Onutė Narbutaitė: from Melody to Symphony

The Second Symphony by Onutė Narbutaitė will be premiered on October 20th at the festival Gaida by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Robertas Šervenikas, a dedicatee of the work.

There is a 22-year span that separates Narbutaitė's first symphony, written in 1979, till the second one. In 1998, she composed more than 100 pages of a new symphonic composition, but the work was interrupted by several commissions.

One of them, the composition Autumn Ritornello. Hommage à Fryderyk, was written in 1999 for the Vilnius Festival. The piece, which unfolds in a field of associations with Chopin's music, was premiered to great acclaim by Vadim Repin, Yuri Bashmet, David Geringas, Mūza Rubackytė, and Hans Roelofsen.

In the same year, offered a commission from Europäisches Musikfest Münsterland, she composed Sonnet à l'Amour for tenor and guitar based on a text by Oscar Milosz. It is a subtle dialogue between a voice and a guitar, free from 'outward' effects, melancholic and nostalgic like Milosz's poetry. The premiere of the work, performed at the festival by the singer Christoph Prégardien and guitar player Reinbert Evers, drew prolonged applause from the fascinated audience.

'This latest piece of Baltic music is in demand not only as an innovatory opus, but also as a masterful arrangement of personal aural impressions, reminiscences of tradition and sensitivity to structure', wrote Neue Musik Zeitung. 'Lithuanian composer Onutė Narbutaitė combined impressionistic reflections, sonorous expression and a charming monastic litany in an absolutely original and attractive way. Applause of the enchanted audience.' (Münstersche Zeitung).

After a long break the composer returned to her second symphony, just to be interrupted by a tempting commission from the Velvet Curtain event in Cracow (project - Cracow - European Capital of Culture 2000). 'When I learned about the structure of the ensemble, a thought occurred to me that I could adapt the already ripened idea of the second part of my symphony and compose its chamber version for a trumpet and two string quartets', said the composer. This is how Melody in the Garden of Olives for trumpet and two string quartets appeared. By transforming this material into the second movement of the symphony, Narbutaitė sought to retain the purity of timbre by refusing any 'outer' sound effects, which are so tempting with a symphony orchestra. 'It is rather ascetic music, though certainly these two versions - chamber and symphonic - will be different enough, first of all in their colours, and also in different possibilities of diverse textures and multiple layers', said the composer in a conversation about her new work.

Is this two-part cycle finished?

This two-part cycle is completely finished, though both parts of the cycle are totally independent. They can be performed separately, though I think that they will look quite different contextually, supplementing each other. There are many affinities between the two movements - harmonic colours, some similar episodes, though they contrast quite well. The titles of both movements (Symphony and Melody) as if explain and summarise the idea of each part.

What kind of musical expression is associated with those titles?

The first movement of the Symphony is related with the way I understand the classical, romantic notion of the symphony, and also contains echoes of later music: certain melodic patterns, allusions, signs, e.g. the dotted rhythm, certain brass signals and instrumental colours. Certainly, it is not a classical sonata form, but several of its elements are present, the themes recur and intertwine. I deliberately used certain things that have never before appeared in my work - unisons, classical doubling of instruments; this time I allowed myself to be quite free.

If we compare both movements, the first one has what we call the vitality and life of a symphony, while the second one Melody is a pure contemplation of death; it is quite a different world. It is not so 'symphonic', but absolutely coherent and related with the earlier pre-classical tradition, Bach and polyphony.

Which aspects of Bach's music did you find particularly interesting?

I found them interesting only indirectly. I wondered if it is possible to compose music similar to the slow parts of his music? This music is both tragic and beautiful and this beauty is not soupy. It is quite different, coherent, nothing is being proved or opposed, it is just music, singing, chanting.

The same with the first movement: as a contemporary composer, I intended my musical experience to be reflected through a very natural development of music, not through an opposition of different time frames and associations, but rather through their connection.

Does this music raise many difficulties for the performers?

Contemporary symhony always contains things that are neither easily nor quickly comprehensible. The musical score requires great flexibility and, to my mind, the task of the conductor is particularly important and difficult.

Does a listener need special experience to decipher this music?

The first movement contains certain recognisable points of formal development, certain reiterant elements. It is impetuous, but this impetus takes a different form than a listener might expect, not an apotheosis of triumph.

© Daiva Parulskienė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 3

Onutė Narbutaitė: Centones meae urbi
Centones meae urbi, oratorio for soprano, bass, choir and orchestra (1997)
Regina Maciūtė (soprano), Ignas Misiūra (bass), Aidija Chamber Choir, M. K. Čiurlionis Art Gymnasium Choir, cond. Romualdas Gražinis, Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, cond. Robertas Šervenikas
Vilnius Recording Studio VSCD-063, 2000

Onutė Narbutaitė: Rudens riturnelė / Autumn Ritornello
Winterserenade (1997) / Aštuonstygė (The Eight-String) (1986) / Mozartsommer 1991 (1991) / Rudens riturnelė (Autumn Ritornello. Hommage à Fryderyk) (1999); Hoquetus (1993)
Ingrida Armonaitė (violin), Audronė Pšibilskienė (viola), Rimantas Armonas (cello), Arnoldas Gurinavičius (double bass), Valentinas Gelgotas (flute), Mūza Rubackytė (piano), Gediminas Kviklys (harpsichord)
Vilnius Recording Studio VSCD-075, 2001

Sinfonia col triangolo by Onutė Narbutaitė on Finlandia Records

In 2000, Finlandia Records released a CD Lighthouse (CD 3984-29718-2) recorded by the remarkable Finnish Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra (cond. Juha Kangas). Sinfonia col triangolo by Onutė Narbutaitė is available on this CD along with other works that have met critical acclaim.

'The most elevated and exceptional is, undoubtedly, the musical language of Sinfonia col triangolo by Lithuanian composer Onutė Narbutaitė composed in 1996, - writes Fono Forum. - The contrast between static surfaces and feverish strokes marks the music of extreme emotional tension formally based on mirror symmetry.' Gramophone also devotes attention to Narbutaitė's work describing it as 'a complex mirror fantasia for strings in which a few triangles provide a splash or two of colour (the title is a gimmick). The work does, however, satisfy Keller's dictum (the large-scale integration of contrasts), taking contrasting musical material, then fragmenting and mixing it together, albeit not exactly organically. Unwinding from its central point, the coda affords a new vista - an innovative take on the standard symphony's final big tune.'

Klassik heute gave the CD the prestigious Klassik heute Empfehlung mark. According to a reviewer of the magazine, Narbutaitė 'explores particularly fascinating fields of consonance and sound states. What is static, shifts from one state to another, penetrates deeper and deeper, gets dynamic and becomes vibrantly vital. Some consonances have never been heard before. Throughout the composition Narbutaitė's idiom remains unique, particularly in its suppressed and then suddenly flaring spectrums.'

This CD containing compositions by Lithuanian composer is not the first to be recorded on the Finlandia label by the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. This label has released two compillations of Lithuanian music: Stimmen (CD 4509-97892-2) and Cantabile (CD 4509-97893-2), which are particularly valuable for building on any introduction to Lithuanian music.