Vytautas Barkauskas Reaps the Summer Harvest

photo: Arūnas Baltėnas

The world premiere of Vytautas Barkauskas' latest work for coloratura soprano and eight cellos - Lune à l'aube d'été, Op.123 - is to take place at the "Schiermonnikoog" festival in Holland on October 7 where it will be performed by Canadian soprano Karen Wierzba, and a cello octet formed especially for this occasion. The piece is set to the poem by one of the most celebrated French poets of our time, Philippe Jaccottet. "I was fascinated by the extraordinary, unearthly subtlety of the poetic text, and the sense of colour and space that it captures," says the composer, who applies his own concept of 'super-impressionism' in describing his latest work. That concept is explained somewhat by the fact that the idea for this composition was motivated not so much by desire to carry on a French impressionistic tradition ("...I see no point in competing with Debussy", admits Barkauskas), as by the experiences and new impressions that he gleaned during this past summer. The latter are also embodied in Summer 2004. Nida, Op.121 for string quartet, premiered by the Kaunas String Quartet at the Thomas Mann festival in Nida this summer. The composer explains that in this summer opus, he imagined Johann Sebastian Bach dropping in to visit Thomas Mann in his cosy summer cottage in Nida; the music itself evokes the atmosphere of a languid summer afternoon.

"Schiermonnikoog" festival in Holland will be the seventh event this year at which Barkauskas has been invited to participate with his compositions - this time as resident composer. Along with the commissioned work, four of Barkauskas' other chamber pieces will also be performed in Holland. Among them will be a new version, for the Japanese violist, Nobuko Imai, of his Two Monologues (1983/2004). Vytautas Barkauskas had the opportunity to work with this performer at another premiere this past summer: on June 27, Nobuko Imai, together with the French violinist Philippe Graffin, and the Vilnius Festival Orchestra, with Robertas Servenikas conducting, played his Duo concertante, Op.122, which was commissioned by the Vilnius Festival. This double concerto was dedicated to the celebrated Japanese diplomats and humanists Chiune Sugihara and his wife Yukiko, who, during the time of their residence in Barkauskas' hometown of Kaunas, saved more than 10,000 Jews from the holocaust by providing them with transit visas to Japan - the so-called "Visas to life". The dedication of this piece, as well as its first performers, extend the context of the work from Western Europe to the Far East. Barkauskas: "I hope that the listeners will feel the gentle Japanese tone, the suggestively mysterious percussion sound, and the French elegance in my piece."

This is playful concert music, with stylistic tones similar to those in last year's Violin Concerto, entitled Jeux. In Duo concertante one can also feel Japanese motifs (though they are no more "Japanese" than, for example, those in Puccini's Madame Butterfly) - especially in the percussion part, which is especially important in this work. At the end of this five-movement composition, we also heard 'Japanese' drums and a shout by all of the performers - perhaps somewhat 'populist', or maybe symbolic gestures?
Beata Leščinska, 7 meno dienos

Friendly relations with performers, an understanding of their psychology, trust in their technical capabilities and taste, certain interpretational freedom, concern for the listener - all the above could explain the diversity of genres in Barkauskas' work, its clearly concert-oriented and virtuosic character, and long-term life in the concert repertoire of performers. Barkauskas: "Everything flows from one's creative relationships with the performers. I think it's very important to an author, that a performer willingly accepts to play his piece, and not only during the premiere. I'd like to emphasise a connection that is very important to me - the desire of the performer to play a specific work, and the audience's desire to hear it. That's when a work 'travels' the world."

"The audience went wild", wrote critics after the premiere of Duo concertante at the Vilnius Festival. And 120 young musicians from the European Union Youth Orchestra met the composer with joyful shouts, when conductor Paavo Järvi introduced them to the author of Konzertstück No.2, at a rehearsal of his work prior to the Orchestra appearing at the "Christopher Summer" festival in Vilnius, and the Pažaislis festival in Kaunas, in August. The circle of performers of Barkauskas' music should soon expand even further - the International Jascha Heifetz Competition, which will take place in February 2005, has commissioned a compulsory work for violin solo. Up to now, the composer has been known worldwide for his Partita for violin solo, Op.12 (1967), which has been performed and recorded by a line of famous violinists - Aleksandr Livont, Gidon Kremer, Raimundas Katilius, Philippe Graffin, and others - for more than 30 years. In appreciation of their work, the composer frequently repeats the following phrase: "My best performers are not only my alter ego, they are also the best managers, and ambassadors for my music."

© Svetlana Barkauskas

Lithuanian Music Link No. 9