It was that time of year again, where Donatas Katkus and his band of merry string players perform contemporary pieces and perform premieres of students from the Lithuanian Academy of Music. Once again this year the concert was held in the National Gallery, staring out at the river and riverbank, in the sunny evening sun.
After the usual introductory spiel, came Ieva Budriunaite's Genau. The composer noted her inspiration from Switzerland as well as discussing the multiple motifs that led to the construction of the work. My heart did sink when I saw the names of the listed bands she had taken quotations from; which included Florence and the Machine, Coldplay, Chopin, David Lang, and Doves to name a few. But this being said my fears were dumbfounded. Oh frabjous day, calloh callay! The opening was still and serene, with every entry being surprisingly delicate and crystalline. As the work grew the variety of motifs were handled with increasing skill and nuance, and above all else, amazingly tastefully. Overall the work was modest and rather content in and of itself. Yes, the timbral palette could have been extended some what, and the harmonic language despite showing real ingenuity within tonal language, could have been made more interesting by broadening it. This being said, the work was simply self sustaining. Despite the areas that could have been improved the work, worked. The motifs were handled perfectly and Ieva managed to overcome the nightmarish problem of interacting with the 'pop world'. So well done, and I am curious to see how she continues to grow as a composer.
Following a bit of shuffling, and stern words from Donatas Katkus to the nearby restaurant/cafe area, came the second piece Lietuvos liaudies muzika (1990) by Mindaugas Urbaitis. This work very simply does what it says on the tin. It builds a huge collage or web of varying Dzuku folk melodies and watches how they interact with each other. The whole atmosphere of the piece is very curious indeed. The string orchestra were able to come out of their shell a bit, and every single player managed to make their own melodies sound like the most important part of the piece thus giving a much greater life to the work as a whole.
Then came Monika Sokaite's Sigitas. The three movement work was dedicated to the Lithuanian cultural figure of legend Sigitas Geda. Without knowing how personally Geda influenced Monika, it is very easy to see why he could be a source of inspiration. The three movements draw reference to quotations from various works by the poet and musically everything interacts with them. The first movement opened with harmonies gathering slowly, as if like clouds in a storm. As the energy built within the movement, it was very clear to hear something has clicked within Monika's work. There was a sensation that she has thrown everything she has got at the piece, and it has ultimately paid off. The gesturing, the harmonic contrasts and colours, combined with moments of modesty serenity really show she was desperate to say something in the work. The gesturing and harmonic language throughout the three movements reminded me somewhat of Dobrinka Tabakova or early works of Erkki-Sven Tuur. I always like it when composers surprise me as much at this. There is no need to say much more other than very well done Monika, this was a glorious piece indeed.
The finale came in the form of Perskelta Tyla (2004) by Arvydas Malcys. The huge work for strings really shows off the full strength and fragility of a string ensemble, and Katkus was definitely the man to bring this work to life again. The power and modesty were handled with equal brilliance, and the orchestra constantly showed their dedication to making this work sing. With the finale being what it was, I must congratulate the festival on such a well rounded programme. It is surprisingly rare to see a concert of contemporary music stand so neatly and give a sensation of narrative across the four works. Thinking back to the early incident, a nod or at least a note must be given about Donatas Katkus. With the noise coming from the eating area, many performers would have just carried on begrudgingly, not Katkus. His sheer fervour and dedication to performance really shone when he corrected the situation, before continuing with the wonderful concert. There is definitely only one Donatas Katkus in this world, and what a musician he is.