25 May 2016

Druskomanija 2016: Day Four

This evening saw the fourth day of Druskomanija, and sadly the last day I will be writing about the festival (I will explain all in due course). Tonight was the high point of the whole festival with Bachelor students having their long awaited string orchestra pieces premiered by Donatas Katkus and his St. Christopher's Orchestra.The National Art Gallery was the perfect space for such an occassion, the light shone in from the riverbank and the open space made the concert welcoming, comforting and best of all resonant. 

The first work to be performed was Litosferos by Karolina Kapustaite, those of you who have read this blog before know I have been significantly impressed by her work in the past. Litosferos was no exception. The work shuffled in from silence. The space was empty, slowly filling with sound. Sensations of harmonies began to make their presence known. The sudden glimmer and flashes were as beautiful and intense as staring at the sun. Despite the intensity and the crushing austerity, the work had so a profound sensation of brilliance and energy. This made the work feel extremely beautiful and alluring as it flickered into life, like a flame on a wick. Throughout I was stunned by the poetic beauty, the skilled nuance and the modest brilliance of the work. What her piece said in its few audible moments, has spoken more wisdom than many composers have said in thousands. Without a doubt, this is the single most significant work of the whole festival. There is no confusion, Karolina Kapustaite is remarkable in her craft and is already a truly striking and thought provoking composer.

I felt sorry for the person who would have to follow such a giant work, thankfully the task went to one of the old figureheads of Lithuanian music. As the concert was also an opportunity to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the composer's union, two older composers's works were included in the concert. Teisutis Makacinas's Koncertinis Scherzo was the first. The work was lovely. The piece was full of wit and always had a skip in its step. It was wonderful to see this under performed composer get some limelight and it was also great to see the orchestra show us their metal. What I realised today is Makacinas has the same wit and charm of the late great Mervyn Burtch, I can only ponder what a meeting between the two of them would be like. All I know for sure is such a joint concert would be wonderfully brilliant. 

Gabrielius Simas Sapiega's A Torinoi lo was the second work by a young composer to be featured. Drawing influence from the ever optimistic Friedrich Nietsche, the work was bold and was a nice opportunity to final hear this elusive composer. The piece had the same kind of colours and shimmers you can find in Kaija Saariaho, and showed the composer has a good ear with an ensemble. Issues began to appear when the harmony became trapped on itself, forcing colour to be the only way to free itself. This then sadly meant the work began to be come a little lost on itself. However the composer has a good ear, a driven intellect and clear motivation. Over time, with solid work, he will find something truly memorable. 

Three years ago was the time I heard the wondrous St. Christopher's Orchestra. It was in Cardiff as part of the Vale of Glamorgan festival that year. What I loved is the fact that first concert and tonight's both included Jonas Tamulionis's Toccata Diavolesca. A fiery show piece, that I can only imagine is tons of fun for a performer to sink their teeth into. The piece I know phenomenally well, as funnily enough I had arranged it that same year (with the composer's permission of course). What I did notice in tonight's performance was the fact the orchestra went at it like Ursain Bolt. I have never heard such a quick rendition. I was a tad out of breath just watching. 

The finale fell on the shoulders of Dominykas Digimas's no sense. He has featured quite a bit in the festival, and I have been quick to point out where he needs vast improvement. Tonight however he showed me his klout. The work was amazingly focused, I have not seen this from the composer before, but it was striking and elegant. The focus in turn meant his harmonic language was far more well crafted and the slowly evolving melodic lines were heart melting. His ability to colour the backdrop with quasi-spectral surroundings meant the melody could just sit. It could ponder itself for hours without the need to move. This side of Dominykas has really tugged at my heart strings. I desperately want more of this kind of heavily focused, modestly skilled, and clearly spoken music. From my perspective this could be the sign of something significant for the composer. Even though the work had some hiccups and rough edges, it was still wonderful to listen to. To put it overtly poetically, it is like the composer is beginning to open a treasure chest. We know there is something brilliant about to appear, because the glow from the jewels inside the chest filled the gallery tonight.

Now to explain my earlier statement about not writing more about the festival. In short this is because of two reasons. Firstly from Saturday the festival will be in Druskininkai, and will repeat most of the concert. However there is a concert of new works tomorrow, now why aren't you going to review tomorrow's concert? I am glad you asked, due to unforeseen circumstances, the main conductor of N.A.M.E.S Ensemble (Austria) was too ill to travel to Vilnius with his ensemble, so the task has fallen to me to wave arms for the ordeal. So ultimately I thought it would be odd for me to write a review about myself waving arms. But I will give you all a sneak peak of what you can expect tomorrow. 

I am conducting three works, one by Mykolos Natelavicius, Kristupas Bubnelis, and Andrius Siurys. It has been an interesting set up from my point of view, as I know Andrius's work quite well, the piece shows he is continuing to grow, and the use of electronics alongside the ensemble is pretty striking and majestic. 

Working on Kristupas's work has also been an intriguing experience. I have seen a lot of potential in him and his music, and he shows the signs of interesting growth. His ability to get whistling intimacy and the same intense richness of 95% Dark Chocolate, is commendable. He is really coming on well and his piece is definitely worth listening to. 

What has been intriguing for me with Natelavicius's work has been finally seeing music from the performer's perspective. I admit I have felt at times his music falls far short of where it could be. But in this work, there is a greater focus, due to a recurring isorhythmic element of the music, as well as the fact with only five instruments a lack of focus would make a piece of music fall apart at the seems. This is his strongest piece I have heard, simply due to that focus.

There are two other works, which will definitely be worth listening to. Also don't worry about coming for me. Even if you hate me, that feeling will fall into insignificance when you hear the wonderful N.A.M.E.S ensemble. The Salzburg based ensemble are a joy to work with, a pleasure to listen to, and are simply an extremely high class quality of musician that is at times rare in this world. So as I said, come for them you won't regret it!

Druskomanija 2016 - Day Three

Another day, another concert in the Druskomanija festival. Audience members wandered in from the lovely early summer heat, ensemble Synaesthesis wandered in looking cool and ready to drop something heavy.

Ensemble Synaesthesis is an ensemble built of young daring musicians wanting to do something new in the Lithuanian scene. It is a very noble move indeed, and the ensemble sure do have the energy to give it a bloody good shot. 

Their concert featured four works by composers, including two of the larger stalwart composers of the local scene; Rytis Mazulis and Gintaras Sodeika. The first work, Chrystal Images by George Halloway starting with rich harmonies appearing above a particularly resonant trombone fundamental, sumptuous colours burst from the density. As the piece progressed, the episodic break down of material became a tad cliched and stopped the piece from just sitting in a magical space. Each section was happy to sit still and ponder but then, became pointlessly broken. In short the piece opened up a space that could have been explored hours, allowing a glimpse at something infinitesimal. But instead skimmed the surface of an endless ocean never finding land, or gold.

Following this came Walking Cat Counterpoint by Aleksaj Kalinin. As soon as the piece started it stank with the stench of Steve Reich. The use of repetitive patterns and phasing and other 'minimalist' devices, gave us nothing new. We have heard it all before, maybe if the past 70 years didn't happen, I might have been impressed. To confound the problem, the work lacked the core ideal of American minimalism, a clearly audible structure or going through a process.  What we were given were smatterings of different pastiche Reich ideas which lasted a little while and were replaced by new ones. For a supposedly minimalist piece, there is a lot happening. The ideas weren't explored in a decent way by a minimalist's standards, or by any other kind of composer's standards.

The following work surprised and stunned me. It opened with a bright, brilliant burst of energy, the ensemble were pulsing slowly growing. The work was as charming as it was hypnotic. It was definitely the perfect tonic to cure the ailments of the preceding work. Then the moment that surprised me was the ending, seeing Rytis Mazulis walk up to the front. The work was very similar and very different to anything I have ever heard from Rytis. It had the same dependency and invention of canon that I have known and loved for a long time, but there was something wildly different about it. It was the happiest and most optimistic work I have ever heard by him. I have heard 'modal' pieces by him, like his Canon Solus, but it had a calmer more austere quality, and his more intensive works like Canon Mensurabilis, were brutal heavy handed and dark. I was stunned and surprised, and struck with a gleaming smile on my face. I am curious to see is this a new phase in the Mazulis saga, or is it merely something he needed to get out of his system? Either I do love it went giant figureheads evaluate their work and produce something wonderfully out of sync.

The finally was Dru Ka Ja Mu Di by Gintaras Sodeika. It started with whistles and scraps shuffling in the intimate space. The work continued to grow gradually and evolved into quite a magical ritual for ensemble. As the ritual intensified, the noise grew, leading to roars and growls from electronics. The work descended into an intense but awe inspiring anarchy. Then gradually the work came under control again, almost coming to a complete stop, before the electronics went nuts. The introduction of drum loops and screaming grooves were striking, but sadly felt a bit more comical under the circumstances. It felt more like Gabriel Prokofiev than a nice strong Romitelli. The work was so promising but the ending ultimately shattered the work. If the piece had started with more intense use of drum loops or had hinted at them more strongly I would have been convinced. Its quite a shame really, there are some really great pieces by the composer, this just didn't quite match the previous greats.

Ensemble Synaesthesis were very strong throughout and their conductor Karolis Variakojis was as steady and calm as a rock. When dealing with heavy minimalism I know how mind bending it can be to conduct or page turn for it, so hats off to a skilled conductor. My only issue is the ensemble are extremely talented and are hungry to bite into a good chunk of new music, I am curious with their obsession with minimalism. Mostly in the sense of it is far more mainstream than it used to be, admittedly composers like Laurence Crance, Eliane Radigue, and La Monte Young still scour the edges, but I am sure Synaethesis could tackle something with more grit and oomph. Seeing them try harder minimalists like Eliane Radigue or La Monte Young would be spectacular, or even getting their teeth stuck into some of the more violent avant-garde composers alive today like Iancu Dumitrescu, or Ana Maria-Avram to name just two. They did extremely well, I would just love to see them broaden themselves even further.

Following this came a late night shindig with a mini-moog and three pieces. I was one, I made some noises to start it off, the piece started, grew, then ended. I know noone reads this blog for me to talk about myself.

Alongside myself were two teams of composers, firstly the self proclaimed Voyage Voyage performed their MMVXLEtude. It was quite an intense exploration of the mini-moog and the two performers, Karolina Kapustaite and Dominykas Digimas, had a great interaction and rapour. 

The finale came in the form of Monika Zenkeviciute and Jura Elena Sedyte. Their Trys Saltiniai, was equally as impressive to witness and the two really found some fun areas and sounds to ponder. As their energy grew, they ended with a ring modulated scream and the 'late night' concert came to a close before 10pm. It was a wonderful light hearted event and everyone seemed impressed and content.

Now to bring on tonight's concert with the St. Christopher's Chamber Orchestra!

24 May 2016

Druskomanija 2016: Day 2

Another day means another concert, thankfully last night was only one so I wasn't giving myself repetitive strain through continued manic scribblings in my note book. Last night was a return to the wonderful space that is the Gothic Hall of the Vilnius Art Academy. The piano trio Thirty Fingers performed six works (one cheeky surprise) showcasing young composers from across the EU.

The first work started, notes hang in the air like drifting clouds. Restrained harmonies slowly grew and despite the austerity always sounded bright. The mood evoked something akin to Bent Sorensen, with its 'simplistic' harmony but made more resplendent through rich colours. Luis A. Tenaglia's Transfiguracion was quite a strong work indeed. A rather beautiful piece in places. However I did ponder how much greater would the magic be if it was significantly slower. It would have been like lying on the grass watching the clouds drift by without a care in the world. 

The magic bubble was burst by Whist by Aleksandra Zviozdkina. The opening chords were sickly sweet and felt like any pop ballad in the charts now. Honest to God I thought Adele was going to sing at any moment. I am a big fan of simplicity, but for it to function and strike people significantly it needs a stronger purpose instead of 'pretty' harmonies. The voice leading the violin and cello melodies, were a bit clumsy in places and the suddenly appearing 'dissonant' chords felt out of place. I personally would have loved for the piece to be significantly more austere like water frozen or allowing itself to be lead to new harmonic places.

Following this came a work by Tze Yeung Ho. shulammite (a) was an extremely colourful work, which showed a lot of imagination and understanding of the dynamics of a trio setting. The manic flourishes and the sudden breaks were very impressive at the start, but the harmonic focus began to unwind, meaning in places the work had as much focus as an ADHD child in a petting zoo. This being said the piece had a wonderful sense of drama and communication. With greater harmonic focus Tze Yeung Ho will stun audiences.

After this and a bit of shuffling came Water for piano trio and electronics by Tine Surel Lange. The electronics instantly made their presence and purpose known, giving the work a dynamic similar to Berlioz's Harold in Italy with the small heroes fighting off the greater force throughout their tale. The trio element on the whole was strong, showing a lot of creativity and personal character. Some moments were extremely beautiful and the lulling water was riveting. The only issue I had was the block composition of the structure let the piece down as, excuse the pun, the sense of flow was ruined by it. The elements themselves were beautiful, but their context wasn't always very strong. But I am curious to see how the composer develops, there is a spark.

The penultimate piece, LaLaMiRe, by Vilte Zakeviciute was curious. She surprised me in the piece. Starting off with a melancholy akin to Shostakovich, but suddenly building into a piece with the same novel and intriguing interactions you find in the works of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgren. A very strong work, Vilte is has come on a lot since hearing her little flute piece a few months ago. What I would love to see is her now jumping into something harmonically more complex. I imagine with a strong prowess of serialism Vilte could produce mindblowing works of immense grandeur and spectacle. She is definitely gathering steam!

The final piece was a surprise, and annoyingly that meant I didn't manage to get the name of the piece. This surprise work by Dominykas Digimas was for trio and video. Sharp musical gestures swooped in. The accompanying projection was particularly surreal as the music was so dynamic and the imagery was so 'normal'. The work was full of colour and evolving timbres, something Dominykas has proven his prowess before, but I fear in this work the harmonic language was a tad stale. The only element driving the progress of the work was the visuals and the musical colours, if the harmony contributed too it would have been an almost immaculate work. The piece was definitely a noble attempt at producing something new, but the lack of independant musical structure and stagnant harmonies let the work down. Dominykas has great potential indeed, if he address these issues he will be a force indeed.

Another day done, now to gather myself before tonight's two concerts including a fun shindig with mini-moogs!

22 May 2016

Druskomanija '16 - Day One!

And so it begins, Druskomanija 2016, before tonight I would never have thought a skate park could be a great acoustic for an orchestral concert. The annual festival showcases young composers from across the globe, through a variety of concerts for a wide variety of ensembles and situations.

The opening concert featured four masters students from the Lithuanian Academy of Music, and was performed by a student orchestra under the baton of Ricardas Sumila. The four works were quite obviously different and for me, despite not being completely being blown away by the works two works showed great promise.

The first piece Nox by Ilja Pikalovas was quite straight forward in its approach. It started with a harmonic series, which is in turn warped by an inharmonic series, and finally resolving itself. As an fanatical fan of spectral music, I was quite pleased to see Ilja dabbling in the form, my main issue however was the simple fact it was very naive spectralism. This kind of approach has been done to death by the likes Tristan Murail, so young composers dabbling in spectralism have to find their own path, lest they suffer a fate of being stuck in Murail's shadow. In my opinion if Ilja considered viewing the harmonic series as an infinite line maybe then something truly fascinating will be found. This all being said, the piece was fine, held itself structurally and the orchestration was sufficient. Definitely want to hear more from this composer.

The second piece Thangtong Gyalpo by Gaile Griciute, initially sent alarm bells up my spine. Reading a composer has drawn inspiration from a 16th Century architect from Bhutan, or something of that ilk, means one of two things; either a truly astonishing work which has escaped the sphere of Western logic, or a work that is either hiding behind philosophy to justify their 'musiciality'. The work was extremely sonoristic, with a intense dependence on the colour of sounds more than the harmonic quality. The piece had brief moments of beauty but they all soon faded and never returned. The aleatoricism was ultimately quite weak, because the sensation of harmonic field was never addressed. On the face of it, it showed a lot of sounds, and everything was heard. But what was it trying to say? That shall remain a mystery.

Vilniaus bokstai by Raimonda Ziukaite, was the third work in the programme. Instantly the piece grabbed my attention. The violent driving lines in the piano accompanied by the dark murmurs of the brass was intensive. The piano writing was somewhat akin to Sur Incises by Boulez. The gradual growth of the work was well handled and the sudden moment of calm was glorious. The chorale-like figure which unfolded was beautiful at first, but began to become annoying through over repetition. The composer's use of colour and harmony was really quite strong and shows a growing maturity, there is a lot of promise in her. I wasn't completely sold by the piece as a whole, but this being said, I was glad to see the composer daring to say something through her work. She grabbed you, lead you on a journey and showed what she has to offer in the piece. If she continues to push her craft and knowledge she'll find something truly profound.

The phrase saving the best till last sadly did not apply here. Ieva Marija Baranauskaite's Bazm-e dastango tried to say too much, or just didn't know what on earth it wanted to say. The first segment started with flourishes and sputters, which became extremely predictable very quickly. Over time, this interaction evolved into something extremely tasteless. If she was aim for scherzo she drove past that by a few hundred miles. The following slow section had a bit more grace with its lulling bassoon melody and rolling accompaniment. The 'arabic' influence of the piece became a bit too glaringly obvious, with an almost racist oboe line. The follow segment was loud, with strong dissonances and orchestral stabs. The sense of drama was lost as the journey had been so fragmented already and the loud 'dramatic' stabs were just loud. The final segment started with so much promise. The quasi-fugal material showed a composer with real class and a refined sense of taste. The modest of the restrained fugue shows a composer who has a really profound edge. But then she threw it all away. The 'development' of the section was poorly coordinated and destroyed the only positive part of the work. The final few bars were just infuriating, it was akin to being pushed through a meat grinder, especially after what came before. If she can dig out the few gems in this, she has a chance to become something far more brilliant than this.

The concert ultimately wasn't to my taste, but two composers show some real promise. This being said, the standard of the orchestra and the control of Ricardas Sumila was second to none. If only the orchestra had something to really show off their klout.

After an hour's break in the sun with a wonderful cup of coffee and a few matches of fussball. Came the Katarsis 4 saxophone quartet. Their concert had five Lithuanian's from all walks of life. The first work Truktir by Vilte Zakeviciute started with extremely close harmonies which slowly unwound into a chorale filled with profound melancholy. The work was modest and elegantly crafted. For such a young composer, this work was extremely well done, and begins to prove my statement about her in the VDA concert a few months back. There is something about this composer, I will keep my eyes and ears on her.

Pick up by Justina Siksnelyte began with quite a driving and playful interaction. The rhythmic groove of the material was intriguing at first, but the static nature of the pairs meant the interactions felt tired after a while. Over time this faded away and was replaced by rustlings and murmurings from the saxophones, a grand harmonic on the baritone sax resounded and disappeared. The climax of the work was intensive, but the recurring material in the top saxophones took the edge off an otherwise mind blowing moment. The work as a whole was an intriguing exploration of sound, with a bit more time, Justina could really surprise us all.

It is not often for me to be so struck by a piece. I am such a cynic and smart arse that I can be a bit of a stick in a mud. But when a work hits me, it hits me hard. Jura Elena Sedyte's Awakening did just that. The opening screams from the reeds gripped me, this lead to a slow building and evolution of sound. The colours continued evolving and grew into giant monsters. The sensation of this work was akin to watch footage of a wolf pup starting life with little grunts and snorts, before growing up bit by bit then producing a howl which sends shivers down the spine. This piece was like watching a saxophone growing up in the wild. The craftsmanship and sheer intense focus of the work was extremely mature and profound. Jura Elena Sedyte shows acres of promise and without any shadow of a doubt, was the strongest composer I heard all night.

Following this came Juta Pranulyte's saxophone quartet no. 1. This composer I am quite familiar with after reviewing the concert of Melos Choir, I knew she was capable of really great things. Like last time, the work grew from a small point. The accompanying visuals by Vytautas Dagilis were extremely hypnotic and mesmerising. The work grew and evolved on itself, like gel in a lava lamp. However I had a major concern with the piece, as throughout it was too close to Gyorgy Ligeti. The sensation of evolution and the locations it evolved too were almost identical. It was an extreme shame, Juta Pranulyte is capable of much better works than this.

The final work If you didn't see the six-legged dog was a really enjoyable work by Monika Zenkeviciute. The work was playful and jazzy, and the quartet seemed to be really in their element playing it. Admittedly, it wasn't the strongest or most profound piece, but it was fun, sweet and honest. A lovely finale for a programme.

The quartet's surprise encore was also quite beautiful, but for me a bit too sickly sweet. Saxophone quartets have a hard time with repertoire as there is so much of it which is almost identical. But this being said, it was a really nice way to round off a truly solid programme. Katarsis4 are a very strong group and a part of me really wants to see them tackle something a bit more hardcore, like Xenakis's quartets or even something like Radulescu's Astray for two saxophones and pianos. I imagine they would really make heads explode then.

A solid first day of Druskomanija 2016 bring on day 2!

20 May 2016

Lithuanian Composer's Union awards

Last night was the Lithuanian Composer's Union awards where prizes were given to the panels favourite premieres of 2015. I sadly was unable to be there in person as I was on my way back from Vienna and ever so slightly brain dead once I finally arrived in Vilnius. This being said, I had spies in the audience, and the official announcement of the winners is on the Lithuanian Music Information Centre's website, however there isn't an English translation of it, which is an issue for another day.

Having been here in person since September, I have had to luxury of witnessing most of the pieces shortlisted. The rest of the shortlist here has full recordings of everything, so it was interesting to check out what I missed. 

In short, I feel I am at complete odds with the Composer's union's choices. With the exception of the public prize, I was particularly unimpressed with the winners. I am not in a position to comment on the public prize, as it was up to the public, so well done Ruta Vitkauskaite. My only worry is the fact that most of the composers in the shortlist aren't the most savvy at social media, so it can be argued they didn't necessarily have an equal opportunity to win it. But as I said the public has spoken and with over 700 votes, people definitely believed in Ruta's Confessions.

There were four other sections of prizes:uz stiliaus grynuma - purest style (or purity of style, depending on how you want to translate it)
uz ambicinga ideja - most ambitious style
uz orkestro vaizdinguma - best orchestral colour (or best orchestral imagery) 
jaunojo kompozitoriaus - Young composer

These four sections are quite open meaning composers in the youngest generation get to lock horns with the oldest. But on the other hand, groups like purest style are so vague it could be impossible to choose a winner. 

In the 'uz stiliaus grynuma' section, Vidmantas Bartulis won with his Voyage du silence. Admittedly I do have a soft spot for his work, it can often be quite moving and sincere. But Voyage du silence is just a bit dull, or like a weaker version of Eduard Tubin or even Stasys Vainiunas. Simplicity can be beautiful but this work failed. Definitely far from being a victor in my books.

For 'uz ambicinga ideja' the prize went to Egidija Medeksaite for her work Akasha which was premiered in GAIDA 2016. Those of you who can remember that far back, I was unimpressed by the work. I felt that there was too much adoption of bigger composers like Helmut Lachenmann, and not enough of Egidija. I also pointed out it was far surpassed by Ricardas Kabelis's Bole LT which was one of the most original pieces in the entire festival. I can understand why she was chosen, if you have never heard a note of Scelsi, Sciarrino, Lachenmann et al. the sounds the piece made was a bit more original. So maybe the panel just needed to listen to a bit more music first. 

Award ceremonies rarely make me cross, I admit I rarely agree but am never so stunned and shocked by a panel's decision. 'Uz orkestro vaizdinguma' was one of the worst choices I think that could be made. Mykolas Natalevicius's Karaciajus through some hole in the space time continuum defied all logic and won. A prize for best orchestral colour, or best orchestration, should go to a composer with a certain degrees of prowess in orchestration. I witnessed this piece's premiere and ultimately it was naive and half baked. The use of colour was basic, and particularly the use of brass was childish dull. I understand the piece was meant to show the horrors of a post-nuclear landscape, but brass should be menacing, not dull. 

The prize for 'jaunojo kompozitoriaus' went to Elena Sataites for her work Eremos. I have no clue what the criteria is for this group, especially when noone can agree on what constitutes a young composer. Elena's piece was quite sweet, but sadly did fall into a Baltic pastiche. If she was up against other students finishing their undergraduate last year, I know some composers who were more impressive. And if she were up against just young composers in general, I can name a few who outshone this piece. 

If I had influence on the awards this is how I would have gone:
uz stiliaus grynuma - Would have been a hard choice for me, but it would have either gone to Osvaldas Balakauskas for his Mozaika a truly wonderful piece for accordion, and further proof his Dodecatonality is both expansive and brilliant. Alternatively I would have chosen Ramunas Motiekaitis's Sonatina his beautifully unassuming music is by far one of the most original voices Lithuania has ever produced. 

uz ambicinga ideja - Without a doubt has to go to Juste Janulyte for her piece Radiance. I am rarely dumbfounded by a piece and Radiance blew me out of the water. Truly remarkable. 

uz orkestro vaizdinguma - Now there are two possible winners in my book, if I went for skill of orchestration and elegance of the craft, Marius Baranauskas's Palaiminimai is an outright winner. He is a skilled craftsman and even though it wasn't my favourite work by him its purity of craft must be commended. Alternatively if I went just for skill with colour and sheer inventiveness, the prize would have to go to Zibuokle Martynaityte's Ramybes Diptikai. This elegant work for violin and electronics is beautiful, striking and the interaction between the two is modestly remarkable. 

I won't offer my alternative for the jaunojo kompozitoriaus prize as I don't know the full extent of their process. 

I am intrigued by other people's views of the awards, as an outside looking in I wonder if it is just my opinion of the world of if others share my thoughts. Anyways can't ponder too much about the past. Got more fun things to discuss in the near future, like Druskomanija 2016 and a CD I have been meaning to review for a while now!

14 May 2016

Feliksas Bajoras: String Symphony 'Stalactites'

After a bit of a break from concerts and other things, I thought it'd be nice to return to a wonderful work I have been in love with since I first heard it back in 2014. Feliksas Bajoras (1934) is a rather remarkable and wild creature. His music is quite fascinating for many reasons, firstly its curious obsession with folklore often drawing on ancient Lithuanian traditions or folktales. Another element is the wildness and often bizarre harmonic language. It is futile to place him within a certain '-ism' because he regularly and purposely contradicts himself. Going from beautiful rich harmonies to devastating dissonances brimming with energy and power.

His String symphony is a great example of this brutal power and rich beauty. The work's title and subtitles comes from reflection of a trip to the then Czechoslovakia. Each segment is nicknamed after different landmarks or impressions like the Tatra Mountains, Vychegrad, Jewish Cemetery, and Prague to name a few.  

The work in itself is continuous and undivided but the Naxos recording has separated it into 9 chunks:

Tatra Mountains - Starts with a low pulsing and a growing melody in the low strings. The harmonies are gorgeous and constantly rolling along only being interrupted by odd colour changes. The chorale-like nature is hypnotic and is very peaceful.

Castles - is instantly more playful. Ideas fly from violins to the cellos in a cheeky and bouncy to and fro. It is suddenly destroyed and becomes oddly cautious. With ideas creepy in and disappearing.

Our Guide - has a solo viola singing above a rolling cloud from the rest of the orchestra. It is a brief but beautiful interlude.

Macocha - Starts will a jolt and suddenly notes hang in space. The oddly shifting harmonies are peculiar but mesmerising. The harmonics hang like stars and leave you enthralled. This slowly begins to disappear when more frantic elements slowly work their way into the section. Adding an unease and impatience to the otherwise timeless movement.

Lidice - Is frantic, with a fast pulsing bass melody countering the slow string chorale. Suddenly it bursts into a brutal and intense rendition of the chorale, grabbing you by the scruff of the neck screaming it at you.

Vyeshrad - Grows with flashes and shimmers, which fly past like insects. The chorale material brief reappears, but is so stretched and broken it is almost unrecognisable. It takes on a sadder and mournful beauty. 

Jewish Cemetery - Is dizzying, starting with circling aleatoric cells creating a small whirlwind. All melody and counterpoint is torn apart. Constantly desperate to grow into something substantial but always failing. 

 Prague - Bursts into life, pulsing and driving itself along like a train. The playful interaction has a slightly more sinister sensation this time around. Brutal and harsh stabs disrupt never allowing the listener or performer to rest. The section grows with energy and intensity building and building until reaching a powerful driving climax. 

Departure -  Is quite a simple section, with the aleatoric elements going from a monstrous fffff to pppp, but the effect is pretty powerful. All sense of stability is gone and all is left is the fading chaos. 

This is probably my favourite piece by Bajoras, it really shows his craft off well and does show that you don't need to be striving for brand new to be interesting. The work is powerful and fascinating and achieves it through pretty modest means. A trait I do adore in composers. There is a glorious recording produced by Naxos and can be heard here on Spotify.

5 May 2016

Electromagnets and Young Lithuanians

Last night saw the premiere of a collection of new works by young composers written for piano, prepared with electromagnets. I was lucky enough to be included in the concert so I can briefly talk about how magnets work and then go on to witter about the wonderful young Lithuanian's being performed.

As you can see, magnets were suspended above the string of the piano. Then when turned on, the magnets would periodically attract and repel the string, this would create a pulsing sensation from the string in question. Then to add variety, the speed in which it attracted and repelled could be altered producing different sensations of ringing; on top of this using the piano pedal could have the string humming harmoniously, or leaving the pedal produced an intensive percussive sound.

For all the composers involved, these pieces were like doing the leap of faith in Indiana Jones. But to start off the concert came a timeless classic for the piano, Fur Alina, by Arvo Part. This work does not need any introduction as it is so widely known across the world. This performance was intriguing as the magnets were highlighting the tintinnabuli notes, adding a new level of magic to Arvo Part. The pianist Paulius Pancekauskas had a really beautiful ability with tone and stillness, my only issue was it simply was too quick. The very simple piece becomes dramatically intense when its extended by playing it very slowly. Ralph van Raat's recording of the work for Naxos is the epitome of how it should be performed.

Next after some harmonious electronic music from the sphere came '---' by Julius Aglinskas. It has been a joy to come across quite so many performances of him recently. The work started in a characteristically still manner. Chords hung in space. The simple moving melody had magnets highlight certain elements adding an beautiful to and fro between the keyboard and strings. As the piece progressed the droning magnets rang like distant little bells and the calm modest and peaceful melody moved its way to a soft and calm close. Even though musically it isn't too distant from other pieces I have heard from the composer, this context is a place where that kind of music is very strong. That being said, I imagine if he pushed the melodic line to Feldman-like sparsity it would have been remarkable.

Next came my little ditty Lotus and Lightning. Noone wants me to dwell on this, but one thing that did make me smile was the little typo in the programme notes 'Lotus and Lighting' I kept thinking it was a sign I could have seen in IKEA.

After my nonsense got out of the way, came Goda Marija Guzauskaite. Her work Vakaro Plytejimas started with a simple but charming melody. The magnets appeared and coloured everything. Lauryna Lankutyte performed the piano part wonderfully, never missing a beat of a segment of detail. Goda has a lot of potential, my only two thoughts when listening to the piece was the piano part was so pianistic and  full of rich textures for the instrument, were the magnets completely necessary? Secondly I am curious what she would sound like if she pushed the harmonic complexity a little further, tap into some richer harmonies. There is a good potential in this composer, I'll be keeping an eye on how she develops.

Next came an improvisation from Kristupas Bubnelis. I was curious to see how he would play with the magnets and also I was curious to see how he improvised in comparison to the other pieces of his I have heard. First it started with pulsating makes, grappling at the string, a small glimpse of a low note and high note appeared and disappeared as soon as they arrived. Kristupas had managed to evoke quite a dramatic atmosphere in a very minute  gesture. The dramatic intensity continued, always depriving us of developing into something. Introducing rich harmonic material and melodic lines, then snatching them away before we can quench our thirst. I was very impressed by his improvising, and the interaction with the electromagnets was extremely resourceful. The one thought I had, when comparing this performance to his other pieces I have heard, he is a very bright and promising student but desperately needs to leap into the dark. The pieces I have heard are far to restrained and polite, the improvisation showed the potential of a composer who could grab you by the scruff of the neck and beat you with musical intensity. I wonder if he'll jump.

After the improvisation came Martynas Vilpisauskas performing a song Use me and leave. His song started with setting up loops and riffs to underpin him, the magnets chimed modestly and really added to the mood. Even though the song was far closer to indie than avant-garde it still fitted within the concert, and was full of a lot of intriguing invention and musical gesturing. I had a bit of a soft spot for it, a part of me wished music like this was saturating the pop charts instead of its current line of filth. The only issue I had with the was with all the looping, the magnets, and him singing the traditional playing of the keyboard sounded out of place, and almost unnecessary, that being said it was still fun to listen to and the Martynas had a wonderfully sweet and dulcet tone to add to the whole occasion.

Then came a redo of Monika Sokaite's Bizonai which was originally for baritone and piano. Those of you who have read this blog regularly know I was unconvinced by the song and found it a bit lackluster. I was intrigued to see what the magnets would add to the work. Sadly the magnets took more away from the work than they gave. The fact they were static on one chord, meant they were regularly and persistently against the singer and piano. It produced quite an unnerving cognitive dissonance, this combined with the pauses to allow the magnets to speak on their own only destroyed any momentum the piece tried to create. The original version was at least well self contained, if a bit twee.

The phrase saving the best till last was almost like a mantra for this concert. The finale came in the form of Karolina Kapustaite's No Title for piano performed by three people and magnets. The work gripped and stunned me from the very start. The subtle scraps and intensive clangs of magnets produced a whole orchestral world of sound. The whole piece was intensive, ingenious, and remarkably colourful. Her ability to craft a musical dialogue in such a landscape was profound, with clambering dissonances appearing then fading into harmonious ringing. The whole work was an elegant ritual for four performers and I sincerely hope it gets multiple performances. The ending of the work was also extremely striking, a singular magnet humming while out of thumps and bumps appeared the most beautiful and serene harmonic. Pristine. This composer will stun the world soon.

This whole concert would not have been possible without the intriguing thinking and planning from Agne Matuleviciute. It was a daring concert and held together very well. Her musical and technical prowess on the magnets must also be commended, because like all concerts, a performance is only as good as its performers. So very well done to her for her hard work and commitment to this event. Hopefully I'll be able to see the other events in the Mediju Saviate 2016, it looks like a real treat indeed.

1 May 2016

Ramunas Motiekaitis: Light on Light

This week I thought it would be wonderful to introduce a composer I have been extremely keen about ever since I came across his wonderful work. Ramunas Motiekaitis is a truly fascinating, and one of the most original composers working in Lithuania today. With its profound philosophical drive and transcendent stillness, Ramnuas's music says so much by saying barely anything.

As well a being a remarkable composer, he is also quite an intriguing philosopher. Being one of the few great philosophical champions of Eastern Philosophies within Lithuania. His doctoral thesis was on the affects of Japanese culture and philosophy on Western music within the 20th Century. This has ultimately been one of the great drives behind his music. The fascination with Eastern Philosophies, including Zen Buddhism, combined with a great love of Toru Takemitsu makes his musical landscape quite natural.

When composers tackle philosophies like Buddhism, the first real challenge is what is 'self' when you are a composer? What is 'composer'? Like self does composer exist and not-exist? In the 20th and 21st Century this has lead to some truly remarkable answers, be it Cage's attempts to remove composer entirely from the process to let music just speak, or Scelsi's removal of music and harmony, by meditating and mediating on singular notes, or Eliane Radigue's ability to just sit in a moment. This question being one of the core focal points of Buddhism has so many profound implications that impact on so many layers when considered properly, so it is no surprise that there are so many answers to 'What is composer' within this context.

Motiekaitis's stand point is an intriguing one. In short, it is to write a music that just modestly sits back and does not intrude on the space, allowing you to focus on the space around you and the sensation of time. He does this by letting his music murmur and whisper. Never forcing you to listen, quietly pondering itself to itself, while you consider all that is around you in space and time.

Within the piece Light on Light (2004) for Trombone and String Quartet, as the composer says; is a reflection on the 'musical' and adjective mean of 'light'. With its shimmering, glistening colours of the trombone and strings are captivating, mostly because of their frantic energy and microscopic volume. The harmony stays very still, the music drifts in and out of silence, appearing as seamlessly as it disappears.

The directness and modesty of the piece is beyond poignant. And what really appeals to me is music that not only sits, but you are happy to just sit with it. Very few composers make this quite so elegantly. To have a composer who never forces your hand to an opinion or a stance, but just leaves you be, quietly thinking about all things or nothing. Reaching conclusions or not reaching anything can happen freely, without question or demand of result.

Sit, breath, listen, and enjoy Light on Light by Ramunas Motiekaitis.