EVENTS. Lithuanian Music at the International Rostrum of Composers

The 54th International Rostrum of Composers was held in Paris on 5-9 June. This international forum of representatives of broadcasting organizations, who come together for the purpose of promoting contemporary music and drawing contemporary music experts’ attention to the less known composers, is organised by the International Music Council, with the assistance of Radio France and UNESCO.

Each year, the representatives of radio networks gather for the four-day record listening sessions, selecting the best works subsequently. Each featured country has up to 35 minutes to present its music.

Ugnė Giedraitytė

This year, the representatives from 33 national radio networks from four continents have presented a total of 64 works. For the fourth year in a row, Lithuania is successful in this radio broadcasters’ competition. In 2004, Onutė Narbutaitė’s Melody in the Garden of Olives for symphony orchestra became one of the favorites of the forum, and Marius Baranauskas’ symphonic opus Talking was successful in the “young composers under 30” category. In 2005, Raminta Šerkšnytė’s Vortex for ensemble was among the recommended works in both the general and “young composers” categories. Last year, the piece Terra tecta for cello and tape by Vytautas V. Jurgutis was among the three best works by young composers. This year, victory was celebrated by Ugnė Giedraitytė, the postgraduate student at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy, with her composition Panneau for clarinet and strings, which came second in the “young composers” category. All of them–Jurgutis, Šerkšnytė, Giedraitytė, and Latvian Martiņš Viļums, who was the winner at the Rostrum a couple of years ago, were taught by composer Osvaldas Balakauskas. It seems that the Lithuanian school of composition is gaining an undeniable recognition.

Even though the Lithuanian Radio participates in the forum from 1996, it took some time before Lithuanian music caught the eye of the other countries’ representatives. On the one hand, there are the established images of Lithuanian and Baltic music, which are not identical in reality. To many representatives that have little or no knowledge of the Lithuanian music, Lithuania appears inseparable from its northern neighbours Latvia and Estonia. In the maps of new music these territories are marked with the names of Pēteris Vasks, Arvo Pärt and Erkki-Sven Tüür. Unfortunately, no better known Lithuanian composer had managed to catch the last carriage of the dissident train, which would have pulled Lithuanian music out into more spacious political platforms and would have placed a stylistic mark of, say, Bronius Kutavičius or Osvaldas Balakauskas on the map of expanded Europe. I am certain that we would still be merrily travelling in that carriage, listening to something like successful wheel rattling of the Estonian ‘à la Pärt’ train. And it does not matter that the music of Helena Tulve, who advanced into the leading positions of new Estonian music, resembles the French spectral music tradition far more than Pärtian “tintinabuli”–the law of inertia still functions perfectly well. Although politically the Baltic States are perceived as a single economical-political-cultural region, Lithuanian music is much more related to the Polish musical tradition (influence of the Warsaw Autumn festival, decades lasting collaboration between the Lithuanian–Polish music communities). However, the historical neighbourhood factor (from the times of Rzeczpospolita–the Polish/Lithuanian commonwealth) does not work at the Rostrum. The Polish new music locomotive has whirled away long ago, ambitiously competing with calmly and securely (not to say leisurely) rolling German or French trains.

Naturally, when the Rostrum delegates, unaware of this context, were listening to the music of one of the Baltic ‘sisters’–Lithuania–a question of identity would be raised. What have they heard and what could they expect from Lithuanian music a decade ago? At that time, the Rostrum was dominated by masterfully composed, ‘well wrought’ works: energetic, kinetic music, often clearly representing some avant-garde or post avant-garde school. Lithuanian pieces, with their characteristic lyricism and inherent wistfulness or resignation, rejected such technological acrobatics, and often remained outside the scope of the experienced radio representatives’ interests. I would not like the reader to think that Lithuanian composers were illiterate or behind the newest musical trends. The truth is that the Soviet isolation had created a different cultural context, and composers of Lithuania, as well as the other Eastern European countries, have felt and created their music slightly differently from their colleagues in Paris or Stuttgart. Therefore, the Rostrum representatives continued to see Lithuanian music as one of the following: being slightly ‘Shostakovich-like’, still stumbling over the outdated minimalism, overly plaintive, or simply unconventional. In short, the Rostrum oldtimers’ attitudes towards the newcomers’ music presented at the forum were quite reserved.

During that decade, both the Lithuanian musical panorama and the values of Rostrum have changed. A new generation of composers emerged, who, along with their contemporaries from other countries, participate in the same master classes and forums. They perceive their works within an international, rather than national, context. Nevertheless, the Lithuanian character is still present in their scores–either musical, related to a school or tradition, or more general, associated with national archetypes. I would consider this to be the recipe for success in case of the works by Jurgutis, Šerkšnytė, Baranauskas and Giedraitytė: a touch of national fl avour within the contemporary international context. And sure, we should not leave the talent out.

On the other hand, different values have developed at the Rostrum during the last decade, which was related to a broadened cultural and political horizon. Wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq, the 9/11 attacks, globalisation, and many other issues of the present day are changing the world, evoking new ideas of ‘salvation’ and directing the humanist and creative thought towards more idealistic goals. This is also evidenced by the transformations of musical preferences that are refl ected by the Rostrum’s selection results. In 1999, Onutė Narbutaitė’s Sinfonia col triangolo did not attract much of the delegates’ attention, while a similarly styled meditative and elegiac Melody in the Garden of Olives scored enough points to get to the second position in 2004. Another good example–poetic choral opuses by Latvian composers that are taking the lead for two successive years. Ten years ago, choral music would have sounded as a total anachronism at the Rostrum. Is this music a more refreshing artistic stream?

It is a paradox, but some of the Western countries, with their longstanding musical traditions and tremendous diversity of national music, sometimes present works by foreign composers. Although the idea behind Rostrum is to promote national music, search for new talents and exchange information and recordings, the competitive aspect has obviously become more prominent. So, what is more important then, giving a chance to the country’s own composers or looking for a potential winner somewhere else? While smaller countries search for the most idiosyncratic pieces amidst the new works by the several dozens of national composers, the Austrians and the French are looking for the winner elsewhere, bypassing thousands of composers in their own countries. I would like to think that Rostrum will remain a musical forum instead of transforming into a competition of radio networks, where the bigger and the richer are destined to win.

© Jūratė Katinaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 15


Onutė Narbutaitė. Melody in the Garden of Olives for symphony orchestra (2001)
Marius Baranauskas. Talking for symphony orchestra (2002)
Raminta Šerkšnytė. Vortex for violin and large ensemble (2004)
Vytautas V. Jurgutis. Terra tecta for cello and tape (2004)
Ugnė Giedraitytė. Panneau for clarinet and strings (2006)