Saturday, November 22, 2008

About the Librettist

I hadn't mentioned it until now, but I met my librettist, Marija Simona Šimulynaitė, back in October. She's a graduate student in the theater department at the Academy and focuses mainly on theater direction, but she's also a writer and an accomplished dancer (check out this video of her routine in the Lithuanian semi-finals of the Eurovision Dance Contest!). Not only did she enthusiastically agree to write a libretto, but she also offered to direct the production when the time comes.

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I was able to find someone willing to work with me. My only real preferences were that he or she speak English to some degree and not be in the midst of a well-established (and hence, hectic) career. After unsuccessfully chasing some leads through my teacher, the Composers' Union, and some of my new friends, I got an e-mail from Marija. She was recommended to me by the head of the Academy's theater deparment, Dr. Algis Mažeika, who was once himself a Fulbright scholar at the University of Kansas.

After getting to know each other a little better during our first meeting, I gave her a copy of the final product of the reasearch I did over the summer: the story of my grandfather's life and a brief history of Displaced Persons Camps after WWII. Because the document has so much important and detailed information and is written in English, I was delighted to discover that Marija speaks English quite well.

But more importantly, I was excited by the energy and enthusiasm she injected immediately into her work. Only a week after our first meeting, she sent me a draft of the first half of Act I (after which I spent two days straight reading it with a Lithuanian-English dictionary in my lap), and today I am writing with the first draft of the entire libretto sitting next to me. What's more is that despite the speed at which she delivered her work, it shows evidence of great consideration of the details decribed in my original document while making light of them creatively through her writing.

Since we have not yet made final any cuts, additions, or edits, I won't give away any details about the libretto just yet, but I can say with confidence that this collaboration is off to a great start.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love and Other Demons and Many, Many Other Concerts

I woke up on Monday after a two-week concert binge. The 2008 ISCM World Music Days festival finally ended this weekend, and now that I've recovered (somewhat) from my new-music hangover, I will attempt to recall some of the highlights and limit my music criticism to mentioning and providing links to some of my favorites. Be sure to click the link above to see more detail about the concerts and works.

The longest day of the festival was October 25. The first concert began at three in the afternoon and the last note was played at about 3:45 in the morning. The concert by the Lithuanian National Philharmonic included music by Joji Yuasa (Japan), Oscar Carmona (Chile), and Vytautas V. Jurgutis (Lithuania), the latter of which added his own electronic work to Ligeti's Atmospheres. John Adams' Century Rolls was also on the program, and expectedly so, since minimalism, with certain of its characteristics likened to the canonical folk songs sutartinės, holds a special place in modern Lithuanian music.

The following concert, which began at 9:30pm and lasted until 3:45 in the morning, was entitled Procession, and featured both music and food from around the world. Two American composers, Ashley Fure and David Coll, both had works on the program, and Coll gave a spirited presentation at the Academy the morning he headed back to the U.S.

Back-to-back concerts by the Ensemble Modern and the Cello Octet Amsterdam, a Spanish-Dutch group, made for an exceptionally impressive evening. Onutė Narbutaitė wrote works in honor of All Saints Day weekend, and Sunday featured the same work sung simultaneously in at least seven different churches throughout the Old Town (see right). The Strasbourg Percussion gave the premiere of a work by my teacher, Osvaldas Balakauskas, and the group was perhaps most intriguing due to sheer amount of equipment (see left) and noise sharing the stage. The Sound Cube project, hatched at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, brought a 40-speaker (give or take) surround system and sound engineers from Germany to the Great Hall of the Lithuanian Radio and Television. There was a concert dedicated almost entirely, with the exception of Lithuanian minimalist Rytis Mažulis' music, to the works of fluxus pioneer Jurgis "George" Mačiūnas (check out his Piano Piece No. 13).... and it was packed.

Most relevant to this blog was the sold-out Lithuanian premiere of Peter Eötvös' new opera, Love and Other Demons, based on the book by Gabriel García Márquez. Here I must credit my friends from the Academy for knowing how to get into a sold-out concert, for without them, I would never have seen it. You may think that sneaking into an opera performance sounds a little anachronistic today, but there was, after all, a great deal of nudity. In fact, the lead character of the opera, Sierva Maria, spends most of Act II in her birthday suit. I imagine performance anxiety becomes a non-issue after singing the most tragic aria of the opera "in the raw." As for the music itself, this review is generally positive and reflects many of my opinions. I don't have any pictures from the performance, but the picture to the right was taken during intermission in the Soviet-era National Opera and Ballet Theater, famous for its many chandeliers.

I mentioned less than half of all the concerts I attended, and while I enjoyed (almost) every minute of the festival, I can't include everything here. This was the first such festival I have been lucky enough to attend, and like a 21 year-old on his birthday, I simply overindulged. Someone asked me this morning what I thought of a specific piece on one of earlier concerts of the festival. I responded, "I don't remember. I think I heard too much."