A monochromatic room of Justė Janulytė

  • May 26, 2015

Sandglasses, the album released at the end of 2013, is dedicated to the young Lithuanian composer Justė Janulytė. It was yet another release of the Contemporary Composer series by the Lithuanian Music Information and Publishing Centre. The album includes a DVD of the world-renowned audio-visual performance Sandglasses complemented by an interview with the artists who took part in it. Janulytė’s first album also features a CD with her five most successful recent compositions. A fresh review by Ben Lunn, an English composer and conductor, is presented further in the text.

The album has been released in collaboration with Vilnius Festivals, and has been sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and the Culture Support Foundation of Lithuania.


If one work could showcase Justė Janulytė’s work of the past ten years, it would be her seminal work Sandglasses (2010). This 50 minute leviathan for four celli, electronics, video, light, and tulle installation, shows the grandeur, delicacy, and mastery of Janulytė’s work.

Sandglasses explores the many ideas surrounding sand timers, be it visually, philosophically, or musically. The work begins with extremely high, resonating harmonics from the cellos and electronics. The instant, almost complete, stasis grabs and holds the listener for the duration of the work. The gradual, canonic descent of the work maintains the meditative atmosphere and the masterful video projections always keeps the viewer fascinated by the slight gestures, and wowed by the grand shifts of colour, grains, and light.

The immaculate and astounding performances by the four cellists add to the work. The intense focus, which can be felt, even when watching the DVD at home, maintains a profound world, which captivates any viewer. The control of the slight nuances, like harmonics or scratch tone is truly commendable, and a testament of the performers’ dedication to this piece. The colour and directness of this work is what makes the work so stunning and evocative, also the elegant use of electronics alongside ensemble is likely to stun audiences for many years to come.

The production of the DVD is rather elegant, the options to listen to it in 5.1 surround or Stereo gives listeners at home the opportunity to really maximise their viewing. The twenty minute interviews give real insight into the process of producing the work, as well as looking at details behind the scenes leading to the performances.


The accompanying CD features five works which give a marvellous insight into the work of Justė Janulytė. These pieces highlight not only the universality of her musical output, but also show new listeners what is meant by monochromatic music.

The opening work on the CD, Elongation of Nights (2009), is a work for twenty-one piece string orchestra. The shimmering opening in the high strings is slowly usurped by the powerful broad strokes of the celli and double basses. This piece still stuns every time you listen to it. It is also a personal favourite on the CD.

The piece Aquarelle (2007) is a still hollow work for unaccompanied choir. The static harmonies and open resonant phonics is rather reminiscent of Feldman’s Rothko Chapel (1971). The stillness and the beauty moves a listener. The elegant performance, under the baton of Paul Hillier, is remarkable.

The largest item on the CD, Observation of Clouds (2012), is another great testament to the elegance of Janulytė’s musical aims. The blurring of timbre, the nuances of orchestration, and sheer undeniable splendour lets a listener hang and be surrounded by the own orb of sound. Normunds Šnē’s masterful conducting allows the work to speak and the Youth Choir Kamēr.. give a truly remarkable performance. In the context of this CD it allows anyone new to Justė Janulytė’s work to see the progression of her ideas; but it also shows how this very simple idea of writing for monochromatic ensembles has so much gravitas and momentum behind it.

Psalms (2008) for four celli or cellist and electronics is beautiful because of its simplicity. The use of canon combined with the microscopic dedication to colour creates a hypnotic wall of sound. The remarkable Francesco Dillon brings out the nuances and every tiny detail in the work.

The final work Textile (2008) is a work for small symphony orchestra. The imagination in the work is commendable but when played alongside these later works begins to feel slightly stagnant. It almost feels like if this work was first on the CD it would feel far more effective.

The whole combination of DVD and CD is brilliant.  It is an item which every fan of Janulytė’s work should own, but it is also a great way of introducing new listeners to this fantastic world of sounds. The bilingual CD sleeve gives the listener the ability to gain a greater understanding of her work, and the graphic designs are elegant. This showcasing will also be a wonderful outlet to highlight other wonderful composers from Lithuania to the rest of the world.

Ben Lunn