The twelve listeners of Christmas who assembled in Room 305 (such an Orwellian designation for a chamber salon) were treated to a varied buffet of music composed by Lithuanians and performed by their musical ambassador, the Gaida (one note) Ensemble. The four works aurally reinforced the accomplished troupe’s name—one way or another every composition centred on a single pitch or thought. Everything, save and except Mozartsommer (1991), was written in the twenty-first century. What fun to hear the early thinking of one country’s composers!
The wisest creators learn what has preceded their art before daring to push it further. (Those who do not, complain the most that no one understands them.) This illustrious quartet of composers consciously honoured their long- or near-gone colleagues. Would these “homages” be heartfelt offerings or merely trite technique?
Bartulis' I Like H. Berlioz demonstrated conclusively that a little like goes a long way. This piano quintet (with Niagara International Music Festival's artistic director, Atis Bankas, appearing to help out with the second violin assignment) lifted off with a generally purposeful string "chaos" (think Dies Irae lite) whose dust cleared with a marvellous unison violin pedal (seamless with the staggered bows), which was taken up by a thoughtful piano line before slipping easily along to the viola. The ensuing ethereal waltz (often crying for a film to complement the visually inspiring soundscape) was only marred by a slightly uneven ensemble with the tremolo and col legno colourings. No matter. All was redeemed with intense, so-into-the-string segment that marvellously abetted the angry piano clusters at every turn. Impressive too (and exceedingly rare in these days of "good enough" performance practice) was the cellist's lingering follow-through on every pizzicato. Unlike Mieczyslaw Weinberg (cross-reference below), Bartulis uses the piano as the "fifth instrument" and left everyone savouring both the composer's skill and Jurgis Karnavicius' ability to draw tone that truly rang from the Yamaha that was overdo for the ministrations of an expert tuner.
Not as successful was Osvaldas Balakauskas' Rex Re. Other composers—notably Karheinz Stockhausen’s B-flat drone, Stimmung and John Adams' "Ode to E minor" Harmonielehre, Part I—manage to sustain interest in a limited tonal palette. This one-note samba never got into its skin. Both composer and the energetic performers couldn't jet beyond the beats and into the edgy pulse. Flautist Valentinas Gelgotas came closest. He seemed most at home on this limited range but couldn't inspire his colleagues to remember that "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain' t Got That Swing").
In Mozartsommer, the scraps of themes were presented with a great sense of fun (ironic that the flute was the sole wind instrument—allegedly not Mozart’s favourite), yet a bit of thread would help the cohesion of the late-work references. Remarkable were the full cadences, whose power couldn’t help but overshadow the twentieth century snippets flying into our ears like All the Great Tunes: Abridged.
The brief but brilliantly executed program concluded with Me. Mikonst (My Art) began with an angry me that immediately brought Villa Lobos’ Little Train of the Caipira to mind. All sides of personality were examined from cellist Edmundas Kulikauskas liquid “individual me” through the violin and piano childlike, “catch-me-if-you can me,” then to an “athletic me” where this train most certainly left the station to a calmer, “persuasive me.” Here the violin and piano teamed up to a fine lyricism (but the Ives-reminiscent “gnats” would not be silenced) before all that remained was a truly “seul” self.
Here’s to further “notes” from this talented ensemble! JWR