21 April 2016

JAUNA MUZIKA 16: 5 Composers, 5 Pieces, lots of amplification

Last night was the second performance in the JAUNA MUZIKA 16 festival. The concert featured five brand new works, by five different Lithuanian composers who, funnily enough, I have wittered about on here at some point in the past. The performance in the Menu Spaustuves Black Hall, was of a very high quality and the mood was just right for premieres; full of excitement, nerves, and curiosity.

The first work Delta Cephei by Marius Baranauskas, was for the smallest instrumentation, but you'd have no idea when you listened to it. The piece was inspired by a quadruple star system in Cepheus and various parameters were used to shape the colour, tempi, and motivic development. The work was powerfully austere in the opening, with only a few scraps and brushes to move the music along, but despite this it always felt very rich and full. The cellist, Povilas Jacunskas, played every gesture with beauty and grace and Tomas Kulikauskas on percussion brought out every minute detail of the tam-tam to life. The shape and nuance of the work was profound and striking, this could easily be the strongest piece I have heard by Marius. I distinctly feel Marius enters a new realm when working with a chamber group, having to bring the most out of them to build the richest and most profound music. Who needs an orchestra when you have an amplified tam-tam?

Following this came Julius Aglinskas's '...' for string quartet. Instantly the worked revealed its intentions to challenge the notion of 'quartet' by separating the group into two duos. The lack of direct interaction between the duos was curious indeed, and the electronics went on the colour and blur the sensation of what we heard in front of us. The musicality was modest, and I kept finding myself pondering how much it reminded me of 'Jesus' love never failed me yet' by Gavin Bryars or even 'Lento' by Howard Skempton. However I did find the modesty began to stray too close to predictability, I imagine if it started from even less or was more radical and sparse by stretching it over a longer period of time would have been a far more impressive work.

Then came my other personal highlight of the concert, Diana Cemeryte's Les essais c'est tout II for string quartet, percussion and electronics. With whistles and clicks the music grew. I was so enthralled I struggled to write notes about it during the performance. The musicality was profound and striking. Every note struck to my core, and gripped me. The work had me eagerly wanting more. There was such austere beauty and profound sense of violence from five instruments, the work always advanced never resting and always on the attack. The intense restriction was so strong that when the simple electronic part came to the foreground I was dumbfounded by it. A truly elegant work and it was a real luxury to listen to the premiere.

After some shuffling came a work by Albertas Navickas, called 'tylos'. The piece started being very playful and inviting with the bowed cymbals in a cheeky counterpoint with the visuals on the screen. From this the work grew, building more and more colour, and feeling like it was accelerating, then suddenly the electronics started talking and instantly I was put off by it. The simple flaw in the work is it was almost identical to 'Different Trains' by Steve Reich, and why should I listen to a different work when I could listen to Reich; if I ever wanted to. It did sadden me this fact, because it was dedicated to his Grandma's 95th birthday, which is wonderfully sweet, but the music was just a pale imitation of something else.

And then, the finale came in the form of Monika Sokaite's 'O Tu Illustrata'; a setting of texts by Hildergard von Bingen for Baritone (doubling glockenspeil), string quartet, percussion and electronics. Instantly it could be seen the work was striving to achieve something big. Starting from a very still build up of chords built upon the foundation of the bass drum. The entrance of the baritone was nice, and the melodic line was rather pretty; but the positives were kind of ruined by the fact they were soaked in reverb. The piece moved along and climaxes were rammed down the throat simply because they were loud. At times the interaction between the different entities began to fall apart, as string quartet was often drowned out by the percussion, and due to all the reverb on the baritone he lost all the wonderful clarity in his voice. It was wonderful to see the composer strive for something more, but sadly this didn't achieve much, if this concert taught us anything doing less is far more striking and powerful. Sometimes the most heartfelt and profound gesture is whispered and not shouted.

The musicians in the concert were of a wonderful calibre, five disparate pieces can be a nightmare for any ensemble to do well, but the members of the Art Vio quartet were more than up for the task. Tomas Kulikauskas on percussion showed his clout throughout the concert, and Vaidrius Smilinskas has a bright future as a singer ahead of him, would love to hear him again in the future.

The festival has been very strong this year, and I am glad to see it hasn't fallen into the trap of producing its own 'festival sound' a rarity among festivals I fear. So the organisers of the festival do deserve congratulations for the success of this year.

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