Remigijus Merkelys' Compass Points to New York

photo: Arūnas Baltėnas

Commissioned by the MaerzMusik festival, Berlin, in 2003 and premiered by the Gaida Ensemble, Remigijus Merkelys' sinfonietta piece Compass was recently chosen to open the 12th concert season of the New Juilliard Ensemble and the Juilliard School's 99th concert year on Sept. 18. For this double occasion Joel Sachs, founder and conductor of NJE as well as director of other renowned Juilliard-based new music groups, compiled a programme of non-mainstream music "from all over the map, both geographically and stylistically". Besides Remigijus Merkelys, his other choices were Menachem Zur (Israel), Robert Nasveld (Holland), Hákur Tómasson (Iceland), and Alexander Shchetynsky (Ukraine).

"...It was fitting that the opening work was Compass by Remigijus Merkelys, an eclectic Lithuanian composer (...)", wrote the New York Times reviewer Allan Kozinn. "The points on Mr. Merkelys's compass are lodestones of contemporary musical language. Starting with the abstract contours of early 20th-century atonality, the piece makes its way through sections couched in sharp-edged Neo-Classical contours, quasi-Minimalist repetition and sweeping neo-Romantic gestures. Jazz is touched on as a countervailing force: a 1940's-style saxophone figure brings a touch of warmth to the atonal section, and a burst of Coltrane-like sax distortion gives the neo-Romantic section a modernist edge."

Under the artistic guidance of Joel Sachs, the NJE boasts a stunning line-up of Juilliard School's students who met their director's challenge to perform stylistically varied and complex new music repertory "with polish and warmth". Eager to discover composers and works barely known in the United States, Joel Sachs said he was very impressed by the irrepressible energy and wit of the Compass.

Lithuanian Music Link No. 9