PERFORMERS' SPOTLIGHT. Chordos String Quartet: a Reliable Creative Partner

Probably the most intellectual chamber music genre - the string quartet - has always been important in the Lithuanian musical culture. The quartets written by the end of the 19th century by the first Lithuanian classics, Juozas Naujalis or Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, are performed until present and treasured as brilliant examples of the Lithuanian professional music. The deep traditions of quartet music were especially developed during second half of the 20th century, when the then established Lithuanian, Vilnius, and Čiurlionis string quartets became the most professional creative lab for Lithuanian composers and a cradle for their original chamber pieces.

The Lithuanian musicians’ mastership was noticed in 1972, when the Vilnius String Quartet won the gold at the prestigious international festival in Liege, Belgium. Only those who lived through the years of the Soviet occupation can imagine the efforts it took to get through the iron curtain and outshine, for example, the ensembles from Moscow – the protégées of the state. Today the Vilnius String Quartet and Čiurlionis String Quartet boast a tight performance schedule and participation at European festivals, both ensembles are winners of the National Award for Culture and Arts. It could well be that their success inspired more string quartets to start performing in Lithuania.

photo: Darius Stabinskas

Ten years ago, in 1997, the new Chordos String Quartet was created, the then members of which - young performers Ieva Sipaitytė (1st violin), Eglė Jurašūnaitė (2nd violin), Robertas Bliškevičius (viola) and Darius Stabinskas (cello) – came into light full of original ideas and dedication to contemporary music. It also gave new inspiration to Lithuanian composers, who found like-minded partners and thus a certain guarantee of their works’ longevity. The idea to establish a quartet and perform the latest compositions came to cellist Darius Stabinskas (who is currently the artistic director of the early music ensemble Banchetto musicale as well as founder and mastermind of the Baltic Baroque Orchestra) and viola player Robertas Bliškevičius. Having tested their professionalism with quartets by Haydn and other classics, the performers opened the doors to the still unexplored world of modern music, which set a distinct direction for the Chordos repertoire.

The Chordos String Quartet in its current lineup - Ieva Sipaitytė (1st violin), Aidas Strimaitis (2nd violin), Robertas Bliškevičius (viola), Mindaugas Bačkus (cello) - soon began to play abroad. They performed works by Lithuanian and Swedish composers together with the Ars Nova quartet of Malmö in Sweden, played at the MaerzMusik festival in Berlin, appeared in Paris, Brussels, Strasbourg, and Moscow. In 2004, together with such celebrities as Arditti and Minguet quartets and the Frankfurt Ensemble of Contemporary Music, the Chordos string quartet performed three world premieres at the Klangspuren festival in Austria. Their renditions of Oriental Elegy by Raminta Šerkšnytė, Empfindung by Olga Raeva, a Russian-born German composer, and works by Austrian composers indicated that the quartet confidently joined the European elite of contemporary music performers.

The main mission of the Chordos String Quartet is undoubtedly the promotion of contemporary Lithuanian music. During its lifetime, the quartet performed numerous premieres of new works by Lithuanian composers, among which the most prominent are Death and the Maiden by Algirdas Martinaitis, A Fragment of the Hospital Park by Nomeda Valančiūtė, Oh, Darling by Vidmantas Bartulis, quartets by Onutė Narbutaitė, Anatolijus Šenderovas, Sans pause by Rytis Mažulis, and many others. To list all the new music that the quartet played with other colleagues (Gaida Ensemble, Nepaklusnieji, Vilnius Festival Orchestra) is virtually impossible.

One of the most important driving forces behind the present-day musical culture is active communication between the composers and the performers, a common creative process that includes the quest for new means of expression, editing of scores according to the quartet members’ requests, and modifying the very concept of the work during rehearsals. According to Robertas Bliškevičius, the composer and the performer may often approach a piece with different visions of the new opus, but in the process of working together they fi nd common ground. Performers find it important to correctly ‘read’ the author. Maybe that is the reason why even the youngest Lithuanian composers write music for string quartet or string quartet with additional instruments. With such reliable creative partners, they do not need to limit the field of their ideas and possibilities. Obviously, performers of contemporary music need not only superior skills, but also courage to break the established principles of performing and master extreme intellectual and physical situations (for example, when performing microtonal and microrhythmical pieces by Rytis Mažulis). Despite that, the members of the quartet, according to themselves, fall in love with every new piece as if it was the only one, deeply studying and re-approaching it. They can transmit the music to the audience only after fi nding a grain that ‘hooks’ all of them. It is defi nitely not for the hard work when handling the diffi cult material, but rather for the partners’ devotion that Rytis Mažulis dedicated his Sans pause to the Chordos. For the same reason, many composers write quartets with the performers of Chordos in mind.

Another important mission of a contemporary performer is to introduce the prominent present-day composers to the Lithuanian audiences. Participating in Lithuanian festivals Gaida, Jauna muzika, Marių klavyrai and Permainų muzika, the Chordos String Quartet performed a huge part of the newest music from abroad (from Latvia to the USA). Currently they are the only ones in Lithuania to play quartets by Morton Feldman, Gavin Bryars, George Crumb, György Ligeti and Magnus Lindberg. They are also the only string quartet that is completely ready for performing projects combining live and electronic music. Contemporary academic music projects are difficult not only in terms of required technical fi delity, but also in terms of what they require from the performer. The performers have to switch to a completely different order, the supremacy of the music material, and master complicated tests of rhythm, intonation and synchronisation.

Another extreme page of the Chordos repertoire will be opened at the upcoming Jauna muzika festival on the 20th and 28th of April, 2007. They have prepared several intriguing pieces: La noche de las noches by Ezequiel Viñao, Black Angels by George Crumb, Different Trains by Steve Reich and three Lithuanian premieres: Also sprach Balakauskas by Šarūnas Nakas for string quartet with electronics, a new deconstruction of the Čiurlionis’ String Quartet in the Antanas Jasenka’s & Antanas Kučinskas’ piece for quartet and live electronics titled Out of Čiurlionis, and an intriguing sound installation Breathing Music for string quartet and electronics by Justė Janulytė & Dovydas Klimavičius.

© Laimutė Ligeikaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 14