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!