The mesmerizing sound world of Osvaldas Balakauskas

When considering Lithuanian music of recent decades, the name of Osvaldas Balakauskas inevitably comes up. It is the name that best characterizes the most significant processes of Lithuania's music, associated with the development of European modernist experiments. Together with Silvestrov, Hrabovski, Schnittke, Denisov, Gubaidulina, Pärt, Kancheli and many others, he belonged to an underground avant-garde elite of the former Soviet Union. Starting in an atonal vein, the composer soon turned to Webernian kind of serialism and principles of symmetry. Balakauskas music' (similarly to Hindemith and Messiaen) spurs from unique theoretical discoveries that evolved into personal compositional system based on harmonic possibilities of expanded tonal rows adapting serial techniques to diatonic structures. In his music, the inner structures weave into delicately ornamented musical fabric, which, in turn, is strongly flavoured with jazz.

In the recently published book Osvaldas Balakauskas. Music and Thoughts one cand find not only fundamental articles on Balakauskas' music, but also part of his theoretical study Dodecatonic, previously published in Poland. In this study, the composer summarizes his theoretical ideas matured over the long years of research. To quote the author, the concept of dodecatonic 'is in essence a methodological instrument, which allows [...] to measure harmonic intensity. Dodecatonic delves into the problem of perspective of all diatonics.'

Actively composing for several decades, Osvaldas Balakauskas is a distinguished figure in Lithuanian musical culture: he is chair of the Composition Department at the Lithuanian Academy of Music, a member of the Board of Lithuanian Composers' Union, and a recipient of the Lithuanian National Prize. But it is theoretical work that puts Osvaldas Balakauskas among the most extraordinary mentors of our times. It is impossible to underestimate his influence on the composers of younger generations. For several decades he keeps enchanting young composers at the Academy of Music and the Composers' Union. Balakauskas is frequently invited to lead various international masterclasses and seminars in Poland, Czech Republic, and Germany.

When not familiar with his unique musical idiom and without knowledge of the overall context of his music, one tends to ascribe his music to a specific style - most often, strangely enough, to neo-classicism. The scantiest provision of the scope of his creative work, however, uncovers the versatility of this author. The recordings of Balakauskas' music, released in Lithuania (33 Records), Great Britain (ASV Records) and Sweden (Grammofon BIS), provide a vast panorama of his oeuvre.

In recent years music of Osvaldas Balakauskas has stimulated growing international interest. Today Osvaldas Balakauskas is succesfully coping with the avalanche of new commissions. He is nearing the completion of his Fifth Symphony, commissioned by the Vilnius Festival 2001, and polishing his commission for Warsaw Autumn - new opera La lointaine, based on poetry of Oscar Milosz.

© Donatas Katkus

Lithuanian Music Link No. 2