15 February 2016

NIKO's visit to LMTA

Today's post is another review of a concert, it has been a while but thankfully many are on their way, so watch this space. The concert in question is a performance by the ensemble NIKO, a string orchestra of sorts conducted by the composer Gediminas Gelgotas. Many of you who have read most of my posts, know I was not the greatest fan of Gelgotas's piece that featured in GAIDA; but I wanted to come along one to not just judge a composer by a single piece. 

My other reason for coming to the concert was because it was a collaboration with the Icelandic string quartet SKARK. This ensemble brought with them some Icelandic influence to add to the proceedings. For those who don't know, Lithuania holds Iceland in very high regards as Iceland was the first nation to officially recognise the Lithuanian state. The collaboration which was rounded off by today's concert was to mark that bold gesture, as well as to celebrate the 25th anniversay of Lithuanian independence. 

The first thing that struck me with the ensemble was their ability to perform without written music in front of them. This is by no means a new feat, but it must be acknowledged for classically trained musicians this is a bold and daring venture. The ensemble play with gusto and it is obvious they and their conductor know each other's nuances. 

Skark were an impressive bunch too, I was a bit sad to not see them more heavily featured as they were a very tight nit group. Their connection to the folk tune they performed was very strong and they had an understanding of the piece that only a native could really get. The rendition of Timinn lidur, trudu mer was as touching as it was playful, a charming charismatic gem indeed. 

The composer Daniel Bjarnason was the only Icelandic composer featured, I was curious to hear him; especially as embarrassingly my knowledge of Icelandic classical music doesn't extend much beyond Jon Leifs, Bjork, and Olafur Arnalds (even as I say this, my old friend Solveig, who played viol alongside me and other nerds in my RWCMD days, would not be impressed with my lack of knowledge). Getting back to the point Bjarnason was a wonderful discovery, the piece Air to Breath was rich in its stills, beautiful in its austerity. The melodic line that was slowly passed from cello, to viola, to violin was done seamlessly, with an aching harmonic backdrop which with every resolution felt like a breath of fresh air (no pun intended). The colouring and power of the work far outweighed its modesty and sincerity. The highlight of the concert by miles (or by kilometres). 

This however strongly contrasts the works by Gelgotas, who in their naivety and crassness  was just infuriating. The first work Sacred Unreligious Soul started with dark colours and 'brutal' gestures from the ensemble, but always felt half baked. The calm moments was even weaker in comparison because there was no real sense of journey towards, or necessity for them. The climax of the work ultimately was ripping of the harmonic language of Peteris Vasks, combined with the hammering bass of a metal band, but ultimately lacked the substance of Vasks and the sheer essence of any metal band worth their clout. I am not suggesting because he is a classical composer he can't do metal, but if he was raw and brutal he should look at Iancu Dumitrescu, if he wants metal on classical instruments he should look at Apocalyptica, and he was wants Vasks he should study Vasks. As I write this, I also realise Gelgotas should also take some notes from Erkki-Sven Tuur, a dude who had his own progressive rock band before being a 'proper' composer and he nails both.

The second piece of Gelgotas to be featured was a reorchestration of Mountains.Waters. (Freedom). I hoped the reorchestration may highlight something that the orchestra that premiered the larger scale version failed to do so. But ultimately the new ensemble of the piece does not rectify it, if you want to see all my thoughts check here.

The final piece of the concert was Gelgotas's Extracadenza, a piece that was very much a finale piece which is did with bells on. Sadly it wasn't as positive as it could have been. The music was just boring and narcissistic, it felt like it was constantly clambering for attention. The work also featured a 'choreography', which ultimately they walked around as over played performing. This is not a new thing, two very examples Cirque du Soleil and Mittwoch by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Both these examples use choreography and daring feats from the performers, even in the premiere of Mittwoch many of the performers were also performers for Cirque du Soleil. When something isn't new, a composer has to ask why are they doing it? If they are going to do it, it needs to do something for a reason and with purpose, but sadly it felt more like attention grabbing novelty. Also on a whole reflection of the concert, Gelgotas's conducting wasn't something I'd be dying to see anytime soon. Throughout I got the distinct impression the only reason it looked good was because the ensemble knew him well and his gestures functioned well for his kind of music, this is problem very apparent in Eric Whitacre, yes they both have style, but where is the substance?

With the exception of the Icelandic works, this concert was a bit depressing. Normally I am not too negative about concerts I don't like, I know I am picky with an obsessive eye for detail. But this concert was a musical collaboration between two nations, a wonderful gesture of solidarity between them both. Personally these kinds of events are a great place for contemporary music and it starts a dialogue between nations with living people working together. A beautiful thing indeed. But my final impression at the end was, the concert was only really put together for the composer's own need to sell himself. It is a shameful path and I hope Gelgotas finds some substance.  

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