26 August 2016

Observing Juste Janulyte

For my final installment before I return to Vilnius, and my final installment of composers featured in last month's BBC Music Magazine, I return to the wonderful work of Juste Janulyte. Those of you familiar with me and the blog, will know my great admiration of Juste's work. This admiration, is probably why I was not surprised to see her featured within the article. Her music, seems to be one of the perfect benchmarks for Lithuanian music within Europe. She like her contemporaries, Marius Baranauskas and Ramunas Motiekaitis (to name just two), aim to write a music that tries to address their places within the world, and not just looking at Lithuania to define them.

Today's work of focus is her personal leviathon, Observation of Clouds (2012), a work for choir, winds, and strings. This particular work should be viewed as one of her personal benchmarks, a truly defining work of her musical idiom. In the same way we view Arvo Part's Passio to be the first masterpiece with tintinnabuli, Observation of Clouds is the first truly monumental masterpiece of Juste's musical landscape. Admittedly this would be true, based purely on the size of the orchestration, the diversity of timbre, and sheer length of the work would make significant.

This being said, the sheer mastery of her technique does come to a particularly special pinnacle. The work opens with voices steadily drifting in, steady harmonics and slight swells lull the listener into a dreamy state. The heavenly voices of the choir drift in and mystify instantly. The gesture has the same power as the finale of Holst's Neptune from The Planets Suite, abstracted voices drifting like angels or a haunting spectre. The line between voices and ensemble is permanently fragile, at times it is like trying to spot the difference between separate plankton, so minute and incredibly small. As the work progresses we casually and freely drift to loud climaxes which consume everyone. The growth and diminishing of colours and harmonies leave you stuck in the moment. Just like staring at the clouds, whether they have any revelance or connection to the previous manifestations never matters you are simply struck by the beauty of it. The floating mass is gorgeous and magical, constantly playing tricks on the ears, and as soon as it appears, it drifts away.

The work shows the sheer magnitude that can be achieved from a simple idea like 'monochromaticism'. The subtle textural shifts, and seemingly static harmonies are profoundly used. Even though her output is still evolving, Observation of Clouds will ultimately stand the test of time and will be one of the most significant Lithuanian pieces for orchestral forces.

I am curious to see how she can continue to develop over time. After works like Observation of Clouds or her recently premiered Radiance it is curious to see how her can continue to evolve, but what I can say for sure if she works with the same intensity and focus she will continue to stun listeners for many years to come. Listen to her wonderful Observation of Clouds here on Soundcloud.

On Sunday I return to Vilnius and another academic year ahead of me. Who knows what other gems I will find, you will have to keep visiting to find out. Until next time! 

18 August 2016

Raminta Serksnyte: De Profundis

After a few days away, I am back and ready for another blog post. As I hadn't quite finished the little collection of Lithuanians mentioned by BBC Music Magazine, I wanted to make sure I round that off before I return to Vilnius at the end of the month. Thankfully there are only two left, so it was be so much of my back against the wall to finish this off. So this brings me on to the striking work of Raminta Serksnyte.

Raminta Serksnyte (1975) is quite a curious composer, mostly due her unique ability to strike a listener, even after her intense gear change around 2002. Her early work has inflections of intense postromantic musicality, combined with beautiful imagery of forests, icebergs, and other pastoral metaphors. The musical language in these early works the extended tonality combined with elegant orchestration and magical craftsmanship make her works still striking today; even if they are quite a far cry from her more recent output.

The work I want to focus on this week, is the first piece of hers I came across: De Profundis (1998) is a work for string orchestra and is a rather curious stand alone work. The opening gitters build slowly in a way that is rather akin to Kutavicius. The quasi-minimalist repetitions lull you into the piece before suddenly smashing it with intense ferocity. The work quickly abandons the opening, leaving it as a distant memory as it progresses through its block architecture. The sense of drive is never lost, even in its densest passages. The constant abandon of introduced ideas can make a piece feel unstructured or unfocused, but like in works by Stravinsky, the nonchalant throwing away of material is one of the most striking features of the piece.

The slower passages despite, being just as brief as the more frantic material, are luscious and mesmerising. The way notes just hang in space just strikes the heart, admittedly in this case it strikes the heart with pins into a voodoo doll more than cupid's arrow. The piece constantly builds then suddenly stops and builds again, this constant hocket and hiccuping leaves the sense of unease right in the forefront of the piece, without having to be particularly intense on the surface level.

The orchestration of the group is as striking as it is rather simplistic. I point this out, simply because in later works like Almond Blossum (2006) and Oriental Elegy (2002) orchestration because far more akin to the likes of Pascal Dusapin or Jonathan Harvey, with the use of extended colourings to really make the orchestral palette explode with as much colour as a painting by Jackson Pollock.

De Profundis eventually arrives at a beautiful release, which has very similar echoes of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, with the use of extended harmonies and slow moving chorales bringing the work to a rather beautiful shimmering end. I am curious how much the original Psalm (129/130(depending on your numbering of psalms)) impacted the structure of this piece. But the below quotation does fit rather elegantly with the piece structurally.
My soul has stood by his word.
My soul has hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch, even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.  - Psalm 130

I will of course leave you to make up your own minds on this, but in the mean time enjoy this wonderful rendition of the work by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Matthias Foremny.