Lithuania's Share in the ISCM: Extending Routes Through Time and Space

Lithuania came into view of the (ISCM – the world's largest network of members devoted to the promotion and presentation of contemporary music – in 1936. At that time several ambitious composers – Jeronimas Kačinskas, Vytautas Bacevičius and Vladas Jakubėnas returned to Lithuania after their studies in Europe and tried to establish themselves in Lithuania's temporary capital, Kaunas, by challenging the conservative Lithuanian musical scene of the period. These were the first Lithuanian modernists, whose world outlook was formed not by village choirs and organists, but by the bustling cultural life of big European cities, and the national character of music for them was associated more with creative freedom and technological innovations than with quoting of Lithuanian folk songs.

These ideas were also spread by the cosmopolitan International Society for Contemporary Music founded in 1922 in Salzburg, which in the beginning of 1936 received a letter from Jeronimas Kačinskas, a recent graduate of the Prague Conservatory where he studied composition under Alois Hába – the famous composer of quarter-tone music who managed to infect his student with his microtonal music. Lithuania's application to join the ISCM was accepted thanks to a recommendation from the Czechoslovakian Section procured by Hába. Thus Lithuania was the first among the Baltic countries to become a member of the ISCM. Vytautas Bacevičius, one of the most remarkable symphonic composers of the inter-war period and an internationally touring virtuoso pianist, agreed to become the chairman of the newly established Lithuanian section. Later one of the period's leading composers and an influential music critic, Vladas Jakubėnas, joined the activity of the section on his own initiative.

Before the Second World War Lithuanians placed their hopes on the participation in the World Music Days held annually by the ISCM, and dreamed of holding this festival for the first time in Lithuania in 1940. The most successful year for Lithuania was 1938 when the Nonet by Jeronimas Kacinskas was included in the World Music Days in London where it was performed along with the premieres of works by Anton Webern and Béla Bartók, garnering him international recognition and the appreciation of the latter. However, the outbreak of war and the following Soviet occupation ceased Lithuania's activity in this organisation, and it was not until the restoration of independence more than 50 years later, that it rejoined this world network of contemporary music. Though Lithuania was erased from the world political map, Vladas Jakubėnas did try to apply to the ISCM festival in Chicago in 1952, and succeeded: his Rhapsody No. 1 for piano was accepted by the committee, and the composer himself performed it. Ten years later, in 1962, one fragment from his suite based on the ballet Vaivos juosta, called "Dance of the Little Devil", won second prize at the ISCM Chicago Branch competition at De Paul University. His piece for strings, Intermezzo rustico (1962), was later performed at a concert organized by the same ISCM branch.

The membership of the Lithuanian section in the ISCM being restored in the early 1990s, names of Lithuanian composers reoccurred in the programs of the World Music Days, including Osvaldas Balakauskas, Nomeda Valančiūtė, Vytautas Germanavičius, Anatolijus Šenderovas, Vytautas Juozapaitis, Arvydas Malcys, and others. In recent years its participation in the activity of the ISCM is becoming more and more visible. Its present board, currently chaired by the musicologist Rūta Goštautienė, is constantly searching for new forms of contact with contemporary music from around the world. It increasingly seeks to accelerate information exchange not only with the neighbouring countries, but also with geographically and culturally distant territories of new music, and look for more effective ways of representation on the international music scene. Not infrequently the small Lithuanian Section of the ISCM represents its country at the World Music Days by large-scale symphonic compositions that had won wide international acclaim and musical awards. Vytautas Barkauskas' Konzertstück No. 2, one of the most internationally performed Lithuanian symphonic works, was included in the World Music Days in Luxembourg in 2000. Onutė Narbutaitė's Melody in the Garden of Olives for symphony orchestra, performed in the World Music Days 2004 "Trans-it" in Switzerland, was highly commended at the Composers Rostrum in Paris. For this year's festival organized in association with Music Biennale Zagreb the board selected the scores by two young composers who have already achieved both national and international recognition. Marius Baranauskas' Talking for symphony orchestra won the Third Prize of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award last year, and Raminta Šerkšnytė's string quartet, Oriental Elegy, was acknowledged the best Lithuanian chamber composition in 2003.

As a subdivision of the Lithuanian Composers' Union, the ISCM Lithuanian Section is involved in the promotion of Lithuanian composers abroad and seeks to establish more contacts with other national sections of the ISCM by carrying out various exchange projects. In 2003-4 the Lithuanian-Canadian exchange project between the festival "Iš arti" (Kaunas) and Numus (Canada) was accomplished. With the aim to expand the geographical boundaries, a new exchange project with South Korea was launched this year; hopefully it will help build new cultural bridges with Far Eastern countries whose contemporary music is much less known in Lithuania than the music of European countries. In association with the Music Information and Publishing Centre, the ISCM Lithuanian Section has also undertaken a long-term project devoted to the revival of its founders' output. For the Vytautas Bacevičius' Centennial this September, a series of historical concerts devoted to the work of Bacevičius, Kačinskas, Jakubėnas and their contemporaries from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, France and other European countries is planned.

© Agnė Raguckaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 10