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.

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