EVENTS. Velvet Curtain: Cracow-Lviv


In the year 2000, the Polish musicologist Andrzej Chłopecki suggested an excellent topic for the new music festival in Cracow, that year's European Capital of Culture – 'Aksamitna kurtyna' (Velvet Curtain). The aim of the festival was to draw the attention of European audience to the unique, still largely 'anonymous' Central and Eastern European new music, which had been developing behind the Iron Curtain separated from Western influences, and had acquired a singular sound typical solely of this region. In the wake of the 20th century, the phenomenon of this region’s music and culture in general was as if reconsidered (Martin Smolka, Onutė Narbutaitė, and Yuri Laniuk were commissioned to compose new works on themes related to their countries’ literature and culture), trying to answer the questions: can one talk about specific themes, sound, and rhetoric of the region’s music? Is it still separated from Western culture by a ‘velvet curtain’?

In October 2006, the idea of the ‘Velvet Curtain’ festival travels to West Ukraine, Lviv, and not surprisingly. Back in May 2004, the border of the European Union, having shifted much farther to the East, separated Ukraine from the rest of Europe with a velvet curtain. During the 15 years of independence, this huge region managed to build its statehood and develop a civil mentality (revealed by the ‘orange revolution’), ukrainise the mass media and culture (formerly Russian was the official language, just as in Belarus) – in a word, to make a huge step towards Western values, and Poland was a serious supporter of this movement. Besides, special relations tie the lands of Western Ukraine and South Poland, the so-called Galicia, which was a part of the Austrian Empire till 1918. Therefore, it is not surprising that the old cultural centre of Western Ukraine – Lviv – changed the name of its long-held new music festival from ‘Contrasts’ to ‘Velvet Curtain 2’, borrowing the name, idea, and programme concept from the former Galician capital Cracow.

The programme of the festival ‘Velvet Curtain 2’ in Lviv (October 8-15) is a representation of the musical landscape of a part of the Eastern Europe that stretches from Estonia to Georgia and Armenia through Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary, Russia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and perhaps a quest for some specific Eastern European spirituality and sound. Works by internationally famous composers traditionally associated with Eastern European culture (Giya Kancheli, Witold Lutosławski, Sofia Gubaidulina, Pēteris Vasks, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki) and outstanding local composers, as well as works by young composers, will be performed during the 13 concerts of the festival.

The opening concert of ‘Velvet Curtain 2’, held on October 8 at the Lviv Opera Theatre, begins with the Melody in the Garden of Olives by Onutė Narbutaitė (performed by the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Gabriel Chmura). This composition, hailed as a ‘charismatically melancholic hymn’ by renowned American musicologist Richard Taruskin in The New York Times review, appears to embody the nostalgic, somewhat mysterious, not yet fully discovered spirit of Eastern Europe. Along with Narbutaitė’s opus, the Concerto for cello and orchestra Simi by Giya Kancheli, the Concerto for cello and orchestra by the Ukrainian composer Miroslav Skorik, and the Third Symphony by Witold Lutosławski will be performed in the opening concert (soloist – Andrzej Bauer).

Along with Ukrainian and Polish compositions, Lithuanian music will be the most widely represented in the festival; that is probably determined by historical and cultural links, as well as active current contacts between Lithuanian and Polish composers and musicologists. In the concert dedicated to electroacoustic music on October 9, Terra tecta for cello and tape (2004) by one of the leading Lithuanian electronic music composers Vytautas V. Jurgutis will be performed. On October 10, the Silesian Quartet will play one of the most remarkable Lithuanian quartets – String Quartet No. 2 Anno cum tettigonia by Bronius Kutavičius, commissioned by Krzysztof Penderecki in the gloomy year of 1980 and premiered then in his festival in Lusławice.

Several concerts of the festival were proposed by the Western Lithuanian city Klaipėda, which maintains a friendly relationship with Lviv. On October 13, Requiem by Klaipėda-based composer Remigijus Šileika will be performed, while on October 14 a concert of Lithuanian music will be held at the Lviv Concert Hall, where Lithuanian soloists and the orchestra of Lviv Philharmony, conducted by Robertas Servenikas, will perform the Concerto for oboe, harpsichord and strings by Osvaldas Balakauskas, as well as I Like H. Berlioz for flute and strings by Vidmantas Bartulis, Opus lugubre for strings by Onutė Narbutaitė, and compositions by Western Lithuanian composers – the Concerto for piano and strings by Remigijus Šileika, Here Sings the Wind for oboe and strings by Loreta Narvilaitė, and Midnight for soprano and strings by Audronė Žigaitytė.

A meeting with the founder and head of the famous ECM label Manfred Eicher, who has made by far the greatest contribution to discovering Eastern and Central European composers and presenting them to the world, will be held during the festival.

Thus, the lifted velvet curtain may reveal a very diverse musical landscape, either predictably recognisable or, perhaps, an absolutely unexpected one.

© Beata Leščinska

Lithuanian Music Link No. 13

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