20 June 2017

A look back at my final year

Its finally here, the end of year is upon me. My time in Vilnius is closing and I am being released into the real world after many of years of shelter in the bubble of student life. It is rather surreal indeed, to say the least, and I will very shortly after graduating write a post looking back entirely at my time here. But, like I did this time last year, I will look back at some of the lovely concert moments I witnessed and which music I was particularly enamoured with. 

As 2016 was the centenary year of Julius Juzeliunas, autumn also witnessed some major events dedicated to the composer. This was wonderful for me on two fronts, firstly my sheer adoration of the work of Juzeliunas meant I was just going to witness lots of concerts where I admired, if not loved everything I heard; secondly my dissertation for this year was centred around the composer and so these concerts technically counted as 'educational' or 'research'. The most significant performance for the entire year was without a doubt the performance of Zaidimas. Juzeliunas's opera is a glorious feat and stands as both a wonderful moment of its time, but is also such a significant slice of Lithuanian operatic history, with very few composers managing to quite level him (Lokys the Bear, by Bronius Kutavicius is the only equal in my head). The performance was a glorious thing to witness, and I remember how excitable I was after the performance had finished. The only shame that still looms over the performance was the fact it wasn't toured or produced by the National Opera. It just seems surreal that the national opera wouldn't support one of THE composers within Lithuania in the past 100 years. Still, a wonderful concert is a wonderful concert!

The other composer celebrating a significant anniversary was Onute Narbutaite. As the gargantuan figure celebrated her 60th birthday, there were multiple concerts put on to celebrate this fact, spanning from concerts in the filharmonie hall, performance of various chamber works, and my personal favourite, the performance of Centones Meae Urbi. Performed in the Franciscan church here in Vilnius, the performance really bought this magnificent work to life. The sheer intensity of the harmonies and the profound effect it had on its audience, it was a concert I am not likely to forget for many years to come. 

The other major anniversary I didn't manage to contemplate heavily was the 95th birthday of the Estonian composer; Ester Magi. Thankfully I have a good stash of recordings and will make sure I discuss her work very soon! The year did witness a very sad loss in the Baltic. The passing of Veljo Tormis was indeed a sad occasion not least because of the sheer power and originality of his music. As I discussed in a more direct manner his music, like Bronius Kutavicius, found a way to tap into the historic stream of local paganism and managed to rebuild a whole new musical world which could stun, move, and terrify. The world is definitely a sadder place because of his passing.

Like with the previous year, GAIDA Festival and Druskomanija festival were joyous festivals to witness, not least because of the strong variety of premieres they performed. Both festival continue to produce marvelous concerts and I sincerely hope I can find a way to smuggle myself back in October for GAIDA 2017! I have had a real pleasure of witnessing many wonderful premieres this year throughout the world, but I still think the following pieces simply hit me the hardest:

The opening of GAIDA 2016 saw the premiere of Vykintas Baltakas's commentum for cello and orchestra. Despite being an extension of an already existing work for cello and piano, this new work stood proudly on its own feet and merits. The charming conversational nature combined with a cheeky wit made for a glorious piece to witness. Jonathan Berman and Francesco Dillon made for a glorious pairing of performers to deliver such a premiere.

A few days later saw the premiere of another work that particularly struck me; x ciklai by Ramunas Motiekaitis. The piece landed in the middle of an intensely string quartet obsessed concert with 4 separate string quartets either performing on their own or with others to perform many different works. Ramunas's piece struck me the most, due to its calm and modest nature combined with a rather magical interaction with the performers involved. The more I have dwelt on this piece the more I regard it as his strongest work to date. 

The third premiere that particularly struck me happened during my cheeky visit to Riga back in February. The performance of The Colour of Water by Juste Janulyte was a premiere where I was overjoyed I sat on a Lux Express bus for four hours to witness. The sheer elegance and nuance from both the composer and performer made for a glorious welcoming to the city. I spoke about it very highly in my review of the concert, and thankfully recently the composer has put the recording online so I highly recommend it. Admittedly, this was one of three premieres by Juste I managed to see this year, and I loved all of them; but there is a fine line between fascination and overtly creepy obsession with someone and their music. Also I chose to focus on this work more, simply because recording popped up very recently, and the overall concert was pretty astounding. 

This year I also had the joy of travelling the world as a 'lecturer' where I had the pleasure to travel to Salzburg and New York to discuss my favourite Baltic people. It was both wonderful and surreal to get to travel to these places and just natter about what I love to a listening public, and not just nattering manically into some poor sod's ear. A personal joy too, while attending the Sounding the Sacred conference in New York, was witnessing the profound concert delivered by the Goeyvarts Trio, hearing Arvo Part in just intonation blew me away.

Obviously this is not the end of my obsessing of music within the region. There are many more composers I want to discuss and write manically about, and after all the CDs I have received recently, summer will definitely keep me out of trouble. So watch this space soon for more posts about the Baltic, and I close my simply showing a video of some wonderful music by Ester Magi.

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