8 August 2017

Female composers in the Baltic

As the push for greater equality in classical gains more and more momentum, I thought now would be a decent time to just stand back and mention some of the many wonderful female composers from the three Baltic states. This list won't be in any form or order, expect listing nation by nation, and will serve as more of an introduction to female composers in the Baltic; especially those I haven't had the chance to mention yet. Gender equality in the region is something I will like to touch upon in future, but that will be for another time. So for now I hope you all find something you enjoy!


Our first composer, Galina Grigorjeva (1962*), was born in Odessa, Crimea, and only came to Estonia after studying with Lepo Sumera. However this does not mean she is disconnected from the scene by any means. Her music is rich and potent, and her exploration of Slavonic sacred music adds an interesting dimension. This intrigue ultimately makes her music an intriguing statement and question of nationality, identity, and personality especially in a nation whose modern identity is still very new. 

The grand matriarch that is Ester Magi (1922*) stands as the oldest composer in the region as well as having a truly unique and individualistic stance; when compared with her peers and the following generations. Her music has the beautiful combination of personal ingenuity and ever responsive to 'tradition'. Despite the brilliance of her compositions, her music still retains and curious modesty which gives it a truly endearing quality. Thankfully as she has aged more attention is finally heading in her direction, and hopefully soon more performances of her music will come this far west. 

Helena Tulve (1972*), a personal favourite of mine, is a composer with very few who can really be compared to her. The originality of colour and inspired nuance of gestures give her music a quality that is always striking a fresh, regardless of how often one would listen to it. The rolling melismas combined with the resonant spaces make her music sit in a space that usurps the listener fully. For me what makes her music quite so brilliant is the ability to use harmonic space to merely allow the music to speak freely. Very few composers internationally can really compete with the skill in her work.

Evelin Seppar (1986*) is quite a recent discovery for me. And it is quite a curious one indeed. Within her music, you can hear the fascination with modal harmonies, but she skillfully finds ways to knock them off kilter; giving you a new way to listen to the harmonies. There is quite an honest beauty to her music and I look forward to uncovering more recordings myself.

Mirjam Tally (1976*) is another truly striking composer. Her raw potency is the first thing that hits the listener, especially in works like Erosioon. But this brutality is not the sole selling point of her work. Despite the intense focus on sound in the most abstract sense, never loses any sense of musicality or drama. Mirjam Tally, like her contemporaries like Helena Tulve, also really  show the profound energy composers had after the break up of the Soviet Union. Everyone wanted to truly immerse themselves into the new world without fear or question. Mirjam does this with a flair. The sheer impact of her music shows this relentless courage and potency within every gesture.

Lydia Auster (1912-93) is another composer who was not originally born in Estonia, but due to her work lead her there. Born in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan, Lydia studied composition in Leningrad with Mikhail Judin then in Moscow with Vissarion Shebalin. Her composing took her all over the Soviet Union, including stints in Turkmenistan, from 1950-1989 she was the Chairman of the USSR Music Foundation's Estonian Republic Department, firmly planting her within Estonia and the music scene within the region. Her music is charming and witty, and I imagine there would be a huge audience in the UK who would love to listen to her debonair musical stylings.

Tatjana Kozlova-Johannes (1977*) is an Estonian composer of Russian origin. She studied under Jaan Raats  and Helena Tulve and the influence of both of these tutors is apparent within her work, but she never drifts into pastiche. There is an elegant spaciousness to her work, and like her teacher Helena, Tatjana has an inspired ability to entrap the listener. She is still a very new discovery to me, and everything I have found has struck me. I am eager to see what else I can uncover of her work. 

For my last example to represent Estonia, I turn to Liisa Hirsch (1984*). Another very recent discovery, but a truly inspiring one. Her music is extremely direct and unforgiving. The unerring honesty within her music is almost divine. Never hiding or presenting her music in a timid manner. Her music simply is. It is simply remarkable. Her Ascending...Descending is a perfect example of what I mean. The combined elegance of the solo violin's lines accompanied by the perpetual rising or falling of the orchestra is just a joy to behold. 

There were many other names I would love to have mentioned, but it does give me a stronger excuse to return to them in future posts.


Santa Buss (1981*) is a composer I have admired for a significant amount of time, and have also had the joy to interview relatively recently. A music is a constant journey of self exploration. Each piece, its own philosophical quandary being delved into with this highest intensity. No two works sound the same. But her personal 'voice' shines through. Maybe as her internal monologue remains constant, her musical ideas endure the same scrutiny, siphoning off only the gold from the dirt. Its hard to single out one piece as an example so jump to her soundcloud and enjoy! 

A contemporary of Santa Buss, Gundega Smite (1977*) is another composer whose music manages to mystify you one moment and grab you by the scruff of the neck the next. A pupil of Peteris Plakidis, Gundega's music has an elegant sense of craft and purpose which can only be admired. For me, her choral music is what stands out most. Maybe due to the physical and human elements imbued into the music give it that earthy yet mystical quality. Music trapped in human flesh can only dream of transcending its humanity, but Gundega is definitely close to it.

Santa Ratniece (1977*) is another composer I have had the joy of mentioning previously in an article. Like her contemporaries in the Baltic, her music is fascinated with the wider world. Exploring poetry or themes of various cultures, Santa manages to deal with these cultural phenomena with an intrinsic sincerity. So be it exploring historic Jewish traditions or Buddhist art, she manages to approach it with a freshness and openness which only enhances her musicality. I was stunned by the fragility of her piano concerto, I was equally amazed by her ability to produce moments of violence. Santa's music is simply exquisite and needs more performances.

Indra Rise (1961*) stands at a curious point in time. At the point of her studying with Peteris Plakidis in 1990, the world around her had completely changed. This would have left her with the curious circumstances of having the feeling that anything was possible, but also having to fight the crushing sensation of what is our 'identity'. This being said, her music stands strong. Admittedly she could fall into the camp of 'new simplicity' which was heavily celebrated the world over when the Baltic was being rediscovered, Indra manages to not be lost in the labels, and is simply enjoyable. 

Maija Einfelde (1939*) is a composer who only quite recently began to gain some international fame after winning the International Barlow Endowment in the US, this however does not diminish from the elegance of her music. A pupil of Janis Ivanovs, Maija Einfelde is a composer strongly connected to the ideas of a Latvian nationality. She has mostly written for choirs or chamber ensembles, this however does not imply a modesty within her music. Her craft is simply brilliant and stands the test of time. Even though she wouldn't be called a revolutionary figure, her music is simply strong and memorable, and I am struck by every new piece I uncover by her.

Born in remote Ukraine, Marina Gribincika (1966*) is an immensely radical figure. It is extremely hard to pinpoint how she came to be the way she is, but there is a truly potent originality to her work. Within her Smilsu Laiks, the combination of cello octet, combined with shimmering and splatterings of percussion put her music into a whole new dimension. Time simply falls away. It is truly awe-inspiring. Need I say more?

A very recent discovery, Laura Gustovska (1986*) is one of the 'newest' generation of composers now composing in Latvia. Within her music is a vibrancy, and almost optimistic lightness to it. This is not to say, she sounds nostalgic, or to even suggest any naivety in her work, but simply the soundscape produce is truly positive and uplifting, even in darker or most violent passages. When listening to her work, there is a feeling there is a lot more brilliance to come out of her. I wouldn't say she is a done dish, but there is still a large amount of merit to her work as it stands and I look forward to hearing more. 

A contemporary of Gustovska, Ieva Klingenberga (1986*) stands in almost complete contrast to her counterpart. A significant amount of her work is defined by electronics and has a rather colourful attraction to it. The use of electronics combined with abstract thoughts, including Jung's ideas of anima, produces a rather dizzying spell. The hypnotic effect is quite strong, but never fails to kick you when you least expect it. Like Gustovska, time will see how she continues to grow as artist.

To conclude my mix of Latvians, Linda Leimane (1989*) is quite the composer to finish on. Her music is full of personal character and violence. It is almost unforgiving. Her ability to tap into the rawness of musical sound and gesture is remarkable, especially from a young composer in the early stages of her musical life. What strikes me most, is her ability to almost magnify the ensemble. Her chamber pieces like Magnetic Move manages to make a quartet sound like a huge expansive musical beast; which is made all the more impressive when you consider the piece is only 4 minutes long. I think out of all the three young Latvians I have mentioned so far, she has definitely hit me the hardest.

Once again, there are many more composers I could have mentioned and they are mentally added to the list of composers to mention in the future.


For those who have read my blog on more than one occasion, will know I hold the work of Justina Repeckaite (1989*) in extremely high regard. If you needed more proof of this, you simply need to look at previous posts or my description written for the music information centre. She is without a doubt a remarkable composer who always manages to strike with ferocity and fragility in the same gesture. Her first overtly celebrated work Chartres has an intense richness of colour to it, but more recent works like Unbennant-2 have a serene stillness to them which manage to unless power in the most surprising of ways. This year seems like it will be an extremely busy year for her, and after lots of discussion I am curious to see all the music she is going to produce. Also soon I should have a more in depth article discussing her work soon, as she has agreed to an interview, so watch this space.

Loreta Narvilaite (1965*) is a curious composer within the Lithuanian landscape for multiple reasons. Firstly the nuance and charm to her music is simply like no other, not even other 'simplistic' composers quite have the endearing quality Loreta spins so perfectly. What is also fascinating is the fact she has made such an impact as composer, while staying completely rooted in Klaipeda. As the Lithuanian national scene is so heavily dominated by the capital or Kaunas, it is a genuine surprise to see a talented composer get the praise they deserve, despite not being so deeply connected to the scene in the same way as her contemporaries.

Raminta Serksnyte (1975*) is a composer who as she has grown has become increasingly radical in a truly original and poetic manner. As we briefly discussed in an interview her music has an increase plurality to it, especially in comparison to the early 'minimalist' works like De Profundis. This multilayered approach gives her music a rich palette to work with moving seamlessly from gesture to gesture. The elegance of craft, combined with ingenious ideas keeps her truly original. Any future works are almost certainly going to be magnificent to behold.

In direct contrast to the richness of Serksnyte, Diana Cemeryte (1974*) has a profound austerity within her music. The glistening shimmers of distant sounds, combined with unidentified murmurs lead to a fascinating landscape. Almost like trying to find a rare creature. You follow its minute gestures and movements, hoping the rustlings will unearth exactly what you are hunting for. Combined with the austerity of gesture is clear sense of herself. Her ability to just let an idea live is probably my favourite quality within her music. Her Les essais c'est tout II is a perfect example of this.

Onute Narbutaite (1956*) is one of the few figures in Lithuania who can stand purely on the merit of her work, without desperately needing to teach to survive. One of the few internationally celebrated composer Narbutaite is a one of a kind composer. Her nuanced use of harmony combined with immense dramatic powers makes her music quite the experience to behold. As 2016 marked her 60th Birthday, the year was full of fantastic concerts of her music which were inspiring. There aren't many figures in Lithuania who have defined and left such a lasting impact on the musical landscape of the nation. 

Nomeda Valanciute (1961*) is a composer who is heavily rooted within machinism (a minimalistic trend which appeared in the 90s, spearheaded by the likes of Rytis Mazulis, Sarunas Nakas and other contemporaries). Her music is quite simply a matter of fact. It simply is. There is no question. No hidden meaning. Just. Is. It is remarkable that a composer being so defiantly restrictive, could have such a profound impact, but her music is unerring. Never ending. Just music. 

Another composer who is having a profound impact on her generation is Ruta Vitkauskaite (1984*). For those who have read my blog before, will know my paths constantly cross with Ruta, and even though I am not always convinced by the work it must be said her unfailing desire to explore and challenge the norm is courageous. Her constant challenge to accepted traditions leads her to very interesting paths, and I am constantly reminded of figures like Cornelius Cardew or Eliane Radigue, simply because despite her dissatisfaction with tradition; she hasn't just followed other trends, instead trying to tread her own path regardless of the world around her. When her music has been at its most potent, it does stun, and as she grows her ability to keep hitting that goal will only increase. But in the end it doesn't matter, because she will keep challenging herself and the world around her, which is truly noble.

Now for my personal favourite. Juste Janulyte (1982*) is a composer I have admired for an extremely long time. Her music's greatest strength is it's own ability to simply be. Regardless of the world. The ability to simply sit with a sound, or colour, or space and stay still. Without an itching desire to leave. To just exist. It is simply divine. Though her music has been going through seismic changes since her early success, her personal voice is always prevalent. I have discussed her work on numerous occasions because of its brilliance, and I will continue to do so for a long time coming. 

 Once again, there were many figures I would have loved to feature this time, but will have to return to on another occasion. Hopefully sometime soon. Until then, happy listening.

5 August 2017

Erkki-Sven Tuur - Flamma

A rare treat for me happened last night, the BBC Proms featured a Baltic composer. To be brutal, the proms have been rather lackluster this year, mostly because they have felt like they have been working to a formula; more than being genuinely 'bad' or 'lackluster'. Of course the quality of music has been extremely high, and the festival has successfully brought music to a huge collection of various audiences. A part of me however feels a small push of outlandish-ness would really make the festival extremely immense and truly enjoyable.

Anyways back to the point of my post. On Thursday 3rd August the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonic Bremen, under the exquisite baton of Paavo Jarvi, delivered a concert of Brahms, Mozart, and Erkki-Sven Tuur. The pairing I found rather magnificent, as Jarvi's conducting really comes to the fore with these composers, and Erkki-Sven Tuur has a truly witty and cheeky conversational quality to it; that is perfectly compliments Mozart.

Flamma was originally premiered by the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2011, and finally received its British premiere in the Proms. The work is rather typical of Tuur's 'current' period, with its nuanced skill of picking up a huge palette of textures, techniques, and timbres in a singular elegant work; which never resorts to gimmick. The gesturing and shape is vaguely reminiscent of Insula Deserta with its intricate textural gestures and rolling melismas leading into huge powerful climaxes. However Flamma is significantly more 'mature' or at least more obviously the work of a grand master. It is almost like Insula Deserta dosed up on caffeine and amphetamines, ultimately charging like a bull and feeling almost indestructible; definitely a quality Paavo Jarvi manages to pull out of the performance. 

The harmonic language is rich and potent, dissonances never sounding 'forced' and everything just flows. The periods of rich consonance ultimately sound dreamy or in a haze; like a small moment of transcendence from the clattering caused earlier. The score is truly intricate and really shows the composer's ability with such a huge palette. Having had the opportunity to compare the recordings of the Australian performance and Jarvi's performance in the proms, I can without a doubt say Jarvi really knew what to pull out of the score. This could be the result of performing later performances, the premiere is always hardest to produce a personal rendition as conductor; but Paavo Jarvi is really alive within the performance and I can only imagine the sound within the Albert Hall was glorious. 

Erkki-Sven Tuur, has had the privilege of appearing in the proms on multiple occasions, which is not surprising at all, I do hope however that the Proms would be daring to allow more from the Baltic to sneak their way into future festival. I say this now as CBSO have the wonderful Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and that Paavo is a regular guest in the festival too. I can but live and hope. For those who missed the opportunity, you can listen here. Definitely worth a listen, either for the glorious roar of Tuur or the refined conducting of Paavo Jarvi.

Until next time.

25 July 2017

Interview: Raminta Serksnyte

After a few weeks hiatus, I am back to the blog! Full refreshed after a lovely jaunt to Kintai surrounded by the Lithuanian countryside and gorgeous company. I also am able to finally show my interview with Raminta Serksnyte. A truly magnificent composer, Raminta's music stands as quite the leviathan within the local scene. Her music has been performed internationally including recent performance in Birmingham with the CBSO.

As mentioned in my previous post about her work De Profundis her early works were far more defined by minimalistic flavour akin to multiple other Baltic at the time, but after her Oriental Elegy her music took a drastic turn. Her musical colour is full of all the grandeur and flourishes of the post-spectral composers, as well as having a rich harmonic language to make her musical palette so vast. For me, what gives her music such strength is the way it combines all of these elements in such an elegant and fluid manner. Every piece I have heard has attracted my ears, and it was a joy to read her responses. 

Sveiki Raminta, thank you for being willing to be interviewed for the blog. I wanted to first ask you to describe your music for those unfamiliar with your work.

Labas Benai, thank you for the interest in my music. I compose music of various genres –from intimate chamber music to pieces for large-scale orchestra and opera. The balance between intense emotional expression and rationally composed structures has vital importance for me. My main sources of inspiration are nature and a broad spectrum of psychological states: from mysterious, nostalgic mood to dramatic expression and outbursts of vital energy. I consider the composition as a certain uplifted state of mind, materialized by means of sounds, where impressiveness depends on the composer’s technical mastery. 
The main principle of my music is the fluctuation and fusion of non-traditional “major and minor” (in their broadest sense). I would name my composing technic as “chiaroscuro”, with constant alternations of “light” and “dark”, “warm” and “cold” sonorities.

In your work, particularly that post Oriental Elegy, I find an almost sponge like quality. What I mean by this, is your ability to draw upon on almost all forms of musical expression alive today, including spectralism, musique concrete instrumentale, minimalism, and sonorism, and use them as a specific tool within your work. How do you go about exploiting these various musical gestures? And which piece do you think is the most successful at this?

From the early years I liked very different music, which naturally had an influence on me.  The spiritual and emotional impact is extremely important to me, and I often do not care too much about the style. In my opinion, a very simple piece or “new complexity” one can have a similar impact. The ability to compose music in different styles and genres can be compared to being multilingual. In every piece, I try to find the most suitable “musical language” which would be the most efficient in conveying conceptual ideas. Despite any stylistics, all my compositions contains the main principle of my music – the balance and fusion of “major and minor”.   The oratorio “Songs of Sunset and Dawn” is a good example of such “fusion”.

You have had the great fortune of being internationally performed, almost everywhere it seems, but where do you think Lithuania’s standing in the world is? Do you think Lithuania is slowly gaining musical influence? Or is it still trying to remove previous stereotypes and baggage?

In fact, the history of the professional Lithuanian music started just a bit more than 100 years ago.  This short time has seen many dramatic historical events, and Lithuanian music experienced fall and rise. Though during last decades, especially after re-establishment of Lithuanian independence in the 90s, [the] situation has changed drammatically. Thanks to some internationally renowned performers and composers, Lithuania is slowly gaining musical influence in the world.  The contemporary Lithuanian music is often described as “Baltic melancholy“, “specific minimalism“ , which is reflected by repetitious rhythms, consonant harmony, slow and long developments.

From your perspective as teacher within the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, are there any young voices coming up through the years who you find are promising composers?

It is difficult to predict the future of the young composers, though during every exam session I find a few interesting works. Some pieces by Juta Pranulytė, Monika Sokaitė and Jūra  Elena Šedytė  are  quite impressive.

Finally, as I have done with all my other interviews, if you were stranded on a desert island, which five recordings, CDs, LPs would you want to have stranded with you?
  •      Mozart “Requiem”
  •      Björk “Homogenic”
  •      Čiurlionis “The complete piano music”
  •      Tibetan singing bowls (or any other sounds of bells)
  •       Gordon “Decasia”

What made me smile most about these responses, was how in keeping with her character the responses were. Never speaking without purpose, much like her music, everything is direct and to the point and that is probably what draws me in the most. Her music is, just because it is. No question, no need for grand arguments, just simply magnificent music.

Enjoy, and until next time!

4 July 2017


After indulging in recent CDs I was given, I came across a truly astounding bit of music. In the collection, were three compilations of Latvian folk musicians. Within one of these fateful CDs I came across two recordings 'Ei skija, skija' and 'Senprusija' by the folk/pagan metal band Skyforger. Now, my previous encounters with folk metal were generally negative, mostly because with other bands, the inclusion of folk music or folk instruments just seems a tad gimmicky or just simply out of place.

This being said, every once in a while you find something that just throws previous thinking completely out of the window. The discovery of Skyforger for me, was very much akin to discovering Apocalyptica. Four cellists playing metal!? Hearing that you'd think it would be like a load of Dads trying to get down with the kids, but Apocalyptica nailed it and continue to do so. Skyforger really excite me as a band. I say this knowing that I haven't really come across a metal band that excites me for about 6 or 7 years. There is a good chance it was Apocalyptica or some other symphonic metal band.

So who are Skyforger? The quartet, made up of Latvian musicians, was founded in 1995. Even though the original grouping has changed over the years, the band is still going strong. In their 22 year history, they have released 8 CDs each with various points of focus. The themes cover ancient Latvian war songs, celebrations of pagan Gods, or other elements of local folklore. Within this variety of themes, the group hammer out the usual metal set up of guitars and drums with tons of distortion but Latvian folk instrument stand alongside the instruments pounding out alongside the rest. This includes Latvian pipes, kokles, vargan, and giga. The use of these instruments either serve to depict a moment of historical relevance, set the mood for the musical narrative, or just because a bagpipe solo might be needed.


Now the band have not just full blown thrash metal all the time. There are stunning videos of them doing purely acoustic or 'authentic' folk and it is also a joy to watch. And I feel this is where the band really stands strong. They live and breath the folk music, it is completely soaked into their skins and it emanates into their music.   

The sheer breadth of the band is just a joy to listen to. It definitely makes me feel like I'm fifteen again, blasting out metal into my ears or out of my speakers listening nonstop to my new discovery. I am definitely on the hunt for more folk metal to see if there are other groups that can match Skyforger; I do hope some reside in Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia so I can have another excuse to chat about metal on this blog. Its definitely a nice change of gear from my usual postings, but I still love it, so I love chatting about it. Hopefully I'll see Skyforger live soon.


26 June 2017

Interview - Raimonda Ziukaite

After the usual end of term faff, and moving back to the UK, I am finally in a position to return to the blog. And what a time too! I have got the response from a fascinating young composer who agreed to be interviewed for the page. 

The composer in question is Raimonda Ziukaite, and those who have seen previous posts will notice how positive I have been about a lot of her output in recent months. I find, as composer, she is really growing into something very interesting, so I was extremely enthusiastic when she agreed to the interview. 

Labukas Raimonda, firstly to start off things – how would you describe your music to a newcomer who is not familiar with your work?

Labuka. Well, if this is a newcomer to contemporary music in general I would firstly say: 

'it will be weird, you know… you might not like it.'

But if it’s a person, already familiar with contemporary music, then I would say my compositions have a clear idea, gradual process, homogeneity, multilayers. Some pieces are atmospheric, some are energetic, full of vitality (like nature element), and I wish to create more of this 'powerful sound' (like in heavy rock/metal). I don’t like scattered gestures and eclecticism, which I find in the most of contemporary music. In my opinion, music should have a form/inner logic a recipient could grasp. However, I think I still haven’t achieved 'my style', this specific, personal sound I can imagine, I’m still on the way to it. In addition, from 2013 I’m researching a (major/minor) triads and their systematic voice leading networks which might be used in composition. (Later it appeared it has to do with Neo-Riemannian theory). Currently I’m pursuing my doctor degree on it. My ambition is to establish a composition system based on a triad as a structural unit.   

Within your work, I notice an intense philosophical focus. The works each seem to be a playground for your own discoveries and contemplations – how do you feel achieve this within your work?

My motto is to 'never repeat myself'. It could be quite a childish, idealistic, naïve attitude, but I don’t want to produce, 'make' music randomly, thus kind of polluting the aether. For each new work there should be a new and pure idea, which is then developed by structural-processual thinking. During my study years, I used to create like this: let’s say that the idea for the piece will be harmonic (overtone) series and prime numbers. So I’m taking only prime numbers from the harmonic series and constructing 4 series, then permutating and getting 4 layers of it, for the rhythmic applying… guess what…prime numbers again!  (Prime Galaxy). In this way, everything is justified, each note doesn’t come from nowhere (blame it on the structure!). Or I’m taking a harmonic/overtone series and making another 4 rows (untertones, inversions, retrogrades), and then building additional series from each of the member of prime series (like fractals). Thus I’m getting my 'field of musical material' of a perfect structure and then comes the most difficult question: so what? How to transform it to real musical piece, how to play it? Then one needs to figure out adequate textures… Of course, this way of composing lacks personal expression and now I’m willing to involve more of my imagination and hearing into composing. Another curious thing: one teacher said 'but you control everything except the resulting sound itself.' But, working with structures, sometimes it comes nice accidental things. In the case of Vilniaus Bokštai, the structure came into beautiful shapes of towers like score painting and in the end sounded jazzy D7. People thought I done it on purpose, but it was the structure itself! On Chromatography I even saw triads as colours and composed quite intuitive, according the vision of colours. After an analysis, the piece appeared to have a logic structure anyway.

Which composers have most inspired your work? Either directly or just on philosophical levels?

First of all, my teacher Ricardas Kabelis, maybe not as a role model of a composer in terms of his music (never wanted to copy him), but as a very influential teacher, who over 6 years taught me the methods and principles of composition. Talking about sound aesthetics, I enjoy to listen to Michael Gordon and Julie Wolfe (Bang on a Can), Fausto Romitelli, Gérard Grisey, Per Nørgård, Georg Friedrich Haas (limited approximations). My recent discovery was Francesco Filidei. Although his style is an opposite side of the sound of my works, but it really grabbed my attention. And from Lithuanian composers I like music of Žibuokle Martinaitytė, Justė Janulytė, Nomeda Valančiūtė, Egidija Medekšaitė (it’s a coincidence that all are women!) and some more.

During my time here in Vilnius, I see the contemporary music scene is still coming to terms with what it wants to be. Would you agree with this statement? And where do you think it is going? How do you think you fit into the scene?

Firstly, it’s a very small community, and furthermore, some styles/techniques are more frequent here, as if there would be some 'Lithuanian' (or maybe Baltics) sound: slow, nostalgic, meditative music one could call 'Lithuanian minimalism'. There isn’t so much variety in styles (like for example, there isn’t much of new complexity, (thanks God...). Some trends come to Lithuania later as well, although now more and more of young generation goes abroad and gain experience there so the situation might change. Anyway, maybe it’s in my blood (ears), but I enjoy Lithuanian scene/sound.

My relation to it is not so obvious, since so far I don’t feel like I’m making a big career being an important name here. Moreover, somehow I feel repelled from a traditional career path of a contemporary composer: writing for classical instruments, contemporary music ensembles and composing another piece sounding the same as my colleagues. As if there is some born-hardwired need to be an outsider in general, I would love to find my own, personal, unique niche in music scene. The middle way, the average is always the safest, but I’m more tending to 'everything or nothing', although not always having courage for it. I often ask myself, what is the purpose of all this? Maybe that’s why I’m quite unproductive.

That might be related with the feeling I get while listening to contemporary music (and now I’m not talking about Lithuania scene). What is bad with it everywhere: mostly it doesn’t strike. Everybody in the world is making 'something' but rarely it grabs attention, it affects. Composers (I’m not an exception) composing for themselves, solving some issues in their heads which are interesting only for them or, in other words, playing some mind games and then expressing it through music, but the outcome sometimes are like 'meh': me as the listener sitting in a concert and dreaming or even (if it’s really boring) starting to read something... Not mentioning that most of the pieces in that concert sounds the same and you can’t remember them. The popular music wins at least due to its ability to ignite some emotions. The academic contemporary music has this potential too, sometimes even succeeds, but that’s more an exception. 

What are you currently working on? Are there any major works in the pipeline?

Since I’m studying for a doctor’s degree (to be exact, A.D. – doctor of arts) now, I need to fulfill my 'doctor plan' – this makes me a bit more productive (usually I used to compose only one piece per year!) This spring I was composing for ensemble and decided to do everything totally opposite as I’m used to, like an experiment (the piece Katedros involved aleatoricism, extended playing techniques, Baroque music quotes). In addition, this half year witnessed a revival of songwriting for a rock band. Among the nearest future plans is to make algorithmic composition by applying neo-Riemannian theory and of course to find my place, this unique niche I mentioned before, in a music world. J

To finish, if you were on a desert island, what five recordings/vinyls/CDs would you have with you?

Now I won’t mention contemporary music. I would take my own playlist/mixtape of various artists 'Songs of my Life'- songs, which contain some kind of emotional charge to me. These would include some music of Pink Floyd, Agalloch, Alcest, My Bloody Valentine, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan’s song Knocking On Heavens Door and some Lithuanian songs to remind home. And in case there is no electricity in that island, I would bring a music instrument to play and sing myself.

A rather interesting interview indeed, I am definitely looking forward to see how she continues to grow as a composer. For those curious, you can find all her recordings here. And once my luggage finally appears in my flat, I can start going over my new collections of CDs from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. So until then!

20 June 2017

A look back at my final year

Its finally here, the end of year is upon me. My time in Vilnius is closing and I am being released into the real world after many of years of shelter in the bubble of student life. It is rather surreal indeed, to say the least, and I will very shortly after graduating write a post looking back entirely at my time here. But, like I did this time last year, I will look back at some of the lovely concert moments I witnessed and which music I was particularly enamoured with. 

As 2016 was the centenary year of Julius Juzeliunas, autumn also witnessed some major events dedicated to the composer. This was wonderful for me on two fronts, firstly my sheer adoration of the work of Juzeliunas meant I was just going to witness lots of concerts where I admired, if not loved everything I heard; secondly my dissertation for this year was centred around the composer and so these concerts technically counted as 'educational' or 'research'. The most significant performance for the entire year was without a doubt the performance of Zaidimas. Juzeliunas's opera is a glorious feat and stands as both a wonderful moment of its time, but is also such a significant slice of Lithuanian operatic history, with very few composers managing to quite level him (Lokys the Bear, by Bronius Kutavicius is the only equal in my head). The performance was a glorious thing to witness, and I remember how excitable I was after the performance had finished. The only shame that still looms over the performance was the fact it wasn't toured or produced by the National Opera. It just seems surreal that the national opera wouldn't support one of THE composers within Lithuania in the past 100 years. Still, a wonderful concert is a wonderful concert!

The other composer celebrating a significant anniversary was Onute Narbutaite. As the gargantuan figure celebrated her 60th birthday, there were multiple concerts put on to celebrate this fact, spanning from concerts in the filharmonie hall, performance of various chamber works, and my personal favourite, the performance of Centones Meae Urbi. Performed in the Franciscan church here in Vilnius, the performance really bought this magnificent work to life. The sheer intensity of the harmonies and the profound effect it had on its audience, it was a concert I am not likely to forget for many years to come. 

The other major anniversary I didn't manage to contemplate heavily was the 95th birthday of the Estonian composer; Ester Magi. Thankfully I have a good stash of recordings and will make sure I discuss her work very soon! The year did witness a very sad loss in the Baltic. The passing of Veljo Tormis was indeed a sad occasion not least because of the sheer power and originality of his music. As I discussed in a more direct manner his music, like Bronius Kutavicius, found a way to tap into the historic stream of local paganism and managed to rebuild a whole new musical world which could stun, move, and terrify. The world is definitely a sadder place because of his passing.

Like with the previous year, GAIDA Festival and Druskomanija festival were joyous festivals to witness, not least because of the strong variety of premieres they performed. Both festival continue to produce marvelous concerts and I sincerely hope I can find a way to smuggle myself back in October for GAIDA 2017! I have had a real pleasure of witnessing many wonderful premieres this year throughout the world, but I still think the following pieces simply hit me the hardest:

The opening of GAIDA 2016 saw the premiere of Vykintas Baltakas's commentum for cello and orchestra. Despite being an extension of an already existing work for cello and piano, this new work stood proudly on its own feet and merits. The charming conversational nature combined with a cheeky wit made for a glorious piece to witness. Jonathan Berman and Francesco Dillon made for a glorious pairing of performers to deliver such a premiere.

A few days later saw the premiere of another work that particularly struck me; x ciklai by Ramunas Motiekaitis. The piece landed in the middle of an intensely string quartet obsessed concert with 4 separate string quartets either performing on their own or with others to perform many different works. Ramunas's piece struck me the most, due to its calm and modest nature combined with a rather magical interaction with the performers involved. The more I have dwelt on this piece the more I regard it as his strongest work to date. 

The third premiere that particularly struck me happened during my cheeky visit to Riga back in February. The performance of The Colour of Water by Juste Janulyte was a premiere where I was overjoyed I sat on a Lux Express bus for four hours to witness. The sheer elegance and nuance from both the composer and performer made for a glorious welcoming to the city. I spoke about it very highly in my review of the concert, and thankfully recently the composer has put the recording online so I highly recommend it. Admittedly, this was one of three premieres by Juste I managed to see this year, and I loved all of them; but there is a fine line between fascination and overtly creepy obsession with someone and their music. Also I chose to focus on this work more, simply because recording popped up very recently, and the overall concert was pretty astounding. 

This year I also had the joy of travelling the world as a 'lecturer' where I had the pleasure to travel to Salzburg and New York to discuss my favourite Baltic people. It was both wonderful and surreal to get to travel to these places and just natter about what I love to a listening public, and not just nattering manically into some poor sod's ear. A personal joy too, while attending the Sounding the Sacred conference in New York, was witnessing the profound concert delivered by the Goeyvarts Trio, hearing Arvo Part in just intonation blew me away.

Obviously this is not the end of my obsessing of music within the region. There are many more composers I want to discuss and write manically about, and after all the CDs I have received recently, summer will definitely keep me out of trouble. So watch this space soon for more posts about the Baltic, and I close my simply showing a video of some wonderful music by Ester Magi.


Since Monday, I have been in the beautiful city of Salzburg for this year's Crossroads International Contemporary Music Festival. This festival is a growing festival which aims to bring composers from different nations to celebrate ideas and challenge each other in an intensive few days of concerts and lectures. This year was the largest festival and included a lecture by the Italian Simone Fontanelli who discussed his creative work and the conundrum of how to address other people in your own music. Ensemble Synaesthesis have been resident for the whole week, and in the second night of the festival gave a performance of works by Andriessen and Lang. The penultimate night I had the opportunity to discuss elements of my recent research to date.

But ultimately the point of focus was last night's finale. All the work and anticipation was geared towards this performance of two Austrian premieres and three world premieres presented by the resident ensemble Synaethesis. The first work was Rytis Mazulis's De plus en plus, which was first premiered in Druskomanija 2016. Those of you that read my review of the premiere, will remember my astonishment at the fact that this work was so upbeat and perky in comparison to many other of Rytis's works. Last night's performance in Jazzit:Muzik:Club in Salzburg was the perfect venue for it, and a perfect way to open a wonderful concert.

Then after a bit of shuffling came a little ditty by myself, but noone wants to hear about that so lets move on to the more interesting stuff. After even more shuffling came the Austrian premiere of Matthias Leboucher's Underwards for ensemble and electronics. The work was premiered in Synaethesis's GAIDA debut, and I was really struck by the work for its ability to be knee deep in the wonderful worlds of Romitelli and Grisey, without sounding like cheap knock-offs of either. After talking to the composer at the original premiere, he pointed out there were a few hiccups with the electronics, so last night's performance was an extra joy to hear as all the electronics were present and gave the work that extra little something. The gestures, the shape, the colours, were all immaculate; my only thought is how would Matthias tackle a large scale work? I imagine if he did it successful it would push him into a really truly fascinating realm. I highly recommend you check out his soundcloud.

After slightly less shuffling came a work by Karolina Kapustaite, a composer whose development I have watched with the same keen interest that a kestrel watches a mouse in a cornfield. Her work White Light, which was the second world premiere of the night, was written for a slightly smaller ensemble but was by no means less colourful or powerful. The use of harmonic space, combined with strong direct gestures made the work highly memorable, and an interesting step after her work which was premiered in Druskomanija 2016. Ultimately listening to this I was reminded of the works of Magnus Lindberg where the sense of energy was the result of an elaborate combination of natural overtones and building chromatic fields. The other thing I found myself loving, was the fact Karolina and Matthias were a wonderful compliment of each other. Their works inhabited similar spaces without sounding like imitations of each other. Also check out Karolina on soundcloud!

The finale came in the form of seven steps from the top by Dominykas Digimas, another composer I have observed with a lot of interest. I have often found myself witnessing Dominykas exploring the start of a very curious rabbit hole, and last night's premiere was no exception. The piece drew inspiration from Lithuanian Sodai, beautiful folk art sculptures with many layers of symbolism and spirituality.

The piece for quintet was an interesting departure as it was a work straddling the line between refined elegant sounds and filthy noise. The pulsations and circling round singular pitches were bold and strong, but after a while the effect began to thin out as simply the originality of the gesture wasn't strong enough to hide some of the weaknesses in the construction. The harmonic field was the main weakness, simply because it wasn't strong enough to give the work a point of reference. This being said, there is a lot of space to explore in this kind of world, it is a world I have a lot of love for ever since I first discovered the works of Radulescu, Iancu Dumitrescu, and Ana-Maria Avram. This could be why I found faults with the piece. I am looking back up from the rabbit hole, knowing how much further Dominykas can go. As long as he lets himself fall further into the warren there is potential for something very curious to come out of him. See more of Dominykas's works here.

The ensemble Synaesthesis were on good form, and tackled the bold task of performing the premieres in their stride. They have really come on a long way in the year I have been watching their performances. The one trick I particularly adored about the concert, was the simple fact all the works complimented each other, the concert as a whole had a wonderful shape to it, something which is far to rare in contemporary music concerts. So bravo Synaesthesis and bravo Crossroads for a wonderful festival.

8 June 2017

Vidurnakcio saule

Last night in the buzzing atmosphere of the Filharmonie grand hall, was the second concert of the Vilnius Festival 2017. This particular concert drew quite a large crowd due to its guest soloist Mario Brunello and, especially in my case, the premiere of Juste Janulyte's Vidurnakcio saule or Midnight Sun. Now traditionally I would have avoided writing about the concert as there is only one Baltic composer in it, but I am very eager to make an exception in this circumstance. So in short the post is a bit off kilter from my usual ramblings.

So, lets begin! After the usual chitter-chatter to introduce the concert, festival, orchestra, thanking sponsors, and mention everyone to some lesser or greater extent, the concert began with the famous Adagietto. Sehr langsam from Mahler's fifth. I always have mixed feelings about ensembles and concerts programming this element of the symphony on its own, mostly because the sheer magnitude of the movements comes after the gut-wrenching turmoil of the preceding movements, either as a tonic to, or reluctant acceptance of the whole. Just performing the one movement on its own is a bit like smashing a Kinder Surprise and robbing the toy, without at least working through the chocolate beforehand. Anyways, the performance was done rather masterfully, and Modestas Pitrenas really came alive in the work, which he conducted from memory. What particularly attracted me to Pitrenas's rendition was his ability to conduct from memory and not do the conductor habit of staring at the now, non-existant stand; this allowed him to truly interact with the orchestra intimately and the effect was strong. My other joy came from the layout of the orchestra. As the ensemble were set up to perform the following premiere, the orchestral layout had cellos at the front with double-basses in the centre at the back, and violins and violas in an arc. This had the wonderful power of making the whole work sound grounded and more grandly weighted. A nice surprise indeed.

After some shuffling, and grand applause for the entering soloist came Vidurnakcio saule by Juste Janulyte. After the sheer success of her premiere in Riga, I was intrigued how she would respond to writing for soloist and ensemble again. Especially for the cello. An instrument with such a huge historic gravitas behind it, that makes writing a concerto for it an almost terrifying burden for any composer. The work started with hushed murmurs from the heavily muted soloist. His gestures heavily austere and restrained. The orchestra glistening like glass. Each entry was extremely intimate and continued a huge intense fragility throughout the work. The soloist was never overtly virtuosic, but Brunello's control of such disparate and timid material was insane. Many lesser performers would have cracked with such material. As the work progressed, the gate was slowly loosened, with practice mutes being swapped for the traditional mutes; bringing with it a greater energy. The work began to shrink away into nothingness before suddenly breaking into an intensely powerful climax. The entire hall was filled with sound, which was truly incredible when you consider the ensemble were just strings. From the disappearing wave of sound, the screaming soloist finally emerges after almost drowning in the sea of noise. 

This work did challenge me, mostly because what on this earth quite compares to it. And in reality there are very few works that seem to be achieving the same; or at least treating such a soloist in the same manner. Harold in Italy by Berlioz is the obvious comparison with its famous non-hero viola; but that still had the soloist dictating a narrative. This work didn't really strive for that. Another comparison is with Ligeti's cello concerto, but that two-movement work at least allowed the cellist out of his cage to have a wild moment at the end of the work. String Quartet and Orchestra by Feldman feels like the best comparison, with its fragile interactions and profound stillness. But still it is an inadequate comparison as the dynamic between soloist and orchestra still had 'friction' or a 'clash' between each other. My only real conclusion on the dynamic of the duality between the two is the idea that this work was a true concerto in an almost baroque sense. The two elements were at odds with each other. The soloist constantly trying to dictate a narrative, and the orchestra either submitting or retorting to it. The climax is quite so profound as it almost sees the ensemble realise that alone, they cannot beat the soloist, but united there is a chance. Which is where we see the soloist screaming in defiance. Only just managing to quell the weight and power of the united orchestra. For a piece that murmured for an extremely long length of time, it really had a lot to say. 

It must also be noted, after the wonderful performance by Mario Brunello, he performed a truly beautiful encore. I sadly did not catch the name of it, all I can say is it was beautiful!

After the break, the orchestra had returned for the final two pieces. The overture Ruy Blas by Mendelsohn and his 4th symphony. I was highly confused by the inclusion of these two pieces in the concert, mostly because of the fact they were so out of character with the rest of the concert. The theme was 'Italian' but there is such a huge history of Italian music, surely something could have fitted better. I understand concerts have to sell tickets, and god forbid assuming people might be coming for a contemporary piece, but if you can truly match up pieces well; the overall impact is vastly superior. This really was my sole complaint of the second half, as the orchestra had a lovely vibrancy and charm when performing these works, and Pitrenas really shows this is HIS repertoire, as he was even more endearing as a conductor with these works.  

I am a bit gutted I won't be able to catch tonight's concert dedicated to Osvaldas Balakauskas, but anyone who can go I cannot recommend it highly enough!