Vidmantas Bartulis Marks His Way with Premieres

Vidmantas Bartulis' deftness in embodying his ideas into large format works reached an unparalleled tempo this year. After his first Symphony No. 1 (1980), large-scale opuses have flowed from his pen more frequently and with greater ease - the accepted five-year intervals of bygone days have unexpectedly narrowed. It seems impossible to compose any more efficiently - this year Bartulis' works have premiered (and will premiere) almost every month. Varied in genre and scale, they are unanimously well received both in the capital and in resort towns like Palanga and Druskininkai, even though the author himself continues to tease his listeners by not revealing what in his music is and is not so very serious - other than perhaps when he writes for the sacred venues. There without exception he creates an atmosphere of dark tones which have the power to send one into the depths of existential query. Such for example, is his Garden, dedicated to the Church of St. George of the Kaunas Franciscan Monastery (Pažaislis Festival, July 23, cellist David Geringas, Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Kaunas State Choir, cond. Juozas Domarkas). With the help of words by the French symbolist Arthur Rimbaud and the modern-day French playwright Jean-Luc Lagarce, the composer divides his opus into two spheres: that of foggy sensations and dreams, and that of concrete experiences manifesting themselves in the comprehension that death is inevitable. A woefully melodic soloist - David Geringas' electric cello - counters baroque-like stern choral intervals (reminiscent of Bach's passions) with romantic idiom, while a stream of Vivaldi/Bartulis-like harmonies briefly brings some slight glimmer of light.

It would appear that similar notions - youth, searching, art, love, death - beset the composer whilst he was writing an oratorio The Way for choir, saxophone, and percussion (premiere - Druskininkai Summer with M. K. Čiurlionis Festival, Sept. 20, Jauna Muzika choir, saxophonist Petras Vyšniauskas, percussionist Arkady Gotesman). The Way is seen as a metaphor for life, and the chosen traveller is the dramatic personality of the artist and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. The connection with the artist is both musical and literary-biographical; the author follows hundred year-old footsteps and attempts to blow the dust of time from the distant history of one person's life. According to the composer, this is not a purely musical work, rather it is a theatrical performance given authenticity by reviews in the period newspapers of exhibitions of Čiurlionis' paintings, letters to his beloved wife Sofija, and literary extracts. Musical allusions come in the form of repeated 'diluted' harmonic passages from Čiurlionis' harmonized Lithuanian folk song. Bartulis uses a recording of train sounds which clash with Čiurlionis' adored Prelude in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach (albeit not easily recognizable, for the string quartet performs it in minor) to emphasize the feeling of space and atmosphere. Fragments of borrowed music painstakingly inserted into Bartulis' own medium take root and thrive therein. The composer 'infuses' the diatonic in his new Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra with the melody of the old hymn Let Us Kneel by the rev. Antanas Strazdas; known to all Lithuanians, this fragment should sound especially symbolic within the non-contrasting movement. The premiere of this Concerto at the "Iš arti" festival will be performed on Nov. 12 by violinists Vilhelmas Čepinskis and Pavel Berman together with the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robertas Šervenikas; The Way is also programmed for this festival.

photo: Mikhail Rashkovsky

Vidmantas Bartulis' musical world is not limited to concert music. Having composed music for theatre and film, this summer he wrote the soundtrack for the 1913 silent film Fantomas - A l'ombre de la guillotine (dir. Louis Feuillade). Screened at the "Tinklai" short film festival in August, the film was accompanied live by the Camerata Klaipeda string orchestra under Vilhelmas Čepinskis, and including voice and strange sound effects performed on stage by the composer himself and by the pop musician Andrius Mamontovas. Here as in many of his works, Bartulis plays and improvises, but does not dramatize or parody - he simply watches and smiles leniently.

© Eglė Grigaliūnaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 11