3 December 2016

Su Gimtadienu Onute Narbutaite!

Last night, in the wonderful setting that is Filharmijos Didzioji sale, was the finale in a triptych of concerts celebrating Onute Narbutaite's 60th Birthday. As it was the finale of a collection of concerts, of course this concert would be the largest one. The repertoire of this particular concert consisted of three significant orchestral works by the composer: La Barca (2005), Krantas upe simfonija (2007), and her leviathan Symphony No. 2 (2001). The three works written within six years of each, depict a composer at her seminal moment; the moment where she has stepped out of the shadows and has appeared purely as Onute Narbutaite. 

The first work to be performed was La Barca written in 2005, the stand alone orchestral work is a wild beast. With its opening clatter and roar (which was evidently too much for one audience member who promptly left after the first stanza) shows Narbutaite at her most ferocious. The work is powerful, colourful and quite simply intense. This piece, which is full of drama, intrigue, and flourishes really should be better known worldwide! The orchestra tackled it with almost a sense of ease, or simply they felt at one with Narbutaite's work. The latter is definitely apparent of the conductor Robertas Servenikas who seems to always be present when someone is performing Narbutaite.

After the usual shuffling came Narbutaite's Krantas upe simfonija (Symphony No.4) (2007). Out of all the works in the programme, this was the only piece I was not familiar with before last night's performance. In short, it is a real curiosity. Mostly because it seems to be on the edge off an imminent shift in the sensibilities of the composer. It features all the hall marks of Narbutaite, with its rich orchestration and sheer potency, but also featured an out of character sense of calm. Of course, preceding works by Narbutaite have had calm sections, or felt calm, but the sense of calm was quite different in this circumstance. Ignoring the almost spectral sensations of resonance that appeared in some of the calm moments, the sheer mood of the work was simply different; even now I am struggling to put my finger on exactly what was different about this symphony. Maybe it is just something as simple as the posturing towards a symphony. Symphonies have a world of different approaches and semantics behind them which many composers have tapped into in various ways. So this one maybe approached the symphony in a more Beethovian manner, with the sense of holding a place, allowing it to extend into the next thing but never feeling overtly destructive or at odds with itself. The work is truly astounding, and I really hope a recording exists!

The finale came in the form of the elegant Symphony No. 2 (2001). A truly seminal work, and a personal favourite of mine. Those of you who are familiar with this blog will know I covered the work quite recently responding to Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla's article in BBC Music Magazine. You can see it here. The orchestra were on solid form within this piece, and hats off the trumpeter for performing one of the most terrifying solos I think there is for the instrument. Nothing causes stress quite like a solo where any split note could ruin the whole symphony. What is interesting to observe is the change in mentality towards the symphonic form. Symphony No.2 and Tres Matris Symphoniae  both share an almost Mahlerian quality, with their potent drama and long extended melodies. Whereas I mentioned in Krantas upe simfonija the sensation is more in line with Beethoven. Either way it is fascinating to observe, and as one of Lithuanian's most prolific symphonists (Balakauskas has 5 and Juzeliunas wrote 6) she is a vital source of work for the nation and for the symphonic repertoire. 

The whole concert was wonderfully performed. The performing felt as natural as breathing, you could tell the orchestra felt at one with the work of the profound composer. It was particularly joyous to see Robertas Servenikas truly in his element, watching conductors conduct, you do notice the moments they really lose themselves to the performing and just truly madly and deeply love what their arms are making an orchestra do. My only thought about the whole night, is why wasn't there a new work from Onute Narbutaite? I know her collection of work is huge and magnificent, but particularly after having three concerts to celebrate her, it would have been wonderful to commission a new work; a concerto perhaps or even a song cycle to rival Das Knaben Wunderhorn? Beyond that there is nothing I can add to last night. A true joy and I hope she continues to write for a long time to come!  

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