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!

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