GAIDA festival – 2010

by Ieva Buinevičiūtė
Translated by Ilmė Vyšniauskaitė
Photos by Edvardas Volginas (“Gaida“ archive)
Edited by Peter Karman

Spauskite cia, lietuviu kalba

The Gaida festival, one of the biggest contemporary music festivals in Lithuania, took place in Vilnius from the 22nd to the 29th of October this year. An intense week of rarely performed contemporary music, Gaida featured compositions both very clearly Lithuanian and those very clearly not, both showing the change of culture over time: the festival links together different artistic circles and is clear evidence of contemporary music dispersal in Lithuania. The attempt to find coherence among these 43 pieces (21 of which were Lithuanian, 22 of which were from around the world) distinguished the individuality of Lithuanian music in the context of the festival. Indeed, the atmosphere of the festival was distinctly “Lithuanian”. As with every phenomenon, this festival had a mixed reception; some might be disappointed with the music, others might still be in the process of understanding this music, but both sides are included in this musical community, and they consider this festival to be one of the most important events in Lithuanian cultural life.

The festival began and ended with symphonic music (played at the Lithuanian National Philharmonic), and the main part of the festival was devoted to performances of chamber music played by ensembles, along with choir music evenings, opera and interdisciplinary artwork. During these ten concerts, the audience was exposed to everything ranging from “contemporary classical” pieces to those most recently composed.

The two featured composers were Algirdas Martinaitis and Fausto Romitelli, though their compositions were dispersed throughout the concerts and no evening was dedicated especially to them. A Fausto Romitelli composition was featured on the first evening of the festival, and two compositions by Algirdas Martinais were likewise featured during the concluding concert.

There are some usual habits apparent within the sphere of festival organization. Concerts take place in the same spaces as the orchestra musicians typically play, like National Philharmonic and Congress Hall. Traditional halls guarantee a particular contingent in the audience, but an interesting event can not be guaranteed. This habit allows concerts to be made up of non-related fragments of contemporary music (though the opening concert presented a piece by Fausto Romitelli, you could never guess that pieces by this composer were a main focus). The primary connecting factor between the compositions turned out to be the contingent of performers, while the conceptualization of the program marginalised the connections between compositions.


The opening concert offered three Lithuanian orchestral compositions, a piece by Fausto Romitelli called Dead city radio, and the John Adams piece Doctor Atomic Symphony. There were two world premieres – Haiku by Jonas Tamulionis and 10th of April, Saturday, a piece by Bronius Kutavičius dedicated to the Katyn massacre. As depressing a lament as it was, Adams’ spectacular composition kept the mood in the hall from dipping too low. The last concert took place at the Lithuanian National Philharmonic. The soloists of the evening were Arūnas Statkus (alto), who performed a piece by Algirdas Martinaitis titled Eurassic Park and Sonia Wieder Atherton (cello), who performed one of the latest pieces by Wolfgang Rihm, Versuchung. Furthermore, the orchestra, conducted by Robertas Šervenikas, played Giorgio Batistelli’s piece for orchestra and samples, Snape Skyscape, and a composition by Algirdas Martinaitis, Le testament musical. Those who were looking for pure music found it in Wolfgang Rihm’s and G. Batistelli’s compositions. Those who were looking for Lithuanian classical music found it with Algirdas Martinaitis, but this time without words, thoughts and sounds. His work has undeniably changed.


The second concert took place in the Museum of Applied Art, and began with a chamber music cycle. It was like the exposition of small laboratories, where the “experiments” of the composers become even more impressive than their huge declarations. The SMASH ensemble performed seven pieces composed by Joan Riera Robusté, Elena Mendoza, Salvatore Sciarrino, Helmut Lachenmann, Algirdas Martinaitis, Alberto Hortigüela and Brian Ferneyhough. The exploration of sounds in these pieces encouraged listeners to go deeper, to free themselves, to be disturbed. The composition by Elena Mendoza, Lo que nunca dijo nadie, for guitar, violin and voices, seemed like a peculiar sort of game for two musicians, the object of which was to find the connection between the instruments and voices. Complicated musical gestures were further explored in Salvatore Sciarrino’s piece Eplorazione del bianco II for flute, clarinet, guitar and violin. Helmut Lachenmann’s composition TemaA for soprano, violin and cello pleased the audience immensely, the breathing sounds becoming music as the composer challenged the performers with and more more complicated roles.

The next day, Ensemble U from Estonia performed compositions by Helena Tulve, Salvatore Sciarrino, Onutė Narbutaitė, Tatjana Kozlova, Fausto Romitelli and Jarkko Hartikainen. Their performance was given with special spirit, fostered no doubt by the musicians having played together for eight years. Le linee e i cantorni by Onutė Narbutaitė was a standout piece, exhibiting a subtle ability to open new dimensions of reality. In this way, the music became more accessible for the listener. “Seconda domenica: Omaggio a Gérard Grisey“ by Fausto Romitelli (composed in 2000), a piece for flute, bass clarinet, violin and cello, was characterised by its difficult, complicated layers of sound, gradually changing over time. In the end, there were few sounds left recognizable as the primary material for the composition. Another composition by Jarrko Hartikainen was constructed with the color of sounds, and the piece formed itself – a complicated construction in which inner emotion becomes substantial sound. During the same concert, Ensemble U was followed by Ensemble ICARUS, their first piece being Fausto Romitelli’s piece for electric guitar, Trash TV Trance. The ensemble’s peculiar interpretation, performed by Giacomo Baldelli, proved quite enthralling to the audience. After the strictly through-composed works, Anima by Giorgio Batistelli and Sextans Uraniae by Roberta Vacca, Martino Pompili’s film Cenere was performed with musical improvisation, the illustrative music offering a good frame of mind for the abstract film.

On the evening of October 25th in the Vilnius Town Hall there was a concert of piano duets performed by Rūta and Zbignevas Ibelhauptai. Three world premieres of Lithuanian composers we featured: a sentimental piece by Jurgita Mieželytė, Splinters; a piece which connected everything but composer and listener by Gintaras Sodeika, SUTAPO; and Aqua Quadrivium by Tomas Kutavičius, which was based on shifts of rhythmical figures. Some of the most interesting music was by Georg Crumb and Per Nørgård. The concepts of the pieces by Georg Crumb, Otherwordly Resonances and Per Nørgård’s Unendlischer Empfang, were totally different in terms of aesthetic, but minuscule yet important connections could be found.

Only one evening was specially dedicated to choral music. It took place in an Evangelical Lutheran church right after the concert in Town Hall. Five compositions were performed: Jurgita Mieželytė’s O ignis spiritus Paracliti, Žibuoklė Martinaitytė’s The Blue of Distance, The Journey of the Magi by Vaclovas Augustinas and Les chants de l‘amour by Gérard Grisey, all performed by Vilnius Muinicipal Choir JAUNA MUZIKA. Every single piece disclosed a small fragment of the composer’s thought – beginning from Jurgitos Mieželytės’ piece, which was like an interpretation of Saint Hildegarde von Bingen, starting and concluding with verbal expressions of love used in every country in the world, in any language. It resonated well alongside Gérard Grisey’s piece “Les chants de l’amour” for 12 voices and phonogram. It seemed that the composer was sensitive to the specific qualities of spectral and vocal music – the technique did not break the beauty of sound, and through contrasts, the technique and sensibility formed a coherent image.


The CHORDOS string quartet has been playing for more than 13 years and is appreciated by contemporary music composers. They presented a concert of Lithuanian music on the 26th, featuring five compositions for string quartet and one for quintet, all composed between 1997 and 2004. Despite this short time-frame, a wide variety of compositions were presented: between the drama of allusion in Algirdas Martinaitis’s piece, Death and the Maiden and strict ellipse in V. V. Jurgutis’s Ellipses, from the polyphonic stream of mind of O. Narbutaitės’s Drappeggio and the interaction between sound and silence in Ramintos Šerkšnytės’ Oriental Elegy, from Rytis Mažulis’s well calculated infinity in Sans pause to Remigijus Merkelis’ interpretation of M. K. Čiurlionis in MiKonst. It is interesting that after such a recently recovered independence, this music performed by CHORDOS and piano player Daumantas Kirilauskas has its own history.


As has become traditional at the Gaida festival, there was one concert dedicated to staged works. This year there was Wolfgang Mitterer’s opera Massacre, based on a play by Christopher Marlowe and composed for five singers, electronic music and instruments. After this event, there was a heated and controversial argument about the performance. Some found it sacrilegious for it to be performed on stage. Though the minimal expression of details was organic, others found it as absence of art or absence of entity. Despite this, the piece articulately mentioned the problems of human sin and loss, and the importance of considering the way problems are touched. Sometimes these details were much more important then the whole body of the piece.


The most welcome evening was the theater of sound and sight, time and space, featuring a world premiere – Sandglasses by Justė Janulytė and video-artist/director Luca Scarzella. Four cello players covered a huge range of sounds, moving from higher frequencies to the lowest cello note, using different tempos, all the while amplified with various electronics. Colors permeated the structure of the entire entity, from the static treatment of sound to the dynamic and minimalistic images of the video installation. The visualization consciously tried to avoid any illustrative effect. The attempt to create an integrated project using ideas from the field of sound and sight was quite successful.


Does Lithuanian contemporary music exist? At this festival, we can say an answer was given: it exists as well as any other contemporary music. The portrait of Algirdas Martinaitis, however, appeared in a different way than was expected, and the attention given to Fausto Romitelli was not so attentive – their compositions were featured, but at the same time disappeared in the context of the festival. There were ten concerts and nine world premieres, and yet none were as far reaching as one would hope. We had an opportunity to hear Lithuanian music, but there could certainly have been more diversity in terms of musical style. The main point that the organisers have to admit is that our musical history is not so long or so interesting – the most interesting fact is that it is ours. And these days, nobody remembers what happened twenty years ago in the sphere of art and music. Thanks to Rūta Stanevičiūtė for organizing the interdisciplinary seminar, “1990: Parallel reality / Subjective stories” on October 27th, discussing Lithuanian cultural life twenty years ago. 1990’s cultural “witnesses” somehow reassured and confirmed that there were more interesting facts about music and art than what is shown in academic concerts, where it may be hard to find any sense of humour or concept.

In the end, you realise that the Gaida festival somehow is Lithuanian, complete with all the worries that “we are too small” or that we won’t have “world music days” in Gaida. But nobody is asking us to surprise Western countries, and we need only show the truth about the things that we have.

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