21 April 2017

Atviru fortepijonu dienos

Last night was a joyous occasion. The first in a series of keyboard recitals in the brand new Organum koncertu sale. An opportunity to show off astounding pianistic talent, as well as showing off all the shiny new keyboards in the hall. Admittedly the concert was dominated by lots of different music, but I desperately want to write about the concert as it features two works by THE Sarunas Nakas. 

But before the concert began, of course there was a lot of speeches. Of course there were. But after all the discussions came the first instrument to demonstrate, the brand new Johannes Rucker copy harpsichord. This was done with two pieces, firstly with Padre Antonio Saler's Fandango a really lively and talkative piece for harpsichord. The second work was also by Antonio Saler, but it was his concerto for harpsichord and organ in G minor. Vaiva Storastiene was the harpsichordist for both works, and I found with her performing despite being wonderfully technically proficient, but missed that edge. Particularly in the Fandango, where the emphasis on the curious conversations is centre stage, a performer needs to make sure the conversation doesn't become monotone. This being said, the concerto for harpsichord and organ was far more interesting as a performance, especially as Dainius Sverdiolas was such a charming and characterful performer. The piece was already rather campy, but Sverdiolas manages to add a whole new level of wit and charm to a really endearing piece.

After even more speeches came a bit of Chopin. Constant talking about how the Stocker piano was perfect piano for this repertoire preceded the performance, and I was rather confused. Despite the wonderful colour of the bass strings of the piano, the overall piano sound was like I was submerged in water. Rather surreal experience. And meh, I am not the person to write about Chopin, so lets move on. 

Following the Chopin, and EVEN MORE talks, came two works for the new Johannus organ; Cesar Franck's Cantabile and Olivier Messiaen's Dieu parmi nous. Dainius Sverdiolas came out again and his characterful performances came to the fore again. Admittedly the Cantabile was too sickly for my liking, but Sverdiolas managed to make it stop sounding self indulgent. But the real joy came with Dieu parmi nous. Sverdiolas let rip and what a performance. The sheer tenacity and oomph was glorious. The sheer power and might of the work came out in every gesture of Sverdiolas, what a joy indeed. Truly glorious. 

Then when I was at a point of post-Messiaen bliss, came EVEN MORE SPEECHES! This time to introduce the Steinway piano and THE Muza Rubackyte. Rubackyte came out and stunned the audience with her renditions of Ciurlionis. Being very familiar with her recordings I was very excited to see it live, and what a treat. Truly magnificent. 

After this came the moment I was most excited about, two works by Sarunas Nakas. How do I define Nakas? How can one begin to describe the vast and intensive creativity of Nakas's output? One of Lithuania's truly original and unique voices, and a radical voice indeed. To start this astounding double bill was a brand new work by Sarunas Nakas, Hymn. Written for this event, a work for organ, piano, and harpsichord. A truly wonderful thing to behold. Starting from a modest single note on the organ, the work slowly grew with the vaguely canonic gestures from the percussive harpsichord and piano. The trio constantly danced around each other, and this work really showed Nakas at his most elegant. In a surprisingly modest gesture, the work slowly gains momentum and power, with the rather serene organ, staying rather static, until the climax of the work. The challenge of combining such disparate forces really fell to Nakas's advantage as he exploited the curiosity and differences of the ensemble to perfection. Hopefully, hopefully, another performance can happen in the near future, or at least I hope a recording begins to circulate soon! What a truly astounding work. 

Following this most serene of moments, came a clumsy interlude, where the audience had to be herded like cattle to three connected rooms to find some form of space between the 17 pianos. Yes. 17 pianos. Because the finale of the whole concert was Sarunas Nakas's Merz-Machine from 1985. The shape and structure of the work is rather straightforward, a slowly building gesture with pianos joining in one by one until we reach the powerful postlude. The constant repeating gestures, and loose connection of structure does have a vague similarity to Terry Riley's In C, that is if In C was written by a Hell's Angel, instead of a hippy. The work is truly monstrous and terrifying, even moreso in person. The ritualistic pulsations and unending sense of gathering doom is intensive. For me, the performance was made all the more mysterious and whimsical by the fact I could see Sarunas's silhouette dancing on the white piano in front of me. His violent gestures really made the piece feel like a monstrous piece of machinery functioning noisily, or like a witch doctor dancing into a frenzy. What a joy to witness. 

Afterwards came a very nice little reception which did have me thinking, why on earth did we listen to the speeches mid concert!? Why not give too many speeches when everyone has wine? The concert would have been far more fluid and enjoyable, and I probably wouldn't have left so hungry that I had to dive into the nearest chippy I could find. 

So for those who didn't get to see it, here is some cheeky recordings of Muza Rubackyte: 

And Sarunas Nakas!

20 April 2017

An Anthology of Lithuanian Music

A few months late, but I finally managed to get my hands on MIC's newest CD anthology. Its been a thing I am very curious to get my hands on for multiple reasons, firstly for the curiosity variety of composers chosen, the choice of repertoire, as well as also being curious to see what the curator was intending to say with the anthology. 

After reading transcriptions of interviews and the CD sleeve notes, Frank Oteri (curator) detailed his choices focusing on different elements and primarily wanted this CD to show an 'outsider' perspective, as well as being as 'democratic' as possible and featuring composers who haven't been celebrated very much, yet. 'Tis a noble endeavour indeed, but it is a very tricky thing to navigate. Firstly the simple semantic issue that the classical music industry is hilariously undemocratic, how can a CD address this? or at least manage to stay diplomatic despite of this? Secondly the issue of celebrating the under celebrated is also extremely noble, but the question that has to constantly be asked is why? Why this person? Why not a standard classic? Why not a heavy weight? So this all ties in to what the curator should be tackling in his choices of the CD production. 

From the many wonderful composers living and working today, Frank Oteri chose his 18 composers, 9 Women and 9 Men. The selection is as follows:

Tomas Kutavicius, Loreta Narvilaite, Antanas Kucinskas, Vytautas Germanavicius, Jurgita Miezelyte, Monika Sokaite, Linas Baltas, Lukrecija Petkute, Raimonda Ziukaite, Justina Repeckaite, Juta Pranulyte, Tadas Dailyda, Elena Sataite, Julius Aglinskas, Jonas Jurkunas, Albertas Navickas, Rytis Mazulis, and Zibuokle Martinaityte.

A truly curious rag-tag collection of misfits indeed. 

Now from a critical standpoint this is a rather curious circumstance, I can either point out my thoughts on every single piece included, or refer to the curator's own choices. I shall attempt to do a bit of both.

For me it is a joy to see composers like Raimonda Ziukaite, Justina Repeckaite, Julius Aglinskas, and Juta Pranulyte being celebrated. These four composers I find have something particularly special within their work, and all four are rather diverse from each other too. The future looks very bright for them, and this CD hopefully is a place where that can start.

Featuring Rytis Mazulis, Zibuokle Martinaityte, and Loreta Narvilaite, is more obligatory than anything, as these two giants have had such an intensive impact on the musical landscape here they had to be featured. The other works I have many mixed feelings over. There will be some profound reason why Mr. Oteri chose the composers he did, but I am really struggling to find the justification. Having listened to all of the works I struggle to see the attraction to some of them composers involved.

The other major issue for me within this anthology is it misses the sheer diversity within the Lithuanian contemporary music today. The CD is intensely dominated my 'minimalistic' music almost to the point of nausea. When in fact the reality is much further from that. Yes minimalism has a lot of influence here, but sonoristic trends, as well as growing influence of spectral trends are creeping into the works of younger composers that not really demonstrating them is a bit of travesty. There are also some extremely major names who almost have been ignored, without justification, which does cause me some mild concern indeed. The more I listen, the more the anthology feels a tad like an attempt to romanticise the region, with its lovely melodies, anti-institutional trends, and radical radical-ness. This romanticism isn't particularly new. Hopefully I am wrong, but I do get the distinct impression of it.

The biggest thing for me, is Frank Oteri missed a rather vital piece of the puzzle. In the CD notes, Frank alludes to Lithuania's past and briefly mentions Lithuania joining the EU in 2004 and highlights it as a moment Lithuania really integrated with the rest of Europe. This could have been a great oppourtunity to explore the influence of the growing divide between Lithuanian Diaspora and Enduring Lithuanians. As Lithuania, like many of its fellow comrades this side of Europe, has witnessed large levels of migration with people leaving to Germany, France, Britain and so fourth the musical landscape of Lithuanians is reaching a massive divide, as those who move abroad really tap into the cultural energy of their new homes splitting them away from their native land. A CD anthology which definitively celebrated 9 diaspora and 9 enduring Lithuanians would have been a much more fascinating exploration, mostly because it would have been able to highlight what parts of these composers still sounds 'truly Lithuanian?', what is the raw 'Lithuanian-ism?', does that 'Lithuanian-ism' still exist today? What does this spell for the future for Lithuanians? I am definitely far more excited about that sort of process than anything else, as I imagine it would really show us far more interesting things that just a straightforward celebration of Lithuanian composers.

This all being said, it is definitely a joy to see other people taking such an interest in Lithuanian music and long may it continue! I definitely recommend everyone gets hold of a copy of the CD to make their own decision on the matter. 

14 April 2017

Erkki-Sven Tuur: Piano Sonata

After a few manic weeks filled with a wedding, a 60th birthday, and a crazy number of hours in varying forms of transport I am back to being to write on the good ol' blog. So give to my cognitive muscles the chance to warm up again, and to look at something I have loved for a very long time, I decided to look at Erkki-Sven Tuur's piano sonata.

For the dedicated followers of this page, you will know I covered Erkki-Sven Tuur's string quartet about a year ago. For those curious, I definitely following this link to check it out. It is interesting to return to Erkki-Sven Tuur with this particular work, the piano sonata was written at almost the exact time as his string quartet and has many similarities in musical stance as his string quartet. There are, however, nuances that really make the sonata stand out as something rather remarkable.

The work was dedicated to Anne Tuur and was premiered in Tartu in 1986 by Kalle Randalu and within it the overall sonata shows a composer with a really unique ability to draw upon tradition and build something unique with it. Firstly the three contrasting movements have elements of the traditional piano sonata within them; the declamatory first movement which lays the foundations of the whole work, the still mysterious middle movement, and flying finale. But the connection goes much further than mere moods.

Within the first movement, we see the rolling harmonies building up gathering momentum before introducing a wildly contrasting still gesture. The two musical entities function as the A and B subject in the sonata, however Tuur takes it further than merely contrasting the opposing forces. The ultimate result is an extremely fluid juxtaposition where each gesture appears briefly before flitting off somewhere. The harmonic language and voice leadings ultimately clarify the nature of the different areas, as the mood of the whole sonata is extremely succinct upon itself. Like in the string quartet, this work has many similarities to minimalist music, but the brilliance of sound and repetitive gestures I believe are merely just a wonderful element of Tuur's music, regardless of the world around him. As the first movement moves along, the elements grow and lead to fascinating musical discourses between themselves, before calmly coming to a close in a rather serene manner. 

The second movement, is where the elements of genius begin to shine. The slow movement firstly begins by hammering out motivic fragments from the previous movement and allowing the resonance of the overtones to define the response. The musical material within the second movement are completely connected with each other simply by exploring the capacity of one modal area. The result is mesmerising, but for me what is of particular curiosity is the wonderfully Beethovian nature of the sonata. It begins to show itself within this movement, as upon listening you can instantly feel its connection to the first movement. From this we can also draw other comparisons, mostly through the connection of harmonic evolution and motivic composition. 

The finale flies. The rolling arpeggios, contrasted by the flourishes and fragments within the left hand produce an extremely intensive and powerful dialogue. The fluidity of the gestures continues from previous movements producing a truly liberating musical landscape. As the movement progresses the material evolves further and further, exploring whole new regions which previously had not been visited. The sheer might of the piano writing begins to come to the fore with the growing power of the material. The result is a truly magnificent finale. 

Overall the sonata is simply fantastic. There is a sheer brilliance to it which few other composers can muster. Erkki-Sven Tuur takes it all within his stride. The sonata has a wonderful ability to tap into the fertile ingenuity of the tradition, but managed to bring his own personal spin to it, in the only way Erkki-Sven Tuur can. Having looked on his website it is uplifting to see so many professional recordings of the sonata, because the work is a truly glorious work and really needs to become connected with the canon. You can listen to the work below. So sit back relax, and I'll be back with more soon.