14 December 2017

Erkki-Sven Tuur: Solastalgia

The past few days have been full of indulging in new recordings, new-ish or less familiar composers, and hunting out recordings of various new works. Sadly, due to not being wealthy enough to just fly from Glasgow to Amsterdam, I was not able to see the premiere of Erkki-Sven Tuur's brand new work for piccolo and orchestra. The premiere took place on the 7th December in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and was co-commissioned by the Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Thankfully, the wonderful KlassikaRaadio stream their radio online so I was able to listen to it! Thank my stars!

The title Solastalgia comes from a term that was coined by Glenn Albrecht, and is derived from the Latin solacium (comfort) and the Greek -algia (pain); so naively pain in a place of comfort. So the idea essentially comes from the feeling of pain one gets at the change/destruction/desecration of somewhere that you have an emotional connection to. This subject matter ultimately shows the composer's intent when you notice the fact it is a concerto for piccolo - the metaphor of a songbird is quite a poignant move. It is overt that the composer is concerned about the change of the environment, be it on the personal level of fear for his rural home in Estonia or the larger problems facing the world. The composer's own programme notes detail his thoughts beautifully:

'Where I live, the impact of global climate change manifests itself in that winters are no longer winters and summers no longer summers. In my childhood it was ordinary for cars to drive to mainland on a 25 km ice bridge in the winter. There was a lot of snow. And summers were so warm that swimming in the sea was the most natural thing in the world. Today’s reality is that the difference between winter and summer equinoxes is often only 4-5 degrees. There is no place to hide from the ubiquitous environmental change caused by human activity.

An inexplicable anguish creeps into my soul when I see the vast areas of chopped down forests; the onslaught of oil palm plantations when I travel in Southeast Asia; when I read about gigantic ice blocks breaking off the mainland in Antarctica; the fields of garbage floating around in the ocean, etc. Why am I writing about this here? Do I have any solutions to offer? No, I don’t. And this composition won’t make the world a better place either. At best, it’s a lone voice in the wilderness – something that echoes the most burning conflicts of contemporary reality. The above was just to explain that I didn’t choose the title on a whim or due to the word’s peculiar sound...' -- Erkki-Sven Tuur programme notes

 What instantly appeals to me within the context of this piece is the fact it is almost an anti-Romantic concerto; namely it isn't a heroic victory, it isn't even necessarily salvation, but a lone figure disappearing out of significance. Its also intriguingly anti-Romantic in the way many Romantic/Nationalistic figures tended to celebrate nature or the wilderness; whereas this is fear for the environment itself.

The work starts from a rather beautiful shimmering place. Our soloist singing unashamedly enjoying itself within its wonderful home. However, as time progresses elements and ideas get more and more evocative and challenging; changing and mutating. The once content creature now struggles to survive, getting more animated and fractious at the loss of its familiar home. The energy and sheer strength of the orchestra becomes increasingly powerful, but the soloist keeps singing. The sheer expanse of the orchestration is exquisite and intensive. The driving rhythmic force really pushes the orchestral backdrop to a point of complete dominance where the soloist has only brief glimpses of respite. These moments of 'calm' never feel peaceful or like a resolution but more a point of complete desolation. The finale is eerie. The fog is clearing and almost nothing remains. Is this a prophecy or epiphany? Has the desolation of this 'home' happened or is it going to happen? Its hard to say the exact intent at this point, but all we know either way, the composer is desperate to voice his fear for the future and for the rural world in general.

The premiere was astounding. I was blown away by what I was hearing. Erkki-Sven Tuur is definitely a new period of his compositional life, and a part that I am truly excited to see where it heads. The 
Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra were on particularly brilliant form and really bought the work to life. I can only imagine how wonderful it would have been to write for Vincent Cortvrint (piccolo), his mastery of the instrument and sheer tenacity in the premiere was glorious. What a wonderful performance, what a glorious piece; I can only congratulate everybody involved. And for those curious, you can hear the work on KlassikaRaaio here.

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 Povandeninė 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. 

8 August 2017

Female composers in the Baltic

As the push for greater equality in classical gains more and more momentum, I thought now would be a decent time to just stand back and mention some of the many wonderful female composers from the three Baltic states. This list won't be in any form or order, expect listing nation by nation, and will serve as more of an introduction to female composers in the Baltic; especially those I haven't had the chance to mention yet. Gender equality in the region is something I will like to touch upon in future, but that will be for another time. So for now I hope you all find something you enjoy!


Our first composer, Galina Grigorjeva (1962*), was born in Odessa, Crimea, and only came to Estonia after studying with Lepo Sumera. However this does not mean she is disconnected from the scene by any means. Her music is rich and potent, and her exploration of Slavonic sacred music adds an interesting dimension. This intrigue ultimately makes her music an intriguing statement and question of nationality, identity, and personality especially in a nation whose modern identity is still very new. 

The grand matriarch that is Ester Magi (1922*) stands as the oldest composer in the region as well as having a truly unique and individualistic stance; when compared with her peers and the following generations. Her music has the beautiful combination of personal ingenuity and ever responsive to 'tradition'. Despite the brilliance of her compositions, her music still retains and curious modesty which gives it a truly endearing quality. Thankfully as she has aged more attention is finally heading in her direction, and hopefully soon more performances of her music will come this far west. 

Helena Tulve (1972*), a personal favourite of mine, is a composer with very few who can really be compared to her. The originality of colour and inspired nuance of gestures give her music a quality that is always striking a fresh, regardless of how often one would listen to it. The rolling melismas combined with the resonant spaces make her music sit in a space that usurps the listener fully. For me what makes her music quite so brilliant is the ability to use harmonic space to merely allow the music to speak freely. Very few composers internationally can really compete with the skill in her work.

Evelin Seppar (1986*) is quite a recent discovery for me. And it is quite a curious one indeed. Within her music, you can hear the fascination with modal harmonies, but she skillfully finds ways to knock them off kilter; giving you a new way to listen to the harmonies. There is quite an honest beauty to her music and I look forward to uncovering more recordings myself.

Mirjam Tally (1976*) is another truly striking composer. Her raw potency is the first thing that hits the listener, especially in works like Erosioon. But this brutality is not the sole selling point of her work. Despite the intense focus on sound in the most abstract sense, never loses any sense of musicality or drama. Mirjam Tally, like her contemporaries like Helena Tulve, also really  show the profound energy composers had after the break up of the Soviet Union. Everyone wanted to truly immerse themselves into the new world without fear or question. Mirjam does this with a flair. The sheer impact of her music shows this relentless courage and potency within every gesture.

Lydia Auster (1912-93) is another composer who was not originally born in Estonia, but due to her work lead her there. Born in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan, Lydia studied composition in Leningrad with Mikhail Judin then in Moscow with Vissarion Shebalin. Her composing took her all over the Soviet Union, including stints in Turkmenistan, from 1950-1989 she was the Chairman of the USSR Music Foundation's Estonian Republic Department, firmly planting her within Estonia and the music scene within the region. Her music is charming and witty, and I imagine there would be a huge audience in the UK who would love to listen to her debonair musical stylings.

Tatjana Kozlova-Johannes (1977*) is an Estonian composer of Russian origin. She studied under Jaan Raats  and Helena Tulve and the influence of both of these tutors is apparent within her work, but she never drifts into pastiche. There is an elegant spaciousness to her work, and like her teacher Helena, Tatjana has an inspired ability to entrap the listener. She is still a very new discovery to me, and everything I have found has struck me. I am eager to see what else I can uncover of her work. 

For my last example to represent Estonia, I turn to Liisa Hirsch (1984*). Another very recent discovery, but a truly inspiring one. Her music is extremely direct and unforgiving. The unerring honesty within her music is almost divine. Never hiding or presenting her music in a timid manner. Her music simply is. It is simply remarkable. Her Ascending...Descending is a perfect example of what I mean. The combined elegance of the solo violin's lines accompanied by the perpetual rising or falling of the orchestra is just a joy to behold. 

There were many other names I would love to have mentioned, but it does give me a stronger excuse to return to them in future posts.


Santa Buss (1981*) is a composer I have admired for a significant amount of time, and have also had the joy to interview relatively recently. A music is a constant journey of self exploration. Each piece, its own philosophical quandary being delved into with this highest intensity. No two works sound the same. But her personal 'voice' shines through. Maybe as her internal monologue remains constant, her musical ideas endure the same scrutiny, siphoning off only the gold from the dirt. Its hard to single out one piece as an example so jump to her soundcloud and enjoy! 

A contemporary of Santa Buss, Gundega Smite (1977*) is another composer whose music manages to mystify you one moment and grab you by the scruff of the neck the next. A pupil of Peteris Plakidis, Gundega's music has an elegant sense of craft and purpose which can only be admired. For me, her choral music is what stands out most. Maybe due to the physical and human elements imbued into the music give it that earthy yet mystical quality. Music trapped in human flesh can only dream of transcending its humanity, but Gundega is definitely close to it.

Santa Ratniece (1977*) is another composer I have had the joy of mentioning previously in an article. Like her contemporaries in the Baltic, her music is fascinated with the wider world. Exploring poetry or themes of various cultures, Santa manages to deal with these cultural phenomena with an intrinsic sincerity. So be it exploring historic Jewish traditions or Buddhist art, she manages to approach it with a freshness and openness which only enhances her musicality. I was stunned by the fragility of her piano concerto, I was equally amazed by her ability to produce moments of violence. Santa's music is simply exquisite and needs more performances.

Indra Rise (1961*) stands at a curious point in time. At the point of her studying with Peteris Plakidis in 1990, the world around her had completely changed. This would have left her with the curious circumstances of having the feeling that anything was possible, but also having to fight the crushing sensation of what is our 'identity'. This being said, her music stands strong. Admittedly she could fall into the camp of 'new simplicity' which was heavily celebrated the world over when the Baltic was being rediscovered, Indra manages to not be lost in the labels, and is simply enjoyable. 

Maija Einfelde (1939*) is a composer who only quite recently began to gain some international fame after winning the International Barlow Endowment in the US, this however does not diminish from the elegance of her music. A pupil of Janis Ivanovs, Maija Einfelde is a composer strongly connected to the ideas of a Latvian nationality. She has mostly written for choirs or chamber ensembles, this however does not imply a modesty within her music. Her craft is simply brilliant and stands the test of time. Even though she wouldn't be called a revolutionary figure, her music is simply strong and memorable, and I am struck by every new piece I uncover by her.

Born in remote Ukraine, Marina Gribincika (1966*) is an immensely radical figure. It is extremely hard to pinpoint how she came to be the way she is, but there is a truly potent originality to her work. Within her Smilsu Laiks, the combination of cello octet, combined with shimmering and splatterings of percussion put her music into a whole new dimension. Time simply falls away. It is truly awe-inspiring. Need I say more?

A very recent discovery, Laura Gustovska (1986*) is one of the 'newest' generation of composers now composing in Latvia. Within her music is a vibrancy, and almost optimistic lightness to it. This is not to say, she sounds nostalgic, or to even suggest any naivety in her work, but simply the soundscape produce is truly positive and uplifting, even in darker or most violent passages. When listening to her work, there is a feeling there is a lot more brilliance to come out of her. I wouldn't say she is a done dish, but there is still a large amount of merit to her work as it stands and I look forward to hearing more. 

A contemporary of Gustovska, Ieva Klingenberga (1986*) stands in almost complete contrast to her counterpart. A significant amount of her work is defined by electronics and has a rather colourful attraction to it. The use of electronics combined with abstract thoughts, including Jung's ideas of anima, produces a rather dizzying spell. The hypnotic effect is quite strong, but never fails to kick you when you least expect it. Like Gustovska, time will see how she continues to grow as artist.

To conclude my mix of Latvians, Linda Leimane (1989*) is quite the composer to finish on. Her music is full of personal character and violence. It is almost unforgiving. Her ability to tap into the rawness of musical sound and gesture is remarkable, especially from a young composer in the early stages of her musical life. What strikes me most, is her ability to almost magnify the ensemble. Her chamber pieces like Magnetic Move manages to make a quartet sound like a huge expansive musical beast; which is made all the more impressive when you consider the piece is only 4 minutes long. I think out of all the three young Latvians I have mentioned so far, she has definitely hit me the hardest.

Once again, there are many more composers I could have mentioned and they are mentally added to the list of composers to mention in the future.


For those who have read my blog on more than one occasion, will know I hold the work of Justina Repeckaite (1989*) in extremely high regard. If you needed more proof of this, you simply need to look at previous posts or my description written for the music information centre. She is without a doubt a remarkable composer who always manages to strike with ferocity and fragility in the same gesture. Her first overtly celebrated work Chartres has an intense richness of colour to it, but more recent works like Unbennant-2 have a serene stillness to them which manage to unless power in the most surprising of ways. This year seems like it will be an extremely busy year for her, and after lots of discussion I am curious to see all the music she is going to produce. Also soon I should have a more in depth article discussing her work soon, as she has agreed to an interview, so watch this space.

Loreta Narvilaite (1965*) is a curious composer within the Lithuanian landscape for multiple reasons. Firstly the nuance and charm to her music is simply like no other, not even other 'simplistic' composers quite have the endearing quality Loreta spins so perfectly. What is also fascinating is the fact she has made such an impact as composer, while staying completely rooted in Klaipeda. As the Lithuanian national scene is so heavily dominated by the capital or Kaunas, it is a genuine surprise to see a talented composer get the praise they deserve, despite not being so deeply connected to the scene in the same way as her contemporaries.

Raminta Serksnyte (1975*) is a composer who as she has grown has become increasingly radical in a truly original and poetic manner. As we briefly discussed in an interview her music has an increase plurality to it, especially in comparison to the early 'minimalist' works like De Profundis. This multilayered approach gives her music a rich palette to work with moving seamlessly from gesture to gesture. The elegance of craft, combined with ingenious ideas keeps her truly original. Any future works are almost certainly going to be magnificent to behold.

In direct contrast to the richness of Serksnyte, Diana Cemeryte (1974*) has a profound austerity within her music. The glistening shimmers of distant sounds, combined with unidentified murmurs lead to a fascinating landscape. Almost like trying to find a rare creature. You follow its minute gestures and movements, hoping the rustlings will unearth exactly what you are hunting for. Combined with the austerity of gesture is clear sense of herself. Her ability to just let an idea live is probably my favourite quality within her music. Her Les essais c'est tout II is a perfect example of this.

Onute Narbutaite (1956*) is one of the few figures in Lithuania who can stand purely on the merit of her work, without desperately needing to teach to survive. One of the few internationally celebrated composer Narbutaite is a one of a kind composer. Her nuanced use of harmony combined with immense dramatic powers makes her music quite the experience to behold. As 2016 marked her 60th Birthday, the year was full of fantastic concerts of her music which were inspiring. There aren't many figures in Lithuania who have defined and left such a lasting impact on the musical landscape of the nation. 

Nomeda Valanciute (1961*) is a composer who is heavily rooted within machinism (a minimalistic trend which appeared in the 90s, spearheaded by the likes of Rytis Mazulis, Sarunas Nakas and other contemporaries). Her music is quite simply a matter of fact. It simply is. There is no question. No hidden meaning. Just. Is. It is remarkable that a composer being so defiantly restrictive, could have such a profound impact, but her music is unerring. Never ending. Just music. 

Another composer who is having a profound impact on her generation is Ruta Vitkauskaite (1984*). For those who have read my blog before, will know my paths constantly cross with Ruta, and even though I am not always convinced by the work it must be said her unfailing desire to explore and challenge the norm is courageous. Her constant challenge to accepted traditions leads her to very interesting paths, and I am constantly reminded of figures like Cornelius Cardew or Eliane Radigue, simply because despite her dissatisfaction with tradition; she hasn't just followed other trends, instead trying to tread her own path regardless of the world around her. When her music has been at its most potent, it does stun, and as she grows her ability to keep hitting that goal will only increase. But in the end it doesn't matter, because she will keep challenging herself and the world around her, which is truly noble.

Now for my personal favourite. Juste Janulyte (1982*) is a composer I have admired for an extremely long time. Her music's greatest strength is it's own ability to simply be. Regardless of the world. The ability to simply sit with a sound, or colour, or space and stay still. Without an itching desire to leave. To just exist. It is simply divine. Though her music has been going through seismic changes since her early success, her personal voice is always prevalent. I have discussed her work on numerous occasions because of its brilliance, and I will continue to do so for a long time coming. 

 Once again, there were many figures I would have loved to feature this time, but will have to return to on another occasion. Hopefully sometime soon. Until then, happy listening.

5 August 2017

Erkki-Sven Tuur - Flamma

A rare treat for me happened last night, the BBC Proms featured a Baltic composer. To be brutal, the proms have been rather lackluster this year, mostly because they have felt like they have been working to a formula; more than being genuinely 'bad' or 'lackluster'. Of course the quality of music has been extremely high, and the festival has successfully brought music to a huge collection of various audiences. A part of me however feels a small push of outlandish-ness would really make the festival extremely immense and truly enjoyable.

Anyways back to the point of my post. On Thursday 3rd August the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonic Bremen, under the exquisite baton of Paavo Jarvi, delivered a concert of Brahms, Mozart, and Erkki-Sven Tuur. The pairing I found rather magnificent, as Jarvi's conducting really comes to the fore with these composers, and Erkki-Sven Tuur has a truly witty and cheeky conversational quality to it; that is perfectly compliments Mozart.

Flamma was originally premiered by the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2011, and finally received its British premiere in the Proms. The work is rather typical of Tuur's 'current' period, with its nuanced skill of picking up a huge palette of textures, techniques, and timbres in a singular elegant work; which never resorts to gimmick. The gesturing and shape is vaguely reminiscent of Insula Deserta with its intricate textural gestures and rolling melismas leading into huge powerful climaxes. However Flamma is significantly more 'mature' or at least more obviously the work of a grand master. It is almost like Insula Deserta dosed up on caffeine and amphetamines, ultimately charging like a bull and feeling almost indestructible; definitely a quality Paavo Jarvi manages to pull out of the performance. 

The harmonic language is rich and potent, dissonances never sounding 'forced' and everything just flows. The periods of rich consonance ultimately sound dreamy or in a haze; like a small moment of transcendence from the clattering caused earlier. The score is truly intricate and really shows the composer's ability with such a huge palette. Having had the opportunity to compare the recordings of the Australian performance and Jarvi's performance in the proms, I can without a doubt say Jarvi really knew what to pull out of the score. This could be the result of performing later performances, the premiere is always hardest to produce a personal rendition as conductor; but Paavo Jarvi is really alive within the performance and I can only imagine the sound within the Albert Hall was glorious. 

Erkki-Sven Tuur, has had the privilege of appearing in the proms on multiple occasions, which is not surprising at all, I do hope however that the Proms would be daring to allow more from the Baltic to sneak their way into future festival. I say this now as CBSO have the wonderful Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and that Paavo is a regular guest in the festival too. I can but live and hope. For those who missed the opportunity, you can listen here. Definitely worth a listen, either for the glorious roar of Tuur or the refined conducting of Paavo Jarvi.

Until next time.

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.


26 June 2017

Interview - Raimonda Ziukaite

After the usual end of term faff, and moving back to the UK, I am finally in a position to return to the blog. And what a time too! I have got the response from a fascinating young composer who agreed to be interviewed for the page. 

The composer in question is Raimonda Ziukaite, and those who have seen previous posts will notice how positive I have been about a lot of her output in recent months. I find, as composer, she is really growing into something very interesting, so I was extremely enthusiastic when she agreed to the interview. 

Labukas Raimonda, firstly to start off things – how would you describe your music to a newcomer who is not familiar with your work?

Labuka. Well, if this is a newcomer to contemporary music in general I would firstly say: 

'it will be weird, you know… you might not like it.'

But if it’s a person, already familiar with contemporary music, then I would say my compositions have a clear idea, gradual process, homogeneity, multilayers. Some pieces are atmospheric, some are energetic, full of vitality (like nature element), and I wish to create more of this 'powerful sound' (like in heavy rock/metal). I don’t like scattered gestures and eclecticism, which I find in the most of contemporary music. In my opinion, music should have a form/inner logic a recipient could grasp. However, I think I still haven’t achieved 'my style', this specific, personal sound I can imagine, I’m still on the way to it. In addition, from 2013 I’m researching a (major/minor) triads and their systematic voice leading networks which might be used in composition. (Later it appeared it has to do with Neo-Riemannian theory). Currently I’m pursuing my doctor degree on it. My ambition is to establish a composition system based on a triad as a structural unit.   

Within your work, I notice an intense philosophical focus. The works each seem to be a playground for your own discoveries and contemplations – how do you feel achieve this within your work?

My motto is to 'never repeat myself'. It could be quite a childish, idealistic, naïve attitude, but I don’t want to produce, 'make' music randomly, thus kind of polluting the aether. For each new work there should be a new and pure idea, which is then developed by structural-processual thinking. During my study years, I used to create like this: let’s say that the idea for the piece will be harmonic (overtone) series and prime numbers. So I’m taking only prime numbers from the harmonic series and constructing 4 series, then permutating and getting 4 layers of it, for the rhythmic applying… guess what…prime numbers again!  (Prime Galaxy). In this way, everything is justified, each note doesn’t come from nowhere (blame it on the structure!). Or I’m taking a harmonic/overtone series and making another 4 rows (untertones, inversions, retrogrades), and then building additional series from each of the member of prime series (like fractals). Thus I’m getting my 'field of musical material' of a perfect structure and then comes the most difficult question: so what? How to transform it to real musical piece, how to play it? Then one needs to figure out adequate textures… Of course, this way of composing lacks personal expression and now I’m willing to involve more of my imagination and hearing into composing. Another curious thing: one teacher said 'but you control everything except the resulting sound itself.' But, working with structures, sometimes it comes nice accidental things. In the case of Vilniaus Bokštai, the structure came into beautiful shapes of towers like score painting and in the end sounded jazzy D7. People thought I done it on purpose, but it was the structure itself! On Chromatography I even saw triads as colours and composed quite intuitive, according the vision of colours. After an analysis, the piece appeared to have a logic structure anyway.

Which composers have most inspired your work? Either directly or just on philosophical levels?

First of all, my teacher Ricardas Kabelis, maybe not as a role model of a composer in terms of his music (never wanted to copy him), but as a very influential teacher, who over 6 years taught me the methods and principles of composition. Talking about sound aesthetics, I enjoy to listen to Michael Gordon and Julie Wolfe (Bang on a Can), Fausto Romitelli, Gérard Grisey, Per Nørgård, Georg Friedrich Haas (limited approximations). My recent discovery was Francesco Filidei. Although his style is an opposite side of the sound of my works, but it really grabbed my attention. And from Lithuanian composers I like music of Žibuokle Martinaitytė, Justė Janulytė, Nomeda Valančiūtė, Egidija Medekšaitė (it’s a coincidence that all are women!) and some more.

During my time here in Vilnius, I see the contemporary music scene is still coming to terms with what it wants to be. Would you agree with this statement? And where do you think it is going? How do you think you fit into the scene?

Firstly, it’s a very small community, and furthermore, some styles/techniques are more frequent here, as if there would be some 'Lithuanian' (or maybe Baltics) sound: slow, nostalgic, meditative music one could call 'Lithuanian minimalism'. There isn’t so much variety in styles (like for example, there isn’t much of new complexity, (thanks God...). Some trends come to Lithuania later as well, although now more and more of young generation goes abroad and gain experience there so the situation might change. Anyway, maybe it’s in my blood (ears), but I enjoy Lithuanian scene/sound.

My relation to it is not so obvious, since so far I don’t feel like I’m making a big career being an important name here. Moreover, somehow I feel repelled from a traditional career path of a contemporary composer: writing for classical instruments, contemporary music ensembles and composing another piece sounding the same as my colleagues. As if there is some born-hardwired need to be an outsider in general, I would love to find my own, personal, unique niche in music scene. The middle way, the average is always the safest, but I’m more tending to 'everything or nothing', although not always having courage for it. I often ask myself, what is the purpose of all this? Maybe that’s why I’m quite unproductive.

That might be related with the feeling I get while listening to contemporary music (and now I’m not talking about Lithuania scene). What is bad with it everywhere: mostly it doesn’t strike. Everybody in the world is making 'something' but rarely it grabs attention, it affects. Composers (I’m not an exception) composing for themselves, solving some issues in their heads which are interesting only for them or, in other words, playing some mind games and then expressing it through music, but the outcome sometimes are like 'meh': me as the listener sitting in a concert and dreaming or even (if it’s really boring) starting to read something... Not mentioning that most of the pieces in that concert sounds the same and you can’t remember them. The popular music wins at least due to its ability to ignite some emotions. The academic contemporary music has this potential too, sometimes even succeeds, but that’s more an exception. 

What are you currently working on? Are there any major works in the pipeline?

Since I’m studying for a doctor’s degree (to be exact, A.D. – doctor of arts) now, I need to fulfill my 'doctor plan' – this makes me a bit more productive (usually I used to compose only one piece per year!) This spring I was composing for ensemble and decided to do everything totally opposite as I’m used to, like an experiment (the piece Katedros involved aleatoricism, extended playing techniques, Baroque music quotes). In addition, this half year witnessed a revival of songwriting for a rock band. Among the nearest future plans is to make algorithmic composition by applying neo-Riemannian theory and of course to find my place, this unique niche I mentioned before, in a music world. J

To finish, if you were on a desert island, what five recordings/vinyls/CDs would you have with you?

Now I won’t mention contemporary music. I would take my own playlist/mixtape of various artists 'Songs of my Life'- songs, which contain some kind of emotional charge to me. These would include some music of Pink Floyd, Agalloch, Alcest, My Bloody Valentine, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan’s song Knocking On Heavens Door and some Lithuanian songs to remind home. And in case there is no electricity in that island, I would bring a music instrument to play and sing myself.

A rather interesting interview indeed, I am definitely looking forward to see how she continues to grow as a composer. For those curious, you can find all her recordings here. And once my luggage finally appears in my flat, I can start going over my new collections of CDs from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. So until then!

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.