PERFORMER'S SPOTLIGHT. The Disobedient Ensemble Nurtures Disobedience to the Routine

In 2005, a new musical event was launched in Lithuania–the International Chamber Music and Ecology Festival The Land of the Disobedient, organised by an adventurous international team of seven musicians: Mia Cooper (violin, UK), Andrius Radziukynas (flute), Roger Arve Vigulf (clarinet, Norway), Robertas Bliškevičius (viola), Mindaugas Bačkus (cello), and Sonata and Rokas Zubovas (piano). Gathered in Neringa, the Lithuania’s most popular holiday resort, for the festival’s first edition, the performers have presented their audiences with eight programmes and a number of fascinating premieres. They eventually got so deeply involved into creative searching for ways to expand the traditions of chamber music-making that they soon became a frequently touring group, named The Disobedient Ensemble. One of the featured composers, Arvydas Malcys, with his piece The Land of the Disobedient, might be regarded as the godfather of the ensemble and the festival.

The Disobedient Ensemble continues to be the nucleus of the festival that has existed for three years by now, presenting several original programmes each year. The festival encompasses several thematic programmes of musical works along with environmental actions and open-air creative workshops (where sculptures are composed of litter collected at the beach, birds are ‘moulded’ out of waste, and children draw pictures focused on environment protection, etc). “Through environmental campaigns we strive to provoke a free determination in everyone to do something that would make our earth cleaner; thus, in a way, we are cultivating certain public spirit. And we see music as the most beautiful ecology of the spirit. We present it slightly unconventionally, in a way that more people could feel its cleansing power,” says Rokas Zubovas. The ensemble adopted the concept of ‘disobedience’ from the title of Malcys’ piece to refer to their disobedience to the routine, stubborn traditions, stereotypes of presentation. “We simply transfer this kind of disobedience into the sphere of music and creative expression,” describe the members of The Disobedient Ensemble their shared vision.

One of the areas of activity that unite the ‘disobedient’ members and prevent them from getting stagnant is their interest in contemporary music. Another important unifying factor is a belief that the music played in concerts is more significant than the musician’s name and reputation. The ensemble strives to put together versatile programmes, so that every time the listeners would discover something new and would hear different pieces that they might have never heard before. “When selecting a repertoire for every festival, we try to think of versatile and innovative programmes that would be unified by certain literary, philosophic or merely affective ideas. That is why our programmes involve so many genres and styles. We play academic chamber music, yet we also lean towards jazz or theatre projects, involving video artworks and other interesting polystylistic combinations.”

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Disobedient Ensemble plans their programmes well in advance, but implements them very quickly, since all members gather for the purpose just before the festival. “We are an independent ensemble, each of us has other performances or jobs, so we simply have no chance to just sit, work out the programmes and continually perform them.” In spite of this, the Disobedient Ensemble has already assembled a repertoire of 22 programs covering music of diverse genres and styles–ranging from Lithuanian and foreign classics to contemporary composers; from academic music to jazz and Chick Corea’s compositions bordering on classical music; from polystylistic programmes involving some theatrical elements (e.g. the programme Letters to the Distant Star, combining Edvard Grieg’s incidental music for Henrik Ibsen’s drama Peer Gynt with readings of Solveig’s Letters to Peer by Latvian poetess Arija Elksne) to the most lamentable musical comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream produced in collaboration with theatre director Ramunė Kudzmanaitė (based on the text by William Shakespeare and using music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy)–the latter play was performed in Lithuanian and, specifically for the tour in Kaliningrad, in Russian).

The Ensemble is particularly active in promoting contemporary Lithuanian music, driven by the necessity of forming the tradition of its interpretation: “Presumably, musical culture is alive only because certain performance tradition engenders within it. But in order for such tradition to emerge, the musical pieces must be performed more than once. When we listen to Bronius KutavičiusDzūkian Variations, we may begin comparing its performances by, say, Kaunas or Klaipėda chamber orchestras, discuss the differences of those interpretations and go deep into detail. Thus, we begin analysing the work as a tradition. Meanwhile, when the piece gets performed only once, all we can say is “that’s nice” or “that’s awful,” or we may note what is new and what is not, and that is about all. One of the objectives of The Disobedient Ensemble, apart from presenting the premieres, is to ‘weave’ earlier works by Lithuanian composers, which haven’t been performed for a long time, into thematic programmes.”

The Disobedient Ensemble also attempts to revive the much earlier Lithuanian repertoire, thus it does not eschew transcribing the pieces by Lithuanian and foreign composers and adapting them for their ensemble. All this is done to achieve their supreme goal: to bring the music that seems of interest to them out of the drawers to the audiences and arouse renewed interest in the listeners. After flexibly adjusting the works for the ensemble’s line-up or leaving them the way the authors devised, the Disobedient Ensemble eagerly plays the music of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Bronius Kutavičius, Vidmantas Bartulis, Algirdas Klova, Vytautas Laurušas, Osvaldas Balakauskas, Algirdas Martinaitis, Linas Rimša, Jurgis Juozapaitis, Onutė Narbutaitė, Loreta Narvilaitė, Zita Bružaitė, Arvydas Malcys and other Lithuanian composers.

Their programs are always accompanied by commentaries about the featured pieces (usually in two languages, Lithuanian and English), and the ensemble’s members do not avoid discussing the newly performed works with the audience after the concerts. In this way, not only the audience, but also the guest musicians playing together in the festival get interested in such new pieces. This educational aspect is yet another pursuit of The Disobedient Ensemble. Some Lithuanian music is played not only by the congenial old-timers, violinist Mia Cooper and clarinetist Roger Arve Vigulf, but also by the British cellist Tom Collingwood and the American pianist Craig W. Combs who have participated in The Land of the Disobedient Festival this year.

Their flexibility and genuine musicianship, the ability to approach serious matters lightly, without a customary shadow of gloom, and to speak out bitter truths with a grain of humour, their bold acceptance of novelties and ventures into unexplored stylistic spaces probably determined the confidence of both the new colleagues joining the ensemble and the composers who take up proposals to write pieces for The Land of the Disobedient Festival. Composers Zita Bružaitė (Dance in Re(d)) and Gintaras Sodeika (Bufa marinus) wrote works specifically for the first edition of the festival. In the second festival, after discovering the inclinations of The Disobedient Ensemble towards theatre and jazz, Algirdas Martinaitis wrote Eros | Thanatos, containing obvious theatrical elements, and Osvaldas Balakauskas composed Combo Zed, transfused with the spirit of jazz. For the third festival, responding to Vigulf’s desire to add to his repertoire a Lithuanian composer’s piece that would assist in revealing the specific ways of producing clarinet sound, the festival’s ‘godfather,’ Arvydas Malcys, composed a new opus, and his Scherzo for clarinet and chamber orchestra was performed at the opening of the festival. Vigulf writes for The Disobedient Ensemble himself, and two of his works have already been premiered at the festival.

Some of the programmes performed at The Land of the Disobedient Festival quickly attract attention and receive invitations from other festivals and concert organisations. For example, Klaipėda Concert Hall and Pažaislis Music Festival make advance prospects as to how The Disobedient Ensemble could attract their audience. In spring 2007, the programme “Premieres” (composed of works by Algirdas Martinaitis, Osvaldas Balakauskas, Linas Rimša, Arvydas Malcys and Roger Arve Vigulf) was performed at the Oslo Philharmonic Hall in Norway and at the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Hall. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was especially popular both in different Lithuanian cities and in Kaliningrad. The pursuit of The Disobedient Ensemble to enrich the chamber music traditions with daring projects found warm welcome abroad, just as it did in Lithuania. The Kaliningrad Philharmonic invited the ensemble to perform another four programs (including music by Lithuanian composers) during the coming season; it is also planned to arrange a presentation of Lithuanian music in the USA, and another concert tour to Norway is on its way.

Meanwhile, The Disobedient Ensemble is focused on two major music and theatre projects: a new play based on the theme of Peer Gynt, produced together with theatre director Valentinas Masalskis, and an entirely new dramatic musical piece based on Lithuanian folk tales, produced together with the composer Nijolė Sinkevičiūtė. Besides these projects, the ensemble is putting together a programme dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, meant to be performed at the Gaida Festival. A new piece for this programme is being written by Žibuoklė Martinaitytė.

© Skirmantė Valiulytė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 15


Zita Bružaitė. Dance in Re(d) for flute, clarinet, cello and piano (2005)

Gintaras Sodeika. Bufa marinus techno dream-track for flute, violin, cello and piano four hands (2005)

Algirdas Martinaitis. Eros | Thanatos for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano four hands (2006)

Osvaldas Balakauskas. Combo Zed for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano (2 pianists) (2006)

Roger Arve Vigulf. 7 Disobedient Birds for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano (2006)

Roger Arve Vigulf. ...a tear is falling from my face... for alto flute, bass clarinet, violin, viola and cello (2007)

Arvydas Malcys. Scherzo for clarinet and chamber orchestra (2007)