27 May 2017

Interview - Santa Buss

After a lot of manic days with Druskomanija Festival and fast approaching deadlines, it is nice to have a moment to step back and return to another interview. This time I had the joy of interviewing Latvian composer Santa Buss, a composer whom I have admired for a fair while now; so ultimately it was wonderful she agreed to the interview. 

As composer she is heavily preoccupied with extra musical material, with many of her works attempting to convert philosophy, art, mythology, and science into musical gesture. A pupil of Arturs Maskats and Rolands Kronlaks (not even to mention her various mentors across the world), Santa stands at a curious impasse. She is entirely in tune with many things in the Latvian scene, but also at the same time stands aloof in her own distinct world. From many discussions with her, the returning theme of discussion is travel. In particular, never staying in one place for too long, this necessity to keep picking up sticks is very apparent within her work. In liminarite one can see the changes of proceedings within an abstracted ritual and seeing how it transports the person to a new reality. The interview was carried out on a sunny Thursday in Vilnius as we awaited to attend the final Vilnius installment of Druskomanija Festival. Sat in the sun, me with a nice coffee, her with a small glass of white we started conversing:

Sveiki Santa, it is wonderful to have you being involved in this interview. For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you briefly describe your music and your desires within it?

I am balancing between being in the piece, and being out of it. Both living and observing the ideas. Bringing my music from one state of being and taking it to a brand new one. You never fully understand it, you can just observe it. In turn you cannot work out where it is going or where you are living. This clarity in turn comes from the balance between these balances and extremities. Say ‘Absinthe’ from clear mind to intoxication and eventual recovery.

I constantly feel, away, none native within the world. I am fascinated by many other artists, and have been more directly influenced by them; leading me to a more conceptual approach. Months could be spent on the anatomy or on Asia poetry (like in One Inch of Love is an Inch of...), just for me to learn something unknown to me; before I come to the musicality of it. I eventually translate this knowledge into a score or some other form. The title and programme notes often come long before the music itself.

When I do compose, the moment is rather intensive. All my creativity focuses itself into one obsessive moment, to the point that I cannot leave. Within this frenzy my output is heavily concentrated into this epicentre. It probably explains why I feel the need to leave when I am not composing.

What I find interesting in your music is its feeling of fluidity despite regularly being constructed of fragmented or even combative elements. How do you feel you achieved this sensation within your music?

The most obvious case is imagining the music as an object and observing it from different angles, I imagine the weight and texture of this object and in turn bringing it to life in my composition. This probably helps to create this fluidity and block like nature to it. All connected, but still a different viewpoints are considered. Each elements can be varied, extended or reduced in each piece, this is always this closeness within my music. The most extreme example of this is ~ea gla~ (pronounced sea glass). The idea came from this object like a broken bottle, which has arrived on the shore. In turn it tries to work out its past, to try and understand what it was, what it is, and what it can be. Trying to make sense and find the connections to thoroughly understand itself, starting from small elements upwards.

I am intrigued to observe Latvia’s homegrown quasi-spectral/sonoristic composers. In your work, just like your colleague Martins Vilums, this timbral based thinking has really gripped a generation of Latvian composers, why do you think this is?

Probably first I wouldn’t consider myself spectral. During this generation was the first time people studied abroad, so suddenly there was lots of various musics available to fall in love with and exploring new colours and sounds. The teachers in turn challenged us to move beyond our own native borders and traditions. 

The other element is because of history and situation, everyone just wanted to break the tradition, and question how one should write? Especially composers highly connected to this sound, studied abroad. The composers who stayed native, sound ‘native’.

Would you say there is a growing divide between Latvia Diaspora and Enduring Latvia?

Its hard to say, I don’t necessarily have the authority to say so, but I think there is a division more or less between generation, as well divide between composers born in 70s and early 80s, and the composers born in late 80s and 90s where they appear slightly more conservative. One thing I have noticed is composers who are younger than me, grew up entirely on choral music; so when they write for choir they tend to stay more firmly rooted in the tradition.

Also to consider the composers who arrived to composition late like Martins Vilums, and studied other elements before composing  tend to sound wildly different to the younger generations. So we had been granted a rather advantageous situation, as we were considered ‘adults’ and not ‘students’ when we 'started out' as composers. 

To carry on with this spectral theme, how do you think it compares to schools of spectralism in France, Romania, or Estonia? Do they have common concerns or are the stances on La musique spectrale different from nation to nation? And where do you fit in, in this spectrum of spectralists?

To be honest I am unsure, it could be different from composer to composer. For example Santa Ratniece studied with Helena Tulva, Martins Vilums never studied directly in France. 

Composers like Janis Petraskevics and Martins Vilums merely responded from the grape vine. There has never been the harmonic understanding that is used within France. I am unsure having never explored it; Janis could be the only one who is more connected, maybe, but he never mentions it.  For us, the concern is predominantly focused on timbre and other forms of harmonic control, it is a happy accident if it relates to other nations or ‘schools’.

How directly do you feel you connect to the Latvian ‘scene’?

For me, a few years ago an article discussed my work with the sentence:

'my music is present in the scene, it has a strong presence, but doesn’t belong to the scene; I don’t fit' (paraphrased in the moment)

I was not very aware of this, until I saw it written. At the moment I have also made myself move outside of Latvia for many reasons, either out of learning and sheer curiosity of travelling. So this lead me to multiple residencies, being supported by various foundations. Having this cultural life, supported by foreigners outside my native country has really changed me. I really don’t feel I fit in the scene, both because of my living and my music, I cannot say where I fit with my music or my living.

It is a paradox, I am performed by wonderful musicians in Latvia, as well as abroad, and am present in the Latvian and European scene, but not completely in tune with it. Maybe I will find the answer in the future.

So as you said you are more away from Latvia, than in Latvia; are there composers in Europe you particularly admire?

Janis Petraskavics that is for sure. Martins Vilums, admittedly this is very local. James O’Callaghan these three are young-ish people I find interesting, however I can’t stick to just these three, it feels wrong to just mention names. I am much more looking forward to being present at a concert and being surprised over following the life and work of an artist over a length of time. I would obviously go see music by people I have been impressed by, I’ve never had a habit to collect things so I try to avoid looking in one single direction. This isn’t due to a lack of interest, but more a desire to not obsess or an unwillingness to restrict myself on one area for too long. Certain names have a certain resonance, but this might not be the case if I return to it, it almost feels like it belongs to the past.

I have changed a lot in the past few years (beginning  with the start of my travels from 2007, growing in intensity by 2010), and often things feel like they belong to the moment more than a museum lifestyle to visit and revisit them. This is not to demote their significance but more I have a greater need to find what I am now, whatever that may be. 

Finally, as I have done with all my other interviews, if you were stranded on a desert island what five CDs/Vinyls/Recordings would want to be stranded with? 

That was my least favourite question. I can’t answer sadly. It seems like the worst scenario being surrounded by nature and not being able to escape. I’d be more focused on trying to escape rather than listening to anything else.  I’d rather sit, or walk around and think. 

It was a joy to talk with Santa about such a wide variety of subjects. The sun combined with nice coffee made it especially pleasant. We rounded the discussion off with a wonderful concert with the Lithubourgian Ensemble. But to conclude this article have a listen to the wonderful One Inch of Love is an Inch of...

19 May 2017

Lithubourgian Ensemble

The finale of Druskomanija's Vilnius residency was located in the stunning open spaces of the Lietuvos nacionaline Martyno Mazvydo biblioteka. The stage was set, and an audience had gathered below the warm glow of the stained glass. The concert was a collaboration between Lithuanian and Luxembourger composers and musicians. Any of you who have read older reviews of mine will be acutely aware I am very keen on collaborations like this as it is the perfect place to bring many nations together. 

After the opening introductions the ensemble were sat gathered for the first piece Belorussian Spots by Tatsiana Zelianko. In her broken notes, Tatsiana had pondered on how her music was the result of being Belorussian and having lived in Luxembourg for nine years, so I was particularly curious to see the results. In a bright flash it opened. Flying rhythms darted about the space and every instrumentalist danced around each other rather nimbly; like sprites in a forest. The whole work had a feeling of concerto of sorts as the pianist was really going nonstop flying away throughout the work, Sabine Weyer really handled it with a surprising amount of ease. After a while the rhythm and energy didn't quite convert into 'drama' or 'intensity', but the piece still had some fascinating element to it. In the end, it was a fascinating piece to ponder, but the question is was their an epiphany at the end? Tatsiana Zelianko is definitely another composer on my list I need to investigate after this.

Next came the native Raimonda Ziukaite and her Cathedrals. The work opened with a divine fragility, which was made all the more potent by the presence of the stained glass within the space. Gestures appeared. Then they disappeared. The austerity at the beginning was inspired, and extremely well crafted to the point when the overtly tonal elements were in the front and centre it sounded alien. The work had a charm and elegance very much akin to Hans Abrahamsen. Very nicely done, and very nice to hear more works by Raimonda again.

Then came our second member of the Luxembourger contingent. impulses et factures by Nik Bohnenberger was a wild change of direction from the preceding piece. It flew open with a frantic energy. The melodic figures glided majestically and everywhere, at times in a predictable manner, other times in a spasmodic way. The whole work was restless, to the point that the rests gave us no release. The work kept evolving and rolling along on its manic journey and the result was rather fascinating indeed. I did feel towards the end there was something missing, I couldn't say what. It just need that extra stroke of magic to truly captivate and inspire, but nevertheless it was still highly impressive, and still had a strong impact despite some elements not quite resounding properly within the premiere.

The finale came in the form of Andrius Maslekovas and his Brush Strokes. Those who have read the blog know that Andrius was the first composer I interviewed for the site, and in it he mentioned previous works which also are highly concerned with Japanese/Zen calligraphy, read the interview here. However, last night's premiere was an intriguing change of pace. Namely it hit you like a ton of bricks. The whole work showed a composer really in full swagger. The work had a strong personal character and an elegant violence to it, a perfect finale for the concert and for the festival's presence in Vilnius. The intensity never really stops, but it never seems to loosen its grip either. Just hammering us constantly. Those who vaguely are aware of Zen, may be confused by the violence in a Zen inspired piece. But many people forget the sheer violent drunkenness of some of the monks. The whole piece can in a curious way relate to a Zen koan, a personal favourite of mine: What is Zen? Zen is a shit-stick. Bloody well done Andrius a thoroughly impressive piece indeed.

A note must also be given to our Lithubourgian ensemble as they had only formed for this concert alone. They were definitely thrown in at the deep end. They handled the repertoire with grace and managed to add a lot of drama to the works. Very well done to all involved. And I hope the festival's excursion to Druskininkai goes just as positively as this finale in Vilnius.  

18 May 2017

Saint Christopher's Orchestra in Druskomanija 2017

It was that time of year again, where Donatas Katkus and his band of merry string players perform contemporary pieces and perform premieres of students from the Lithuanian Academy of Music. Once again this year the concert was held in the National Gallery, staring out at the river and riverbank, in the sunny evening sun. 

After the usual introductory spiel, came Ieva Budriunaite's Genau. The composer noted her inspiration from Switzerland as well as discussing the multiple motifs that led to the construction of the work. My heart did sink when I saw the names of the listed bands she had taken quotations from; which included Florence and the Machine, Coldplay, Chopin, David Lang, and Doves to name a few. But this being said my fears were dumbfounded. Oh frabjous day, calloh callay! The opening was still and serene, with every entry being surprisingly delicate and crystalline. As the work grew the variety of motifs were handled with increasing skill and nuance, and above all else, amazingly tastefully. Overall the work was modest and rather content in and of itself. Yes, the timbral palette could have been extended some what, and the harmonic language despite showing real ingenuity within tonal language, could have been made more interesting by broadening it. This being said, the work was simply self sustaining. Despite the areas that could have been improved the work, worked. The motifs were handled perfectly and Ieva managed to overcome the nightmarish problem of interacting with the 'pop world'. So well done, and I am curious to see how she continues to grow as a composer.

Following a bit of shuffling, and stern words from Donatas Katkus to the nearby restaurant/cafe area, came the second piece Lietuvos liaudies muzika (1990) by Mindaugas Urbaitis. This work very simply does what it says on the tin. It builds a huge collage or web of varying Dzuku folk melodies and watches how they interact with each other. The whole atmosphere of the piece is very curious indeed. The string orchestra were able to come out of their shell a bit, and every single player managed to make their own melodies sound like the most important part of the piece thus giving a much greater life to the work as a whole. 

Then came Monika Sokaite's Sigitas. The three movement work was dedicated to the Lithuanian cultural figure of legend Sigitas Geda. Without knowing how personally Geda influenced Monika, it is very easy to see why he could be a source of inspiration. The three movements draw reference to quotations from various works by the poet and musically everything interacts with them. The first movement opened with harmonies gathering slowly, as if like clouds in a storm. As the energy built within the movement, it was very clear to hear something has clicked within Monika's work. There was a sensation that she has thrown everything she has got at the piece, and it has ultimately paid off. The gesturing, the harmonic contrasts and colours, combined with moments of modesty serenity really show she was desperate to say something in the work. The gesturing and harmonic language throughout the three movements reminded me somewhat of Dobrinka Tabakova or early works of Erkki-Sven Tuur. I always like it when composers surprise me as much at this. There is no need to say much more other than very well done Monika, this was a glorious piece indeed.

The finale came in the form of Perskelta Tyla (2004) by Arvydas Malcys. The huge work for strings really shows off the full strength and fragility of a string ensemble, and Katkus was definitely the man to bring this work to life again. The power and modesty were handled with equal brilliance, and the orchestra constantly showed their dedication to making this work sing. With the finale being what it was, I must congratulate the festival on such a well rounded programme. It is surprisingly rare to see a concert of contemporary music stand so neatly and give a sensation of narrative across the four works. Thinking back to the early incident, a nod or at least a note must be given about Donatas Katkus. With the noise coming from the eating area, many performers would have just carried on begrudgingly, not Katkus. His sheer fervour and dedication to performance really shone when he corrected the situation, before continuing with the wonderful concert. There is definitely only one Donatas Katkus in this world, and what a musician he is.

17 May 2017

Twenty Fingers, plus another ten

And so Druskomanija Festival finds itself in the Gothic Hall of the art academy. The quiet, modest, arched hall has been a wonderful place for concerts in the past due simply to its curious intimacy and atmosphere. Last night's concert saw a variety of pieces, from a variety of nations written for violin, cello, and percussion. Each rather distinctly different from each other, and each desperate to address the native varieties in colour and timbre in the ensemble. 

After walking in about 10 minutes before the concert started, we were greeted to electronic noises and glitches muttering away to themselves. At first it was a curious and enigmatic scene to be presented with, but it grew tiresome after a while; especially as I was more eager to see the musicians. 

First came the work Past,Present, Future by Maryana Lysenko. I was particularly curious to hear her work, as my knowledge and awareness of the current scene in Russia is rather limited and seems to gravitate solely to Elena Rykova and Anna Romashkova; so I was indeed curious to see how Maryana compared and contrasted to these two gems. The piece started with the trio circled around the vibraphone, each bowing separate elements of the instrument; either producing glistening rings of the bar, or clicks and clattering sounds from striking the body with the bows or mallets. As time progressed the violinist moved to behind the mirror (which sadly from where I was sitting didn't hide her) where she bowed stroke exploratory gestures. The cellist eventually accompanied to, to much the same affect. Overall the work was curious as it was fascinating to observe. What we experienced was a surreal dance of ritualistic gestures amongst the members of the ensemble.The sensation through felt as if we were dealing with a wild animal which was somehow pretending to be tame and mild; and it all simply ring around the basic premise of discovery. The feeling was akin to seeing creatures trying to come to terms with a new object in their cage, trying to come to understand it by doing everything they possibly could to it. Admittedly, this wasn't the first time a composer has attempted this, however the composer's gesture and intent were thoroughly clear, so all the musicality was necessary throughout. So I am definitely fascinated to hear more of her work.

Following this, and the traditional elements of inter-piece shuffling came Considerations of Friday by Tadas Dailyda. From the little I had heard prior to this, I sincerely hoped this work would change my opinion for the better. However once being presented with the programme notes, I instantly began to worry. The programmatic description was somewhat akin to high school imaginings and oddly it felt like reciting the programme notes would take longer than the piece itself. But still I wanted to be proved wrong. I so desperately wanted to be proven wrong. However. The instance it started I could have wept. The click of the beat given by the drummer before the piece started made my heart sink. The sustained chord of the strings, against the pulse of the drums, made it sink further and harder than a brick in quicksand. I've grown up on metal and punk a lot longer than I have grown up on classical music. Writing classical music in a 'rock' style will always be like a parent trying to be 'down with the kids, yo!' it simply makes everyone uncomfortable. If you are going to commit to it, look to Zappa, look to Fausto Romitelli, look to Apocalyptica, or just throw away classical settings; but don't just write pulsing rhythms and 'riffs' for violin and cello. Metal is filthy and uninstitutionalised. It is not built for classic concerts, with good reason, it is built for people to scream, shout, throw bottles, getting hammered, and simply going apeshit. If your 'rock' inspired piece of contemporary music doesn't make the listener do that. You are doing it wrong. The worst sensation about it all was simply the fact, when the composer closed the piece with a gesture of him popping open a bottle and presenting it to the ensemble; I was simply unaffected by it. A gesture like that would normally annoy me to no end, but I was just so sick and numbed through sheer boredom and banality that I was just unmoved by it. 

Thankfully the following piece was a refreshing change. Monika Zenkeviciute has often been an interesting composer to observe, so I was of course excited to hear her trio. The work Little bit was described as being inspired by HPS (highly sensitive person); as according to the Sensory Processing Sensitivity as coined by Elaine and Arthur Aron. The piece had startling contrasts, starting with screaming violin and cello before leading to extremely timid quietness. The full exploration of the trio's palette was very well done and overall the piece made for fascinating listening. However I had two hang ups about the work. Firstly the link to HPS wasn't particularly clear, unless you were trying to test how 'sensitive' the audience were. Secondly it is a fine line creating art inspired by psychological traits and conditions, and ultimately if you aren't someone with the condition or trait; you are most likely fetishising the condition itself; which tends to be most harmful or derogatory to the people who have said condition. I haven't had a chance to ask the composer if she is HPS, if so; I obviously cannot tell her how life is with said trait. However, if she doesn't she has to tread carefully with such works, simply out of respect to those under those circumstances. 

Then, as if in a speedy flash, we were thrown into Bozena Ciurlioniene's Senoviniai sokiai. The work draws inspiration from rhythmic motifs from pre-renaissance Lithuania and trys to build a dance which tries to connect the ancient past with the present. A fascinating endeavour, and one that has been done by many composers within Lithuania, so I was curious how she'd fare with it. The writing for the ensemble was fine, and the balance worked, and there was a fair amount of interaction between the instruments. However the harmonic language was simply naive, as were the rhythmic motifs. The ancient rhythms should have been the building blocks, not finished elements. There is so much that can be done with rhythm and still connect quite obviously to its source material. A part of me felt like it was an attempt to 'rebel' against complexity, but would have been her alternative? The whole thing just felt underbaked as a piece. The composer has craft, she just needs to use more of it with more intent. 

The finale of the concert was Robert Thorpe's Living with Bears. The work started with a hammering of dampened strings being strummed to within an inch of its life; the sensation was rather wild and interesting, it did grip me rather instantly. However the first violin melody instantly splintered the work. The melodic elements bared no relation or connection to the intense and powerful drive of the strumming. From there, the work simply unfolded. More of this 'melody' appeared and grew into something else. The largest 'melodic' element was extremely akin to Michael Nyman, a composer I thought I had escaped when I had moved to Lithuania. So overall it just felt disjunct. If it were in two movements, with the fiery rhythms in one, and the melodic elements in the other I probably would have been more accepting of the piece. Shame really.

This being said, the ensemble did quite well tackling such a variety of pieces, especially as a group that doesn't traditionally play as a trio; so well done to them. In future however, when performing contemporary music, they need to look more into what 'they' are saying with the piece, and thus avoid becoming performing machines of performing monkeys for composers. I imagine if the trio had clear visions of what they were saying with all the pieces the concert could have taken a very different turn. Admittedly a skill like this comes with time, so the future looks bright for Lora Kmieliauskaite, Arna Kmieliauskas, and the birthday boy Dziugas Daugirda.

15 May 2017

Druskomanija takes over LMTA

Its that time of year again, Druskomanija Festival is up and running with lots of music being displayed. Sadly I had missed the opener but, this definitely felt like an interesting concert to set off my week of new music. Based in the great hall of the Lithuanian music academy, the concert gave focus to students from within the academy itself. Considering the traditional competitive forms of entry for the other concerts, this was definitely a rather dignified and diplomatic way of allowing younger composers into the fray. 

After the usual chitter-chatter and preconcert shuffling, the night began with a work for solo tuba and electronics by Jura Elena Sedyte simply titled Apnea. When I saw this on the programme, I was overjoyed. I always admire students for wanting to write for low brass. As a former member of the clan, it is nice to composers giving the instruments much needed repertoire. The combination of electronics gave the opportunity for a really great sense of depth too. However the work wasn't the usual intensity I have come to know and love from the composer. There was a strange timidity to it, this could have simply been because of the lack of security in writing for one lone tuba, however it was a shame to not see this composer shine in the manner I have become accustomed. The work had its merits, of course, but I imagine if she had threw caution to the wind we could have seen a more fascinating work.

Then came some more shuffling before our first string quartet of the night was performed. Seeing Styginiu kvartetas Nr. 2 by Bozena Ciurlioniene written on the programme, I had mixed feelings, one of interest due to this young composer having written a second string quartet; but I also had a feeling of worry, mostly due to the question of whether the work actually sparred with the historic weight of a 'string quartet'. The work opened with a chordal progression of two notes, which instantly vanished for something else; it was hard to see if this was an attempt to write something in an almost Stravinskian blocked manner, or was an attempt to sound 'modern' and 'unpredictable'. As the work progressed this 'random' gesture didn't really reappear, but what followed was an oddly traditional sounding string quartet. I say this for the simple reason the string quartet sounded curiously 'English' the sound, the counterpoint, the harmonic leaning was remarkably similar to Vaughan-Williams or Holst. A curious surprise indeed. The work, as time progressed, began to lose itself and the dialogue in the quartet wasn't particularly explored. I also felt the attempt to respond to history simply didn't happen, so if Ciurlioniene writes a third quartet, I really hope she wrestles with this predicament.

After even more shuffling came Pasakojimai apie Bacha for piano and electronics by Marija Paskeviciute. This was one of two pieces I was particularly familiar with before the concert, so I was curious to see how it fared in a concert setting. The work quite simply is a musical dialogue built up of quotations from Bach's prelude and fugue in C# minor and the prelude and fugue in Eb and layered over many, many, many midi piano parts. Listening to the purely electronic version has a curious experience and the work has an odd charm to it. However this charm is kinda lost in the concert setting. I think this is due to the fact the living pianist almost appears to add nothing to the proceedings, I imagine if the piano part was more 'intensive' or more involved I could have been more impressed by the work, but sadly it was lacking today. 

Following more shuffling, came the one and only wind quintet of the night Penkiu hidrojauciu laukas by Modestas Rinkevicius. This piece was an instant contrast to the two preceding pieces. The work was extremely focused and the harmonic language was suitably self sustaining. There were moments where the rhythmic gestures caught me by surprise adding more to the easy charm of the work. Even though the work wasn't attempting to be 'new' or 'unique' there was a solidity of composition, form, and craft on display which has to be congratulated. A well written work, and I shall keep my eyes open for more from Modestas in the future. 

Following even more shuffling, came the second string quartet of the night. Clementina by Gabrielius Vagelis. The work was a bit overdone. Ultimately the whole musical shape and construction was okay, but didn't have the intensity and variety to justify the overtly sweet bits. The sensation was akin to drowning in treacle. Music dialogue was okay, and the composer showed a sense of craft which has the potential to improve vastly, if he explores and challenges himself, sadly I was just left a little bored by the whole proceedings.

Following more shuffling, came the largest, and most curious ensemble setup. Four female singers, four violin, and wine glasses. Vilte Zakeviciute has been on the periphery of my vision for a while, and I have long contested that there is a lot of potential within her. A strong part of me felt last night was strong and striking move towards something profound. Giesme laukiniam medziui started with a gentle whimper from the glasses before dropping deep into this colour and hypnotic landscape. The shape was well conceived and the musical gestures continued to hit me hard. In short, the work was as striking as it was modest. Vilte had managed to turn the text setting into a blank slate forcing us to make our own opinion of what we had heard and in turn she simply gave us the space to ponder. Single handed this was the piece of the night. Nothing quite matched or could be compared to it. What was ultimately remarkable, is despite the moments of naivete from the composer, the gestures felt mandatory for the piece. It takes a lot of bravery to write things because the piece needs it and just simply allowing yourself what you want to say. I have contested there is a lot of promise in Vilte Zakeviciute, she is definitely heading towards something else. All she seems to need is time.

After more shuffling came Dainora Aleksaite and her work Dvylikos menesiu ciklas fortepijonui 'Du nulis sesiolika'. As a first year composer, this work shows a lot of promise in the composer. From what appears to be her first sincere attempt at constructing in a serial manner, Dainora seemed to dive in headfirst. The work was striking and brutal at times and never really gave anyone a chance to rest. I think in future she could produce some curious works indeed. Time will simply tell.

Then came a clarinet quartet by Beata Juchnevic. Its always nice to see this ensemble at play, because it has a wonderful charm and expansive palette to it. The work Vitrazo atspindziai was an attempt to mash 12-tone thinking with a more 'romantic' idiom. I always shudder a bit when I hear this, simply because Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg were such romantics at heart they saw their music as a way to be freely expressive; so it often feels the composers show a misunderstanding of this circumstance. Beata's work started sporadic gestures, and the dialogue between the clarinet and strings was at times curious, but also at times rather predictable. There were also some interesting harmonies produced due, but overall I felt this came out of the oven too soon. If Beata explores 12-tone music more and especially considers the works of Peter Schat she could produce something interesting indeed.

Then came our third and final string quartet by Adam Farnlof. 5c does was it says on the tin. Obsession with fifths and three sections. Nice straight forward thinking. However the result wasn't as straight forward and refreshing. The opening hits on a unison pitch came off a little lackluster, when I imagine the composer desperately wanted more in it. This being said, there was a curious energy to this opening movement which must be merited. The second movement killed the piece entirely. The movement focused on variations of glissandi and started from a high point and ended low. It was extremely predictable and almost ignored how predictable it was. If it sped through it like the start of a Grand Prix the result would have been startling and fascinating due to the complexity produced by a simple form. Alternatively, if the movement was a stand alone piece lasting an hour, or maybe even three, it would have in turn been fascinating for almost opposite reasons. As it took a clear gesture beyond our traditional understanding, thus abstracting it into something otherworldly, it would have been mind-bending. Sadly neither situation occurred, and we were left with a rather dull, uninspiring movement. The energy, and witty brevity of the finale was destroyed by the preceding movement. So sadly I didn't enjoy it for what would have been quite a charming finale. 

The finale came in the form of Dominykas Digimas's walking through the three points a work for piano trio, which coincidentally had been performed last year in the festival. I don't want to reiterate what I said in the previous rendition, especially as my discussions tonight have primarily been about premieres. However do feel free to read it here. The performance was done well, and the coordination with the visuals was also well achieved. However I felt after the preceding work, the work wasn't quite the antidote we needed. However, this does in no way detract from the pieces aforementioned merits.

I am glad to see the festival is back in full swing! And it must be noted the dedication of a big pool of players to perform in these pieces. Now there is only one thing left to say bring on more concerts! Let's hope Druskomanija 2017 continues to be a fascinating festival!

4 May 2017

My week of Arvo Part - also starring Goeyvaerts

For the past week I have been chucked in the deep end, well and truly. I have been spending my week in New York, primarily in Fordham University where I have been attending the Arvo Part: Sounding the Sacred conference. The conference, which was heavily supported by the university, the Arvo Part Project, and the Sacred Arts Initiative to name just a few.

As can be guessed from the title, the week has been dedicated to the great composer. A conference of 4 days which has shown us a huge variety of stances and disciplinary viewpoints of the composer and his connection to the world around him. There were many fascinating discussions all of which have really challenged my understanding and broadened my sensibilities.

The real highlight of the whole conference was last night's concert in the Holy Trinity Church. The concert was overflowing with audience members and after a moment of hush the concert started. The opening came in the form of Trivium (1976) for organ. Andrew Shenton really showed his nuance and understanding of the piece bringing out all of the wonderful character and charm of the work, as well as the ethereal extra the often comes with Part's music. A real joy and a great way to open the concert.

Following a brief moment of shuffling amidst the stunned 'silence' of the creaking pews, the next work that followed was De Profundis (1980). It is always hard to witness performances of this work for me. Having grown up with the almost intense perfection of the Hilliard Ensemble's recording  its hard to find other interpretations match it. The four singers had a wonderful tone and the interaction between the quartet and the organ was elegant. The percussive sounds could have been performed with a bit more mystery, but were still very effective. Despite the many merits of the performance, I just wish they sang it slower to really wallow in the depths.

Then, after even more shuffling, coughing, and spluttering, came the awe-inspiring Sarah was Ninety Years Old (1976/89). The broad powerful opening of the percussion combined with the beautiful lilting tenors were completely mesmerising. I am always stunned by the work, one because of the sheer power of it, but also because of the sheer oddness of it. The blocks of the sections are intensely static, but almost have no impact on the next, but you feel a building intense and dramatic dialogue. The entrance of the organ always stuns too, but I felt the dialogue between the organ and soprano didn't have the same fluidity of gesture that the Hilliard's recording managed to achieve. 

The finale of the concert came in the form of something truly astounding. The string trio Goeyvaerts combined with three astounding singers performed Part's Stabat Mater (1985). A truly inspiring piece, but last night's performance had one more intense nuance. The ensemble had performed the entire work in Just Intonation. For those unfamiliar with the term, just intonation is a tuning system where in short everything is tuned in relation to a point, instead of by 'equal' intervals we are used to in well-tempered tuning. What this did was give a truly unique power and colour to Part's music that has never been opened up before. The rolling lines moved along and the sextet had a truly exquisite sweetness to it. The colours of the three singers; Maria Valdmaa (soprano), Alex Chance (countertenor), and Tore Denys (tenor), was always complimentary and divine. The ability of the singers to adapt to the refined tunings and the new 'field' built up made for a truly profound moment. Not since seeing the British premiere of Adam's Lament was I struck by such a freshness in Arvo Part's music. I had to buy the recording the trio made of the work so I can continue to obsess and indulge myself in it. Goeyvaerts were astouning. No other way to put it. What a magnificent trio that I hope to hear again in the future.

It has been a lot of fun being in the conference and I hope this isn't the last time I have the pleasure of discussing Arvo Part or to witness a concert quite like this.