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!

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