Šarūnas Nakas' utopian visions

There are some composers, whose work somehow escapes any supposed or proposed definition. Controversial or even paradoxical in nature, it ventures to question everything that is seemingly obvious, allegedly received or anxiously valued thus paving the way to the different and often critical understanding of what is conventional, standard or safely forgotten.

It is also true when one is to describe the music of the composer Šarūnas Nakas who is currently found among the most internationally active and succesful composers in Lithuania. In the opinion of the composer, all labels are misleading because it is indeed hardly possible to stick one to the variety of pieces, which stem from at least three different visions of how music should sound. Šarūnas Nakas: 'one trend of my work represents music, which is austere, extremely intense and even utopian in complexity of it means. The latest offsprings in this line are Ziqquratu-II and Fight and Escape. In some other pieces like, for example, Motet and At Heaven's Door I try to realize another kind of utopia - an image of euphonic, dream-like music of nearly somnambulant mood'. Through the agency of electronically and acoustically produced sounds, Šarūnas Nakas cultivates vast soundscapes in which he builds magnificient and sometimes even terrifying 'soundscrapers'.

Past three years have seen as much as eight world premieres of his newly created and invigorated works played by such exponential performers of contemporary music as the Vilnius New Music Ensemble (founded and directed by Šarūnas Nakas since 1982), Agon Orchestra (Prague), Piano Circus (London), not to mention those produced and reproduced electronically. Out of this number two works seem to share the spotlight in terms of international performances and remakes. Original version of tape music for 33 instruments Merz-Machine of 1985 was rearranged for Agon Orchestra and premiered during the Musica ficta forum in Vilnius in 1997. New version for six pianos written specially for the Piano Circus appeared later that year and was premiered at the New Music Marathon Prague in November 1998. The group seems to get involved in a long-term relationship with this piece since it was regularly included in the sextet's concert programs in Indonesia, Milan, London, Scotland and elsewhere.

Yet, another piece, monumental 51-minute Ziqquratu-II, has been performed to great acclaim of the audiences in Prague, Kiev and Cracow exclusively by the Vilnius New Music Ensemble since its premiere in Vilnius in 1999 until March this year under the baton of the composer. On March 8 and 10 both pieces - the original Merz-Machine and the latest updated version of Ziqquratu-II - were featured at the 10th Bonk Festival of New Music in Tampa, Florida. 'Perhaps for the first time in my whole career I was invited and welcomed at the festival as remote from Lithuania as Bonk in the Tampa Bay area as a composer in my own right: I knew of them as much as was put on their internet site and they didn't have a clue of who I am, except the e-mail contact and a sample of my music', says Nakas of his lucky encounter with the worldwide community of the like-minded composers and performers gathered each spring to meet at the Bonk events. With the festival's core performers at hand, Šarūnas Nakas had a rare opportunity to watch his utopian visions come true.

Another Nakas' piece for alto saxophone Wings to Cross the Abyss awaits its premiere at the International First Festival of Actual Music scheduled for the middle of June in several sites within the Gobi desert, Mongolia.

© Veronika Janatjeva

Lithuanian Music Link No. 2