FEATURE. Anatolijus Šenderovas: The Music is Alive

“The music does not reflect life – it is alive by itself. As soon as you discover a theme, it becomes your independent partner. What will be the structure of the work, its form and ending – most often it is the music that suggests me the answers to these questions, not vice versa. Whenever I try to tame it, there is an extended fight, as the music appears to be trying to shed any extraneous, imposed element. And then you sense that it all doesn’t ‘stick together,’ and you seek and try again and eventually submit to its natural flow,” says Anatolijus Šenderovas, as if personifying his creative yields. And indeed, the flexible, volatile and expressive musical stream does not seem to conform to his individual composing technique, but rather appears to be following something universal, which thrusts each drama and narrative towards the climax and outcome.

photo: Dmitry Matveyev

Certain basic principles of dramatic development recur in many of Šenderovas’ works: for instance, the contrast-based development, culmination at the end and a lucid lyric epilogue. Yet one rhetoric model might be as comprehensive as the variety of musical forms, such as the compound ternary form or the sonata-allegro form, which used to reveal the myriad aspects of human being’s inner life, philosophy and worldview. Similarly, in Šenderovas’ works, those ‘forms’ that are not strictly defined and yet bear certain affinity are every time filled with new, unique experiences.

The emotional colouring of music in Šenderovas’ works expands beyond the mere plane of musical text (notation). ‘Live’ music assumes its complete and true shape only after it has been unfolded by the performer. The composer maintains a close relationship with the musicians and tends to compose for particular personalities, rather than instruments: for example, the Bayan Concerto ...ad astra dedicated to Geir Draugsvoll; David’s Song and Concerto in Do inspired by the talent of cellist David Geringas; or a Guitar Concerto composed for Reinbert Evers. Every performer provides an impulse for the new work, and the knowledge of the performer’s characteristic traits allows the composer to provide space for his/her self-expression. At the same time, this ensures a compelling artistic result that would remain in the interpretations by other personalities.

For example, the Concerto for guitar and string orchestra (to be performed by Reinbert Evers and the Toscana Symphony Orchestra for the Perugian audience in July this year) was written to serve both the concert and pedagogic practice of Professor Evers. The leit-harmony of the piece is the chord on open strings. Such solution makes the concerto not only technically convenient for the soloist, but also emphasises its ‘guitar character.’

Whereas the works written for David Geringas – such as the David’s Song, Concerto in Do, or the version of the Songs of Shulamith for cello (all three works have been recently performed in different cities of Italy and Poland) – are distinguished for their expressiveness and vivid part of the soloist. Cooperation with Geringas lures to overuse the virtuosity of the performer, but Anatolijus Šenderovas claims to have resisted this temptation. Geringas’ versatility, sensitivity and commitment to the interpretation of musical works have captivated many composers. Geringas-Šenderovas musical partnership began in 1972 and since became the subject for many eminently inspired opuses.

Not so long ago, the composer became acquainted with one of the most prominent bayan virtuosos, Norwegian Geir Draugsvoll, for whom he wrote a concerto. Geir Draugsvoll’s remarkable knowledge of the bayan’s potential and various playing techniques inspired the composer to discover a way to make this instrument speak, without using its everyday musical vocabulary: “When we hear the word ‘bayan,’ our consciousness immediately switches to an associative thinking. While working on the concerto, first of all I tried to distance myself from all those associative clichés that accompany its timbre.” The Bayan Concerto was written at the commission of the Deventer Accordion Festival (Holland) and the piece was successfully premiered in two Dutch cities in February 2008 by Geir Draugsvoll and the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra (Orkest van het Oosten) under Vasily Petrenko. The concerto sounds like a monologue of a solo instrument, at times interrupted by orchestral ‘remarks,’ from which a threatening and hostile power gradually emerges.

...a very expressive, picturesque and almost tangible work, with musical contrasts as sharp as a knife. (...) fascinating, absorbing dialogues between the orchestra and the soloist, from whom the timbre of the accordion was combined in a very special way, with specific instrumentations in the orchestral passages. (...) The wholeness was superexciting.

De Twentsche Courant Tubantia, 9 February 2008

The title of the piece ...ad astra (...“to the stars”) omits the first part of the sentence – per aspera (“through hardships”). The composer did not wish to emphasise hardship or suffering. To name that hostile power a hardship would mean providing a certain plot – an excessively obvious programme direction. Even though the music alludes to certain images, Šenderovas avoids programmatic quality. He says the plot narrows the field of possible interpretations and his music is “not about something”: “If everything could be said in words, why would one need the notes.” A famous (although rarely performed) piece Exodus, recently re-arranged for percussion and symphony orchestra, which will be performed in Hradec Králové (the Czech Republic) on November 12, has little to do with representation or retelling of biblical events. Woven from aleatoric lines, this opus might be treated as an emotional summary of the human journey, quest and pursuit.

Once again, the key inspiration for this opus came from the performer’s personality – this time it was the percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. This performer possesses a unique talent for improvisation in performing aleatoric works, and the aleatory (employed extensively in the Exodus) is among Šenderovas’ most favourite techniques. Aware of the jazz musician’s creativity, the composer determined the compositional framework with deliberation, so that the music in the hands of Tarasov’s would retain its ‘Šenderovian’ character. And yet, no two versions of Exodus will ever sound the same – the “live” music is changeable and scorching like flames in the fire: sometimes blazing and sometimes glowing under the ashes.

While working with the performers, Šenderovas always emphasises this volatility and diversity of interpretations: the tempo and character of a performance might be affected by that day’s weather, performer’s inner disposition, season of the year, etc. Even during the rehearsals the musicians are sometimes puzzled by contradictory recommendations, until they realise the extent of freedom and space left for their creative will. Irregularity, negation of clichés and automatism is encoded within the narratives of Šenderovas’ works: aleatoric lines of the ametric episodes can be repeated horizontally, but they will never form same combinations twice in the vertical arrangement (similar to some works by Witold Lutosławski). His music may be re-arranged several times (for example, more than a dozen of versions of Songs of Shulamith exist); it may be performed by different or the same performers. But on another day and under different conditions – it keeps changing, as does everything that is alive. And the key factor for such vitality of music lies in its regular presence on stage. The geography of this year’s performances of Šenderovas’ works ranges throughout Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Denmark and Norway. After being released from the hands of the composer, the music continues its independent existence, journeying from one performer to another, visiting festivals and being spread through recordings – gripping the public’s attention with its changeful spontaneous passion.

© Laima Slepkovaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 16