25 June 2016

Obligatory response to the Referendum

Britain has voted (52-48) to leave the EU. For many this was not a surprise, and for others this has been a hard and heavy shock. The true ramifications of this are yet to be truly felt across the globe, but it will send shockwaves across the world for a long time to come. I know this blog is not a political one, despite some of my strong political leanings, but something this major needed to be addressed somehow. So I have done all that I think I can do now. Celebrate Lithuanians within the UK!

So here goes! The first Lithuanian composer I wanted to natter about is Vitalija Glovackyte. The Mancunian based composer is a intriguing one for me. She has celebrated successes like being Apartment House's embedded composer, and has had works featured in the Panufnik scheme. For me, her real strength comes in her electronic works. Pieces like Sunday is gritty, grimy, and just glorious! Despite being almost completely dysfunctional, the music finds itself and also shows a quirky sense of humour which many composers tend to shy from. Listen to her music here on Soundcloud.

For those of you who read my blog I haven't always been positive of Egidija Medeksaite's work. I admit the pieces I have heard over this past year haven't been the strongest especially when I have heard stronger pieces from her too. When I first came across Panchami about 3 years ago, I was struck by its melodious rolling patterns and the humming electronics which blurred the field. Egidija's obsession with textiles does produce some intriguing musical reconstructions, and I feel as she grows more and more as a compsoer she will tap into something far more elegant and fluid. Listen to her music here.

Juta Pranulyte, is a composer I have had quite a soft spot for. Ever since I met her, I have been intrigued by her drive, sharpness of mind, and desire for more in her music. The resulting music has either been very elegant and striking pieces or works that show she is working towards something even stronger. Currently based in Glasgow, Juta has written for a large expanse of musical settings. Her choral pieces have been quite a strong area within her work. Her deus ex machina is a dark and brutal musical landscape, with a powerful sense of focus. The work is a major step for her as composer as it really poignantly shows off her abilities in the craft. I feel if she beings to produce works with a stronger more brutal message behind it she will stun thousands. Listen to her work on Soundcloud.

Ruta Vitkauskaite was the first Lithuanian composer I met in person five years ago. We have found ourselves every so often bumping into each other, and she has constantly been on the periphery of my work in the Baltic. Funnily enough, the day we met has since proven to be quite a poignant day for me as it is the day that started leading me towards eventually moving to the Baltic. Ruta's work show a desire to break from everything. A desire to find something new, all encompassing, and welcoming. Having written or produced improvisations for outreach projects or questioning the very nature of opera, Ruta shows a desire to not get stuck. Here is her For Many Thousand for solo accordion, the very work that was performed the day I met her.

To round off this lovely article, I'd like to quickly talk about a strong ally of Lithuania from Britain. Anton Lukoszevieze the cellist of Apartment House is of Lithuanian decent and has for quite a few years now been quite a champion for Lithuanian composers from Rytis Mazulis and Jugis Maciunas to Egidija Medeksaite and Antanas Rekasius. His desire and drive to promote these composers is commendable and deserves as much praise as he can get. What pointing out what Anton is doing with the wonderful Apartment House does is it proves despite Britain's choice, there are still strong allies fighting to show how great the rest of the world is. Listen to Aparment House do the third movement of Antanas Rekasius's Musica Dolente et con brio.

The next post will be far less political I promise!

18 June 2016

Look back at the academic year.

After many months of personal evolving, exploring, listening, reading, and murdering of a new language, I have come to the end of my first academic year in Vilnius. It has been a wonderful year full of uncovering lots of glorious works and witnessing many fantastic performances.

I wanted to use this post to look back at some of my favourites. So in no particular order, here are the gems of the year:

GAIDA - Obviously it would be crazy to ignore GAIDA Festival 2015. The festival is a great time and place during the Vilnius calendar, showing off cutting edge pieces from across the world and placing native Lithuanians on a level playing field. The festival's championed composers were Terry Riley and Francesco Filidei, two glorious composers indeed and it was a particular joy to witness Francesco Dillon performing Filidei's 'Ogni Gesto d'Amore' such a beautiful work indeed. Out of the Lithuanians being premiered in the festival, two composers particularly stood out for me.

 Juste Janulyte's 'Radiance' for choir and electronics is probably the single most purified rendition of her monochromatic work. The intensity and beauty was second to none, and I have discovered it will be performed in Klaipeda in September so need to run to the sea for that! The other glorious work was Ricardas Kabelis's 'Bole LT', the work for string orchestra and electronics was profoundly intense. The pulsing cluster was dark and powerful. The hypnotic sensation was mind-bending, and then the sudden appearance of 'Bolero' was a true mark of artistic insanity. As I said in the review of the concert, whether you liked it as an audience member doesn't matter, the simple fact everyone was affected shows it was one of the most profound pieces of art in the festival, and for me, throughout the year.

JAUNA MUZIKA - Another important festival within Lithuania is JAUNA MUZIKA, the festival is dedicated to electronic music and is another dedicated festival promoting Lithuanians on par with composers from across the world. A particular highlight of the festival for me was the Art Vio Quartet's performance within the festival. Two works from the concert stole my heart.

Marius Baranauskas's 'Delta Cephi' was a profoundly colourful work for cello and tam-tam. The sonorous melody of the cello combined with the shimmers and scraps of the tam-tam made for a profound work, full of creative and powerful interplay between two instruments. The sheer capacity and ingenuity of the work could rival any work for cello and orchestra, a joy to behold and hopefully I can get hold of a recording of it. Another work that affected me profoundly was Diana Cemeryte's 'Les essais c'est tout II'. The work for strings, percussion and electronics was full of subtle nuances and gestures and the poetic interaction of the ensemble was elegant throughout. Thankfully the recording of the work is on Soundcloud so enjoy!

Melos Kamerinis Moteru Choras Debut - My year wasn't just full of elegant new music festivals, I also had the joy of witnessing new ensembles try to define themselves in the music scene. The most successful one, for me, was Melos Kamerinis Moteru Choras. This all female choir had the sheer audacity to perform new works from young composers from across the world. The premieres of works by Juta Pranulyte, Matas Drukteinis, Monika Sokaite, Nathan James Dearden, Sarah Rimkus, and Monika Szpyrka were a joy to behold, but for me the greater joy came from the sheer brilliance of the ensemble. This is a highly talented ensemble with the bravery to work with upcoming composers with such gusto and bravado has to be celebrated for the great thing it really is. 

Vytautas Bacevicius - Alongside many wonderful concerts, I also was able to come across scores, or gain a deeper knowledge of glorious gems hidden within the Baltic state. One of those composers was Vytautas Bacevicius. A composer whose imagination and harmonic dare rivals the likes of Scriabin and Messiaen. His Zodis (Mots) are a collection of seven works for keyboard instruments which gave Bacevicius a space to define his own development on his own terms. The seventh mots for two pianos, for me, is the most elegant example of it. The interplay of the two instruments within this elegantly constructed landscape is just magnificent. Definitely a series of works I need to know more deeply, from a composer I cannot wait to know even more about.

Vytautas Montvila - Before moving to Lithuania, I was vaguely aware of the work of Vytautas Montvila. The small knowledge I had of his blew my mind. A music that juxtaposes native folk melodies alongside gut-wrenching harmonies and sonoristic splendour can only be celebrated for the genius it is. During my time in Vilnius I was able to get a wider knowledge of his work, discovering his modestly skilled piano works like 'Miragen' or 'Sutartines' or other monolithic works like 'Chorai' or 'Sventine poema' have been nothing but a joy. Be prepared to find more articles about him from me.

For me another joy to behold has been discovering young talent within Vilnius. As Lithuania is in a wonderfully catalytic moment in its history, the younger composers are full of energy, desire, and imagination to run into new and to redefine themselves as a nation. For me there have been some really talented composers here are just two of them:

Karolina Kapustaite - In short, I have loved everything I have heard from this composer. Her sheer imagination, combined with a brutal directness means every work hits you hard. For me the strongest works I have heard from her, were her string orchestra work which was premiered in Druskomanija '16 as well as her intensive work 'No Title' for piano, magnets and multiple performers. The exploration of colours simply stunned me and it is a joy to be able to listen to her works on soundcloud over and over again.

Jura Elena Sedyte - Stunned me with her work for saxophone quartet performed by Katarsis4 in Druskomanija '16. The work was simply and profound violent. The slow growth and evolution of the music was magnificent, starting from little murmurings and squeaks before evolving into screams and roars. I look forward to see more from her.

This year has been glorious, I cannot wait to see what the next year will bring me. 

Grazio dienos!   

10 June 2016

Martins Vilums: Aizsapnu saule

After weeks and many many reviews, I thought it'd be nice to reflect on a piece of music I have uncovered. I also thought it would be nice to discuss at Latvian composer as this Baltic blog has been rather biased towards Lithuania recently. Funnily enough the Latvian in question is currently based in Vilnius, and is lecturing at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (a significant reason why I found his music). 

Martins Vilums (1974) was born in Riga, where he studied accordion in the Medins music school before starting to study composition under Peteris Plakidis in the Vitols Latvian State Academy. After 1996 Martins came to Vilnius to study with Osvaldas Balakauskas, then Rimantas Janeliauskas. During this time his focus on the contemplation of time within music became particularly influential on his work. The approach to his work is best likened to sculpture with its meticulous attention and detail and the way it influences and shapes a singular mass into something wondrous. 

I discovered his piece Aizsap┼ću saule, as it was a new recording which popped up on Soundcloud. The work is for ensemble and voices and is, in short, truly magical to behold. The speedy growth of sound from a single pizzicato gives the sensation of a frantic energy, but due to the almost completely motionless nature of the harmony, feels in one place. The sensation is like watching popcorn pop in a bag or pan, each pop is full of extreme potential, but the confines of the container restrain it making it feel more energetic but castrated of its potential.

From this the rolling vocal lines and shimmer colours constantly evolve and drift in the space. The minute evolutions of string colours and give the music its fluid motion which lull you into a dreamy slumber. If my translation is correct, the title refers to a sleeping sun (Latvians feel free to correct me), assuming I am correct the fluid dazed nature of the music is poignant in this setting. The lines keep drifting, thoughts appear, and leave, and the listener can just sit and be still.

Not to diminish Martins's work in any way, but the rolling textures and gorgeous harmonies are reminiscent of the glorious Helena Tulve. Both share a glorious mastery of colour and juxtapose it with a profound straight forward melodic writing which sounds all the more ingenious because of its surroundings.

Aizsapnu saule, continues is growth and evolving, never resting but always still, the piece in its brief eight minutes manages to make you forget about time entirely. The piece could be an hour, it could be forty days, it could be twelve seconds, it doesn't matter because the time spent with the piece is frozen, almost pulling the listener away from reality so they can just sit a while and hear.

The whole work can be heard on Martins's Soundcloud. I would heartily recommend listening to other works on there too like his oratorio Aalomgon from 2006 or his Tvyjooran (2012). A glorious composer indeed and a great little gem I seem to have uncovered. 

3 June 2016

Windows to Lithuania

After a much needed recovery from Druskomanija 2016, I am back refreshed with another review to witter on about. This time I am reviewing a CD I have been eager to get my hands on as soon as it was first released. The Windows to Lithuania CD, produced by Ars Lituanica, is a fantastic little snippet at some of the wonderful chamber music that has been produced in the nation. The CD features composers like Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, Stasys Vainiunas, Balys Dvarionas, and Loreta Narvilaite to name just a few.

The first three tracks are three preludes by M.K. Ciurlionis which has been arranged for piano trio by N. Galiamova. I am quite fond of the three preludes for multiple reasons, Pastorale VL. 187 is a prelude I have been quietly murdering on the piano for some time now, so it is nice to hear it played beautiful. The three works are quite cute, and gain a slightly more serene life when put into a piano trio context. Its must have been perplexing for Gintaras Janusevicius to play these preludes in this situation. The overall sound is beautiful from the trio, always melodic, always harmonious, and the three stunning musicians sound like a unit, never like three soloists competing.

Then is Stasys Vainiunas's piano, which starts with a very dark rich slow unwinding of melodic materials, and has a strong air of Schumann to it. This being said it is by no means pastiche. The drama of the trio is intensified by the counterpoint in the three instruments who always seem to be adding to discourse constantly. And despite the opening darkness, the trio manage to really bring out the sparky playful character of the Allegro moderato in the first movement. The second movement is simply beautiful. And listening to it, it really feels a shame that this CD is my first encounter with the work. Its gorgeous melody and chocolatey harmonies are something that will be loved throughout Britain, Classic FM would love to play this; especially with these performers. The driving finale is full of oomph and the trio marvelously never over play this quality, retaining a strong sense of control and elegance despite the intensity.

The follow tracks are for Balys Dvarionas's Winter Sketches (Ziemos eskizai). The small piano works are wonderfully curious collection of miniatures which have a similar flavour to works by Debussy or Satie. The works are modest but elegantly crafted and are full of character. Gintaras Janusevicius really shows his klout and whimsy as a performer in this recording, which is especially wonderful considering he doesn't show off in the trio setting preferring to maintain the correct nature of the trio.

Next Gleb Pysniak plays through Vytautas Paltanavicius's Rhapsody for cello. The short four minute track is full of the same drama and beauty as Kodaly's and Bartok's cello works. A real show piece for any capable cellist. Gleb does not disappoint in this recording. A cellist with real power and strength but also the ability to step back and allow plain beauty through. Magnificent.

The final solo moment comes in the form of Dalia Dedinskaite playing Vytautas Barkauskas's Partita for violin. Another great show piece for the instrument, its five movements draw out a lot of character and nuance demanding a lot of artistry from its performer. In the CD sleeve is a wonderful quote from the composer:

'Although I have heard my Partita a hundred times. I was delighted when I heard Dalia Dedinskaite several years ago. The mood, special charisma, suggestion. I fell in love and haven't fallen out of it' 

I couldn't agree more. A stunning recording of a modestly demanding work.

Zita Bruzaite's Sonnet IV is the next featured work and it is simply beautiful. The simplicity of harmony and clear statements and interactions are delightful. With a work this simplistic in nature, it takes really dedicated musicians to bring into a good light. To often professional musicians play down or under perform simple because it is 'simple'. The trio of Dalia, Gleb, and Gintaras are far beyond that. The communication as a trio, interaction, elegance, and ability is just a joy to listen to.

Anatolijus Senderovas's Song and Dance (Giesme ir sokis). Is a charming diptych for trio. The opening is placed beautiful in the centre and is just allowed to sit. The trio avoid the temptation to drag out the tune too much, maintaining interest and keeping the performance tasteful. The following dance is a lot of fun. I can only imagine how much fun it is to play such a lighthearted bouncing work. The moments of humour are pulled off well and never feel forced or like they just burst the bubble. Another wonderful rendition by the trio.

The penultimate recording Pamatyk jura tolumoje (See the Sea in the Distance) by Loreta Narvilaite is stunning, probably my favourite track on the CD. Its lilting and rolling lines and motifs are crystal clear and shimmer. The repetitive nature of musical gestures are hypnotic and leave you stunned. For a beautiful and still work it is full of a smaller level of energy which is masked very well by the trio, some ensembles would be tempted to make the busy nature of the texture a major detail shattering the illusions created by the composer. Everything in this recording of this piece is done immaculately and is probably the best rendition of this piece I will ever hear.

The finale of the CD is a rather charming rendition of the Lithuanian folk song Prie Nemunelio by Aleksandras Kacanauskas. The harmonisation is quite elegant and not too sentimental but still heartfelt. A simply enjoyable and lovely track to finish off a rather brilliant CD by the trio.

I cannot recommend this CD enough. It is great for multiple reasons, firstly because it is a great showcase of some of the lesser known Lithuanian composers and shows the expansive nature of Lithuanian classical music. It is also worth getting hold of simply because the musicians are just fantastic. Every piece is recording amazingly well and every rendition is great. These great musicians are worth listening to for days on end!

As a great hint of what is in store, hear Dalia Dedinskaite performing Vytautas Barkauskas's Partita