19 December 2015

Justina Repeckaite: Toro

My choice of composer is built on two reasons, firstly it is always a novelty for me to see contemporary composers writing for my first musical instrument, the euphonium; secondly she is a composer I have admired her work for as long as I have known about her.
Justina Repeckaite (1989*) is a Paris based composer, who initially studied in under the guidance of Osvaldas Balakauskas and Ricardas Kabelis while she was studying in Lithuania. While in Paris she has studied with Jean-luc Herve and worked with many leading ensembles like Ensemble 2e2m and Ensemble Cours-Circuit. A meticulous composer, every single one of Justina's pieces is carefully considered and expertly crafted. In the profile I wrote about her for the Lithuanian music information centre, I made the comparison between her and a diamond which annoyingly now writing this blog post, I cannot find a way to top it. There is not much point in trying to compete with myself or rewrite myself.

The piece in question I wanted to show this week is Justina's work Toro (2015) for euphonium and electronics. the work was written for and dedicated to Vianney Desplantes a wonderful French euphonium player, who really brings so much out of such a beautiful instrument. Toro almost quite simply gets the most animalistic sounds out of the instrument, through percussive colours, multiphonics, and other extended techniques; and then further warps them with the electronics. The result is an extremely primal ritual. 

Despite the raw sounds and disjunctive shifts from gesture to gesture, the result is oddly hypnotic. The gradual build of energy in the centre of the piece is just fantastic; its almost like a whole new creature has been born out of this piece. Hopefully other euphonium players will see this piece and just realise how much more there is to their instrument, so they can finally put things like the Carnival of Venice to sleep. Anyway back to my point, the structure of the piece is handled so beautifully and the energy and musicality always well restrained; its almost like Justina knows the story of the ten bulls, this bull despite still being a wild animal, is well controlled and brings a new musicality to an instrument that has needed this input for a severely long time.

The recording of the piece can be heard here and people who want to discover more about Justina Repeckaite really should check out her website here. I am intrigued where she could take this instrument, and as always very intrigued to see where her music takes her next.

13 December 2015

Bronius Kutavicius: String Quartet No. 1

As mentioned in my last post, I had gone on a bit of a bender in a local music shop where I had managed to buy four scores by Lithuanian composers for around 10 euros. I had discussed Stasys Vainiunas's second piano concerto. This week I am returning to the Lithuanian giant Bronius Kutavicius. In this previous article I discuss Kutavicius's background as well as the phenomenal Gates of Jerusalem. In the aforementioned music shop, I had managed to grab myself a copy of Kutavicius's first string quartet.

The work is an intriguing curiosity for many reasons, firstly it was written in 1971 and it is an intriguing period of Kutavicius's music, as it is still searching for 'identity'. The piece is in three movements simply called: Con Sordino, Pizzicato, and Arco. The three movements in their Feldman-like no-nonsense naming do exactly what the titles say. This mentality would have been a welcome relief for many composers of this time, as it opened the door to more extreme forms of experimentalism, detaching themselves from the romantically obsessed older generations; as well as being able to not go out of the confines of Soviet decreed social realism.

Musically the piece is more akin to early Gorecki or Penderecki, which is of no real surprise due to how important the Warsaw festival was to composers in the iron curtain. The chaotic flourishes, combined with aleatoric devices make the piece truly wild, a far distance from the hypnotic repetitions often associated with the giant.

The first movement, Con Sordino, is almost in a free sonata form, with the two main contrasting materials: the extremely quiet running lines, and the chorale-like texture. The harmonic emphasis of the work is on a tetrachord of A, Bb, B, and C, four tones each a semitone apart. This symmetrical harmony is a definitive sign Kutavicius was incorporating serialism, a form of music that is often seen as a dirty word even now. 

The second movement, Pizzicato, starts with a canonic material incorporating glissandi and many other variations of pizzicato. Then we hear a 8 voiced chorale which leads to an almost recitative like line from the first violin who is interjected by the rest of the ensemble. The centre of the movement is extremely dense, but oddly quiet, as the pluck single notes, but also continue tapping the string. This produces a very dense but quiet rustling from the ensemble. This suddenly breaks into a manic firework of fortissimo plucks which slowly die away into a final hearing of a melody being passed around the ensemble, before the final cadential chord.

The final movement is oddly more traditional, this maybe due to the fact, arco is the basic premise of the instruments. The opening pulses combined with later tremolandi and harmonics, make the movement the most energetic and colourful . The finale of the movement harks back to the dense circling melody we initially heard in the opening movement before coming to a final close on a B. 

Below is a wonderful recording of the work by the Vilnius String Quartet. The piece is an interesting work, but by no means one of Kutavicius's highlights. This is not to degrade the piece in anyway, but Bronius Kutavicius's greatest moments have been his oratorios. Works like Gates of Jerusalem or Last Pagan Rites, are truly astounding. This quartet is a very well crafted work, and a wonderful edition for the ensembles historical canon, but Kutavicius's greatest moments leave this in the dark. This being said, it has been wonderful to delve deeply into this score as it really shapes and give a lot of context to both the life and work of Kutavicius, but also opens up how composers attempted to deal with the situation they were put in during the Soviet Union. 

Until next time, I wonder what gem I'll discuss.

2 December 2015

Stasys Vainiunas - Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra

Another installment arrives earlier this week, as I will be flitting off for a few days and didn't want to get lazy with this blog. It also ties in nicely with my little trip to the music book shop near the old town in Vilnius. I popped in, mostly to buy a friend a birthday present, but came across four scores of Lithuanian composers being sold at an extremely modest price, so I couldn't turn down the opportunity. One of those scores was Stasys Vainiunas's Concerto No. 2 for piano and orchestra.

Stasys Vainiunas (1909-82) is an intriguing composer, mostly from the sense of the fact he was in the first generation to be composing under Soviet occupation. What this ultimately meant was he and composers like Balsys Dvarionas and Antanas Raciunas had to write 'socialist realist' music. Despite the hindrances from external forces the music has some wonderful characteristics, which I think no regime could stamp out. Vainiunas himself was a composer and pianist, which like Chopin and Liszt before him, led him to write primarily for the instrument.

The concerto is a charming and modest three movement concerto. The modesty is probably what drew me to it. I am always put off by sickly sweet pieces which are too self indulgent, its my main complaint of a lot of composers between 1800-now. The form of the first movement is quite a curious little thing. The introduction of the movement is three major segments, with the opening material reappearing to round it off before the soloist gets going. What is interesting is how the introduction material gives away the entire shape of the movement. The rest of the movement plays around on the three areas really exploring their character and shape. The faster material is a modest nod to sutartines with its pulsing and irregular rhythms combined with intervals of a second.

The second movement is a rounded binary shape, with a beautiful harmonisation of the Lithuanian folk tune Beaustanti Ausrele, and the middle being a fast paced rhythmical material which also harks back to sutartines. The simplicity of the shape and open clarity of the harmonies makes the movement quite touching, and is oddly very similar to moment of Gustav Holst or Ralph Vaughan-Williams; especially in their slow melodic movements.

The Final movement is a pianistic tour de force, but is never to bombastic. Its sense of restraint and modesty makes the gestures more meaningful and feels like a necessary concerto and not another piece to bolster the ego of another diva.

Coming across this piece has been quite intriguing, mostly because I have had to do some serious digging to find out about him. The generation of composers in the Soviet era have ultimately been swept under the rug, as understandably, people don't want to reminisce about that period. What also strikes me is how knowing British audiences would adore this piece, mostly the Classic FM variety, but like many composers they become neglected because they are unfamiliar names. Which ultimately is sad, Classic FM listeners could have a wonderfully broad and international palette of music to listen to, but are constantly spoon fed a thousand renditions of Fur Elise or the New world symphony. 

But to come back to the point. Stasys Vainiunas, is a charming composer, who if under different circumstances could have produced something more 'modern'. But the sheer craftsmanship and elegance of the work goes beyond that.

So enjoy the recording below, sadly I could only find recordings online of the first two movements. Next time I will discuss another one of my findings. 

27 November 2015

Rytis Mazulis - Canon Mensurabilis

Before I start my usual ramblings, my brief absence has been the combination of having my first visitor from the UK and being knee deep in other tasks. It has allowed me to spend some time thinking about who on earth do I discuss next. It then suddenly struck me, it has to be Rytis Mazulis next. Having been in Vilnius now for three months, I have been able to see the magnitude of Mazulis's cult status. A quiet man, who is regularly found walking up and down the corridors of the academy, from my own encounters coffee is one of the main motivations for Mazulis's wanderings up around the academy.

Rytis Mazulis (1961*) when he was a student studied with Bronius Kutavicius in the M.K. Ciurlionis School of Arts, then went on to study with Julius Juzeliunas in the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. Mazulis is often described as a 'machinist' composer (not to be misread as 'masochist' composer), for those unfamiliar with the title; 'machinism' supposedly music which ultimately is very mechanic. Ultimately this is kind of true, but tells you nothing about what the music sounds like. I also dislike the title because of its use as an extension of minimalism. This is something that also misses the mark, a significant amount of Mazulis's music is canonic, ultimately a never ending canon, or a perpetually circling canon which is positively medieval, not minimalism.

Rytis Mazulis also often incorporates microintervallic gestures into his music, which is often used to blur the landscape or to simply distort the canon, but always producing hypnotic results. I remember just over a year ago Rytis told me about how when Horatiu Radulescu was in Vilnius, Radulescu kept telling Mazulis off for using microtones in the 'wrong' way.

 I digress, another element of Mazulis's music is the form. Ultimately in Mazulis's works, the form is in one direction, going from start to 'finish'. Inside the music, will be small evolutions and distortions, but never recapitulating in any sort of 'classical' sense. This combined with the hypnotic sounds is one of the many things that drew me to Mazulis's works, they hold you and simply are, there isn't any real extra nonsense on top of it. Any listener can hear the results.

The piece I wanted to show is 'Canon Mensurabilis' written in 2000 for the ensemble 'Ensemble Court-Circuit'. Like the medieval canon, the work is focused on a canon with different voices moving at different speeds. But on top of this Mazulis has some fun fluctuations and distortions running at the same time. Firstly the beat patterns change in patterns of:
(12-6) (10-5) (8-4) (6-3) (4-2) (3-6) (4-8) (5-10) (12-6) (10-5) (8-4) (6-3) (4-2)

This irregular pulsing ultimately distorts all sensation of rhythm as the predictability is constantly distorted. The semi-quaver pulse in the piano feels unrelenting and constant. On top of this the use of microintervals also distorts the soundscape. The piano from C3-B4 are tuned a quarter down. C4-C5 are unchanged, and C#5-C#6 are tuned a quarter up. On top of this the violin and flute (who are with C#5-C#6) play a quarter tone, the clarinet and viola do not play microintervals. The cello (who is within C3-B4) plays a quarter tone up. This combination of microintervals produces 'out of tune' semitonal clashes, which resolve. But always circling. The result is hypnotic and mind boggling, if 60s hippie bands had access to this instead of the sitar they would have had their brains fried.

But enough chit-chat here is the piece:

 Until next time. 

6 November 2015

Anna Veismane: Wings

With the past few posts being consistently full of Lithuanian composers, you would be forgiven to think I am only going to discuss Lithuanians. Now GAIDA has finished, I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss a recent Latvian gem I have uncovered.

The composer in question is Anna Veismane (1976*) a composer who I am surprised it took me so long to discover her. A pupil of Peteris Vasks and Romualds Kalsons, to name just two of her teachers. Her music and herself don't need too much of an introduction, due mostly to the wonderful clarity in her work. But to show her off a bit, she has worked with ensembles and musicians all over the world like the North/South Chamber Orchestra (USA), Latvian Radio Choir, William Schimmel, and The Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble, to name but a few. I have never really been fond of just quoting someone's biography, but for me it simply highlights how many composers who are pretty busy writing for ensembles worldwide go under the radar, especially in the sheltered musical environment of Britain.

But I digress, today's post is merely an introduction to one piece for cello and accordion called Wings. The work was written and performed by TWOgether duo, at the Latvian Music Days 2014. The second work by Veismane with the title, the first being a piece for solo flute. The duo is pretty captivating, starting with timid flashes and flutters of sound. Hearing the gestures pass from cello to accordion and vice versa is always fascinating, due to the quite dynamic separating the two instruments becomes almost impossible. Then suddenly a strong gesture from the cello bursts from the music into a beautiful frenzy, with small circling motifs combined with clusters in the accordion. The energy is slowly released, and the duo shimmer and die away into nothing.

The work isn't overtly grand or revolutionary, but it is just a nice fresh piece of music. Every gesture and idea is refreshing to listen to and is something I have been listening to on loop for a fair while now. Its also always nice to just come across a gripping miniature. Sometimes the most gripping pieces of music are tiny, just look at Farben from Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, or Webern's symphony. 

Enjoy the piece here, but I also recommend people check out her website here. Some recordings of her works are present and they are definitely pieces I will want to discuss in future posts. Until next time! 

31 October 2015

GAIDA Festival: Finale and a quick look back at the highlights.

Last night saw the conclusion of the GAIDA Festival, with a performance by the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. The concert featured Louis Andriessen's The Hague Hacking for two pianos and orchestra, two new works by Mykolas Natalevicius and Gediminas Gelgotas, and Ogni gesto d'amore by Francesco Filidei for cello and orchestra. The festival finished with Squarepusher, but the combination of running on little sleep, unpredictable buses, and hunger steered me away from it.

I have always had a soft spot for Louis Andriessen, and it was nice to see him featured in the festival. The Hague Hacking is a fun work, but doesn't have the same grit and oomph that you can find in his earlier works. It was nicely performed by the soloists Ruta Riktere and Zbignevas Ibelhauptas.

Mykolas Natalevicius is a composer who has been on the periphery of my viewing in Lithuania, so it was nice to have the chance to finally hear him. Karachay for orchestra and electronics depicts a lake in Chelbyabinsk, which due to the pollution from the Soviet era is the most polluted place in the world. This kind of dystopian imagery goes hand in hand with electronics and orchestra with all the twisted colours and sheer magnitude that can be achieved by an orchestra, let alone when combined with electronics. Sadly the piece didn't quite live up to this. The violent gestures in the brass and percussion were ultimately naive, I am a bit sceptical of composer's using brass only to depict violence anyways, but when the sheer potential of the instruments aren't exploited it feels even more childish. The electronics were either under used or didn't balance with the orchestra, and the harmonic dissonances are sounds we have heard since when Varese was learning to walk. The potential is there in Natalevicius, but he has a long way to go.

The next composer Gediminas Gelgotas has been a name I have heard uttered under peoples breath like characters in Harry Potter trying not to mention 'he who shall not be named'. I have a kind of soft spot for infamous characters, because some of the best composers throughout history were surrounded by a dash of infamy. The work by Gelgotas Mountains.Waters.(Freedom) upon reading the programme note left me in a bit of a critical mood:

...use of music material creates the posture of composition that reminds one of today and rethinks the concepts of repetition and minimalism... - Gelgotas.

This kind of claim coming from a composer always gives the impression that the author has a half baked view of the musical world around them. Especially when you think La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Bronius Kutavicius are considered minimalists but beyond repetition have little in common. But for the sake of being a well balanced critic, I forgot my predispositions and listened. Listening through the piece I was just bored by it. Simplicity when done well can be truly profound, look at Part, Howard Skempton, and Henryk Gorecki. But Gelgotas just had no impetus behind his music, beyond fifths being a mountain.

Francesco Filidei's music in the festival has been wonderful throughout and Ogni gesto d'amore was no exception. The wonderous cellist Francesco Dillon bought out all the musicality of every gesture, even the moment of tuning the lowest string down. The faint whistles and ripples of colour were hypnotic and the moments of clarity were truly touching. It has been a delight having so much of his music featured in the festival.

The GAIDA Festival has been a wonderful event this year, with such a wide variety of music featured. For me having Francesco Filidei as a featured composer was a stroke of genius from the organisers of the festival, from speaking to students who witnessed his works; Francesco has left his imprint on musical life here in Vilnius, it is only a matter of time till Lithuania produces composers of that ilk. This also highlights the importance of the festival, not only is it a great platform for Lithuanian composers, but has been a great door opener to the rest of the world. The wide selection of music, and avoiding a 'festival sound' is something many other festival should learn, it has given the festival its freshness and offers something to all listeners.

My other highlights have been witnessing the premieres of works by Ricardas Kabelis, Tomas Kutavicius, and Juste Janulyte. As well as performances of Vykintas Baltakas and Justina Repeckaite. If I were to pick a favourite concert it would be the Jauna Muzika concert featuring the works of Arvo Part and Juste Janulyte, it has still left me stunned. I definitely look forward to next year's festival, but for the mean time II need to catch up on sleep.

29 October 2015

GAIDA Festival: Three Concerts in Two Days

The past few days of GAIDA Festival have been intensive, a real tour de force of Baltic music. With premieres and performances of works by Tomas Kutavicius, Jurgis Juozopaitis, Justina Repeckaite, Albertas Navickas, Vykintas Baltakas, Ignas Krunglevicius, Arvo Part, and Juste Janulyte. I was asked by the GAIDA Festival to write a review of the concerts given by the Lietuvos Ansambliu Tinklas and New Era Orchestra, a full review of these concerts can be seen here.

This blog today will cover only Baltic composers, particularly the highlights for me. The first highlight I want to discuss is the work Mano seegantis langas by Tomas Kutavicius. The work was a premiere and performed by the New Era Orchestra. It was a profound work, starting with a circling passacaglia-like material, which was hypnotic and beautiful. The second half of the piece was far more energetic and rhythmical and really brought out highlights from the string orchestra. For me the real joy was seeing Tomas Kutavicius was not in the shadow of his father. The music was completely Tomas and had a wonderful almost whimsical nature to it. I sincerely hope the work is performed again in the near future and I get to hear more performances of his works.

The next highlight for me was the inclusion of Justina Repeckaite. She is quite a remarkable composer, and for me reviewing the concert was a bit of a daunting task, due mostly to the fact the young composer quoted me in her biography! The two works featured with Tapisserie and Rapid Eye Movements, both written for chamber ensembles and both highly focused pieces. Even though the performances weren't immaculate, the whole musicality of the pieces shone through. I highly recommend people check out her recordings here on her personal soundcloud, Tapisserie  is included on the page.

For regular follows of this blog, Vykintas Baltakas is a composer I have a lot of time for. It was wonderful to hear his music in a concert setting, and not just relying on the stash of recordings I have gathered. His ensemble, Lietuvos Ansambliu Tinklas, performed two pieces of his Redditio and Redditio 2. As I mentioned in the previous post about him, Baltakas is an intriguing composer in the way he reflects on his own music. Always pulling previous ideas apart, to reconstruct them into whole new works. These two works really highlighted this skill. Redditio is for mixed ensemble laid spatially around the hall, here as Redditio 2 is a wonderful work for wind quintet, with the same bursts of energy and colour. 

Last night was for me the highlight of the festival so far. A concert featuring only two composers Arvo Part and Juste Janulyte. I have featured both these composers before on this blog here and here. I already loved their music so much, I knew I was in for a treat when they were performed alongside each other. The pieces of Arvo Part that were performed were Da Pacem DomineSummaMagnificatThe woman with the Alabaster box, and Ode to Caesar. All wonderful pieces for choir, and performed beautifully by the Jauna Muzika ensemble. My only complaints were that Summa wasn't quite quick enough for my own liking and Magnificat was a bit too quick. Two wonderful pieces performed fantastically. To date, this is probably my favourite rendition of Part's Magnificat:

Last night's concert concluded with a new work by Juste Janulyte, Radiance. The new work was for choir and electronics, which were wonderfully manned by Michele Tadini and Antonello Raggi. The piece was reflection on two contrasting interpretation of radiance. The first focused on the radiance and brilliance of the sun, the other was radiating. The work was written as a commemoration to the 70th anniversary since the horrific acts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The piece for me was as powerful and reflective as Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel where the reflection and sheer stillness of sound mesmerises you. But the climax of this work was one of the most powerful things I think I have ever witnessed. To be in a trance for so long, to lose connection to the world around you and to forget time itself was astounding. Then sounds like bombs dropped, and gunfire surrounded the audience, to be awoken so violently from a trance left me speechless. This has to be a magnum opus of sorts for Juste, it was wonderful to see a composer not only really refine their art, but to make it reach new heights previously unimaginable. It would be one of the biggest mistakes ever for this work not to be performed again. 

Tomorrow night is the finale of GAIDA with performances of works by Louis Andriessen, Francesco Filidei, Mykolas Natalevicius, and Gedminas Gelgotas. Then I can get some hard earned sleep. Till next time!

27 October 2015

GAIDA Festival: Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra

The festival has been going a mile a minute over the weekend, with two concerts every night. Due to a combination of sleep deprivation and choice of repertoire I have avoided writing a blog till today. The repertoire choices have been stunning, but it has mostly consisted of French, Italian, and American music. Ultimately I don't want this blog to sound like 'Lithuania is great, they play Italian music'.

But to fly through those concerts, firstly was Ensemble 2E2M with a concert of Francesco Filidei, Michael Levinas, and Philippe Hurel. The pieces were very strong throughout, getting the chance to hear Levinas's music live is a wonderful experience, the powerful gestures combined with some wackier techniques makes for a wonderful performance. Philippe Hurel's Pour Luigi is a fun piece, but loses the drive quite quickly. Which is a shame because when he is good its wonderful, his work Flashback is just a wonder to behold. Francesco Filidei once again was the star of the concert, I was particularly touched by his Finito Ogni Gesto the combination of musical colour and  descent was simple but powerfully refined.

From there came Repertorio Zero from Italy, their concert was just powerful, and the 15 year old inside me was jumping for joy throughout. What made their concert quite so affecting was the process in how they performed it. They almost completely did a way with the 'classical' model, and just played a set, which was juxtaposed with electronic interludes while the musicians prepared for the next piece. Fausto Romitelli's Professor Bad Trip, is just a remarkable experience. The shifts into distortion which then subside into wonderful clarity was just astounding. The other highlight in the concert was Riccardo Nova's Yage Howl which the composer dedicated to Fausto Romitelli. The complex tunings and colours was just mystifying.

The next major highlight for me was last night's performance by the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra. The concert consisted of four works for the orchestra, Kaija Saariaho's Nymphea reflection, David Lang's Pierced for cello, piano, percussion, and strings, Ricardas Kabelis Bloe LT, and Egidija Medeksaite's Akasha. The two works by Lithuanian composers were world premieres.

The concert started with Egidija Medeksaite's Akasha. The work is inspired by Swami Vivekananda's books Raja-Yoga and Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms. In short, Akasha is one of the two materials that creates the whole universe, it is the essence which brings form, everything then comes from Akasha and returns to Akasha. The work started with faint whispers while the string bowed their tail pieces. Slowly from the whispers pitches began to appear, and from there a richer sound grew which then fluctuated to bigger gestures. Structurally the piece worked, and the extended techniques fitted, but where was the essence that made Egidija Medeksaite sound like Egidija Medeskaite? All the gestures have been used in many other circumstances including Helmut Lachenmann's Tocattina for solo violin, Kaija Saariaho's Nymphea, and to a lesser extent Ligeti's Lontano. Listening to Akasha I couldn't escape the similarities these bigger figures. Beyond that, there was a lot of naivety in the work, gestures felt predictable and harmonies were rich but harmonies that have been heard before. As she continues to develop and mature Egidija Medeksaite has the potential to become a very potent composer. But, particularly when a composer is attempting to delve into new territories, a composer needs to know everything around them. Without that, she runs the risk of constantly sounding like a pale comparison.

The next piece in the concert was David Lang's Pierced. A work for solo cello, solo piano, solo percussion, and strings. The piece was typical David Lang, lots of pulsing rhythms, repetitive rhythms, and energetic. But particularly when the bass drum gesture entered, the piece was far to predictable, and ultimately dull. Which is a real shame, because the standard of the orchestra was remarkable, especially when you consider the fact they weren't conducted at all.

The third piece by Ricardas Kabelis is an enigma. Bole LT is on the verge of genius and utter insanity. First it starts, a huge cluster from the electronics and the strings. The room was dark and the strings kept on bowing, always bowing. And watching the screen, always watching the screen. The sensation was like watching an orchestra from an Orwellian nightmare. The blinking screen, the dimmed lights, the constant droning on, was like a scene from 1984. Then after what felt like an eternity came an insane man's epiphany, this chaotic and dystopian meditation came Bolero. The strings kept up their march, Bolero kept playing. Then the work ended. After all that, and even now, I don't know what I think of the piece. The sheer mechanics of the piece were unrelenting and never ending. As in I keep finding in David Lang's music, the repetition is what kills it. But some how Ricardas Kabelis, transcended this. I don't know if I like it, love it, or hate it. The one thing that I remind myself, is art is a way of affecting people. If this is the truth, Bole LT is one of the most solid pieces of art in a long time. I am still even now trying to work out this enigma, still trying to reach that same insane epiphany.

The concert concluded with Kaija Saariaho's Nymphea reflections. A truly beautiful work for string orchestra, born out of her work Nymphea for string quartet and electronics. The sheer elegance of gesture, combined with the brilliance of conception is a wonderful thing to witness. The way melodies float in the space, or the way an ensemble drags you into the chaos moves and affects you. What is also remarkable is this isn't Saariaho's strongest work, her musical power and prowess only grows when she tackles opera.

The Klaipedia Chamber Orchestra, in short were brilliant. What a wonderful debut performance at the festival. Their determination and sheer ability was half the reason the concert was such a profound success. They are an ensemble I hope to see again in the near future.

GAIDA is still moving on, tonight sees the Lithuanian Ensemble Network and the Ukrainian New Era Orchestra performing repertoire full of Lithuanian composers as well as giants like Xenakis. Another day another blog.

24 October 2015

GAIDA Festival: Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra

After last week's visit of the Californian Santa Claus like figure (Terry Riley), GAIDA Festival has now gotten into full swing. Last night's concert was a concert of four extremely different works, by four wildly different composers. The four composers were Marius Baranauskas, Onute Narbutaite, James Dillon, and Francesco Filidei. James Dillon needs little introduction, a vibrant composer with lots of grit. This comes together in quite solid ways in his Andromeda for piano and orchestra. The orchestra tackled it strongly, but due to the length of the concert and the acoustic dissipating the clarity of minute piano gestures  the piece did feel like it was lagging.

Francesco Filidei was a wonderful bright breath of fresh air, not just in the context of the concert, but also in the aether of contemporary music. The austerity combined with the audacity of the tonal pages in his Fiori di Fiori was just truly remarkable. GAIDA Festival chose wisely making him one of the focused composers of the festival. I won't go into more detail about Francesco as one he features in more concerts throughout the festival, but I also want to get back to talking about Baltic composers. But before I do that, I highly recommend everyone checks out Francesco Filidei's Website.

Recently in a previous post I discussed Onute Narbutaite's Kornetas and for those with good memories or the time to read the link, I sadly wasn't converted to the opera, despite my love of Narbuatite's work. Her piece in the concert kein gestern, kein morgen is a concert adaption of the aria by the same name from scene 15 in the second act. Concert adaptions of arias from the opera in theory is a very strong move, because musically the work is beautiful and well rounded, and I can imagine singers around the world would love to sink their teeth into the arias. Sadly this piece didn't entirely go to plan. The music was strong, performance was very good, even though at times the light tenor Tomas Pavilionas was drowned out by the thick orchestration. The flaw was simply this concert adaptation was too long. Being familiar with the opera I knew the significance of why the music was extended as long as it was; it was Cornet's final words before his death. Without the dramatic lead up to it, the effectiveness was ultimately lost. Which is a shame, because Narbutaite has so much more up her sleeve. Hopefully I can get back to being very positive about her new work soon.

The final piece was a work by Marius Baranauskas. He is quite a fascinating composer, a student of Janeliauskas, Marius has been highly focused on the interaction of words and music. This isn't in the traditional sense of words and music, and just writing lots of songs, but more about making an ensemble speak. In works like Talking (2002), the result is a beautiful richness and murmuring, almost like the sensation of chanting a mantra. So I was very excited to see this new work by Marius. The new work in question, Beatitudes, draws inspiration from the Sermon on the mount. As the composer points out in the programme note:

...The blessings refer to the harmonious, fulfilling, and significant humans existence and are very relevant nowadays as people are lacking a life of sense, love, and peace. 

Marius Baranauskas

His spiritual connection to the work at no point becomes sappy, overly sentimental, or pious. And the reiterations of gesture do evoke images and sensations of repeating a prayer. The thick layering of orchestral colour was rich like a good quality 85% dark chocolate, but for me it all felt to familiar. This is Marius at his most comfortable, which is a shame for me. I imagine there are still wonderful places Marius and his music can go, the potential and potency is huge. Sadly this piece simmered, but not in a way that it was boring or uninspiring, but more like after mastering a recipe for a gorgeous roast dinner you only eat this roast dinner for weeks; after a while you lose the initial beauty of the dish because of being overly familiar.

I would still highly recommend people listen to the video below of Marius Baranauskas's Talking. The work blew me away the first time I heard it, and for those who listen it would not surprise them to learn that it won the Takemitsu Prize in 2004.

The next concerts of GAIDA include performances by Ensemble 2E2M, Ensemble Repertorio Zero, Mise-en New York, CRASH Ensemble, and the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra.

What a fun time to be in Vilnius.

18 October 2015

Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre performing Juzeliunas

Last night, in the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre where I study, the academy orchestra gave a concert dedicated the Carl Nielsen's 150th Birthday. For those who don't know, Carl Nielsen is Denmark's national composer and wrote many wonderful works including fantastic symphonies and some stunning concerti. But because this blog is dedicated to the Baltic and not Northern Europe, I will spend this post talking about the other half of the concert.

Alongside the two works of Nielsen (Symphony No.2 and Romance), the academy orchestra performed a relatively early work by the Lithuanian giant, Julius Juzeliunas. In a previous post I discussed his Songs of the Plains (Lygumu Giesmes). The early work is Juzeliunas's symphonic suite 'African Sketches'. The work is a five movement beast for orchestra and incorporates ideas like melodies, folklore, as well as rhythmic and harmonic content from the continent. 

The five movements are drastically different from the last, the first Eisena (procession). And like the title suggests, it starts from a quiet pulsating from the percussion and different instruments are slowly introduced building to a wonderfully energetic climax.

The second movement Irkluotoju daina (rower's song) is a very peaceful movement, with rippling orchestration in the strings and percussion. The alto saxophone sings the quoted song and results in quite an hypnotic moment.

The next movement Mergaiciu sokis (dance of the maidens) is an extremely cheeky and bouncy movement, with ideas flying around and is quite a bombastic moment. The energy never seems to stop in the movement, and it is just thrilling. 

Azandu vaizdelis (Azandu picture) is another quite still movement. But it is still filled with a dramatic pull and inner turmoil. The pulsating of the high strings stops the movement being completely peaceful and just focuses you in further. The flowing lines and rich timbral palette is very evocative. The final climax of the movement is just powerful and moving.

The finale Svente (feast) in short is hysterical! The chaotic bouncing and nonstop energy does conjure up images of a wonderfully riotous occasion. The screaming horns and brutal banging of strings and percussion is a lot of fun and a glorious way to end a large piece.

The performance of the piece by the academy orchestra was very strong, Martynas Staskus (conductor) really brought out the strengths in the orchestra. I was particularly impressed by the brass (admittedly I wanted them to push a little more to really unleash chaos). The strings were beautiful and really mastered their colours. At times the percussion and woodwind had some weaker moments, but they did make up for it in sheer energy and drama.

For those who were unable to see the performance in Vilnius, below is two videos from Youtube which features all five movements. Until next time!

Juzeliuans African Sketches I-II

Juzeliunas African Sketches III-V

16 October 2015

'MKP Premjeros' Concert, a snippet of things to come?

This past week has been dominated by the annual conference led by the Lithuanian Composer's Union. The conference is an international musicology conference and nine different nations were represented this year, including UK, Greece, Austria, Poland, Russia, and Sweden. The overall theme of the conference was focused on the phenomena of melody, the variety of talks spanned from ways of analysing melody, what aesthetically is melody?, and how has melody been used by major composers. It has been a thought provoking week, and to be brutally honest, I am a bit brain dead now.

Alongside this were two concerts, the first was a concert dedicated to the work of M. K. Ciurlionis ( a composer I will intensely cover in the near future) to mark the 140th birthday. The second was a concert was chamber concert which included student composers alongside the stalwart figure of LMTA, Rimantas Janeliauskas (another composer I will cover in better deal in a future post).  This post will focus on the younger composers featured in it.

The first composer featured after Janeliauskas was Julija Vezelyte, her piece Variniu Trio was a charming work, and had a similar campy feeling you'd find with works like Poulenc. Very nice, and I will hopefully be able to talk about her more in the future, sadly I could not find a soundcloud account for her. Hopefully I can rectify that soon.

The next composer, Gaile Griciute, for me is a tad perplexing. The quartet for trumpet, alto trombone, tenor trombone, and tuba, lacked something for me. The experimental desires in the work Slenksciai didn't affect me. The combinations of whistling, percussive effects on the brass, and general predictive unpredictability made the piece feel a bit bland. But perplexingly when listening to works on her soundcloud (found here) I came across a piece called Ostinato. The directness, the brutality of it, and sheer energy impressed and astounded me. If she carries on producing works of the same brilliance and unforgiving nature, she could become quite a formidable composer indeed.

The next composer featured was Jonas Jurkunas, a member of staff at LMTA. After having technology lessons with him it was refreshing to hear acoustic Jurkunas. A trio for the two trombones and tuba, was a wonderful lighthearted novelty, I don't mean this in a derogatory manner; but the piece never felt too serious of self pious. The upbeat opening was an intriguing contrast to still moments which centered on very slow changes of brass muting, and power brought out of the piece by the Variniu ansamblis really made the piece feel more than a piece just being played by the notes. Jonas Jurkunas has many recordings on his soundcloud, which I would highly recommend people checking.

The penultimate young composer featured was Andrius Siurys, a composer I have had many encounters with over the past year. His trio (is) Ra(u)stos juostos was for me quite a sign for Andrius. His experimental drive and energy to incorporate more and ever changing ideas, made his pieces quite anarchistic but in this work, the concentrated focus was beginning to take hold. This trio drew every listener in and, despite a few moments where certain sonic experiments felt mildly comical, made a well rounded and strong piece. If Andrius continues to develop in this way he has the potential to land on something truly unique and beautiful. Check out his soundcloud here.

The final young composer, and finale of the whole concert was Artuas Mikoliunas. For me the strongest piece by the younger composers featured and listening to his soundcloud has been a pure joy. Like with Jurkunas, the lighthearted nature of his music is just refreshing and wonderful. The optimistic charm and bouncy nature of the work is almost similar to the Estonian composer Raimo Kangro, it is just hard not to love it. I am extremely intrigued by how he would tackle something larger both in ensemble size and length, would it lose the optimism? Would it lead to something else? I am just intrigued to see where it shall go.

A special mention has to go to the young composer Andrius Maslekovas, one of the main organisers of the whole conference, and a composer who is on an intriguing path. His combination of sonoristic sounds and urge to keep a tight hold of melody make for a fascinating, but often very heartfelt result. Despite not featuring in this concert, it would be a disservice not to include him in this discussion. His soundcloud is here and I would highly recommend people check out his work, as the potential in his music is rather huge.

Next blog will be me wittering about the Gaida Festival. I am very excited about it all. So until then, viso gero!

11 October 2015

Anatolijus Senderovas: 70th Birthday Bonanza

As I mentioned in the last post, things are starting to pick up in Vilnius and a large amount of concerts will be happening in a short space of time. Last night was a concert performed by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Modestas Pitrenas. The concert was to celebrate the Lithuanian composer Anatolijus Sendervoas who turned 70 this year. The occasion was a very big one with Senderovas receiving a present from the president and was supported by many national or international foundations and institutions including the Lithuanian composers union and the Good Will Foundation.

Senderovas was born in 1945 to a Jewish family, which considering the seismic shifts and torturous events that preceded and followed his birth his existence is rather miraculous. He studied in what is now the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre under the guidance of Eduardas Balsys. And his music is definitively Baltic. The openness, the clarity, the moments of austere beauty, and the ability to unleash powerful violence makes his music the template that many composers following him or his contemporaries aimed to achieve.

The concert included four works, his concerto in Do (2002) for cello and orchestra, ...ad Astra (2007) for accordion and orchestra, Paratum cor meum (1995) for cello, four keyboards played by one pianist, choir, and large orchestra, and a new work Sokis (dances)(2015). Following many speeches and many presents and bouquets being handed to Senderovas, the concert opened with the concerto in Do. The soloist was David Geringas, who performed the premiere of the work back in 2002. The piece opened in a still dark calm, allowing the cellist to really open up this quasi-free quasi-cadenza showing off a wide virtuosity and beauty. Gradually ripples spread across the orchestra building to rich sounds which allows managed to make the soloist more powerful. The constant building lead to quite a powerful climax before coming back to the same dark calm that opened the concerto.

The next piece ...ad Astra was the work I was most familiar with before the concert, due mostly to the fact when I was writing my own concerto for accordion, Martynas Levickis kept referring me to his powerful piece. Hearing the two concerto side by side was fascinating, in the sense that one it seemed Senderovas had built quite a wonderful formula for producing concerti using a similar architecture but still make the work sound wildly different and unique. Part of it hangs in the instrumentation, whereas the concerto in Do is extremely lyrical this accordion concerto is violent and dense. Thick clusters spread from the soloist to the orchestra and the climax of the work is quite a powerful roar from the orchestra, it was especially intense as I somehow ended up sat in the front row. The whole concerti was played astounding well by the soloist Geir Draugsvoll.

After the interval and a lot of stage change, the concert resumed with Paratum cor meum. A monumental work, due to its size and forces. The Lithuanian choir Jauna Muzika supported the orchestra in this piece. Indre Baikstyte had the task of jumping across the four keyboards, which included piano, harpsichord, electric organ, and celeste. David Geringas took centre stage for the solo cello part. The text of the work focuses on quotes from the Psalms and Ecclesiastes. The quotations focus mostly yearning for release and the work reflects this through very beautiful solemn stillness. The interaction of soloist and choir with the orchestra is very similar to Flos Campi by Vaughan-Williams. Where instead of a solo singer with an aria, the soloist reflects the mood and beauty of the words. The moments of violence and chaos seems to detract from the work as it made the work feel a bit stop start but this being said, the violence was a powerful thing to witness.

The final work was a world premiere by Senderovas written especially for the concert. Sokis (dances) in short is, if you can imagine the result of Karlheinz Stockhausen writing authentic Klezmer music. The piece started with a bit of confusion when the compere Darius Uzkuraitis said: There might be a soloist, we don't really know. And a stage manager appeared with music before disappearing. The piece actually opened with clarinets wailing away at the Jewish folk tune, and it bounces along getting slowly more insane, before a sudden break into chaos. This chaos is suddenly halted by conductor Modestas Pitrenas, who then asked: Where is our soloist? The orchestra then shouted loudly for Geringas who walked out proudly before joining in on the fun. The piece carries on then descends again into chaos, Pitrenas asked again: Where is our soloist? The orchestra promptly shouted for Draugsvoll who also appeared proudly and added the occasion. It carried on dancing away, going like a bull through a china shop. When chaos ensued again Pitrenas screamed: What is this noise, what is going on? This lead to a small competitive cadenzas from Draugsvoll, Baikstyte, and Geringas, each zanier than the last. Then like a muscle man on steroids the dances charged on before coming to a loud end.

The concert was a fun experience, and I sincerely hope Sokis got recorded, because of the wild and choatic forces it would be hard to make many future performances. Overall it was a wonderful mark and nod to the birthday boy and was performed beautifully by the orchestra and conducotr Modestas Pitrenas. A combination I hope to see many more times during my time here in Vilnius.  

9 October 2015

Onute Narbutaite: Kornetas

Last night was my first visit to the Lithuanian national opera theatre (Lietuvos Nacionalinis Operos Ir Baleto Teatras). A wonderful venue in the centre of Vilnius and around the corner from the river Neris. Stood in the foyer before entering the actual theatre you stare up at the evening sky with the Gediminas fort dominating the skyline.

My visit was to see an opera by one of Lithuania's most internationally recognised composers, Onute Narbutaite. A composer who I have know for quite a significant amount of time, due mostly to the vast number of recordings available of her works. Finlandia did a wonderful selection of CDs including her second symphony and Gates of Oblivion. Her work has always struck me as rather wonderful. The intensity of the music combined with a powerful melodic strive makes her work very powerful. The second movement of the second symphony 'melody in the garden of olives' is one of best demonstrations of her music. With its focus on melodic material combined with jarring chords and thick colourful orchestral textures make the piece quite stunning.

With this familiarity of her work I was curious to see what a Narbutaite opera would sound like. Mostly because in my experience of watching opera by living composers, not all composers can make good opera. Sometimes the best composers will fail at opera. A good operatic composer needs something else, and I was hopeful to see if Narbutaite could work this magic.

The opera is called Kornetas (Cornet) and to quote the composer:

This opera is a free improvisation on the subject of Rainer Maria Riike's Die Weise von Liebe un Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke....Now, in the 21st century, this opera improvisation is speaking of the universality of that story, as if trying to state that human yearning - for love or transcendence - always remains the same...R.M. Rilke's poetic storyline is reflected in the opera, however, it serves more as a pretext...and inspiration to a personal vision.             Onute Narbutaite.

The opera is two acts shows the last moments of Kornetas before he died in battle. Through these final moments he is haunted by memories of his past and you always feel his desire to return back to that life. This parallel of real life and 'dreamworld' is handled very well by the stage design so there is very little confusion about how the two worlds interact. Musically it has the same gutsy power that I come to know and love of Narbutaite. But its wonderful music sadly didn't make it great opera. The real strength in the work came in the second act where the momentum was far stronger and every shift from reality to dream felt more necessary. And the final death of Kornetas was extremely powerful. The first act spent too much time setting up the parameters of reality and dream, to the point that direction was lost and the death of the Screaming girl felt like it came out of nowhere. 

The hefty task of tackling a new opera was mastered rather wonderful by the conductor Robertas Servenikas and the main cast were very strong in their roles. The set was beautifully made, but at times felt unconnected.

My misgivings of this opera are by no means a reflection of the successes of Lithuanian opera or the quality of the music of Onute Narbutaite. Listen to Narbutaite's Tres Dei Matris Symphony the sheer magic and colour of the choir and orchestra makes for a wonderful listening. Alternatively you can hear Lokys the Bear by Bronius Kutavicius to see how powerful Lithuanian opera can be.

Over the next few weeks there will be more blog posts as I have been fortunate enough to get press access to the Gaida Festival, so look out for more posts. 

3 October 2015

Bronius Kutavicius: The Gates of Jerusalem

Momentum is really picking up here in Vilnius, and I have gathered so many gems to discuss I've struggled to work out the order to present them in. But when I woke up today I had to discuss Bronius Kutavicius. It would be impossible to discuss the world of Lithuanian music, without looking at Kutavicius. Born in 1932, Kutavicius has been a prominent figure for an incredible amount of time. In the 1960s he was dabbling with the same kind of experiments many other composers were tackling, but he soon turned to a different standpoint. His fascination with language, ritual, and ancient architecture led him to create a music which emulated these factors, because of this many commentators on his work often refer to him as an archaeologist. Similarly to composers like Montvila or Juzeliunas, Kutavicius draws a lot from Lithuania's ancient folklore, mythology and folk music; but in comparison to Montvila or Juzeliunas, the desire is to tap into this musical world entirely, instead of translating it for classical audiences. This gives Kutavicius's music a brutal and archaic landscape, which still hypnotises, much like sutartines or Tibetan monastic music.

Commentators on Kutavicius try to pigeon hole him into either 'minimalism' or 'new spirituality'. Both of these labels ultimately miss the point entirely, simply because the motivations are almost completely separate. 'Minimalism' as a way of describing Kutavicius, is flawed in the basic fact that the music isn't repetitive to make it simple or approachable, the repetitions in Kutavicius's work are for ritualistic purposes, just like sutartines isn't minimalism, Kutavicius isn't minimalism. The issue with 'new spirituality' as a term is it either implies a 'new age' spiritual thinking, or treating spirituality as a novelty or musical niche. This is quite degrading to all composers who get that label slapped onto their work. Spirituality has been linked to the development of music for over one thousand years, so to draw on spirituality is simply traditional. Also by the kind of logic, shouldn't Kutavicius be 'old spirituality'? as he draws on pre-Christian religions.

I digress, the piece in question I want to focus on is his large scale work 'Gates of Jerusalem'. Written in 1995 the piece reflects a quotation from Revelations, 21:9-13:

Then one of the seven angels(...)showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. (...) It has a great, high wall, with twelve gates (...) on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates

The work is a four movement work, for each major point on the compass, and each movement divides into three sections. So there is a definitive musical section for each of the twelve gates. The work was originally conceived for piano, but the composer felt a single piano ultimately lacked what needed to be created, so a work for orchestra and choir was born. 

The first movement is the Eastern Gates. Musically it references Japan, with its echos of Gagaku (Japanese traditional music) and imitations of traditional instruments like piano strings being struck to emulate the koto. The movement also references the importance of Zen Buddhism and Haiku by quoting Buson's haiku:

To the west will spread the moonlight, and the shadows of flowers - to the East.

The next movement is the Northern Gates. Which references two major elements, Shamanism and Northern European composers like Sibelius or Nielsen. The reflection on Shamanism is revealed through the use of large drum and chanting. And the references to Sibelius and Nielsen come in the form of a 'Northern Fugue'

The Southern Gates is an extreme juxtaposition to the previous movement. The use of layered polyphonic rhythms and melodies drawing on African or Oceanic tribes makes this an extremely exciting movement. The drive and pulsations are as hypnotic as they are energetic. 

The final movement the Western Gates looks to Western Europe. The movement is subtitled Stabat Mater and it is based on the canonical text. The conclusion of the movement and the work on the  word Amen, has the overtly spiritual overtone of almost having prayers answered.

The careful consideration of many different spiritualities, cultures, and musical idioms in this work make it quite a powerful poly-religious oratorio. In much the same way John Taverner or Arvo Part's music tries to bring others to spirituality through crystalline music, Kutavicius brings the audience to spirituality by simply addressing all peoples.

This wonderful piece can be heard here on spotify performed by Donata Katkus and his St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra, as well as the Aidija Chamber Choir under the guidance of Romualdas Grazinis. And thankfully now more and more recordings of Kutavicius's work are appearing like the recently released Hyperion recording of Kutavicius's 'The Seasons'.

Information gathered from

Music Information Centre Lithuania

Sleeve notes on The Gates of Jerusalem CD by Linas Paulauskis

27 September 2015

Julius Juzeliunas: Lygumu giesmes (Simfonija Nr. 5)

This week I will be tackling one of Lithuania's most influential composers, Julius Juzeliunas. A pupil of Juozas Gruodis, Juzeliunas had a broad career as a composer, and was one of the influential figures in Sajudis which led to the foundations of the independent Lithuania we know today.  Like many composers of his generation, his music started in a romantic style with an intense focus on folklore. But as he and his music matured, he drew on modernistic trends, as well as developing his own musical systems based on his research of Lithuanian folk music like sutartines. His music in the 80s shifted to what could be interpreted as a minimalist styling, but the intriguing layering of polyphonic lines and the sprinklings of Neoclassicism show there was something more curious happening in his music during this time.  His influence in Lithuania can be also seen in his tuition. In 1952 he gained the position of head of composition in the now Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, where he taught many of Lithuania's leading composers like Rytis Mazulis, Ricardas Kabelis, Felix Bajoras, Vytautas Montvila, and Onute Narbutaite.

The piece I will be Introducing is one of the first pieces of Juzeliunas I ever uncovered, his Songs Of The Plains (Symphony No. 5) (Lygumu giesmes(Simfonija nr. 5)). This curious two movement symphony is written for female choir and strings and was the piece that won Juzeliunas the inaugural Lithuanian National Prize in 1991. The opening starts off very serenely as the violins build the melodic material that circles itself. The introduction of the low strings adds an extra level of energy, with the sharp stabs. The second section is defined by the introduction of the voices, who reiterate their melody Sedauto.  Each circling of the folk song gets stronger and more energetic, until it suddenly dissipates into a section reminiscent of the opening. The fourth section is heavily focused on another folk melody treated in a manner very similar to the first. The movement continues  progressing and evolving motifs are reiterated in the string orchestra, in a way that could be seen as a link to sonata form. The 'recapitulation' comes in the form of Sedauto  being sung by the choir again, but this time only accompanied by a low B tremoloing sul ponticello,  drawing the movement to a close.

The second movement is a much shorter movement in comparison. The burst of energy, combined with the constant evolution and linear form make this a thrilling piece  listen to. The entrance of the voices in this movement starts with the altos singing, while the sopranos adding text speak theirs adding a harsh element to it. We reach a moment where we feel a moment of calm, but instantly feel the movement building more and more over time; evoking so many different colors and textures from the strings. Towards the close, motifs and ideas from the first movement reappear, it is then rudely interrupted by material that opened the movement; bringing the piece to an energetic and thrilling close.

The work is fascinating and Juzeliunas's music gets more fascinating the more you delve into it. His Cantus-Magnificat written to mark the 400th anniversary of the Vilnius university, is a large masterpiece which will amaze listeners.

Information on Juzeliunas has been sourced from the following:

CD Sleeve notes from - Julius Juzeliunas CD produced by MIC.LT (LMIPCCD010, 2000)

Lithuanian Music Information Centre

And Lygumu Giesmes manuscript.

21 September 2015

Vytautas Montvila: Gothic Poem

Welcome to another installment of Baltic musical gems. Last week I gave an introduction of the Lithuanian folk music sutartines. This week we shall be looking at how one composer drew on it. The composer is Vytautas Montvila, not to be confused with the poet of the same name. Montvila was born 1st December 1935 was not only one of the most progressive minds in composition in Lithuania, he never let go of the folk heritage of Lithuania.

After completing his studies with Juzeliunas, Montvila continued to develop his compositions by drawing on the sonoristic experiments opened up by the Warsaw festival, as well as drawing on serial techniques. These techniques always went hand in hand with folk music, either using sutartines melodies to help form tone rows, or building vast soundscapes by layering sutartines songs. 

The piece I am showing this time is his Gothic Poem. The piece is part of a triptych of works called Poems of Vilnius, this is the first element of it. The other two works in the triptych are called Choruses and Festive. Gothic Poem is a fascinating work, as it lies in a half way house between the dense sound sculptures of Penderecki and the sonorous openness of the Romanian composer Stefan Niculescu. From the onset, you hear the dense static 12 tone chord in the strings which act as a backdrop for the flute to start its melody. The changes in orchestration help define the microscopic changes in the piece. The woodwind carry most of the melodic content and overlap each other adding to the density and mysteriousness of the work. Then a sudden change in sensation, as aleatoric elements fly across the orchestra which lead to  fluttering repetitive cells in the strings, while the bassoons and clarinets introduce more surtatines melodies. 

This time the energy keeps building and building, with the addition of the brass and percussion leading ultimately to the climax of the work. The blasts from the trumpets and trombones in canon with each other, combined with the rhythmic attacks from the rest of the orchestra make this moment rather powerful indeed. The suddenly this climax slips away, into the strings. who reiterate musical ideas heard earlier in the piece. The close of the piece is heralded by the bells, ringing on as the music fades into nothing.

Structurally the work is very interesting, the shape and proportions are mirrored around the old town in Vilnius. The layering of folk melodies, combined with the dense colours make this work a rather fascinating curiosity, and is a great example of a piece which is as thoroughly modern as it is connected to tradition. Montvila was not the only composer to tackle this, in 1996 Radulescu drew on his native Romanian folk tunes in the third movement of his piano concerto, The Quest

Montvila went on to compose many works which drew upon his native music. Towards the end of his life around the late 1970s Montvila's music became more 'romantic' and sutartines became something more liberally referenced in his later works. 

The work of Vytautas Montvila is one of the many ways Lithuanian and other Baltic composers coped with the restraints put on them during the years under the Soviet Union. One key linking a lot of composers in this generation is the desire to link tradition to the now. Not just casting it off, like many western composers did post 1945. 

Information came from the Vytautas Montvila profile page on the Music Information Centre website: http://mic.lt/en/database/classical/composers/montvila/#bio

As well as from the score. 

11 September 2015

Happy Birthday Arvo Part

It is hard to discuss Baltic music without the giant Arvo Part. A composer who not only has the heavy weight title of the most famous composer in Eastern Europe, but also the most performed living composer. His music has been, and continues to be, performed worldwide and he touches audiences worldwide. I was fortunate enough to meet him at Sounds New Festival in 2010, in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral as the Amsterdam cello octet performed a dedicated concert to him. It was also there I was lucky enough to see the premiere of Adam's Lament. As a composer, Part has had a significant influence on my work.

When it comes to Part, I am of an opinion which is rarely expressed or even considered. The opinion is this: Part is more mathematical and serial than people give him credit for. The mathematical precision of his St. John's Passion is far more akin to the work of Morton Feldman and Anton Webern. Admittedly Webern never tackled large scale structures like Feldman or Part, but there are very strong similarities. Mostly the systematic control and slow evolution of ideas. In the St. John Passion, Part manages to maintain a meditative like aura for over an hour while essentially staying in A minor. Without the systematic precision the work would fall apart into nonsense.

But A minor is a tonal idiom, why are you comparing him to Webern and serialism? Well firstly to answer this, a myth or two needs to be dispelled. Firstly serialism is not having a 12-note row and going through it without repeating notes until it is finished. You do not even have to look at late serialists or post-serialists to find this. It can be easily seen in Webern, Berg, and Schoenberg. Serialism is simply this: in tonal music the significance of a singular note is determined by the root i.e. C major. This means certain notes and chords are more important than other. In serialism the significance of a singular note is determined by the row/series. What this means is all notes are equal, a musical socialism if you will. So what you do with your row is up to you. Webern used the row in his symphony to define harmonic areas, where as Peter Schat used serialism to highlight characters of three note chords. Secondly serialism is not just using all 12 notes. Stravinsky, Balakauskas, Maxwell-Davies and many more have produced music using small note rows. So in theory a scale like A minor could be used in serial music, the difference will be how it functions. 

With these myths displaced, listening to Arvo Part's St. John Passion gains a very different and intriguing light. The music becomes like a crystal clear glacier slowly moving and evolving. The austerity of material is remarkably like Webern using only as little as need. With this Part has continued to hypnotise listeners all over the globe.
So Palju õnne sünnipäevaks Arvo Part. May you continue to mystify us all.

Dabbling with Sutartines

A lot has has happened since my last post, Firstly my sister got married and I moved into my new flat in Seskines (on the outskirts of Vilnius). Hence why it has been quite a bit here. On the plus side, I have managed to grab a good stash of scores and recordings from the Music Information Centre in Vilnius; so I will be talking about each of them over the coming weeks. But I wanted to start off dabbling with Lithuanian folk music first. At first I can imagine this is a confusing jump, considering my last articles have been about composers still alive and kicking, but it is with good reasoning. Because of the demands from the Soviets for 'social realism' in art and music, many Baltic composers resorted to exploring their countries folk music.On top of this composers like Juzeliunas, Montvila, and Kutavicius approached their national folk music in a process a kin to the early works of Peter Maxwell Davies or Harrison Birtwistle, who looked at Britain's ancient music for a fragment of 'tradition' to draw upon. 

So what is sutartines?  In a brief manner of speaking, surtatines is a Lithuanian folk music which is traditionally sung by women in groups of three or four. Sutartines translated into English essentially means 'singing together or in accordance with each other.'  The music becomes very fascinating, firstly the jarring dissonance.  The music is heavily focused around the interval of a second and a third false (a third of Halfway Between a major and a minor third).  On top of this it is structurally rather interesting, the nature of the text and the music means there is no naturally occurring cadence, in theory sutartines could last forever. As can been seen from the video below, the structure is as follows: 

Beginning (Leader starts) --------- Collecting (other sings join in) -------- Ending (Which is mad by a hoot or -ooh sound)

This structuring gives great importance to the lead singer or the rinkeja (Which literally means collector). The rinkeja will ultimately define the mood, speed, and overall character of the sutartines;  as well as bringing in the other musicians and concluding the piece. But why would a folk tune need a leader? Ultimately this links back to original sutartines function, work music. Sutartines, when originally sung, were folk melodies to accompany everyone's work; this obviously was not the case with all sutartines, some were for celebration, war or mourning, but a significant amount were. 

Sutartines also makes many cosmic references. As Daiva Račiūnaitė-Vyčinienė points out in her wonderful book Sutartines: Lithuanian polyphonic music; 'The structure of sutartines is best expressed by the symbol of a wheel'. As mentioned earlier, sutartines effectively is continuous. This roundness links back to folk symbolism where the wheel depicts the Sun, the Universe and the Universal Tree. So the music is one with the universe. To expand this further a Lithuanian riddle suddenly draws an interesting comparison: "Where is the centre of the Earth? - In the centre of the wheel". This can instantly be compared with the Buddhist ideals of 'finding the centre' but it also  highlights the curious similarity in function of sutartines and Tibetan ritual music, which also has a leader co-ordinating everything to prepare all for meditation. It is a curious similarity, but I will not go on to try and prove sutartines singers are like Buddhist monks chanting while they work, it is just always nice to reflect on interesting coincidence.

Earlier you said composers drew on sutartines, how else is the tradition being kept alive? Well ultimately sutartines enjoyed quite a remarkable renaissance in the seventies and eighties, as it became a symbol of national identity against the Soviets. Today many Lithuanians are very proud of this heritage. Ensembles like Trys Keturiose perform sutartines  in a traditional manner but still experiment by performing with many other musicians like Abraham Brody (see below). Alternatively bands like Zalvarinis bring elements of sutartines and other Lithuanian folk music into their heavy metal music. 

So as can been seen from this brief introduction, sutartines is as pinnacle to Lithuanian music as Mozart is to western classical music; it exists as it is, because of it. As for the future of sutartines, its future seems bright and will continue to be so as long as it is seen as a symbol of Lithuanian identity, but as the world becomes more globalised how will it affect its national identity?

Sources from

Daiva Raciunaite-Vyciniene - Sutartines: Lithuanian Polyphonic Music - A Cosmic Explanation of the Role of the Sutartines and the Lead Singer

Youtube for recordings of Trys Keturiose and Zalvarinis.

29 August 2015

Vykintas Balatakas: Saxordionphonics

This week's installment brings us back to Lithuania. One because it is not long till I move into my new flat in Vilnius, but also because I do really enjoy this particular piece.

Vykintas Baltakas (1972*) is a highly driven composer and conductor, and his work with the Gaida Festival and the Lithuanian Ensemble Network (Lieutvos Ansambliu Tinklas) have helped bring new life to Lithuanian music and the way it is performed and viewed worldwide. Currently residing in Belgium Vykintas Baltakas's music is captivating and energetic. To quote his own biography:
'Vykintas Baltakas is a musical Scheherazade. His music keeps pulling you in and referencing itself, sometimes branching off and reinventing itself, and sometimes returning to where it started. He weaves musical stories that are linked with a delicate interconnected web'

This constant reinvention combined with an angst with his musical surroundings in Vilnius, probably made his move to Germany in 1993 quite so important. Studying with Wolfgang Rihm will have been worlds away from Baltakas's native Lithuania. As you will see in future blogs, many prominent Lithuanian composers leading up to the 1989 revolution were keen on exploring Lithuanian culture; either through drawing on ancient folk songs, folk art, or stories. Whereas Germany had 40 years of revolutionary ideas that had been constantly evolving since the end of the second world war. This extreme divide in musical landscapes allowed Vykintas to flourish. 
Now onto my personal favourite by Baltakas. His playful Saxordionphonics for soprano saxophone, accordion, and orchestra is a single movement work which hints at being a concerto by the way the soloists interact with each other and with the orchestra, but always manage to dodge it in such a way that you are always second guessing what the piece is going to do.

The opening stabs never quite reiterate themselves when you expect, always just a little after or just before you truly anticipate it. The entrance of the accordion begins with ricochets between accordion and the orchestra. The soprano saxophone enters and suddenly the dynamic of the piece changes but the moment passes quite quickly and you find yourself in a constant to and fro between motifs you have heard before and new ones.

This keeps the work energetic and ultimately quite cute and playful. The soloists in the recording perform this beautifully and with such gusto that you get the feeling that the piece is such a standard piece of the repertory; a sensation that happens rarely with contemporary recordings.

The work is not the most remarkable or definitive piece by Baltakas, but it is extremely lovable and a great introduction to his music. People who have fallen in love with this I'd recommend checking out pieces like 'Co(ro)na' or 'Pasaka' both are stunning piece which I will be mentioning in future installments.

Information have been gathered from:
Baltakas's official website: http://www.baltakas.net/biography/

21 August 2015

Georg Pelecis: Concertino Bianco for Piano and Strings

This installment features the work of a rather intriguing composer and musicologist Georg Pelecis. His music is intriguing on the simple grounds his musicological work have been extremely definitive in shaping his musical sound.

Currently a professor at the Latvian Academy of Music, Georg Pelecis has had a broad musical career. While he was a student at the Moscow Conservatory he studied composition under Aram Khachaturian. He has gone on to having creative positions in both Oxford University and Cambridge University. His musicology work has specialised in musical form, specifically in the works of medieval, renaissance, and baroque composers. His most extensive work has been on Palestrina and Ockeghem. 

The intense focus on Palestrina has been crucial in form his musical ideals of 'new consonant music'. This simple approach brings music to focus on modality and counterpoint, using these two parameters Pelecis can apply 'modern' ideals of harmony onto contrapuntal lines to produce music that is equally old and equally new. 

One of the most obvious and beautiful examples of this is his Concertino Bianco, for piano and strings. The work's name simply comes from the fact the entire piece is based on the white notes of the piano. The three movement work is ultimately very cute and bright with the strings and piano having a wonderfully mutual discourse throughout the work. This kind of balance is very reminiscent of the Brandenburg Concerti where the concertino group is quite distinct from the repiano group, but the two never feel exclusive or in conflict with one another. The opening movement is jolly and the piano lilts on its high register while the strings add a lot of warmth to the whole sound. The second movement is more sombre but never feels mopey or melodramatic. The final bouncing movement brings the whole work to a fun and enthusiastic end. 

This rendition by Heinrich Schiff with Alexei Lubimov at the piano, bring this work to life and every minute detail is heard beautifully. The whole concerto can be heard here and there are many recordings and videos of performances of Pelecis's work. His music is remarkably easy to gain an understanding of, but in my opinion, never feels  like it is attempting to pander to a common denominator. It simply is and does it remarkably well.


Information about Georg Pelecis came from his Wikipedia page: