Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A New Piano, the Seattle Chamber Players, and Art in Unusual Places

The big event for me last week was the purchase of an upright piano- the first piano I've ever purchased. I found it on http://www.alio.lt/, the Lithuanian equivalent of Craigslist. After a 3-hour tuning (the lower half of the piano was a whole step flat, while the upper half was only half step flat, which helped the keys of C and D-flat meld into a healthy key of D), I found that the instrument plays quite nicely. It's a "Riga," which is the closest thing to "Vilnius" I could find (there are some "Belarus" pianos, which is technically closer, but they can hardly be considered playable).

A few days later, in a concert sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the LMTA (Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater), the Seattle Chamber Players presented a program of mostly American music, including works by Alexandra Gardner, John Luther Adams, Nico Muhly, and Mason Bates, but also a work for flute and tape by Lithuanian composer Antanas Kučinskas, who was present in the audience.

After the concert, I joined the performers, along with theory professor Dr. Gražina Daunoravičienė and composer Onutė Narbutaitė, for a late-night dinner. The Seattle Chamber Players were on their way to the Warsaw Autumn festival in Poland, where they would be playing the same program as well as some works with more complicated electronics setups.

Over the weekend, Vilnius held its annual Art in Unusual Places festival, which has been steadily gaining popularity as 2009 nears. In addition to the many visual art installations on display throughout the city (including a 9-foot bust of Tony Soprano), there were two memorable concerts on the festival program.

The first was a concert given by the Chordos Quartet, Lithuania's best-known "new music" string quartet, in the Vilnius train station. During the first work, which was a long, slowly pulsating piece for string quartet and electronics, each member of the group played inside a white air-filled globe. Coupled with the rock-concert stage lighting, it reminded me a lot of the scene in "This is Spinal Tap" when Derek Smalls gets stuck in the clear plastic pod during "Rock n' Roll Creation."

Appropriate to the venue, the Chordos Quartet played Steve Reich's "Different Trains" for the second (and last) work of the concert. Now, free from their white cacoons, they played in front of a giant screen with projections of stock railroad and WWII footage. In spite of the light show that accompanied the work (and I don't think anyone in the audience was given an explanation of the work), it was quite an effective performance of the work.

The other concert I attended was more of a ritual than a concert. Titled "Winter oh Winter Come Back to the Yard," the ceremony represents, as this title suggests, the call for winter to come to Lithuania. It featured "snow" (white balloons), fire jugglers, chants, and original music by composer Mindaugas Urbaitis, who happens to teach the English-language class on Lithuanian contemporary music at the LMTA. His contribution to the ceremony included a piece for two saxophones and a work for a capella choir, which was performed by the seemingly ubiquitous Lithuanian choral group Jauna Muzika.

The fire portion of this ceremony spilled over into the culmination of the festival, the Fall Equinox celebration, which took place Sunday night at the Neris river and featured huge, flaming, traditional Lithuanian textile patterns along the river banks and floating down the river itself. Word has it that an exceptionally cold winter is on its way...

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