Raminta Šerkšnytė in the Vortex of Natural Cycles

photo: Dmitry Matveyev

Success is crouching after Raminta Šerkšnytė in gentle, yet reassuring leaps. "I strongly suspect that if you intensely generate certain ideas, you will sooner or later get the chance to fulfil them in a chain of seemingly unconnected events. When it comes to, say, 'market demand' for new compositions, this demand can sometimes seem to surprisingly adjust to your needs," says Raminta Šerkšnytė who will not wait long to make several of her ideas come true during this half-year.

As easygoing as this may sound, Raminta Šerkšnytė is not a starry-eyed youth who takes on everything what turns up on her path. Her first large-scale contribution to the symphonic repertoire, Iceberg Symphony (2000), shows her ambitions to master the sound material at hand and the great Western tradition in stock being very serious and well conducted. With this composition she declared her outspoken predilection for romantic expression, melodic writing, vivid programmatic imagery, and unrestrainedly massive, varicoloured palette of orchestral sound, while her harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary still betrayed certain ties with Balakauskas' school conspicuous in the use of jazzy dotted or syncopated figures and clusters of repeated minor and major thirds reminiscent of minimalism. In this thrilling 14-minute marine soundscape depicting an ice mountain plunging and floating in the boundless ocean, certain reflexes of the great romantic tone painters (Strauss, Sibelius, for starters) and Debussy (La mer) are flashing every now and then on Šerkšnytė's tightly woven contrapuntal background and on the crests of her smashingly powerful dynamic waves.

"Ever since writing my first symphony, I dreamt of depicting this image of a mountain in other contexts as well," Šerkšnytė reveals. "A cycle of three symphonic tableaux formed in my mind that would unite all four basic elements of nature – earth (mountain), water, air and fire. My second symphony will be called Mountains in the Mist." A chance to implement this concept was provided by the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, which selected her piece for the final round of the 5th Nordic Composers Workshop. Between May 17 and 21 this piece will be premiered at the Stavanger Konserthus and recorded by the orchestra under Christian Eggen.

"The maximum creativity is in nature" – with this in mind, Raminta has repeatedly drawn inspiration from its inexhaustible plenitude of forms and sounds not only looking for evocative images but also for aural impressions. "When writing the Oriental Elegy, I tried to guess how the wind sounds, what is the intensity, frequency and speed of that sound. Although usually I try harmonies and rhythms on the piano, this time I drew curves, dots and various graphic signs straight on the sheets of the score. This allowed me to build an extensive vocabulary of various string playing techniques." On the other hand, this precipitated her move towards a more radical exploration of technical possibilities and experimentation with the extended string techniques. Even if the Oriental Elegy is not a dreadnought of the contemporary string quartet repertoire (but rather a gentle and finely chiselled etching) and can be crewed by various groups for occasional presentations (such as Zagreb String Quartet who will play the piece at the ISCM World Music Days/Music Biennale Zagreb on April 21, or Cassatt String Quartet who will show it at the New Paths in Music festival in New York on June 18), such exploration would ideally require a more prolonged collaboration with performers. Again, a chance will cater to composer's needs: the famous French composer Pascal Dusapin was captivated by Raminta's Oriental Elegy performed by the Chordos Quartet in his curated marathon "Europe in Music", a ten-concert series celebrating the expansion of the EU on May 1, 2004, and invited her to take part in the composition workshop of the Centre Acanthes 2005 in Metz. For two weeks in July she will work with the much-coveted Arditti Quartet to develop her new string quartet called Boreal Elegy. Šerkšnytė: "After writing the Oriental Elegy, I had many usable leftovers which I plan to put into use in the three forthcoming quartets – Boreal, Austral and Occidental elegies – that will make up a tetralogy devoted to the four parts of the world."

Her first collaboration with the quartet's first violin Irvine Arditti was in Vortex for violin solo and ensemble (2004), commissioned for the Klangspuren Schwaz and premiered last September by the Gaida Ensemble under Vykintas Baltakas.

Arditti also agreed to perform the solo part in Vortex and make a company for the Asko Ensemble which will compete for the Gaudeamus Prize during the Gaudeamus Music Week 2005. The spectacular technical capabilities of the violinist are put here on effective display by offering him his cup of tea – extended avant-garde techniques. While the ensemble is set against him, rotating in minimalistically repeated descending scales. The overall eerie atmosphere of the piece creates an image of a harrowing nightmare, in which the soloist is sleepwalking down the steps of Escher-like stairs, always leading to the point of departure, and desperately tries to escape his accumulating hysteria. The final strike of the triangle as if awakens him to reality and offers a way out. Šerkšnytė: "In my music there's always a tension between two contrasting elements. I can create neither tension, nor balance if I take only one. In the Iceberg Symphony and Vortex this contrast is very ostensible and sharp, whereas in the Oriental Elegy it is of microscopic dimensions – for example, between a sustained sound and silence."

Recently Raminta Šerkšnytė made a short digression from her technical explorations by writing less complicated music for the National Drama Theatre's production called "Saula" (directed by Valentinas Masalskis). It is a fairy tale for children and grownups about a woman who had wings and could soar above the weary lives of her family and her neighbours. Condemned for her otherness, she tried to save her wingless children by teaching them to fly. The outcome of this heart-rending story is not clear, but the music conveys the message very clearly in a cycle of songs based on Šerkšnytė's piano pieces for children. The composer herself mounted the stage to accompany the title character on keyboards, thus reinstating her former vocation as a pianist. Speaking about success, for this theatre production Raminta Šerkšnytė was awarded the Golden Stage Cross and named the best theatre composer of the season 2004-2005.

© Veronika Janatjeva

Lithuanian Music Link No. 10