24 November 2017

Crossroads 2017

Having recently got back from a wonderful time in Salzburg, and finally having a few moments free to reflect, I thought now would be a wonderful time to talk about the lovely Baltic composers I got to hear while in Salzburg last week. I must point out the festival included a huge mix of composers from across the globe, and I myself did have the pleasure of two premieres in the festival. But due to the vast amount of composers, I will just mention the Baltic composers performed while I was there, due to the nature of the blog, and to save people some time. 

The festival featured many wonderful ensembles including N.A.M.E.S, Synaesthesis, OeNM, JVLMA, as well as performers from China. The festival well and truly has gone from strength to strength. The opening performed by the wonderful Latvian based ensemble JVLMA, was probably the most Baltic infused concert of the week, featuring performances by three young Latvians and an upcoming London based Lithuanian. The four musicians, Peteris Trasuns (viola), Viktors Stankevics (double bass), Guntis Kuzma (clarinet), and Arvydas Kazlauskas (saxophone), really shone in the concert. The mix of repertoire presented to them was extremely diverse and they never seemed to falter stylistically ever. Kristupas Bubnelis's premiere Tubi e cordi was a truly fascinating work, and does show the composer is reaching an interesting moment within his work. The nuance of communication between the ensemble, and the control of harmonic language really made the work shine. Kristupas has been someone I've observed for a significantly long time, and it is great to see him growing so much as a composer. The curious thing for me within his piece, was the loose parallels with Berg and Vykintas Baltakas. The works were firmly rooted in a post-tonal language, but kept the nuances of tonality and the traditional sensation of a dialogue between a quartet.

Anna Kirse's solo viola work Neurosteina was a strong piece indeed. Extremely focused, and the use of the vast array of colours never felt like a gimmick or naive attempts to sound 'experimental'. It was focused and elegant, Peteris Trasuns really made it glow. Andrievs Alksnis's duo for clarinet and double bass Punktualas vadlinijas was playful and managed to get a lot out of the forces. It did at times feel slightly cliched in its overtly 'jazzy' gestures but for an extremely young composer there is a good talent, which if nurtured well can really grow into quite a solid composer. Margarita Gapcenko's Curriculum Astri was nice to hear again. I had heard a rendition performed in Vilnius by an upstart ensemble, but wasn't particularly impressed by the overall performance. JVLMA's performance however really brought the clarity and brilliance of the piece to life. Her ability with harmony and with blending of the forces was extremely good, especially considering how disparate the group is. What I particularly liked was how Margarita and Kristupas managed to make such an unconventional ensemble sound like the most stand of ensembles, making the mix sound truly natural, and rich. 

The other concerts did not have the same influx of Balts, but the OeNM concert on the penultimate day featured two talented Lithuanians; Dominykas Digimas and Raimonda Ziukaite. These two composers I have been particularly fascinated with during my stay in Vilnius and it was great to see them programmed by such a talented ensemble. Raimonda's work Heavenly Heavy drew inspiration from Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus and was particularly fascinated by how a reversal of something can suddenly make something positive extremely sinister. Or something evil could become very funny and playful. Like with other recent works, the piece had heavy echoes of tonal harmony which had a very curious sensation considering the environment and context. The structure of the work was hard to follow at times, by the wonderful members of OeNM played it astoundingly making the journey fascinating to follow. Due to the sheer beauty of instrumental forces, I found it extremely difficult to spot the moment we descended into something evil, but I imagine with a richer use of the more powerful harp sounds could have expanded that. This being said the piece was still rather pleasing to listen to. 

Dominykas Digimas's Rain in the Mist drew influence on a Haiku of the same name. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a sucker for Haiku so I was already pleased or at least in a positive place to start with. When the composer let me see a sneak peek of the score, I did jokingly point out it was the most amount of notes I'd ever seen in his works. Like is almost tradition with this young upstart, electronics were heavily featured. When the lights were turned off at the start, the sheer richness of the electronic sound did fill the small space rather magically. The bustling energy within the instrumental parts was fascinating, but like Feldman's Coptic Light being overloaded with such a huge amount sound forced a sensation of stillness which was fascinating to listen to. I do feel the composer is beginning to develop into quite a personal swagger, but there are still elements of growth needed. Maybe, because I studied in a nation which adored it's harps, I was acutely aware that the harp writing wasn't quite as elaborate as his string writing, or his electronics. I was also aware the harmonic language is growing, so I am particularly fascinated with where it is headed. I shall definitely keep an eye on him, like I have been doing for a while.

The other concerts in the festival were rather exquisite, and if the blog wasn't dedicated to the Baltic I would have written extremely thoroughly about it. N.A.M.E.S ensemble were particularly outstanding they are very quickly becoming a vital element of music within Salzburg and I sincerely hope they continue growing exponentially. Ensemble Synaesthesis were also on extremely good form and it is reassuring seeing they are gaining quite an internationally standing, having arrived in Salzburg after a few days in Bratislava for the contemporary music festival there.

After attending last year's Crossroads Festival, I was so glad to see the festival has grown, and gained such a large support from the Mozarteum. The mix of composers and repertoire, combined with fascinating talks and discussions (I know I was one of the talks, but it was a joy to be presented alongside such strong standing lecturers; and all I know in mine people weren't too bored, so I am content with my output). I do sincerely wish the festival grows in success and I do hope I get to return next year. 

Here's hoping.

11 November 2017

Lithuanian composers winning prizes

On the 10th November, the Lithuanian Composers' Union had their awards again. For those who have been reading the blog long enough, will probably remember my thoughts about the previous ceremony. There were many interesting changes of circumstances this time. Firstly from my own point of view, I had the joy of witnessing almost all the shortlisted works, and the works which won I did see their premieres. This was also the first award ceremony under the new leadership of Mykolas Natalevicius. So I was particularly fascinated to see how this would influence the choice of winners.

This year, there were three winners Juste Janulyte, Vytautas Germanavicius, and Dominykas Digimas. I have to say I was overall thrilled by the choices. There is a diversity and in general I was overjoyed to see the composers getting the recognition they deserve.
Juste Janulyte's Harp Is A Chord was awarded for the Chamber category. As I mentioned in my review from the premiere, the work was astounding. I loved the interaction between the disparate instruments and both performers Goska Isphording (Harpsichord) and Maciej Frackiewicz (Accordion) seemed naturally built for such a performance. Well done to all involved!

Dominykas Digimas's no sense was awarded in the 'Youth' or 'Young Composer' (depending on how literal or archaic you are when you translate) category. This was another premiere I got to witness. I was, and still am extremely eager about the work. The sense of focus, and compositional construction was very well written, especially for a student. The performance by the St. Christopher's Orchestra, under the well crafted arm of Donatas Katkus was astounding. With this particular category, I was intrigued by how they went about deciding the winner. Ultimately if it was based purely on the string orchestra concert I would have hated to have been on that panel. All three works by Dominykas, Karolina Kapustaite, and 
Gabrielius Simas Sapiega were works of an extremely high quality. So all parties were equally deserving, but regardless. Many congratulations to Dominykas Digimas!

The final choice Vytautas Germanavicius, his PovandeninÄ— geometrija for saxophone and orchestra was premiered in the opening night of Gaida Festival 2016. I was overjoyed in the night, due to it being my birthday, witnessing a concert with Kurtag in, and it was the start of a festival that I find extremely exciting. I sadly was not sold on Germanavicius's piece. Which is a shame, considering how strong his chamber compositions are. Admittedly, I hardly expected to truly agree with every piece in an awards ceremony, but I am very pleased by the 2/3 this time around.

I'd be amiss not to mention the pieces I wished were more positively celebrated. Two premieres I was particularly enthusiastic about were Ramunas Motiekaitis's X Cikliai for accordion, strings, and percussion. The murmurs and shimmers of the work was divine and the atmosphere was inspired. Arguably my favourite work by an under celebrated composer. The other work I wish gained more recognition here was Commentum by Vyktinas Baltakas. The work was an adaptation of a cello and piano duo of the same name. The newly orchestrated version was not just a simple orchestration. The work explored and expanded on the ideas within the duo and coloured beautifully within the orchestra. The premiere performed by Francesco Dillon was particularly brilliant and the orchestra managed to bring out the conversational charm of the music. Enjoy the wonderfully produced video of the premiere below. 

To conclude, very well done to all winners, and best of luck to future competitors!

6 November 2017

GAIDA 2017: The Snippets I heard

The time has essentially been and gone, GAIDA Festival 2017 stormed into Vilnius bringing a huge variety of new music as well as genuinely fascinating performances. For those who've seen my posts in previous years, know I approached this festival like a kid in a sweetshop. Flying from one event to another, manically typing and wittering in a sugar-fuelled trip. Annoyingly this year, I was rather distant, namely 1000 miles distant and merely seeing the wonderful reporting of Paulina Nalivaikaite and other social media discussion.

This being said, thanks to having people in the right places, and composers sharing their wonderful work I have had the chance to listen to two particular premieres. The first being a new work for piano and strings by Zibuokle Martinaityte called Chiaroscuro Triology. The work performed by Gabrielius Alekna (piano) and Robertas Servenikas (conductor) did initially give me alarm bells when I saw the title. Not because I was concerned about the quality of work, but more names like Chiaroscuro or Metamorphesis or Meditation or Sound Study have become overdone. Maybe I am just a cynic having been over indulged on such titles. However, once Zibuokle shared the recording on Soundcloud I obviously, had to listen instantly. And to be simple and direct. I was stunned. The moment the opening chord lands everything just feels right. The three movement work plays on different metaphors of light against dark, and it is explored to exquisite brilliance. This kind of duality opens up a fantastic conversational dynamic. Which is exploited well by the use of soloist. Gabrielius Alekna performs with such elegance it is almost like he was born for the sole purpose of performing this piece. I can only imagine within the concert hall setting the atmosphere must have been divine. Stunned into silence while the light and shadow dance their eternal dance right in our very ears.

The second work was shared to me personally by the composer. When I had initially heard Justina Repeckaite had been commissioned for an orchestral piece, I could have jumped for joy. It was so wonderful to see the festival had such faith in her to ask for an orchestral piece from the young prodigy. Having worked a lot over the year with Justina, there have been times I have rather felt like her shadow; constantly following and observing every inch of her creative process. Cosmatesque was not an exception. Having had the luxury of seeing the score shortly after completion I was struck by the skill and nuance within the piece. The organic control of timbre and pitch, the subtle flutters of percussion, and sheer directness of construction really struck me and I knew the performance would be a truly special event indeed. The performance, under the baton of Christopher Lyndon-Gee, was inspired. What particularly hit me about the performance was the conductor's tenacity and ability to craft the performance to his design. Often when conductors approach a work focused around a mass of sound, they almost get washed adrift by the sheer immensity of it. However Lyndon-Gee managed to really highlight and exploit the subtleties within the piece. The result was almost like witnessing and extended conversation across the orchestra, with a simple counterpoint of two melodies is spread across the technicolour spectrum of the orchestra. Each note and iteration sounding like a continuation of a never-ending melody. This is definitely the first time I have found myself almost suggesting Justina Repeckaite has a slight hint of Wagnerian flair in her work. But in reality the greater comparison is with Per Norgard's Voyage into the Golden Screen where the second movement his constructed on his infinity series. The constant rolling of sound and melodic figures carries you on quite the journey leaving you curious to see where the ending will take you. Just a joy to listen to.

Having listened to these two pieces alone, I can tell GAIDA 2017 was a huge success, I am just sad I missed it all. I was particularly curious to see how the other events went down. Either way, I sincerely hope I can return to the festival in 2018.