translated into a work for eight instruments. The work was well crafted, and the colours in the ensemble were beautiful. The harmony is very heavily focused around open fifths, but I couldn't quite tell if that was to fit with the black sun or to accommodate the fact fifths are the most common interval on string instruments. I was curious to see that Zibuokle herself had resigned herself to conduct the work, especially as in this performance it felt like the performers had stopped communicating as a group, and just stared at the composer. The other issue I had with the work was simply it owed too much to Juste Janulyte. There were too many similarities between Sort Sol and Elongations of Night by Juste Janulyte. Which ultimately is a shame as Zibuokle is a magnificent composer in her own right. I desperately and highly recommend everyone to visit her soundcloud, to hear her wonderful music. 

Then after some more shuffling came the second of the night's premieres. This came in the form of a dectet for two string quartets, accordion, and percussion by Ramunas Motiekaitis. All of you who read this blog, know how much admiration I have for the work of Motiekaitis, so to finally have the opportunity to hear it live was a real treat for me indeed. And I was only delighted with this piece. With the quiet flicker of the first notes I knew I was in to hear something magnificent. Like with many of Ramunas's pieces nothing is overstated, every sound has a purpose, an importance which is never pompous or to inflate his own ego, but merely a significance of 'this has to happen now, because it is happening now'. The elegance of the work thrives on the fact it never seeks attention, it merely exists; and throughout existence we the most beautiful elements of life never have to scream for attention, there merely are and with it are beautiful. 

After a large amount of shuffling came one of the leviathans of the night. Ruta Vitkauskatie's Nusviesti lygumai (Event Horizon) for four string quartets was one of the most talked about pieces leading up to the concert due to the sheer number of quartets involved. Admittedly this isn't the most amount of string quartets I have heard in relation to a piece for string quartet. Horatiu Radulescu's seminal fourth quartet is for nine quartets, he addressed the necessity of this gargantuan size through extreme use of scordatura, to create the sensation of an 128 stringed instrument. Ruta Vitkauskaite's work was not trying to compete with this outlandish work, but rather exploited the antiphonal potential in the space. This kind of idea is not a new one in music, Thomas Tallis and Gabrielli both exploited the potential of this within their sacred works, but this does not mean there isn't still life in the idea. The opening was joyful, mostly because it was the most overtly melodic piece I think I have ever heard from Ruta. The seamless passing of the melody was wonderful and had a real life to it. Sadly this joy was short lived, as 'extended techniques' were chucked into the mix and just didn't feel right in the piece. Maybe if, like in Radulescu's fourth, the work was an hour long she could have really explored all the ideas and made a really magical exploratory experience of it. But sadly it did not quite reach that point. 

After a much needed break, mostly to recover from a rather uncomfortable seat, we returned to be greeted by ArtVio performing Simon Steen-Anderson's Study for String Instruments No. 1. For those who don't know the magical work, this piece simply gives you what it says; Simon Steen-Anderson really is the ronseal of composition. The work simply explores articulation and musical gesturing within glissandi. The quartet surprised me. Mostly because I felt the sensation that they were intuitively built to play works of this magnitude. Contemporary music does divide performers, mostly because many performers are scared of making the 'wrong' interpretation, or merely not knowing how to interpret it at all. ArtVio really took the piece in their stride, and really showed they are a force to be reckoned with. Bloody well done. 


Following this, and lots of shuffling about, came Peteris Vasks's Viatore for string orchestra. Written in 2001 the work is very typical of Vasks's current sensibilities, with its rich harmonies and chorale-like textures. I really, really love this piece; so I was very excited at the opportunity of hearing it. I was delighted to see the 11 musicians were daring enough to perform the work without conductor, but sadly their bravery didn't deliver much to the piece. As Vasks's music is so open performing it without a clear idea of what you want to say in the piece is detrimental to the overall effect of the music. The music is still very pretty, but it is fare more powerful when performed with a powerful intent. This lack of intent was also apparent as dynamic differences were barely noticeable and interaction felt a bit limp. Thankfully performances of Vasks are a bit like pizza: good pizza is amazing and bad pizza is still pretty amazing. 

The finale came in the form of Gintaras Sodeika's Tettigonia perdida, Dada Concerto Grosso. The work for solo piano, solo cello, and strings is very typical of Sodeika. Cheeky, heavily jazz influenced, and rather optimistic. The soloists really tried to bring out lots of character in their parts, but despite their efforts issues like balance and rigidity ultimately ruined the effect. Because the ensemble weren't conducted, one of two things were going to happen. Either the soloists lead and interact with the group, dictating tempo changes and so forth; or everyone would become to fixated with their own parts and forget to interact. Sadly the latter was the result, and particularly in works heavily influenced by jazz, rigidity in the music ultimately makes the atmosphere feel laboured. Even though Sodeika's music has a lot of personal charm to it, the music needs fluidity otherwise it is somewhat akin to my youth playing 'swing' with brass bands; nothing ruins swing quite like a colliery band, and nothing ruins jazz like stagnant classical musicians. 

The highlights of the concert were without a doubt ArtVio's rendition of Simon Steen-Anderson and Ramunas Motiekaitis's premiere X Ciklai. More from them please!

24 October 2016

Harpisaccordion

On a wet and windy Sunday evening, we had all gathered to witness one of the most curious concerts imaginable. Harpsichord and Accordion duos! Yes you read correctly, Harpsichord and Accordion. The instrumentation is immensely mismatched, mostly due to the natural nature of the instrument. What are the possibilities? What is the repertoire? Who on earth has been writing for this mix? The concert repertoire was almost as varied as the instrumentation; Grisey, Vasks, Janulyte, Moc, Steen-Anderson, and Jodlowski. The atmosphere in the Contemporary Art Centre was full of the same intrigue and curiosity.

Michael Moc's MissA written in 2014 was a curious work indeed. The work plays on the curiosity with in the title. The linguistic pulling apart of the title produces Mass or Missa and Miss A or Miss Accordion. The hommage to femininity is mostly inspired by the performer Goska Isphording, and the Accordion is obviously a nod to Maciej Frackiewicz. The work overall is an emotional response to the aurora borealis Michael Moc witnessed on a trip to Iceland. The opening of the piece had a sustained chord which are subtly adapted by changing the stops of the accordion. The nuanced gesture was very much a kin to works by Olivier Messiaen and Ligeti's works for organ. As the work expanded the distinct differences between the instruments are exploited to drive the musical interaction and texture. The structure was a strong block composition with every segment being very clearly defined, but as the work progressed, the structure did become to feel a tad limp. And like almost all contemporary works for accordion there was loud clusters being stabbed everywhere on the accordion. Beyond the crasser moments the work was fascinating and well written. 

Following this came Gerard Grisey's Passacaille for accordion. The work is a piece written by Grisey before he started studying with Olivier Messiaen. The composer himself abandoned the work and it was not published alongside his list of works. The work's existence is due to a friend and accordionist saving the work and publicly celebrating it. The piece is an intriguing memento of a young Grisey. The language is heavily, if not inseparable from Henri Dutilleux. The lilting lines and beautiful harmonic colours are always a joy. I can understand why Grisey abandoned the work, as it bares no obvious relation to his works later in his life. But it is always fascinating to see where a composer came from, also it is quite interesting as the mood of Passacaille was vaguely reminiscent of Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, the character of the work is dark and reflective, pondering itself quite profoundly.

Following this, and some mild shuffling preparing the accordion, was Simon Steen-Anderson's Next to Beside Besides No. 3. The piece, like many of Simon Steen-Anderson's works, is curious and entertaining. Having completely broken the instrument, the piece rebuilds music from the shards of the destruction. Maciej Frackiewicz had a real affinity and knack with the piece. Bringing out the character, nuance, and dialogue of the piece.

Then Goska Isphording returned to the stage to perform Kantate by Peteris Vasks. Written in 1980, the work was written during an intriguing shift of Vasks's musical output. His works written while studying in Vilnius (like his first string quartet) are far heavier and more akin to the works of Penderecki. The works of the early 1980's like his second string quartet and this Kantate are shifting towards the modern day Vasks we know and love today. In this state of flux is extended moments of stillness and reflection, combined with outbursts of violence. For me this period is Vasks at his most fascinating, as he uses such a plethora of colours and gestures, as well as showing a masterful craft and brilliance in his work. Kantate is no exception, and Goska Isphording performed it beautifully, the chorale-like moments at the beginning and the violent outbursts were handled immensely and their nuance was never lackluster. She had control and purpose of every gesture in the piece and made everything profoundly musical. 

The next piece, for me, was the work I was most curious to hear within the whole repertoire. Anyone who has read this blog more than once will know I am a bit in love with the work of Juste Janulyte. Previous works have been defined by the exploitation of similarities in tone, so to be presented with a piece with two dramatically different instruments was an intriguing departure indeed. Harp Is A Chord is a play on the name of the instrument and a cheeky nod to the structure of the work. The piece very simply, is built on the exploration of a singular chord; with brilliant flourishes within the harpsichord, which are coloured by a sustained by the accordion. The sensation was like the dance between the ripples and the water. Their active qualities are intensely different but they are one and the same. The real strength within the work is from the simple fact the harmonic language is symmetrical forcing us to sit and just listen. This premiere was a joy, but to be honest this work is merely the beginning of something greater. The potential of this work to turn into a fascinating concerto for harpsichord is huge and I sincerely hope Juste and Goska make this happen!

The finale came in the form of Pierre Jodlowski's Lessons of Anatomy. The work was a sheer joy. Starting with a projections of a harpsichord Goska Isphording slowly walked in an interacted with the abstract electronic sounds and teasing the instrument through gesturing. The distortion of the nature of performance was fascinating to observe and Goska Isphording really bought the musicality out of every gesture, even though the majority of them were 'silent'. After a significant time the piece explodes with energy and the 'real-life' harpsichord intensely interacts with the manic electronics. The pairing was fascinating and a wonderful piece to witness.

The whole concert was a surprising joy. The variety of the repertoire and masterful performing of Goska and Maciej bought the evening to life and produced one of the most succinct concerts I have ever witnessed. I loved every moment, and I hope to see more  from these wonderful performers. Now for a small mental break before more brilliant concerts from GAIDA 2016.

23 October 2016

Music in Image and Image in Music

Day two of GAIDA, and we are cracking on with another fine intensive concert. Last night was the first night in a series of concerts in the Contemporary Art Centre (Siuolaikinio meno centras). There was the same bustling and buzzing of anticipation before the concert started and there were audience members from as far away as Norway, maybe a sign of how important this festival is? The concert featured works that combined visual elements alongside the 'traditional' performing. And the repertoire included composers from various nations including Lithuania, France, Belgium, and Australia. What was particularly positive for me was the inclusion of composers who either rarely or never grace British shores; so it was a nice treat to broaden my perspective of the world.

After the usual warm introductions, Stephane Ginsburgh walked to the stage. The concert started with Stefan Prins Piano Hero No. 1 the first part in a major cycle of works. This work I was particularly curious after hearing about it circulating all over the place, including Darmstadt. As soon as the projection starts we are hammered by a violent and hyperactive glitching space. Every note of the piano had been assigned to a visual element and deconstructed piano sound, which created an intriguing sense of dialogue, especially the moment the visual and sound stopped and we just watched a wonderful pianist playing in silence. The whole work was manic and gripping, and was never 'just gimick' it remained powerfully musical and there was always a feeling of narrative, even if it was shouting at you while it attacked you. My only query was why have a performer? The whole piece could have been built purely electronically and with the visuals and could have easily produced the same result. This being said, I have yet to see the other two parts of the cycle there could be the answer to this question in following segments; and secondly Stephane Ginsburgh was truly magnificent! So why should I try to fault a brilliant performer.

Following a large amount of shuffling came the second piece Telosferos by Vytautas V. Jurgutis. From the darkness came snapping, scrapping and popping sounds, it was like a manic advert for Rice Krispies. These sounds slowly started building into distinguishable sounds, I was a little put off by the sound of scrapping polysterine but its use in the piece was effective; so my own personal discomfort from the sound didn't matter. The visuals by Akvile Anglickaite were beautiful, like a minimalistic lava lamp, it mesmerised me and to be brutally honest I could have sat and just watched that without sound; but that is probably due more to seeing similar things in my speech and language therapy during my youth. Back to the concert! Jurgutis's piece was highly influenced by the likes of Lachenmann and the spectralists, but at times I felt it lacked the same feeling of nuance and conversation you hear within Lachenmann. Maybe I missed something, maybe something in the performance was a tad lacking, who knows. All I know for sure is I was a happy bunny watching the pretty lights dance. 

Then more shuffling! This time to clear enough stage so we can see a purely audiovisual work by Thierry De Mey Light Music. The work is scored for one conductor and shows a singular conductor masterfully demonstrating his craft and elegance as the electronics following him and are shaped by his gesturing. The work was truly hypnotic, and I was in love with it. I had a personal little chuckle watching the conductor beat out patterns of cross-rhythm (5 against 3 if I counted correctly), it gave me a flashback to conducting lessons failing to do what the conductor did so masterfully. My only issue with the piece was it felt a tad too long, maybe this was just a sense of the fatigue of having waited along time just to get to the third piece; or alternatively, once the sense of shape was sussed out, it became quite easily to predict what was happening next. 

To be brutally honest, the next piece I kind of dreaded when I read the programme notes. In Matthew Shlomowitz's biography he describes himself as:
'something like a bastard love child of Brian Ferneyhough and Philip Glass'


Now my issue isn't with swearing, or the fact he draws comparison between two almost contradictory to each other. My issue was the tone sounded like he was trying to be edgy. Even though I am still young, watching 'angsty' artists try to shock you by saying nasty words and being crass, become boring very very quickly, mostly because once you investigate past the shock value, there is no art. Marquis de Sade still strikes and shocks people become he is maniacally brilliant, if he wasn't it would just be a lot of rude words.

Thankfully! My judgments were proven to be premature! Thank Christ. Stephane Ginsburgh sat and BANG! it kicked off. The four part composition played on singular elements be it terrifying and almost hilarious electronic sounds or simple melodic lines which were distorted so heavily they were barely recognisable. Structurally it was magnificent and amazingly funny. And thinking back to his comments, this piece could almost be the exploration of that personal existential crisis of landing slap bang in the middle of the two. Once again Stephane Ginsburgh was impeccable and in total control, adding to the humour in a sweet way. Just a joy!

After the break came Michael Beil's Karaoke Rebranng! I was fascinated as the quartet performing were young musicians from Synaethesis Ensemble playing, so I was intrigued how they would tackle a piece in this concert. The work was curious indeed, the musicians would stand, play something, then sit. Each contributing almost at random, but once the video footage followed and looped on itself, the structural devices began to become clear. The layering of lines and harmonisations of this sporadic movements suddenly turned these fine musicians into mechanical automatons. They functioned like clockwork and the young musicians nailed it! What I found particularly wonderful was the structure kept surprising me. Always tricking me. The finest example was towards the end when Marta Finkelstein, Monika Kiknadze, Arminas Bizys, and Lukas Budzinauskas all left the stage, we were left with just the visuals; I naively thought it would draw to a close by showing the recorded performers leaving too. I was wrong, and boy was a wrong! The sudden recitations in German, accompanied by grandeous orchestral stabs came from nothing and were just amazing. Those final gestures were the funniest things I have witnessed in a while. Just brilliant.

Then after a bit more shuffling, came Francois Sarhan's O Piano for speaking pianist and recorded sounds. The work was a sporadic and broken patchwork of quotations. The musical gestures either mimicked or distracted from the already scrambled text. The result was a curious and scatological biography, a performer discussing how they became a musician. The sensation was almost like they had forgotten everything and were trying to remember everything and only pieces came to them at a time. The shape and nuance was inspired, and Stephane Ginsburgh showed how magnificent he was once again. Just wonderful.

The finale came in the form of Anatolijus Senderovas's ...after Chagall. The piece for solo clarinet, string quartet and percussion, was inspired by stained glass he saw in Jerusalem by Chagall. The work started with tiny gestures from the stained glass being played by percussion and clarinet. It was restrained and modest. Sadly this was short lived. Senderovas's music does this quite a lot, starts modest, curious and mysterious then he shoots himself in the foot with music heavily inspired by Klezmer. The piece was unstructured and nonsensical. He tried to do what Peteris Vasks does so masterfully, which is combined 'modern' elements with nostalgic folk elements, in a desperate hope to bring native ancient traditions along with him in this modern lifetime. The gesture is noble, but demands two things firstly structurally and musically everything needs a greater purpose; there is no point in just slamming in a folk element for the sake of it. Secondly and for me probably the most important thing is Klezmer isn't the only musical form to come from Jewish communities, yes it is the most famous, but it isn't the only one. Judaism has been essentially everywhere, and has always brought a wonderful twist to life in the nation by combining their faith and tradition with their environment, my personal favourite is the Birds on Fire CD by Fretwork, which is recordings of music by Jewish composers living in Britain in the 16th Century. Like all great religions there is so much breadth to it and maybe if Senderovas explored some of that breadth we would have heard a much better piece last night.

Anyways the whole concert was magnificent. The quality of performance was astonishing, like always. Lithuanian Ensemble Network are a very fine group indeed and have done many wonders for Lithuania. Another fine concert for GAIDA 2016. Now bring on today's concert!  

22 October 2016

And off we go GAIDA 2016

So after a long wait of eager anticipation GAIDA 2016 has begun. As mentioned in my last post, GAIDA 2016 joined me in celebrating their 26th birthday and what an occasion it was too. The Filharmonie hall was packed full of enthusiastic and curious people, eager to partake in the nights events. After the usual nattering of old colleagues catching each other and young students bumping into friends, the audience wandered into the hall with a slight sense of befuddlement and confusion. Everyone was curious and eager to find out why they had to navigate around music stands to get to their seats for the beginning of the night's event. 

After the usual warm introduction and thanks, the concert started with Gyorgy Kurtag's Double Concerto for piano, cello, and two chamber ensembles. The four movement concerto was curious, strong, but profoundly modest (like all things by Kurtag). Each movement had a clear defining sense of character, full of wonderful nuances which were elegantly crafted throughout the ensemble. You could feel you were in for a treat when the soloists Francesco Dillon and Emanuele Torquati so wonderfully performed their microscopic gestures which danced so subtly around each other. The chamber groups were spread throughout the hall and made for some fantastic outerbody experiences. Admittedly these would have been more striking in a bigger hall to really exploit depth, but that being said the effect was not really tarnished too much; it just lacked the same expansiveness of the work, but didn't detract from it. I always found the moments the recorders appeared particularly alien and wonderful, undefined but clear sounds just gorgeous stuff. Throughout all of this the orchestra showed a surprising amount of clout, their were almost no blemishes in the performance, Jonathan Berman really knew how to get the most out of this fine orchestra who tend to be a bit shy when it comes to twentieth century and twenty-first century repertoire. Francesco Dillon and Emanuele Torquati were just faultless, both in their own parts, but the way they always seemed to naturally interact with each other and just blend together quite beautifully. The final chords of the concerto were exquisite, the hall was frozen, and I was in a very happy place; it was only when we released the tension and clapped that everyone came back to earth. 





After a short break, to furiously and speedily return chairs to their natural state, the concert resumed with a work by Vykintas Baltakas. His commentum for cello and orchestra is a reworking of his piece by the same name for cello and piano. I stress the word reworking, as to suggest it is an arrangement of the earlier work would be a dire misjudgment. The piece starts with the same cheeky wit, with ideas appearing like flashes. As the piece developed, I really gained a sensation that the orchestral treatment was very similar to his Saxordionphonics (a very fine work for saxophone, accordion, and chamber orchestra), within it the flourishes and stabs are never violent. Maybe I am using the wrong word, poking and nudging would be a more suitable word to describe it. The ideas give you a playful nudge in the hopes you'd notice their magnificence, but the chances are if you weren't thinking you missed it. So it cheekily nudges you again. The other way of looking at it, is like being at a dinner party and somebody nudges you and follows with the line 'did I tell you about the time...' and rivet you with a charming anecdote. Francesco Dillon almost seemed built for this piece, his control and charm with it is far more apparent and natural. The pairing of Kurtag and Baltakas was also a very fine choice indeed, as they both complement each superbly. Their music may not say a lot in a given time, but you can be damn sure everyone utterance is vital, insightful, and above all else witty.

  

It is very rare in a concert to feel the audience become awed by a musician merely showing up with their instrument. With the appearance of Liudas Mockunas and his bass saxophone, you could feel everyone go 'oooooo'. The instrument is glorious and fascinating, and like the rest of the saxophone family, a really suffering when it comes to good concerto or solo works (I think this issue stems from many poorer composers forgetting that the saxophone can do other things than jazz). So with this in mind I was curious to see how Vytautas Germanavicius would tackle such a conundrum. His work Underwater Geometry had me intrigued for a long time, as before this concert the only other works of his I was familiar with were small chamber groups of maybe four at most. Ultimately I think he is more suited to more austere ensembles. The piece ultimately liked a defining point to it. Many fine gestures and textures were created, but they often lacked purpose; the finest example was the fact the soloist double soprano saxophone, to play it for a microsecond before returning to the beast. The soloist was remarkable, his control of everything was fantastic, and to be honest if it were just a piece for bass saxophone I probably would have be wowed by it. Sadly because the dynamic and interaction between soloist and orchestra was underbaked it couldn't really turn into anything tangibly interesting. Which is a shame, saxophones need good repertoire, especially the lower members of the family. I can only really think of Georg Fredrich Haas's Concerto for Baritone Saxophone as the only decent work for low saxes. I'll just have to keep looking and listening.


The finale came in the form of Liza Lim's Pearl, Ochre, Hair String. To be honest I am divided about the work of Liza Lim, but I think it is because I either find the pieces are out of this world or just a bit limp. Thankfully this was solid and by solid I mean brutally violent! The opening screams and scrapes from the cellist armed with a stick wrapped in bow hair was a stunning jolt of electricity after the previous piece and really gripped everyone hard. The work really showed an elegant to and fro between beautiful serene harmonies and jagged sounds. It was by far the most brutal and intense piece of the night. A violent kick in the face after the early pieces full of charm and wit. The sensation was like spending a fine evening at dinner party, full of witty anecdotes and remarks before ending the night by being knocked out in a boxing ring. This is ultimately to everyone's strength I think, because it really highlighted the qualities of every piece, and made Liza Lim's more exhilarating.

The whole concert was a wondrous way to start a festival, to be honest I cannot imagine many other concerts which were so succinct and nuanced but also radically different. The juxtaposition of Liza Lim to Kurtag and Vyktinas Baltakas was inspired. I cannot wait for today's events in the contemporary art gallery.

14 October 2016

100 60 70 90 40 26 80 50 - GAIDA Festival Preview

After a much needed breather, I am ready to manically type once again. And what a time it is too! GAIDA Festival starts in just one week. For those who didn't see my excitable wittering about the festival last year, GAIDA is one of Lithuania's most significant festivals. This annual festival is particularly important because it is a great platform of cultural exchange. Every year many wonderful musicians from across the globe come to Vilnius to show their art, and in return the festival presents many fine natives on a level grounding as their international counterparts. Last year's festival was a great smorgasbord of contemporary music, with pretty much everything from Francesco Filidei to Terry Riley. I don't want to dwell too much on last year's festival as I am eager to discuss this year's events, but for those who want to see more look here

This year looks like an intriguing one for two major reasons. Firstly the sheer quantity of composer anniversaries that are being celebrated is astronomical! Celebrating Julius Juzeliunas's centenary, Gyorgy Kurtag's 90th, Steve Reich's 80th, Peteris Vasks and what would have been Gerard Grisey's 80th, Luce Francesconi's, Michael Gordon's and Thierry De May's 60th, Liza Lim and Zita Bruzaite's 50th as well as many people's 40th Birthdays! Each of these composers could easily have a week dedicated to each of them, so you can imagine how manic the week is going to be with pieces from all of these composers. On a side note, in the press conference yesterday, Remigijus Merkelys argued the reason they were celebrating GAIDA's 26th anniversary was because of the multitude of significant anniversaries that coincide with it; the only reason I point this out is I am rather chuffed to be celebrating my 26th on the exact same day as GAIDA! 

And back to the festival, there are many fine concerts that I will be attending, denying myself sleep and food to see these fine events. But here are some of my highlights! 

Where better to start than the beginning? The opening concert looks like a fine occassion indeed with works by Liza Lim, Vykintas Baltakas, Vytautas Germanavicius, and Gyorgy Kurtag. The inclusion of Baltakas's commentum for cello and orchestra will be a lovely thing to witness. Gyorgy Kurtag's Double Concerto also looks like a fine display for the senses. Have a sneaky peak at commentum for cello and piano below:


As always, the Lietuvos Ansambliu Tinklas (Lithuanian Ensemble Network) will be a wonderful event to see. The mix of repertoire is extremely distant from their concert last year, so I am curious to see how the ensemble tackles it. There are also two premieres by Vytautas V. Jurgutis and Anatolijus Senderovas, so it will be fascinating to see what they have to offer.

The next concert that fascinates me is the duo of Goska Isphording and Maciej Frackiewicz. The accordion and harpsichord duo, yes you heard, accordion and harpsichord. So part of my fascination with this particular concert is the curiosity of witnessing such a mismatched pair of instruments perform together. To further the curiosity the mix of repertoire seems to be as mixed up as the instrumentation with works by Grisey, Vasks, Steen-Anderson, and Janulyte. A really curious mix indeed.

The next day sees Pierre-Laurent Aimard coming to Vilnius, I am not going to waste your time and tell you what you all already know. Pierre-Laurent is amazing, and the concert will be astonishing. On the same day is the Slovak Quasars Ensemble, the repertoire looks like something I'd enjoy sinking my teeth into.

The following day is a concert simply named Quartettisimo, and when you see there are four quartets involved, the title becomes incredibly apt. The programming from the outside seems the most succinct with works by Juzeliunas, Zibuokle Martinaitye, Ramunas Motiekaitis, Vasks, Sodeika, Ruta Vitkauskaite, and Simon Steen-Anderson. The three premieres will be intriguing to witness. 



The appearance of Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich, needs no introduction. We know what we are going to hear and the musicians are a fine mix indeed. On the same day Reich makes his mark, the young whippersnappers Ensemble Synaethesis, will stamp their feet and dig in their heels and place themselves on par with these elder giants. The mix of repertoire is curious, I am curious to see if they can deliver, I know the have the energy and drive to, time will surely tell.

On the 29th will see the National Symphony Orchestra performing, with works by Philippe Manoury, Luca Francesconi, Zita Bruzaite, and Michael Gordon. I am curious to hear how this particular concert will pan out. Once again there are piano duos playing alongside the orchestra, so in theory this could be quite a bombastic affair.

So overall, as you can plainly see, I am very excited about this years platter of performances. Hopefully they will live up to my enthusiastic excitability, and if not I will still probably enjoy myself greatly. Once again, I am glad to see there is a huge variety in the pieces and composers on display. The organisers have managed not to fall into the trap of a 'festival sound' and show a wonderfully wide spectrum of pieces. You can see more detail about the concerts here on the festival's website.

1 October 2016

Ledonesiai - Four Hands and Icebergs

Last night in the cosy space of the Steinway and Sons dealer in Vilnius was a concert of 20th Century music for piano four hands. The duo of Diana Anna Kislovskaja and Lina Petkeviciute treated us to a nice varied programme of works by many fine composers over the past 100 years, with about half the repertoire being from the Baltic.


The concert opened with Diana quietly shuffling in to play Arvo Part's Fur Alina. The popular work for solo piano is performed so much within Lithuania and it is always lovely to hear it. The curious element for me, is what seems to be a Lithuanian habit of playing the piece twice. Diana showed a real calmness and ability to let notes ring, but I imagine if she slowed it down dramatically and bought the dynamic down too the performance would have been out of this world.
Then after a brief introduction of the concert as a whole, came a radical gear change. Poulenc's Sonata for Four Hands. This playful piece is another joyous piece, I don't get to hear quite as often as I'd like and the pair of Lina and Diana, really knew how to bring out the cheeky charm of Poulenc while retaining a great sense of intellect. The nuance and sheer dialogue as a duo was a definitive treat for the ears. Following this was the wonderfully brief Three Easy Pieces by Stravinsky. The pairs sense of charm and humour really came out in this piece, especially during passages of really heavy bitonality, which to my ears always sound amazingly sarcastic. 


After a minute breather, we came to our next Baltic piece, Pari Intervallo by Arvo Part. This piece is oddly not as popular, considering how wonderful it is. The pair played the piece well, but the problem is, to make Part really musical you really have to delve into the piece; just playing the notes is never enough. I don't know how aware the pair are of this, but Pari Intervallo is originally a work for organ, and so this kind of quality needs to be bought out of the piano duo. Leaving the pedal sustained for the entire piece, combined with an extremely steady tempi would really make the notes hang in the air magnificently. This being said last night's performance was still very nicely done, just that extra push would really make the piece electric. 


Of course John Adams would make some form of appearance in this concert. Its almost impossible to find a series of 20th Century concerts in Lithuania that don't feature minimalists. Lina rendition of China Gates was magnificently done I couldn't fault it. Then came a duo by a composer I had no previous knowledge of. Tiziano Bedetti's L'auriga celeste was a series of miniatures for piano four hands. Their brevity really bought out the charm of the music, never over staying its welcome. It was almost like having an overly polite guest visit you to utter a few little quips and anecdotes, before leaving quickly because they 'didn't want to be a bother'. The character of these miniatures really suited the duo quite naturally, everything spoke well, and they really seemed in tune with each other.
Following this came the focus of the concert Ledonesiai by Justina Trinkunaite. This work was one of the most substantial pieces of the concert and showed a composer with a sign of lots of promise. The opening was hypnotising, and the way it gathered its momentum was elegantly done. Nothing was over used, nothing was under appreciated. Every gesture had purpose and was effective. The directness of the overall dramaturgy was profoundly timed and avoided cliche. The climax of the work was striking and intense, with the roaring harmonies and resonating strings really creating a powerful discourse. Then the final Baltic composer appeared. Gintaras Sodeika's Cikados is a really lively and intensive piece. The interplay between the duo is bordering on the line of complete self destruction, but the duo walked through it.


Then came a rare treat in the Baltic, Feldman's Four Hands. Despite the huge popularity of American experimental music here in Lithuania, Morton Feldman hasn't seemed to connect to musicians in the same way; I am unsure if this is just availability of scores of just something in the local temperament. The performance was heartfelt, but to be honest a little fast. As Feldman had a masterful way of making pieces last hours, a piece like Four Hands really deserves to be steady. That being said, the interaction between the pair and the atmosphere they created was magical. The finale came in the form of Steve Morris's Heavy Light a really lively and playful piece, which was a nice way to round of a concert. But a part of me really wanted something a bit more profound or jubilant to finish.


The duo overall show a lot of promise. Technically speaking there is no faulting them, interpretation sometimes needs to be questioned more, but as they grow they can learn this very easily. My main thought is if they are going to go down the route of piano duos and piano four hands they really need to tackle some of the larger classics of the repertoire or alternatively really broaden their knowledge. The repertoire was very nice, the mix was good, but nothing really in their choices surprised me. This is something they should explore if they want to become a more substantial duo. I also say this in the hope they play works like Steve Martland's Drill or even the piano four hands rendition of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Either way I will be keeping my eye on them.






30 September 2016

Osvaldas Balakauskas - Symphony No. 1

Today I wanted to go over a wonderful recording I recently came across of Osvaldas Balakauskas's Symphony No. 1. For those of you unfamiliar with his work Balakauskas is one of the most significant and crucial figures for Lithuanian music. In 1964-69 Balakauskas was studying in Kiev Boris Lyatoshinsky (1895-1967) (or Lyatoshynsky, depending on your preferred spelling). As the majority of his cumulative years as a composer were away from Lithuania, the knowledge he bought back with him would have been enough to secure his significance; particularly as during that time travel and exchange of information was still slow. Thanks to the cultural thaw under the years of Kruschev, information from Western Europe was seeping through into the Iron Curtain, but individuals needs to search intensively to find it. For Balakauskas being in Kiev allowed him to gain access to the works of Anton Webern, Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis,and Pierre Boulez; composers who would have a profound influence on his work.


Upon Balakauskas's return to Lithuania in 1972 he stood out as a singularity having not gone through the same 'rites of passage' as his contemporaries like Bronius Kutavicius or Feliksas Bajoras. But he was eager to continue striving forward delving deeper into serial technique crafting into something uniquely his. It must be pointed out here, that even though many Lithuanian composers from Benjaminas Gorbulskis to Vytautas Barkaukas, but it never really sunk in as a significant trend; unlike Britain, France, Germany, or America where the affects of serialism still ring out amongst composers. The sheer fact Balakauskas was delving into serialism so deeply is curious considering his surroundings. Then to realise he managed to do something only really matched by Peter Schat (1935-2003) by creating a serial-logic that adds a whole new interpretation of it.


But anyways back to the symphony. Balakauskas's first symphony was written in 1973, being one of the largest pieces he wrote upon his return to Lithuania. The symphony is a 24 minute beast for full orchestra and is fantastically intense to listen to. The symphony shows a radical young composer screaming, desperate to be heard. The opening flourishes and jagged edges dance their way around the orchestra, never wanting to settle down. The hard edges of the harmonies combined with the angular bouncing of the melody, despite their intensity, draw the listener deep into the fray. Moments of calm appear, but have an unsettling edge to them, a sensation similar to the eye of a storm. The angst slowly gathers momentum again, building into extremely powerful and tense moments. The contrapuntal violence between the lower brass and the high woodwinds makes for an intensive crossfire. The finale of the movement is extremely strong and potent, just a magnificent beast really before fading away to nothing.

The second movement is dark and lilts stealthily around. The passing melodic lines add to the mystery. A really fascinating movement which never truly reveals itself, just draws you deeper and deeper while it steadily and patiently gathers itself. The vaguely cyclic nature of the movement adds to the hypnotism, despite the intense climaxes that are reached, you are still lulled into a false sense of security. 


The finale movement builds with an extremely energetic fugue. The finale is bombastic and full of beans. The rhythmic intensity is always present, even at points of supposed calm. The sensation of drive and energy is unmatched really. The dense harmonies are crafted superbly, producing magnificent sonorities despite the complexity of the harmonic language. This combined with the magnificent rhythmic craft, produces an elegant work indeed. A truly underappreciated gem, which needs to be heard more. 




23 September 2016

Vytautas Montvila: Chorai

As things are relatively calm on the concert front for, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to return to a cycle I started discussing this time last year. The Lithuanian composer Vytautas Montvila is one of the most curious composers I have discovered during my time within Lithuania. His skillful craft of combining folk music and sonoristic gestures together makes for a rather remarkable listen. 



In the post I did last year on Montvila I discussed his Gothic Poem, the first and largest part of a cycle of three orchestral pieces called Poems of Vilnius. In Gothic Poem we see variations forms of folk music appearing within the thick canonic texture. You can listen to it below:


Chorai is an interesting partner for the triptych, as ultimately it is seemingly the most modest. In comparison to the dense shimmering haze of Gothic Poem, Chorai starts with a simple, quiet diad of E and G#. This steadily builds into a beautiful modal undercurrent which the oboes introduce the main ideas of melodic focus. The entry of the horns and trombones brings with it a really rich and thick orchestration really bringing the orchestra to life. This gradually fades away to a very serene pause within the momentum. This slowly leads to a large gathering of energy and power where the flutes and horns contest their folk melodies against the oboes and clarinets. Another breathing space manifests itself, before culminating into the largest climax of the work. Like a lot of moments through the piece, every moment is short lived and only really briefly considered. The work after the climax begins to lose its energy and returns to the same stillness it opened with.


When compared directly to its partner piece, Gothic Poem, Chorai is seemingly naive in comparison to the larger segment. But within its simplicity and restrained modesty the work has a unique charm with it. The orchestration is highly skilled and oddly austere, when you consider the sheer mass Montvila is using within the piece. Within the context of the whole triptych, Chorai is a beautiful and much needed refrain. The dark intensity of the opening can only be countered by the direct openness of the Chorai, it also allows for Svente (the finale) to really let itself loose. Its joyous bombastic energy is majestic, and definitely something I will come to in the future.


You can listen to Chorai here, I hope you enjoy:

video

16 September 2016

Jeronimas Kacinskas - Missa Brevis

For today's post I thought it would be nice to look back at one of my biggest loves from Lithuania during the early 20th Century, Jeronimas Kacinskas. A composer of intense originality and drive he wrote some of the most definitive and seminal works of Lithuania's history. Born 1907, Jeronimas Kacinskas was a part of the generation of composers who came to musical maturity at the same time Lithuania gained independence. This period was bustling with energy as many composers and artists were desperate to work out what is Lithuanian music? The search for national identity combined with a desire to modernise and keep up with the rest of Europe were desires particularly prevalent in Jeronimas Kacinskas and his contemporaries like Vytautas Bacevicius.


Jeronimas Kacinskas found that Lithuanian audiences during this period to be very hesitant to evolve with him, and in turn founded a musical journal Muzikos Barai which attempted to introduce people to new modern ideas being explored by artists. His desires to explore new ideas were so vital that he was recommend to study in Prague, where audiences and composers were far more experimental. Kacinskas followed this advice and went on to Prague where he learnt about the microtonal music of Alois Haba with whom he had taken many lessons. During this time Kacinskas had written his second string quartet, which was the first Lithuanian piece to use microtonal thinking. Sadly due to the chaos created by the onset of war this piece disappeared.


It is during this fraught period that saw many Eastern Europeans being forced to abandon their homes for calmer and more prosperous shores. For Kacinskas and his family, they fled the Soviets who had already labelled him as far too decadent. After a significant stasis in the USA controlled regions of Germany, Kacinskas went on to America with many diaspora Lithuanians like Vytautas Bacevicius. After his move to America, he stilled composed for many years and taught in Boston where he lived. Out of all his contemporaries in America, he was the only one to survive to see his native land regain independence where he was able to return and his music was finally able to be rediscovered by his kin.


Kacinskas's life is a fascinating one, mostly because it shows a composer who just brushed himself off and carried on. During his lifetime he wrote many significant works, his Nonetas is of particular significance due to its intensity and gorgeous brutality. The similarities with Bartok are very prevalent. This is a work I will return to in more detail, but I wanted to start off with his Missa Brevis (1945). This small work for male voices is quite a curious and beautiful piece. In its four movements you see a composer with a fine craft but also manages to add wonderful surprises within such a simple and confined space. I also find it particularly poignant considering it is a work written on the stroke of the second world war ending. And I simply adore that despite the chaos around him, he just wrote. Didn't need to make a big event of it, just wrote simply and directly and the result if beautiful.


The kyrie is almost homophonic throughout, the four part setting rolls and lilts around. Slowly gathering itself into really striking moments. The little surprises in the movement come in the form of little tertiary shifts where the music just skips a beat harmonically but it never interrupts the flow of the music, but actually extends it. 
The following sanctus builds up in a similar manner, with the same kind of tertiary shifts. The conclusion is really strong and just wonderful to listen to. The benedictus feels the most fluid with lines rippling along. Then the final agnus dei is just divine, a real treat for the ears.


The mass is brief and modest, but that in no way diminishes its beauty and craft. It is a real joy to listen to the whole thing. Below is a recording from a CD I recently got from the music information centre here in Vilnius. Enjoy!

video


8 September 2016

A hoquet and an exploration of 10 years of Narbutaite

This evening in the overflowing National Art Gallery, was the second in a triptych of concerts dedicated to the life and work of Onute Narbutaite, who celebrates her 60th birthday this year. This particular concert was focused on a 10 year period of her life, from 1986-1995, a fascinating period for two reasons; firstly it is a period that isn't celebrated that greatly and secondly it is a period when the trademark Narbutaite sound evolved into the magic we know and love today.Once again it was wonderful to see a concert were we were nearly literally up to the rafters with audience members of all walks of life eager to hear this rare treats.

After a heartfelt speech giving tribute and concert began with the percussion trio 'Monogramme' (1992). The work started with sporadic pops and stabs from the percussionists, the mood was very much akin to Xenakis in their almost random but almost mathematical precise gesturing. From this gradually melodic materials appeared in the pitched percussions which glistened and rang in the hall ceremoniously. The sense of anticipation and energy was always simmering away in the work, even during passages of almost complete stillness. On the whole the work was intriguing for many reasons, firstly for its similarities to major European composers like Iannis Xenakis and Hans Abrahamsen (during the modal passages). In the work you can hear a desire to find something greater than what it is.


The following work 'Astuonstyge' (1986) is the oldest work featured in the concert and sadly hasn't aged as well as the other repertoire in the concert. The intensive violin and viola duo, is full of violent posturing from the musicians, as well as passages of quite serene beauty. But the work feels a bit lost on two grounds, firstly the blocky structure ultimately negates the violent passages, almost neutering them. This combined with lasting just a bit too long kind of sucked the energy out of the room. This being said, the work is a great demonstration of the contrapuntal skills of the then, younger composer. The piece also stands as a great test piece really demonstrating everything that can be achieved in such a dynamic. The performers were second to none, but I imagine if the structure was far more obviously organic, or the work was a tad shorter it would have been astounding. All this being said, Narbutaite has evolved into a truly magnificent composer, and this work serves as a good biographical piece, showing her evolution to her current state.


The third work was by far my personal favourite. 'Liberatio' (1989) is a work I have been vaguely familiar with for a long while now as it is featured on the wonderful CD produced my Finlandia which features her magnificent second symphony. With the first notes of the flute the piece grabs you. The hypnotic harmonic material slowly begins to grow, constantly circling on itself, it lures you in. Then at points when you are most mesmerised she strikes with bold brass chords and ringing dense harmonies. The sensation is as powerful and one sided as a hammer smashing an eclair, it completely decimates and makes a massive impact.This particular piece is a very poignant moment, with in this you can hear Narbutaite found her voice. But instead of timidly crafting it into elegant profundities she used that voice to scream. The work is magnificently brutal and the acoustic of the gallery only magnified it. A stunning piece and definitely worth listening to the recording which is on Spotify.


Following on from this, a short speech was given my Onute Narbutaite, allowing for massive stage management to occur for the final two pieces. The penultimate piece 'Hoquetus' (1993) is a curious little work for viola, cello, and double bass. In short the rhythmic games of the hoquet are like watching the manic dance of a three legged person. The gestures bounce around and the trio manage to keep a sense of jollity despite the obvious complexity in the rhythmic patterns. The piece was a well programmed bit of respite after the power of 'Liberatio' and the upcoming immensity of 'Verinys'.


The finale came in the form of 'Verinys' (1995), a fascinating ritual-like piece for winds, strings and percussion. The instrumentalists were dotted all over the place creating a wonderful 3D field of sound to surround  the audience. Each musician is given a collection of fragments that they are to play and the conductor defines the beginning of each section. What this set-up creates is a truly magical piece where the wind instruments slowly gather their combined sound, growing into a ringing magnificent aura of sound. Before slowly fading away as the next section takes hold. The sensation of time is rather curious within this piece as ideas calmly drift in, but like in nature, things fade away leaving only faint murmurs of their past existence. No matter their power or majesty everything fades away. The atmosphere after the final note was powerful. Holding everyone in place.


Even though within this concert only two pieces really stand the test of time, a concert like this still has a major value. It shows us the state of flux within the composer's own existence during this time, ignoring the social and political changes going on around her at the same time. It also shows the many routes she could have traveled as a composer, reminding us that despite the freshness of ideas used, doesn't mean they give the composer a decent amount of longevity to their work. Finally this kind of concert really allows us to understand how Narbutaite became Narbutaite, and if we are to understand great composers, understanding them in the context of their own works is of vital importance.