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.

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