25 July 2017

Interview: Raminta Serksnyte

After a few weeks hiatus, I am back to the blog! Full refreshed after a lovely jaunt to Kintai surrounded by the Lithuanian countryside and gorgeous company. I also am able to finally show my interview with Raminta Serksnyte. A truly magnificent composer, Raminta's music stands as quite the leviathan within the local scene. Her music has been performed internationally including recent performance in Birmingham with the CBSO.

As mentioned in my previous post about her work De Profundis her early works were far more defined by minimalistic flavour akin to multiple other Baltic at the time, but after her Oriental Elegy her music took a drastic turn. Her musical colour is full of all the grandeur and flourishes of the post-spectral composers, as well as having a rich harmonic language to make her musical palette so vast. For me, what gives her music such strength is the way it combines all of these elements in such an elegant and fluid manner. Every piece I have heard has attracted my ears, and it was a joy to read her responses. 

Sveiki Raminta, thank you for being willing to be interviewed for the blog. I wanted to first ask you to describe your music for those unfamiliar with your work.

Labas Benai, thank you for the interest in my music. I compose music of various genres –from intimate chamber music to pieces for large-scale orchestra and opera. The balance between intense emotional expression and rationally composed structures has vital importance for me. My main sources of inspiration are nature and a broad spectrum of psychological states: from mysterious, nostalgic mood to dramatic expression and outbursts of vital energy. I consider the composition as a certain uplifted state of mind, materialized by means of sounds, where impressiveness depends on the composer’s technical mastery. 
The main principle of my music is the fluctuation and fusion of non-traditional “major and minor” (in their broadest sense). I would name my composing technic as “chiaroscuro”, with constant alternations of “light” and “dark”, “warm” and “cold” sonorities.

In your work, particularly that post Oriental Elegy, I find an almost sponge like quality. What I mean by this, is your ability to draw upon on almost all forms of musical expression alive today, including spectralism, musique concrete instrumentale, minimalism, and sonorism, and use them as a specific tool within your work. How do you go about exploiting these various musical gestures? And which piece do you think is the most successful at this?

From the early years I liked very different music, which naturally had an influence on me.  The spiritual and emotional impact is extremely important to me, and I often do not care too much about the style. In my opinion, a very simple piece or “new complexity” one can have a similar impact. The ability to compose music in different styles and genres can be compared to being multilingual. In every piece, I try to find the most suitable “musical language” which would be the most efficient in conveying conceptual ideas. Despite any stylistics, all my compositions contains the main principle of my music – the balance and fusion of “major and minor”.   The oratorio “Songs of Sunset and Dawn” is a good example of such “fusion”.

You have had the great fortune of being internationally performed, almost everywhere it seems, but where do you think Lithuania’s standing in the world is? Do you think Lithuania is slowly gaining musical influence? Or is it still trying to remove previous stereotypes and baggage?

In fact, the history of the professional Lithuanian music started just a bit more than 100 years ago.  This short time has seen many dramatic historical events, and Lithuanian music experienced fall and rise. Though during last decades, especially after re-establishment of Lithuanian independence in the 90s, [the] situation has changed drammatically. Thanks to some internationally renowned performers and composers, Lithuania is slowly gaining musical influence in the world.  The contemporary Lithuanian music is often described as “Baltic melancholy“, “specific minimalism“ , which is reflected by repetitious rhythms, consonant harmony, slow and long developments.

From your perspective as teacher within the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, are there any young voices coming up through the years who you find are promising composers?

It is difficult to predict the future of the young composers, though during every exam session I find a few interesting works. Some pieces by Juta Pranulytė, Monika Sokaitė and Jūra  Elena Šedytė  are  quite impressive.

Finally, as I have done with all my other interviews, if you were stranded on a desert island, which five recordings, CDs, LPs would you want to have stranded with you?
  •      Mozart “Requiem”
  •      Björk “Homogenic”
  •      Čiurlionis “The complete piano music”
  •      Tibetan singing bowls (or any other sounds of bells)
  •       Gordon “Decasia”

What made me smile most about these responses, was how in keeping with her character the responses were. Never speaking without purpose, much like her music, everything is direct and to the point and that is probably what draws me in the most. Her music is, just because it is. No question, no need for grand arguments, just simply magnificent music.

Enjoy, and until next time!

4 July 2017


After indulging in recent CDs I was given, I came across a truly astounding bit of music. In the collection, were three compilations of Latvian folk musicians. Within one of these fateful CDs I came across two recordings 'Ei skija, skija' and 'Senprusija' by the folk/pagan metal band Skyforger. Now, my previous encounters with folk metal were generally negative, mostly because with other bands, the inclusion of folk music or folk instruments just seems a tad gimmicky or just simply out of place.

This being said, every once in a while you find something that just throws previous thinking completely out of the window. The discovery of Skyforger for me, was very much akin to discovering Apocalyptica. Four cellists playing metal!? Hearing that you'd think it would be like a load of Dads trying to get down with the kids, but Apocalyptica nailed it and continue to do so. Skyforger really excite me as a band. I say this knowing that I haven't really come across a metal band that excites me for about 6 or 7 years. There is a good chance it was Apocalyptica or some other symphonic metal band.

So who are Skyforger? The quartet, made up of Latvian musicians, was founded in 1995. Even though the original grouping has changed over the years, the band is still going strong. In their 22 year history, they have released 8 CDs each with various points of focus. The themes cover ancient Latvian war songs, celebrations of pagan Gods, or other elements of local folklore. Within this variety of themes, the group hammer out the usual metal set up of guitars and drums with tons of distortion but Latvian folk instrument stand alongside the instruments pounding out alongside the rest. This includes Latvian pipes, kokles, vargan, and giga. The use of these instruments either serve to depict a moment of historical relevance, set the mood for the musical narrative, or just because a bagpipe solo might be needed.


Now the band have not just full blown thrash metal all the time. There are stunning videos of them doing purely acoustic or 'authentic' folk and it is also a joy to watch. And I feel this is where the band really stands strong. They live and breath the folk music, it is completely soaked into their skins and it emanates into their music.   

The sheer breadth of the band is just a joy to listen to. It definitely makes me feel like I'm fifteen again, blasting out metal into my ears or out of my speakers listening nonstop to my new discovery. I am definitely on the hunt for more folk metal to see if there are other groups that can match Skyforger; I do hope some reside in Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia so I can have another excuse to chat about metal on this blog. Its definitely a nice change of gear from my usual postings, but I still love it, so I love chatting about it. Hopefully I'll see Skyforger live soon.