Sunday, September 28, 2008

Faces of Vilnius

Some of the most interesting things I've seen in Vilnius have been either impromptu or brought to my attention at the last minute through word of mouth or a casual e-mail, and this week was no exception.

Last week, a Fulbright scholar who has been living here for over a year mentioned to me that she participates in weekly folk-singing rehearsals as a hobby and that I might be interested in joining this week. I took her advice and asked Dr. Vyčinienė, a member of the group and a professor at the Academy, if I could sit in. It turns out that the rehearsals take place in the same room as most of the ethnomusicology classes, so I just stuck around after her class ended.

It is one thing to hear a folk-singing performance at a festival or in a concert, but it is quite another to be sitting amidst a group during rehearsal. In what I previously perceived as rather basic tonal progressions and vocal harmonizations, nuances in diction and ornamentation jumped out more and more as I read along. And after the fifth repetition of the melody, it was hard not to join in.

But the fun didn't stop there. Two of the members happened to share a birthday on the day of rehearsal, so halfway through, a spread of sweets, cheese, and a big bottle of brandy was introduced. Somehow this seemed to complete the picture as I remembered how my grandfather, after a few glasses of "medicine," would suddenly recall all the songs he learned in his youth and sing loudly with little or no encouragement. By the end of the rehearsal, whatever timidity or restraint shown initially by anyone had been completely shaken.

Perhaps more interesting, though, was the Vilniaus Veidai (Faces of Vilnius) "non-commercial art festival." The absence of an internet link to the festival is an indication of its underground nature. I was sent an e-mail by my friend and student of Osvaldas Balakauskas, Albertas Navickas, notifying me of the three-day event, which featured music by students at the Academy as well as art exhibits and installations by other young Lithuanian artists.

After following the arrows taped to the sidewalk, I entered the venue, which turned out to be an all-but-abandoned three-story 16th-century monastery attached to a recently renovated church. The crumbling rooms and corridors were eerily lit by colored fluorescent lights powered by a complex extension-cord network. Walls and ceilings were cracked, windows non-existent, floors covered with an inch or two of dust, holes in the floor hastily patched, and any wood exposed to the air thoroughly eaten by dry rot.

However, guests did not seem to mind as they walked through its many drafty halls and up its many crumbling stairs to see artwork tucked away in rooms and other settings that could normally only be reconstructed by a film set designer. And despite the cold one should expect from a windowless (but definitely not window frameless) stone structure around midnight, I was able to hear and see some very good music and multimedia collaborations.

I heard works by students Albertas Navickas, Rūta Vitkauskaitė, Rita Mačiliūnaitė, Andrius Maslekovas, and Vytautas Paukštelis, among others. Maslekovas performed a work for accordion, Mačiliūnaitė sang her own works as well as those by Navickas, and Vitkauskaitė played violin on many of the works, including her own. The only time I thought about leaving the concert was during the high-energy (and high-volume) electronic work by Paukštelis- not because I disliked the music, but more so because I feared for my safety as I watched small pieces of the 500 year-old ceiling fall to the floor when the bass "really kicked in."

Overall, the variety in style of the works I heard was very refreshing. I hope I will get to hear many more performances of student works throughout my stay here.

1 comment:

Cathy in Vilnius said...

Thanks for posting links to the music of your Lithuanian composer classmates. I have really enjoyed listening to Albertas Navickas. And the monastery is spectacular; such a creative location and event!