THEME. New [Re]Generation of Lithuanian Contemporary Music

From the biological perspective, a change of generations occurs approximately every 25 years. Thus, quite naturally, a new generation of Lithuanian composers emerged following 25 years after the debut of the ‘machinist’ generation (comprised of Ričardas Kabelis, Šarūnas Nakas, Rytis Mažulis, Gintaras Sodeika and Nomeda Valančiūtė). Of course, there has been a dozen of notable young composers, from Raminta Šerkšnytė, Vytautas V. Jurgutis and Marius Baranauskas to Egidija Medekšaitė, Justė Janulytė and Arturas Bumšteinas. Yet they have debuted individually, without producing a phenomenon of cultural generation and without forming a certain social entity. The new generation of composers that grew up in independent Lithuania, such as Rūta Vitkauskaitė (b. 1984), Albertas Navickas (b. 1986), Rita Mačiliūnaitė (b. 1985) and Mykolas Natalevičius (b. 1985), live in the intellectual and cultural environment of the Western world and they might be representing the first post-war Lithuanian music generation that synchronically fits into the torrent of global trends of the musical world, encompassing creation, practices of public activity or ideology.

In 2008, this generation has introduced itself to a wider circle of Lithuanian cultural community at the 1st short opera festival NOA (New Opera Action). Although they have also been quite active at other events, such as contemporary art festival Vilniaus Veidai (Faces of Vilnius) or the youth chamber music days Druskomanija, the debut at the said New Opera Action was perhaps the most significant event for this generation, encouraging further activity (series of performances at the festival was awarded the Best Stage Work prize at the annual awards of the Lithuanian Composers’ Union). Just a year later this generation has significantly activated the environment of Lithuanian academic music and filled its public space with various interdisciplinary festivals, education programmes and versatile projects, in a way resembling the actions and objectives of the New York based Bang on a Can group which attempted to eliminate the border between the highbrow and lowbrow culture, promoting the “jeans-and-tee-shirt informality” and seeking for new spaces and forms of concerts.

Collective Creative Platforms and Relationship Practices

First of all, this generation might be defined as a social artistic movement rather than a certain group promoting and cultivating a certain musical style. The kind of movement focussed on the collective creative practice (the platform for which it is building), interactive communication with other sound, visual, text and music performance artists, active participation in live performances of each others’ works and formation of ensembles, multi-level organisation of public events (similar to art groups of the 1950s to 1970s in the USA and Europe that were linked by common creative and practical interests). This strategy of action was characteristic to the said generation of ‘machinists’ as well, however, according to the young composers, nowadays it has become the duty and necessity of this generation. Indeed, the new generation has fully escaped any ivory towers and is actively migrating between the areas of academic, experimental, interdisciplinary and informal music.

from left to right: Albertas Navickas, Mykolas Natalevičius,

Rūta Vitkauskaitė, Rita Mačiliūnaitė

photo: Simona Biekšaitė

These composers represent the networked artist type and are involved in the activities of various organisations, movements and musical groups, often initiated by themselves. In 2005, Rūta Vitkauskaitė, Albertas Navickas and Rita Mačiliūnaitė, together with pianists Marija Grikevičiūtė and Marija Kalvelytė (later joined by stage designer Simona Biekšaitė, choreographer and director Marija Simona Šimulynaitė, poet Julius Žėkas and composers Mykolas Natalevičius and Sigitas Mickis) have founded a group of interdisciplinary manipulations Muzika yra labai svarbi (Music Is Very Important) where for each new project, a corresponding number of the word “very” is added to the name of the group (resulting in such collocations as Music Is Very Very Very Very Important). In 2006, Rūta Vitkauskaitė and Rita Mačiliūnaitė have formed an inter-genre, parody and digital lo-tech duo R&R Electronics; they describe their style as post-comedy, that is “when it is funny only to the authors.” Later the composers have joined Sintezija – a movement of different artists – as well as Operomanija – a creative group that also united artists with diverse backgrounds (poets and directors, choreographers and visual artists, singers and instrumentalists, stage designers and dancers), its key objective being the New Opera Action event taking place for the third time in the second half of March 2010.

These communicative-collaborative art platforms affect, supplement, direct, change and enrich the persons creating within their framework and often produce works, where the limits of authorship are no longer clearly defined (as in the programmes of R&R Electronics or in joint projects by Mykolas Natalevičius and poet Žilvinas Andriušis). On the other hand, the collective collaboration in no way hinders individual expression, yet it is through the group activities that the picture of this generation is formed and revealed.

Metastyle: a Style Beyond the Style

As if breaking down the arrow of modernist development of style, constructed by the musicologists in research of Lithuanian academic music (‘generation of neo-romantics’, ‘generation of machinists’), this new generation is fairly multifaceted and hard to squeeze into any single existing category of style, since it appears to cover many styles simultaneously or seems to exist in between, in some state of transition. Not only each one is different from the rest (nearly perfectly matching the four temperament types), but they are also quite eclectic individually. Works of these composers contain absurd multi-genre ‘suites’, sacred compositions in the style of ‘new simplicity’, contexts of experimental electronics and the academic ‘mainstream’ from contemporary music festivals, post-minimalist episodes, new-age style meditations or influences of ethnic music, clear traces of (American) experimental tradition and areas of Feldmanian ‘fetishist’ standstill, refined compositions to match the French taste or merely sentimentally beautiful melodies for sexy voice, as well as authentic gusts of individual musical language, etc. In other words, the music by Rūta Vitkauskaitė, Albertas Navickas, Rita Mačiliūnaitė and Mykolas Natalevičius synchronically coincides with the vivid tendency of the 21st century global music scene, described in a variety of names, like polystylism, eclecticism, pluralism, postmodernism or post-history, when the composer’s oeuvre (or individual pieces) represent an intersection of different genres, styles, media, materials, composing techniques and conceptual contents (it becomes important to choose and merge the elements, the interaction of which would produce a new artistic artefact). Some art historians even refer to the 21st century as an ‘epoch without style’. For instance, the BBC Music Magazine (October 2009) had published the opinions of ten composers (Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Nyman, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Henri Dutilleux, John Adams, James MacMillan, Jonathan Harvey, Julian Anderson, John Tavener and Roxanna Panufnik) concerning the trends of the academic music of recent years; all of them have expressed the same idea that the music of this century is too diverse and has no single style. Yet, if we were to regard an anti-art as an aspect of art (George Brecht), then the (poly-/un-) stylism is also a kind of style.

Magic Alchemy and Modern Chemistry

The musical relation between Rūta Vitkauskaitė and Albertas Navickas (they have graduated from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre with the MA in composition in 2009) might be described through metaphors of alchemy and chemistry (by the way, Albertas Navickas has also received the BA in biochemistry at Vilnius University the same year).

In her music Rūta Vitkauskaitė strives to grasp the fundamental matters, the primeval universality, as if looking for the ‘philosophical stone’ of the mythic musical substance. Her works show a highly powerful basis of irrational intuition, hard to describe soundscapes resembling archetypes – the shapes of the collective unconscious. The composer often combines the language of contemporary academic music, elements of ethnic and ritual music of different cultures (African tribes, shamans of the North, Georgians, Arabs and Jews, or the Lithuanian laments), or the sounds of experimental electronics. Her eccentric works often resemble natural forces, seemingly unorganised and chaotic formations, sticking together into a highly dynamic, vital and unpredictable whole, always generating an active emotion. The symbolistic operas by Rūta Vitkauskaitė represent many idiosyncratic traits of her oeuvre. The composer conveys the feminine fight that occurs in a dream (subconsciousness) in the opera Džuljeta ir Džuljeta (Juliet and Juliet, 2008) through creation of imaginary archaic rituals of the mythological Amazons. Whereas the most memorable character Jonas from the opera Skylė (The Hole, 2009) might well serve as the best example of the author’s bricollage creations. It is a postmodern fusion of high and low art: the classical ballet dancer (feeling a taste of the opera singing) with distorted electric guitar and the stance of a rock star, communicating with his (pre-recorded) other “I”, undergoing radical transformations on stage over the short time (from lost infantile, hysterical scum, cold dictator to a pervert at a climax of an intercourse).

Well-reasoned compositions by Albertas Navickas reflect totally different thinking, being closely related to the rational modernist paradigm of European culture. The foundation of works by this author and the condition of existence of his music lies in the complex of ideas, which is not formalistic but subjective, ‘alive’, purposefully functioning and growing like a ‘thinking organism’. For example, the idea for his MA work Iconic for symphony orchestra (2009) was prompted by the compositional principle of ‘atomic fragmentation’ found in Salvador Dalí’s painting Exploding Raphaelesque Head, where the ‘atoms’ of the exploded head of Raphael’s Madonna gravitate in spiral forming a shape of hers that is still recognisable; Iconic focuses on this relationship between the fragment and the whole, the ‘simultaneous impossibility of detailed and overall view’. The composer follows the categories of refined taste and style, therefore the post-modern kitsch, pastiche and provocative crossing of meanings are alien to him. In fact, the idiom, sound and aesthetics of Albertas Navickas’ music remind of the forms of French culture (from impressionism, to authors heavily influenced by French music, such as Kaija Saariaho). His music of serene melancholy is supple, pastel, nuanced, formed of transparent textures and subtle dynamics, with specific acoustic colouring; it is a music of a single state (be it a chamber miniature or an opera), which spreads like an aroma and is slightly intoxicating. Albertas Navickas’ operas Sesuo (Sister, 2008) and Kitos Trys Seserys (Other Three Sisters, 2009) resemble an introspective psychology session. These operas tell about women, who have undergone ‘something very important’, however, the complex psychic experiences that take place in the inner world of the subject are nearly invisible on the outside. Here is no radical theatre of voice, but rather a paratonal narrative singing close to natural voice, which unfolds within the context of chamber, chiselled, subdued and fragmented sounds.

Fantastic Idyll and Authentic Duality

Compared to other composers of this generation, the style of academic works of Rita Mačiliūnaitė is most homogeneous and consistent (this applies specifically to academic music, since at the same time she is producing radically different, daring and eccentric interdisciplinary projects with R&R Electronics). The former part of her oeuvre unfolds in the field of atmospheric, unobtrusive, sleek and hypnotic sounds, where the interaction of ambient music genres, repetitive techniques and the ‘new simplicity’ (or ‘new consonance’, ‘new melodiousness’) takes place. Her ‘intuitively born’ works are often assembled from quavering and rustling of strings, blasts of ‘ornithological’ (exotic) woodwinds and onomatopoeic electronic sounds. The music of Rita Mačiliūnaitė creates an image of natural idyl that is non-existent in reality; the composer says she was pursuing ‘fragility and transparency’, trying to discover the traces of sounds and mark the contours of shadows. Similar to many other composers of her generation, the plots of Mačiliūnaitė’s operas are abstract and conceptual, expressing a certain idea (or a complex thereof) rather than a specific life situation (this tendency is surely encouraged by the poets collaborating with composers). Her duo opera for male voice and female body Dviskaita (The Dual, 2008) might be regarded as a certain variety of post-minimalist music (episodes of pulsating rhythm, repetition of short structures, paratonal atmosphere, overall reduction of material), where neo-romantic tradition can also be traced (melodiousness, leitmotifs, articulation of smaller textural details). A similar strategy is employed in the opera Nebūti ar Nebūti (Not to be or not to be, 2009), where the sole character, an ancient oracle Akhu is casting various aphorisms and philosophical insights while hiding in the ironic demythologised world of today. Yet here the all-over post-minimalist pattern is fragmented by the oracle’s spoken episodes and the composer’s attention to sonority.

Creative work by Mykolas Natalevičius (just like Rita Mačiliūnaitė, he is currently pursuing Master’s degree in composition at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) might be divided into two parts: the music of ‘new spirituality’ and experimental electronics, which is often combined with various expressions of human voice. The first creative tendency springs from the direct and fundamental relation of the composer towards religion and is represented by choral works with Latin texts, homophonic texture and tonal harmony, sometimes resembling Palestrinian choral writing. His BA diploma work Kryžius (The Cross) balances between the ideology of ‘new spirituality’ and the more expressive idiom of neo-romanticism. Another side of Mykolas Natalevičius is disclosed in, for example, short operas distinguished for their borderline sonic experiences (sine tones, noise: electronic or produced by a crowd of performers; sounds existing on the verge of frequency range perceived by the human ear), radically reduced musical material and expressive recitation of the soloists. The music of the surrealist opera Bildung (2008) and the opera-mystery Babel (2009) is so tightly knit with the oneiric poetry of Žilvinas Andriušis that it manages to deconstruct the status hierarchy established in the opera world, where the top position is usually taken either by the composer or the director and virtually never by the author of the libretto. In just a few strokes, Mykolas Natalevičius creates a specific musical environment for the autonomous ‘readings’ of paradox poetry, thus approaching opera as an experimental soundtrack genre (in the wein of David Lynch’s Eraserhead).

Organisation of Events under Different Conditions

Rūta Vitkauskaitė, Albertas Navickas, Rita Mačiliūnaitė and Mykolas Natalevičius represent a highly mobile composers’ generation, which, using the new communications and personal organisational skills, maintains international relationships and is capable of organising various art projects under variable conditions (not fearing to make mistakes, they balance between a multitude of tasks: from project concept, budgeting, equipment rental, lodging and catering issues and filling of reports to hanging of posters, transportation of instruments or carrying of boxes, regardless of the planned appearance on stage in the evening). “Flexibility, quick reaction and organisational skills are the characteristics necessary to young artist; being able to ‘write music down’ is no longer sufficient and spending a few weeks waiting for an inspiration is simply unreasonable,” thinks Rūta Vitkauskaitė.

photo: Martynas Aleksa

Within the context of the national programme Vilnius – European Capital of Culture 2009, this new generation (together with like-minded music managers, performers and musicologists) have made an extremely spectacular organisational appearance. First of all one shall mention the music laboratory network The Process, held as part of the European School of Arts programme, which was the first international education event of such scale and type in the history of Lithuanian music. During May-September 2009, the organisational team of The Process has organised six creative laboratories (Sound Recording Lab, Acoustic Music Lab, Opera Studies Lab, Music Visualisation Lab, Electronic Music Lab and 21st Century Audi(o)torium, focussed on the theory and practice of the sound art). Over 200 young artists from Lithuania and abroad participated in the activities of the labs, headed by two dozens of famous composers, sound engineers, directors and creators of experimental films, sound artists and theoreticians from different countries. Each workshop had also organised series of public events to present the works created by lab participants, portrait concerts of the lecturers, appearances of guest ensembles (10 in total) or open lectures. Also, The Process had released nearly 20 CD’s!

Besides of that, the Druskininkai chamber music days event Druskomanija, headed by Rūta Vitkauskaitė and her colleagues has expanded significantly in 2009, turning into a contemporary music festival taking place in four cities (Druskininkai, Vilnius, Trakai and Palanga), encompassing various music styles and genres and also including projects of other spheres (dance, theatre, visual arts). The composers had also significantly contributed to the 4th contemporary art festival Faces of Vilnius and presently they are planning to establish the Youth Section of the Lithuanian Composers’ Union, which would regularly organise interdisciplinary art events.

Paradoxal Mediation: Creation of Oneself by Oneself

In the second half of the 20th century, the concept of mediation gets established in the French art sociology, signifying anything that stands in between art and society or between the creative environment and environment of artistic reception (various institutions, festivals, mass media, critics, in case of music – performers, etc). The key issue here is not what and how does the artist create, but what is it that creates an artist (artist’s name). In case of this generation of composers (at least during the period of its youth) the paradoxical situation of mediation emerges, since even after dismissing the attitude that an autonomy is relative and that some dependence upon something is still in place, one might state that this generation is creating itself.

Having escaped the limitations of the traditional composer career circle (writing music and waiting for commissions), an approach taken over my many composers who debuted after the ‘machinist’ generation, these composers are also willingly performing the works of other representatives of this generation  (Rita Mačiliūnaitė – vocals, Rūta Vitkauskaitė – violin, Albertas Navickas – keyboards, Mykolas Natalevičius – conducting, vocals) and appear to exist as some kind of informal institution that creates unique cultural environment and niches for self-expression. “Multifaceted strategy of spreading one’s works has become a natural phenomenon, when it is no longer difficult to find and ‘legitimate’ one’s own niche (a parallel might be drawn with blogs that have become a weighty opposition to major news portals, while their creation sometimes takes just a couple of hours),“ says Albertas Navickas.

On the other hand, their position that manipulates such specific autonomy, as well as the collective practices (sometimes unfolding as a certain self-therapy, play or ‘life-style’) that, along music creation become the self-contained objective, indicate that this generation represents a self-efficient group, which does not entirely reject the l'art pour l'art approach. Still, their peculiar artistic-social performances also become part of the musical life, immediately being blanketed by various myths and social images, which affect the public perception, interpretation of works and the composers themselves.

© Asta Pakarklytė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 17

Title: NOA. New Opera Action. Five Short Operas (3-CD set)

CD 1 Tracks: 1–4. Mykolas Natalevičius. Babel 5–11. Rūta Vitkauskaitė. The Hole

Performers: Eugenijus Chrebtovas (bass-baritone; 1–4), NOA Choir / cond. Mykolas Natalevičius (1–4), Agnė Sabulytė (mezzo-soprano; 5–11), Rita Mačiliūnaitė (mezzo-soprano; 5–11), Jonas Sakalauskas (baritone, electric guitar; 5–11), NOA Choir and Orchestra (5–11)

CD 2 Tracks: 1–9. Rita Mačiliūnaitė. Not to be or not to be 10–18. Sigitas Mickis Mamma Moo

Performers: Tadas Girininkas (bass; 1–9), NOA Choir / cond. Ričardas Šumila (1–9); Šarūnas Čepulis (bass-baritone; 10–18), Akvilė Kalinaitė (alto; 10–18), Milda Tubelytė (mezzo-soprano; 10–18); NOA Orchestra / cond. Šarūnas Čepulis (10–18)

CD 3 Tracks: 1–16. Jonas Sakalauskas. Isadora

Performers: Agnė Sabulytė (mezzo-soprano; 1–16)

Record company (year of release): Vilnius – European Capital of Culture, 2009