28 October 2016

64 strings

Last night saw the most Baltic filled of all the concerts of this year's GAIDA festival. And for me was the concert I waited for with most anticipation; admittedly this was mostly because of the three premieres anything could have happened, and the mix of composers involved I have a real soft spot for their work. The concert was extremely well attended, and had the extra zing of excitement due to the presence of LRT film crew. So lots of anticipation for this particular concert.

So to start off our string extravaganza was a glorious work by the Lithuanian behemoth, Julius Juzeliunas. The performance was a gesture of celebration of the composer's great work, and to mark his centenary which is nice very year. The work chosen to mark this momentous occasion was the composer's fourth quartet, or as it is nicknamed Raga keturiems (Raga a quattro). The quartet is a marvelous conversational work for quartet and rather wonderfully explores the harmonic potential of different ragas without it starting to sound like mere exoticism or cultural appropriation. Like all of Juzeliunas's works it is charming witty and elegantly crafted. His quartets are without a doubt, on par with the likes of Bartok, Janacek, and Schoenberg in regards to significance and brilliance. The performance of this work fell to the CHORDOS quartet, who sadly played it all rather flatly. All the character and nuance of the work ultimately disappeared because dynamic range was too small, very little conviction in the interpretation, and some of the simple gestures like moments of increased bow pressure felt clumsy or even uncomfortable for the group. It was a real shame indeed, I do hope other quartets adopt the work, so they can really hammer home the charm, wit, and brilliance of this quartet.

Next came the ArtVio and Ciurlionis quartet to show us what they could do, in the premiere of Zibuokle Martinaityte's new octet (or double string quartet) Sort Sol. This premiere I was particularly excited about as I have a real love of the work of Martinaityte. Ever since I heard her piece Completely Embraced by the Beauty of Emptiness I have found her work to be brilliantly constructed and full of a unique character and charm. The word Sort Sol is Danish for Black Sun; which is the name for the natural phenomenon where lots of birds fly in a huge dense flock. I was curious to see how this could be translated into a work for eight instruments. The work was well crafted, and the colours in the ensemble were beautiful. The harmony is very heavily focused around open fifths, but I couldn't quite tell if that was to fit with the black sun or to accommodate the fact fifths are the most common interval on string instruments. I was curious to see that Zibuokle herself had resigned herself to conduct the work, especially as in this performance it felt like the performers had stopped communicating as a group, and just stared at the composer. The other issue I had with the work was simply it owed too much to Juste Janulyte. There were too many similarities between Sort Sol and Elongations of Night by Juste Janulyte. Which ultimately is a shame as Zibuokle is a magnificent composer in her own right. I desperately and highly recommend everyone to visit her soundcloud, to hear her wonderful music. 

Then after some more shuffling came the second of the night's premieres. This came in the form of a dectet for two string quartets, accordion, and percussion by Ramunas Motiekaitis. All of you who read this blog, know how much admiration I have for the work of Motiekaitis, so to finally have the opportunity to hear it live was a real treat for me indeed. And I was only delighted with this piece. With the quiet flicker of the first notes I knew I was in to hear something magnificent. Like with many of Ramunas's pieces nothing is overstated, every sound has a purpose, an importance which is never pompous or to inflate his own ego, but merely a significance of 'this has to happen now, because it is happening now'. The elegance of the work thrives on the fact it never seeks attention, it merely exists; and throughout existence we the most beautiful elements of life never have to scream for attention, there merely are and with it are beautiful. 

After a large amount of shuffling came one of the leviathans of the night. Ruta Vitkauskatie's Nusviesti lygumai (Event Horizon) for four string quartets was one of the most talked about pieces leading up to the concert due to the sheer number of quartets involved. Admittedly this isn't the most amount of string quartets I have heard in relation to a piece for string quartet. Horatiu Radulescu's seminal fourth quartet is for nine quartets, he addressed the necessity of this gargantuan size through extreme use of scordatura, to create the sensation of an 128 stringed instrument. Ruta Vitkauskaite's work was not trying to compete with this outlandish work, but rather exploited the antiphonal potential in the space. This kind of idea is not a new one in music, Thomas Tallis and Gabrielli both exploited the potential of this within their sacred works, but this does not mean there isn't still life in the idea. The opening was joyful, mostly because it was the most overtly melodic piece I think I have ever heard from Ruta. The seamless passing of the melody was wonderful and had a real life to it. Sadly this joy was short lived, as 'extended techniques' were chucked into the mix and just didn't feel right in the piece. Maybe if, like in Radulescu's fourth, the work was an hour long she could have really explored all the ideas and made a really magical exploratory experience of it. But sadly it did not quite reach that point. 

After a much needed break, mostly to recover from a rather uncomfortable seat, we returned to be greeted by ArtVio performing Simon Steen-Anderson's Study for String Instruments No. 1. For those who don't know the magical work, this piece simply gives you what it says; Simon Steen-Anderson really is the ronseal of composition. The work simply explores articulation and musical gesturing within glissandi. The quartet surprised me. Mostly because I felt the sensation that they were intuitively built to play works of this magnitude. Contemporary music does divide performers, mostly because many performers are scared of making the 'wrong' interpretation, or merely not knowing how to interpret it at all. ArtVio really took the piece in their stride, and really showed they are a force to be reckoned with. Bloody well done. 

Following this, and lots of shuffling about, came Peteris Vasks's Viatore for string orchestra. Written in 2001 the work is very typical of Vasks's current sensibilities, with its rich harmonies and chorale-like textures. I really, really love this piece; so I was very excited at the opportunity of hearing it. I was delighted to see the 11 musicians were daring enough to perform the work without conductor, but sadly their bravery didn't deliver much to the piece. As Vasks's music is so open performing it without a clear idea of what you want to say in the piece is detrimental to the overall effect of the music. The music is still very pretty, but it is fare more powerful when performed with a powerful intent. This lack of intent was also apparent as dynamic differences were barely noticeable and interaction felt a bit limp. Thankfully performances of Vasks are a bit like pizza: good pizza is amazing and bad pizza is still pretty amazing. 

The finale came in the form of Gintaras Sodeika's Tettigonia perdida, Dada Concerto Grosso. The work for solo piano, solo cello, and strings is very typical of Sodeika. Cheeky, heavily jazz influenced, and rather optimistic. The soloists really tried to bring out lots of character in their parts, but despite their efforts issues like balance and rigidity ultimately ruined the effect. Because the ensemble weren't conducted, one of two things were going to happen. Either the soloists lead and interact with the group, dictating tempo changes and so forth; or everyone would become to fixated with their own parts and forget to interact. Sadly the latter was the result, and particularly in works heavily influenced by jazz, rigidity in the music ultimately makes the atmosphere feel laboured. Even though Sodeika's music has a lot of personal charm to it, the music needs fluidity otherwise it is somewhat akin to my youth playing 'swing' with brass bands; nothing ruins swing quite like a colliery band, and nothing ruins jazz like stagnant classical musicians. 

The highlights of the concert were without a doubt ArtVio's rendition of Simon Steen-Anderson and Ramunas Motiekaitis's premiere X Ciklai. More from them please!

24 October 2016


On a wet and windy Sunday evening, we had all gathered to witness one of the most curious concerts imaginable. Harpsichord and Accordion duos! Yes you read correctly, Harpsichord and Accordion. The instrumentation is immensely mismatched, mostly due to the natural nature of the instrument. What are the possibilities? What is the repertoire? Who on earth has been writing for this mix? The concert repertoire was almost as varied as the instrumentation; Grisey, Vasks, Janulyte, Moc, Steen-Anderson, and Jodlowski. The atmosphere in the Contemporary Art Centre was full of the same intrigue and curiosity.

Michael Moc's MissA written in 2014 was a curious work indeed. The work plays on the curiosity with in the title. The linguistic pulling apart of the title produces Mass or Missa and Miss A or Miss Accordion. The hommage to femininity is mostly inspired by the performer Goska Isphording, and the Accordion is obviously a nod to Maciej Frackiewicz. The work overall is an emotional response to the aurora borealis Michael Moc witnessed on a trip to Iceland. The opening of the piece had a sustained chord which are subtly adapted by changing the stops of the accordion. The nuanced gesture was very much a kin to works by Olivier Messiaen and Ligeti's works for organ. As the work expanded the distinct differences between the instruments are exploited to drive the musical interaction and texture. The structure was a strong block composition with every segment being very clearly defined, but as the work progressed, the structure did become to feel a tad limp. And like almost all contemporary works for accordion there was loud clusters being stabbed everywhere on the accordion. Beyond the crasser moments the work was fascinating and well written. 

Following this came Gerard Grisey's Passacaille for accordion. The work is a piece written by Grisey before he started studying with Olivier Messiaen. The composer himself abandoned the work and it was not published alongside his list of works. The work's existence is due to a friend and accordionist saving the work and publicly celebrating it. The piece is an intriguing memento of a young Grisey. The language is heavily, if not inseparable from Henri Dutilleux. The lilting lines and beautiful harmonic colours are always a joy. I can understand why Grisey abandoned the work, as it bares no obvious relation to his works later in his life. But it is always fascinating to see where a composer came from, also it is quite interesting as the mood of Passacaille was vaguely reminiscent of Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, the character of the work is dark and reflective, pondering itself quite profoundly.

Following this, and some mild shuffling preparing the accordion, was Simon Steen-Anderson's Next to Beside Besides No. 3. The piece, like many of Simon Steen-Anderson's works, is curious and entertaining. Having completely broken the instrument, the piece rebuilds music from the shards of the destruction. Maciej Frackiewicz had a real affinity and knack with the piece. Bringing out the character, nuance, and dialogue of the piece.

Then Goska Isphording returned to the stage to perform Kantate by Peteris Vasks. Written in 1980, the work was written during an intriguing shift of Vasks's musical output. His works written while studying in Vilnius (like his first string quartet) are far heavier and more akin to the works of Penderecki. The works of the early 1980's like his second string quartet and this Kantate are shifting towards the modern day Vasks we know and love today. In this state of flux is extended moments of stillness and reflection, combined with outbursts of violence. For me this period is Vasks at his most fascinating, as he uses such a plethora of colours and gestures, as well as showing a masterful craft and brilliance in his work. Kantate is no exception, and Goska Isphording performed it beautifully, the chorale-like moments at the beginning and the violent outbursts were handled immensely and their nuance was never lackluster. She had control and purpose of every gesture in the piece and made everything profoundly musical. 

The next piece, for me, was the work I was most curious to hear within the whole repertoire. Anyone who has read this blog more than once will know I am a bit in love with the work of Juste Janulyte. Previous works have been defined by the exploitation of similarities in tone, so to be presented with a piece with two dramatically different instruments was an intriguing departure indeed. Harp Is A Chord is a play on the name of the instrument and a cheeky nod to the structure of the work. The piece very simply, is built on the exploration of a singular chord; with brilliant flourishes within the harpsichord, which are coloured by a sustained by the accordion. The sensation was like the dance between the ripples and the water. Their active qualities are intensely different but they are one and the same. The real strength within the work is from the simple fact the harmonic language is symmetrical forcing us to sit and just listen. This premiere was a joy, but to be honest this work is merely the beginning of something greater. The potential of this work to turn into a fascinating concerto for harpsichord is huge and I sincerely hope Juste and Goska make this happen!

The finale came in the form of Pierre Jodlowski's Lessons of Anatomy. The work was a sheer joy. Starting with a projections of a harpsichord Goska Isphording slowly walked in an interacted with the abstract electronic sounds and teasing the instrument through gesturing. The distortion of the nature of performance was fascinating to observe and Goska Isphording really bought the musicality out of every gesture, even though the majority of them were 'silent'. After a significant time the piece explodes with energy and the 'real-life' harpsichord intensely interacts with the manic electronics. The pairing was fascinating and a wonderful piece to witness.

The whole concert was a surprising joy. The variety of the repertoire and masterful performing of Goska and Maciej bought the evening to life and produced one of the most succinct concerts I have ever witnessed. I loved every moment, and I hope to see more  from these wonderful performers. Now for a small mental break before more brilliant concerts from GAIDA 2016.

23 October 2016

Music in Image and Image in Music

Day two of GAIDA, and we are cracking on with another fine intensive concert. Last night was the first night in a series of concerts in the Contemporary Art Centre (Siuolaikinio meno centras). There was the same bustling and buzzing of anticipation before the concert started and there were audience members from as far away as Norway, maybe a sign of how important this festival is? The concert featured works that combined visual elements alongside the 'traditional' performing. And the repertoire included composers from various nations including Lithuania, France, Belgium, and Australia. What was particularly positive for me was the inclusion of composers who either rarely or never grace British shores; so it was a nice treat to broaden my perspective of the world.

After the usual warm introductions, Stephane Ginsburgh walked to the stage. The concert started with Stefan Prins Piano Hero No. 1 the first part in a major cycle of works. This work I was particularly curious after hearing about it circulating all over the place, including Darmstadt. As soon as the projection starts we are hammered by a violent and hyperactive glitching space. Every note of the piano had been assigned to a visual element and deconstructed piano sound, which created an intriguing sense of dialogue, especially the moment the visual and sound stopped and we just watched a wonderful pianist playing in silence. The whole work was manic and gripping, and was never 'just gimick' it remained powerfully musical and there was always a feeling of narrative, even if it was shouting at you while it attacked you. My only query was why have a performer? The whole piece could have been built purely electronically and with the visuals and could have easily produced the same result. This being said, I have yet to see the other two parts of the cycle there could be the answer to this question in following segments; and secondly Stephane Ginsburgh was truly magnificent! So why should I try to fault a brilliant performer.

Following a large amount of shuffling came the second piece Telosferos by Vytautas V. Jurgutis. From the darkness came snapping, scrapping and popping sounds, it was like a manic advert for Rice Krispies. These sounds slowly started building into distinguishable sounds, I was a little put off by the sound of scrapping polysterine but its use in the piece was effective; so my own personal discomfort from the sound didn't matter. The visuals by Akvile Anglickaite were beautiful, like a minimalistic lava lamp, it mesmerised me and to be brutally honest I could have sat and just watched that without sound; but that is probably due more to seeing similar things in my speech and language therapy during my youth. Back to the concert! Jurgutis's piece was highly influenced by the likes of Lachenmann and the spectralists, but at times I felt it lacked the same feeling of nuance and conversation you hear within Lachenmann. Maybe I missed something, maybe something in the performance was a tad lacking, who knows. All I know for sure is I was a happy bunny watching the pretty lights dance. 

Then more shuffling! This time to clear enough stage so we can see a purely audiovisual work by Thierry De Mey Light Music. The work is scored for one conductor and shows a singular conductor masterfully demonstrating his craft and elegance as the electronics following him and are shaped by his gesturing. The work was truly hypnotic, and I was in love with it. I had a personal little chuckle watching the conductor beat out patterns of cross-rhythm (5 against 3 if I counted correctly), it gave me a flashback to conducting lessons failing to do what the conductor did so masterfully. My only issue with the piece was it felt a tad too long, maybe this was just a sense of the fatigue of having waited along time just to get to the third piece; or alternatively, once the sense of shape was sussed out, it became quite easily to predict what was happening next. 

To be brutally honest, the next piece I kind of dreaded when I read the programme notes. In Matthew Shlomowitz's biography he describes himself as:
'something like a bastard love child of Brian Ferneyhough and Philip Glass'

Now my issue isn't with swearing, or the fact he draws comparison between two almost contradictory to each other. My issue was the tone sounded like he was trying to be edgy. Even though I am still young, watching 'angsty' artists try to shock you by saying nasty words and being crass, become boring very very quickly, mostly because once you investigate past the shock value, there is no art. Marquis de Sade still strikes and shocks people become he is maniacally brilliant, if he wasn't it would just be a lot of rude words.

Thankfully! My judgments were proven to be premature! Thank Christ. Stephane Ginsburgh sat and BANG! it kicked off. The four part composition played on singular elements be it terrifying and almost hilarious electronic sounds or simple melodic lines which were distorted so heavily they were barely recognisable. Structurally it was magnificent and amazingly funny. And thinking back to his comments, this piece could almost be the exploration of that personal existential crisis of landing slap bang in the middle of the two. Once again Stephane Ginsburgh was impeccable and in total control, adding to the humour in a sweet way. Just a joy!

After the break came Michael Beil's Karaoke Rebranng! I was fascinated as the quartet performing were young musicians from Synaethesis Ensemble playing, so I was intrigued how they would tackle a piece in this concert. The work was curious indeed, the musicians would stand, play something, then sit. Each contributing almost at random, but once the video footage followed and looped on itself, the structural devices began to become clear. The layering of lines and harmonisations of this sporadic movements suddenly turned these fine musicians into mechanical automatons. They functioned like clockwork and the young musicians nailed it! What I found particularly wonderful was the structure kept surprising me. Always tricking me. The finest example was towards the end when Marta Finkelstein, Monika Kiknadze, Arminas Bizys, and Lukas Budzinauskas all left the stage, we were left with just the visuals; I naively thought it would draw to a close by showing the recorded performers leaving too. I was wrong, and boy was a wrong! The sudden recitations in German, accompanied by grandeous orchestral stabs came from nothing and were just amazing. Those final gestures were the funniest things I have witnessed in a while. Just brilliant.

Then after a bit more shuffling, came Francois Sarhan's O Piano for speaking pianist and recorded sounds. The work was a sporadic and broken patchwork of quotations. The musical gestures either mimicked or distracted from the already scrambled text. The result was a curious and scatological biography, a performer discussing how they became a musician. The sensation was almost like they had forgotten everything and were trying to remember everything and only pieces came to them at a time. The shape and nuance was inspired, and Stephane Ginsburgh showed how magnificent he was once again. Just wonderful.

The finale came in the form of Anatolijus Senderovas's ...after Chagall. The piece for solo clarinet, string quartet and percussion, was inspired by stained glass he saw in Jerusalem by Chagall. The work started with tiny gestures from the stained glass being played by percussion and clarinet. It was restrained and modest. Sadly this was short lived. Senderovas's music does this quite a lot, starts modest, curious and mysterious then he shoots himself in the foot with music heavily inspired by Klezmer. The piece was unstructured and nonsensical. He tried to do what Peteris Vasks does so masterfully, which is combined 'modern' elements with nostalgic folk elements, in a desperate hope to bring native ancient traditions along with him in this modern lifetime. The gesture is noble, but demands two things firstly structurally and musically everything needs a greater purpose; there is no point in just slamming in a folk element for the sake of it. Secondly and for me probably the most important thing is Klezmer isn't the only musical form to come from Jewish communities, yes it is the most famous, but it isn't the only one. Judaism has been essentially everywhere, and has always brought a wonderful twist to life in the nation by combining their faith and tradition with their environment, my personal favourite is the Birds on Fire CD by Fretwork, which is recordings of music by Jewish composers living in Britain in the 16th Century. Like all great religions there is so much breadth to it and maybe if Senderovas explored some of that breadth we would have heard a much better piece last night.

Anyways the whole concert was magnificent. The quality of performance was astonishing, like always. Lithuanian Ensemble Network are a very fine group indeed and have done many wonders for Lithuania. Another fine concert for GAIDA 2016. Now bring on today's concert!  

22 October 2016

And off we go GAIDA 2016

So after a long wait of eager anticipation GAIDA 2016 has begun. As mentioned in my last post, GAIDA 2016 joined me in celebrating their 26th birthday and what an occasion it was too. The Filharmonie hall was packed full of enthusiastic and curious people, eager to partake in the nights events. After the usual nattering of old colleagues catching each other and young students bumping into friends, the audience wandered into the hall with a slight sense of befuddlement and confusion. Everyone was curious and eager to find out why they had to navigate around music stands to get to their seats for the beginning of the night's event. 

After the usual warm introduction and thanks, the concert started with Gyorgy Kurtag's Double Concerto for piano, cello, and two chamber ensembles. The four movement concerto was curious, strong, but profoundly modest (like all things by Kurtag). Each movement had a clear defining sense of character, full of wonderful nuances which were elegantly crafted throughout the ensemble. You could feel you were in for a treat when the soloists Francesco Dillon and Emanuele Torquati so wonderfully performed their microscopic gestures which danced so subtly around each other. The chamber groups were spread throughout the hall and made for some fantastic outerbody experiences. Admittedly these would have been more striking in a bigger hall to really exploit depth, but that being said the effect was not really tarnished too much; it just lacked the same expansiveness of the work, but didn't detract from it. I always found the moments the recorders appeared particularly alien and wonderful, undefined but clear sounds just gorgeous stuff. Throughout all of this the orchestra showed a surprising amount of clout, their were almost no blemishes in the performance, Jonathan Berman really knew how to get the most out of this fine orchestra who tend to be a bit shy when it comes to twentieth century and twenty-first century repertoire. Francesco Dillon and Emanuele Torquati were just faultless, both in their own parts, but the way they always seemed to naturally interact with each other and just blend together quite beautifully. The final chords of the concerto were exquisite, the hall was frozen, and I was in a very happy place; it was only when we released the tension and clapped that everyone came back to earth. 

After a short break, to furiously and speedily return chairs to their natural state, the concert resumed with a work by Vykintas Baltakas. His commentum for cello and orchestra is a reworking of his piece by the same name for cello and piano. I stress the word reworking, as to suggest it is an arrangement of the earlier work would be a dire misjudgment. The piece starts with the same cheeky wit, with ideas appearing like flashes. As the piece developed, I really gained a sensation that the orchestral treatment was very similar to his Saxordionphonics (a very fine work for saxophone, accordion, and chamber orchestra), within it the flourishes and stabs are never violent. Maybe I am using the wrong word, poking and nudging would be a more suitable word to describe it. The ideas give you a playful nudge in the hopes you'd notice their magnificence, but the chances are if you weren't thinking you missed it. So it cheekily nudges you again. The other way of looking at it, is like being at a dinner party and somebody nudges you and follows with the line 'did I tell you about the time...' and rivet you with a charming anecdote. Francesco Dillon almost seemed built for this piece, his control and charm with it is far more apparent and natural. The pairing of Kurtag and Baltakas was also a very fine choice indeed, as they both complement each superbly. Their music may not say a lot in a given time, but you can be damn sure everyone utterance is vital, insightful, and above all else witty.


It is very rare in a concert to feel the audience become awed by a musician merely showing up with their instrument. With the appearance of Liudas Mockunas and his bass saxophone, you could feel everyone go 'oooooo'. The instrument is glorious and fascinating, and like the rest of the saxophone family, a really suffering when it comes to good concerto or solo works (I think this issue stems from many poorer composers forgetting that the saxophone can do other things than jazz). So with this in mind I was curious to see how Vytautas Germanavicius would tackle such a conundrum. His work Underwater Geometry had me intrigued for a long time, as before this concert the only other works of his I was familiar with were small chamber groups of maybe four at most. Ultimately I think he is more suited to more austere ensembles. The piece ultimately liked a defining point to it. Many fine gestures and textures were created, but they often lacked purpose; the finest example was the fact the soloist double soprano saxophone, to play it for a microsecond before returning to the beast. The soloist was remarkable, his control of everything was fantastic, and to be honest if it were just a piece for bass saxophone I probably would have be wowed by it. Sadly because the dynamic and interaction between soloist and orchestra was underbaked it couldn't really turn into anything tangibly interesting. Which is a shame, saxophones need good repertoire, especially the lower members of the family. I can only really think of Georg Fredrich Haas's Concerto for Baritone Saxophone as the only decent work for low saxes. I'll just have to keep looking and listening.

The finale came in the form of Liza Lim's Pearl, Ochre, Hair String. To be honest I am divided about the work of Liza Lim, but I think it is because I either find the pieces are out of this world or just a bit limp. Thankfully this was solid and by solid I mean brutally violent! The opening screams and scrapes from the cellist armed with a stick wrapped in bow hair was a stunning jolt of electricity after the previous piece and really gripped everyone hard. The work really showed an elegant to and fro between beautiful serene harmonies and jagged sounds. It was by far the most brutal and intense piece of the night. A violent kick in the face after the early pieces full of charm and wit. The sensation was like spending a fine evening at dinner party, full of witty anecdotes and remarks before ending the night by being knocked out in a boxing ring. This is ultimately to everyone's strength I think, because it really highlighted the qualities of every piece, and made Liza Lim's more exhilarating.

The whole concert was a wondrous way to start a festival, to be honest I cannot imagine many other concerts which were so succinct and nuanced but also radically different. The juxtaposition of Liza Lim to Kurtag and Vyktinas Baltakas was inspired. I cannot wait for today's events in the contemporary art gallery.

14 October 2016

100 60 70 90 40 26 80 50 - GAIDA Festival Preview

After a much needed breather, I am ready to manically type once again. And what a time it is too! GAIDA Festival starts in just one week. For those who didn't see my excitable wittering about the festival last year, GAIDA is one of Lithuania's most significant festivals. This annual festival is particularly important because it is a great platform of cultural exchange. Every year many wonderful musicians from across the globe come to Vilnius to show their art, and in return the festival presents many fine natives on a level grounding as their international counterparts. Last year's festival was a great smorgasbord of contemporary music, with pretty much everything from Francesco Filidei to Terry Riley. I don't want to dwell too much on last year's festival as I am eager to discuss this year's events, but for those who want to see more look here

This year looks like an intriguing one for two major reasons. Firstly the sheer quantity of composer anniversaries that are being celebrated is astronomical! Celebrating Julius Juzeliunas's centenary, Gyorgy Kurtag's 90th, Steve Reich's 80th, Peteris Vasks and what would have been Gerard Grisey's 80th, Luce Francesconi's, Michael Gordon's and Thierry De May's 60th, Liza Lim and Zita Bruzaite's 50th as well as many people's 40th Birthdays! Each of these composers could easily have a week dedicated to each of them, so you can imagine how manic the week is going to be with pieces from all of these composers. On a side note, in the press conference yesterday, Remigijus Merkelys argued the reason they were celebrating GAIDA's 26th anniversary was because of the multitude of significant anniversaries that coincide with it; the only reason I point this out is I am rather chuffed to be celebrating my 26th on the exact same day as GAIDA! 

And back to the festival, there are many fine concerts that I will be attending, denying myself sleep and food to see these fine events. But here are some of my highlights! 

Where better to start than the beginning? The opening concert looks like a fine occassion indeed with works by Liza Lim, Vykintas Baltakas, Vytautas Germanavicius, and Gyorgy Kurtag. The inclusion of Baltakas's commentum for cello and orchestra will be a lovely thing to witness. Gyorgy Kurtag's Double Concerto also looks like a fine display for the senses. Have a sneaky peak at commentum for cello and piano below:

As always, the Lietuvos Ansambliu Tinklas (Lithuanian Ensemble Network) will be a wonderful event to see. The mix of repertoire is extremely distant from their concert last year, so I am curious to see how the ensemble tackles it. There are also two premieres by Vytautas V. Jurgutis and Anatolijus Senderovas, so it will be fascinating to see what they have to offer.

The next concert that fascinates me is the duo of Goska Isphording and Maciej Frackiewicz. The accordion and harpsichord duo, yes you heard, accordion and harpsichord. So part of my fascination with this particular concert is the curiosity of witnessing such a mismatched pair of instruments perform together. To further the curiosity the mix of repertoire seems to be as mixed up as the instrumentation with works by Grisey, Vasks, Steen-Anderson, and Janulyte. A really curious mix indeed.

The next day sees Pierre-Laurent Aimard coming to Vilnius, I am not going to waste your time and tell you what you all already know. Pierre-Laurent is amazing, and the concert will be astonishing. On the same day is the Slovak Quasars Ensemble, the repertoire looks like something I'd enjoy sinking my teeth into.

The following day is a concert simply named Quartettisimo, and when you see there are four quartets involved, the title becomes incredibly apt. The programming from the outside seems the most succinct with works by Juzeliunas, Zibuokle Martinaitye, Ramunas Motiekaitis, Vasks, Sodeika, Ruta Vitkauskaite, and Simon Steen-Anderson. The three premieres will be intriguing to witness. 

The appearance of Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich, needs no introduction. We know what we are going to hear and the musicians are a fine mix indeed. On the same day Reich makes his mark, the young whippersnappers Ensemble Synaethesis, will stamp their feet and dig in their heels and place themselves on par with these elder giants. The mix of repertoire is curious, I am curious to see if they can deliver, I know the have the energy and drive to, time will surely tell.

On the 29th will see the National Symphony Orchestra performing, with works by Philippe Manoury, Luca Francesconi, Zita Bruzaite, and Michael Gordon. I am curious to hear how this particular concert will pan out. Once again there are piano duos playing alongside the orchestra, so in theory this could be quite a bombastic affair.

So overall, as you can plainly see, I am very excited about this years platter of performances. Hopefully they will live up to my enthusiastic excitability, and if not I will still probably enjoy myself greatly. Once again, I am glad to see there is a huge variety in the pieces and composers on display. The organisers have managed not to fall into the trap of a 'festival sound' and show a wonderfully wide spectrum of pieces. You can see more detail about the concerts here on the festival's website.

1 October 2016

Ledonesiai - Four Hands and Icebergs

Last night in the cosy space of the Steinway and Sons dealer in Vilnius was a concert of 20th Century music for piano four hands. The duo of Diana Anna Kislovskaja and Lina Petkeviciute treated us to a nice varied programme of works by many fine composers over the past 100 years, with about half the repertoire being from the Baltic.

The concert opened with Diana quietly shuffling in to play Arvo Part's Fur Alina. The popular work for solo piano is performed so much within Lithuania and it is always lovely to hear it. The curious element for me, is what seems to be a Lithuanian habit of playing the piece twice. Diana showed a real calmness and ability to let notes ring, but I imagine if she slowed it down dramatically and bought the dynamic down too the performance would have been out of this world.
Then after a brief introduction of the concert as a whole, came a radical gear change. Poulenc's Sonata for Four Hands. This playful piece is another joyous piece, I don't get to hear quite as often as I'd like and the pair of Lina and Diana, really knew how to bring out the cheeky charm of Poulenc while retaining a great sense of intellect. The nuance and sheer dialogue as a duo was a definitive treat for the ears. Following this was the wonderfully brief Three Easy Pieces by Stravinsky. The pairs sense of charm and humour really came out in this piece, especially during passages of really heavy bitonality, which to my ears always sound amazingly sarcastic. 

After a minute breather, we came to our next Baltic piece, Pari Intervallo by Arvo Part. This piece is oddly not as popular, considering how wonderful it is. The pair played the piece well, but the problem is, to make Part really musical you really have to delve into the piece; just playing the notes is never enough. I don't know how aware the pair are of this, but Pari Intervallo is originally a work for organ, and so this kind of quality needs to be bought out of the piano duo. Leaving the pedal sustained for the entire piece, combined with an extremely steady tempi would really make the notes hang in the air magnificently. This being said last night's performance was still very nicely done, just that extra push would really make the piece electric. 

Of course John Adams would make some form of appearance in this concert. Its almost impossible to find a series of 20th Century concerts in Lithuania that don't feature minimalists. Lina rendition of China Gates was magnificently done I couldn't fault it. Then came a duo by a composer I had no previous knowledge of. Tiziano Bedetti's L'auriga celeste was a series of miniatures for piano four hands. Their brevity really bought out the charm of the music, never over staying its welcome. It was almost like having an overly polite guest visit you to utter a few little quips and anecdotes, before leaving quickly because they 'didn't want to be a bother'. The character of these miniatures really suited the duo quite naturally, everything spoke well, and they really seemed in tune with each other.
Following this came the focus of the concert Ledonesiai by Justina Trinkunaite. This work was one of the most substantial pieces of the concert and showed a composer with a sign of lots of promise. The opening was hypnotising, and the way it gathered its momentum was elegantly done. Nothing was over used, nothing was under appreciated. Every gesture had purpose and was effective. The directness of the overall dramaturgy was profoundly timed and avoided cliche. The climax of the work was striking and intense, with the roaring harmonies and resonating strings really creating a powerful discourse. Then the final Baltic composer appeared. Gintaras Sodeika's Cikados is a really lively and intensive piece. The interplay between the duo is bordering on the line of complete self destruction, but the duo walked through it.

Then came a rare treat in the Baltic, Feldman's Four Hands. Despite the huge popularity of American experimental music here in Lithuania, Morton Feldman hasn't seemed to connect to musicians in the same way; I am unsure if this is just availability of scores of just something in the local temperament. The performance was heartfelt, but to be honest a little fast. As Feldman had a masterful way of making pieces last hours, a piece like Four Hands really deserves to be steady. That being said, the interaction between the pair and the atmosphere they created was magical. The finale came in the form of Steve Morris's Heavy Light a really lively and playful piece, which was a nice way to round of a concert. But a part of me really wanted something a bit more profound or jubilant to finish.

The duo overall show a lot of promise. Technically speaking there is no faulting them, interpretation sometimes needs to be questioned more, but as they grow they can learn this very easily. My main thought is if they are going to go down the route of piano duos and piano four hands they really need to tackle some of the larger classics of the repertoire or alternatively really broaden their knowledge. The repertoire was very nice, the mix was good, but nothing really in their choices surprised me. This is something they should explore if they want to become a more substantial duo. I also say this in the hope they play works like Steve Martland's Drill or even the piano four hands rendition of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Either way I will be keeping my eye on them.