Vykintas Baltakas' Songs, Tales and Poetic Theatre

Vykintas Baltakas, a composer who left Lithuania ten years ago, continues to be primarily known by the Lithuanian public via reviews in the foreign press. However, when it comes to his work, it's hardly the 'bravos' from abroad which have made the greatest impression, for the 'double' career of the thirty-year-old, eloquently sprinkled with celebrated names, prestigious halls, numerous commissions, and honourable awards. He appears as a conductor, to whom even the demanding Stockhausen entrusts his scores, and uses his chosen name, Baltakas, when presenting himself as a livelihood-earning composer. Some of Baltakas' works, e.g. RiRo for soprano and trumpet (1995), written while studying with Wolfgang Rihm at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, are to this day performed frequently in Germany, and elsewhere, including at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. This year, RiRo was chosen for the 7th Nachwuchsforum for young composers, performers, and musicologists, organized by the Gesellschaft für Neue Musik together with the Ensemble Modern, and was performed in February at two concerts, in Frankfurt am Main and in Berlin.

Another one of Baltakas' earliest compositions – the expressive Pasaka (Tale) for piano and tape (1995) – is being told at the piano up to this day. This eight minute long sound thriller, which forces every listener who does not understand the Lithuanian text to create their own, was noted in "The New York Times" in 2001, and awarded the "Prix special XXe siécle" at the International 20th-century Piano Competition in Orléans in 2002.

Here is a composer at work who understands how to listen with a subtle ear, and who can bend familiar elements in an interesting manner and make them unfamiliar.
Reinhard Schulz, Münchner Kultur 2001

In 2003, having evaluated the 'original, humourous as well as analytic, active, and professional' work of Vykintas Baltakas, Peter Eötvös recommended that the list of awards received by his former pupil be extended by yet another - the Claudio Abbado Vienna International Composition Award. On this occasion, at a concert organized within the framework of the Wiener Festwochen, works by Vykintas Baltakas were performed under his own baton alongside music of his mentor, Eötvös. The Lithuanian composer's works included the premiere of the piece commissioned by Klangforum Wien – ...about to drink dense clouds... for voice, ensemble and tape. The latter is a kind of a sketch for a music theatre piece, Cantio, which is being written on commission from the Münchener Biennale.

Like the text for ...about to drink dense clouds..., the libretto for Cantio was written by Sharon Lynn Joyce, drawing on the fragments of antique poetry. The chosen point of departure is a model that rarely appears in rhetoric, i.e., the valedictions. In ancient Greek, this was the means for keeping the gods from leaving the city for as long as possible, and for that reason it was necessary to hold their attention via intonation, movement, hypnotic expression. In Cantio, the musical-dramatic development is created in loops, taking into account the recurrent lines in the poetic text. Everything here is grouped around the leading voice, which is countered, accompanied or supplemented by the sound of three soloists, a 15-piece ensemble, and live electronics. The 70-100 minute long stage work will be directed by Oskaras Koršunovas, and premiered in May with Christoph Poppen conducting. The work will be sung in Greek, but not in order that it be literally understood only by the public with classical linguistic training. Anticipated instead is an audience with imagination, one not inclined to focus, in the theatre, entirely on a narrow literary meaning or a concrete subject. This type of listener should be pleased by the powerful totality of the diverse components of this form of art - including gesture, sound, tempo, movement, colour and light.

Baltakas' inclination to shun traditional notions of 'text' and 'vocal performance' was obvious from his earliest compositions. In the Liederzyklus, which he began writing in 2000, the composer manages at times to bypass words, and sometimes voice as well (das Lied for piano and tape, 2000-1). The latest part of this series is planned for the Klangspuren Schwaz festival in September 2004. Before that, Vykintas Baltakas' intense agenda includes a performance at the "musica viva" festival in Munich in July, with a newly commissioned work for orchestra. The premiere will be performed by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the baton of the author himself. He will also be conducting his own work at the aforementioned Klangspuren festival in September, assisted by the Gaida Ensemble. Finally, after many years, Vykintas Baltakas' latest works will also be presented at this year's Gaida Festival.

© Ramunė Kazlauskaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 8