Robertas Šervenikas: the Chief Executant of the New Lithuanian Symphonic Repertoire

photo: Dmitry Matveyev

A decade ago the conductor Robertas Šervenikas had not the faintest inkling of what role new music was going to play in his professional life. At that time, having completed his conducting studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (under Tatiana Khitrova and Prof. Viktor Fedotov), the young conductor returned to Vilnius; before long the head of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Juozas Domarkas, offered him to conduct Julius Juzeliūnas' portrait concert. It was followed by the performance of Osvaldas Balakauskas' Symphony No. 2, as well as by the premieres of Bronius Kutavičius, Algirdas Martinaitis and Vidmantas Bartulis. For the young conductor nurtured by the great tradition of classical and Romantic music, it was an avalanche of completely new information. The music, which had not captured his attention during his studies, attracted him piece by piece. Today Robertas Šervenikas is a conductor midwifing probably the most new symphonic works by Lithuanian composers. In the consciousness of his listeners being inseparable from the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, of which he is currently the second conductor, and not easily dissociated from the Great Hall of the National Philharmonic Society, he shares his time among a number of other orchestras and chamber ensembles both in Lithuania and abroad as a free-lancing guest conductor and the chief conductor of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. Each year an extensive repertoire of classical music conducted by him is expanded by the premieres of new Lithuanian works showcased in such major annual music events as "Gaida", "Vilnius Festival", "Iš arti", "Marių klavyrai", or during the regular concert season of the National Philharmonic Society.

The process of work on the scores is most often followed by the conductor's lively contact with the composers. His initiatives do not remain unrequited – once being born, the friendship between the conductor and a composer does not cease and renew each time when getting ready for a premiere. Almost all the names of the Lithuanian orchestra composers should be enumerated for evidence, including both the youngest ones, such as Raminta Šerkšnytė, and the well-established ones, among which Onutė Narbutaitė, Algirdas Martinaitis and Anatolijus Šenderovas occupy a prominent place in Šervenikas' repertoire. The conductor's popularity with Lithuanian composers also results from his talent to handle large-scale forms. Critics often distinguish his ability both to consistently present overall concept and to point up smaller details of the score.

The way Šervenikas lightens the Wagnerian density of texture, punctuates transitions and electrifies the development till the last highly tense outbreak, reveals his truly international class. No less than the fact how the orchestra follows him with great attention, combines passion with professional precision (...) and in the literal sense is inundated with ideas under his authoritative leadership.
Isabel Herzfeld, Der Tagesspiegel, 2002

This spring has a promise of new experience in store for Šervenikas. On April 16, the premiere of Sefer Zikaron (The Book of Memory) for soloists, choir and orchestra by Algirdas Martinaitis, which is going to take place at the National Philharmonic Society, will finish the symphonic trilogy by this composer, whose first part – Pieta – was conducted by Šervenikas for the first time at the Vilnius Festival in 1998. The time span between the first and the last parts of this trilogy was filled with other significant Martinaitis' works brought to life by Šervenikas' wand: Musikalisches Opfer, concerto for tenor, flute, oboe, harpsichord and strings (2000), Eurassic Park, concerto for violin and orchestra (2002), and the particularly successful (though not a premiere) presentation of his Unfinished Symphony (1995) at the young.euro.classic festival, Berlin, in 2003.

On May 22 Šervenikas, so far familiar only with classical ballet, is going to conduct the premiere of Anatolijus Šenderovas' new ballet Desdemona commissioned by the Vilnius Festival 2005. Both musicians collaborate since 1997, when the success of his oratorio Shma Israel encouraged Šenderovas to entrust all his other symphonic premieres to Šervenikas. His Concerto in Do, premiered by Šervenikas at the helm of the Youth Orchestra of the Lithuanian Academy of Music with the cellist David Geringas as a soloist, was favourably received, in 2002, both in Germany (young.euro.classic, Berlin) and Lithuania (Gaida Festival, Vilnius).

About the same time the conductor's collaboration with Onutė Narbutaitė also began from the oratorio, which contributed greatly to her success: for her first opus magnus, Centones meae urbi (1997), she received the Lithuanian National Award. Her Symphony No. 2 (2002), dedicated to Šervenikas, made the cover for the highly acclaimed release of her symphonic works on Finlandia Records. The second part of the symphony, Melody in the Garden of Olives, became one of the most internationally performed recent Lithuanian works: in 2002, the audiences admired it at the young.euro.classic in Berlin (along with Šenderovas' premiere), and in 2004 its recording under Šervenikas' conducting enraptured radio producers at the 51st International Composers Rostrum in Paris, winning her the first place on the list of recommended works. In the same year, Šervenikas' "inspired and firm" conducting of the "Aidija" chamber choir, the great choir of the Singing Academy of Frankfurt an der Oder and Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester, opened the Musikfesttage an der Oder with the premiere of her monumental cycle of three symphonies, Tres Dei Matris Symphoniae. This work was hailed the best Lithuanian symphonic work of 2004.

Šervenikas is not inclined to limit himself to the well-known music: "I find it more interesting to look for what has never been performed, or what has been performed long ago". On September 16-17, 2005, he will have a chance to connect both things together: at concerts dedicated to Vytautas Bacevičius' Centennial, the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra under Šervenikas is going to recover from oblivion some long-forgotten scores, and will present several historical premieres.

© Eglė Grigaliūnaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 10