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.


  1. That's truly interesting what you thought/wrote about yesterday's concert. I actually was not impressed by the performance and the first thought I had was "thanks for trying...till the next time then". Lang was saved by the percussionist, Saariaho - looked like an impossible job to do (looking at their faces)... I would say that I completely agree with your opinion about R.Kabelis premiere: should I laugh while appreciating the irony or cry out of hopelessness? As I left with all these mixed thoughts, I caught myself reflecting on minimalism and musical inspiration of today's composers! And that's just great! :D
    Thanks anyway, it's fun to read some comments in other language than Lithuanian!
    P.S. Sorry, my English is a bit rusty ;)... Though I do like speaking French or German!

    1. The performance wasn't perfect, but without a conductor is was done very well. Especially considering how Nymphea Reflections managed to hold together, I can't think of a British orchestra that would take on such a task. The orchestra can only be commended, and with time they will get even stronger.