The excellent Kremerata Baltica orchestra, the captivating pianist Onutė Gražinyté and a tribute to contemporary composers

6 October 2023, 2:00
The excellent Kremerata Baltica orchestra, the captivating pianist Onutė Gražinyté and a tribute to contemporary composers

The third concert of the Moravian Autumn Festival, held under the auspices of the Ambassadors of Latvia and Lithuania, Elita Kuzma and Laimonas Talat-Kelpša, presented mostly contemporary works by foreign composers on Wednesday 4 October at the Besední dům. The show was directed by the Kremerata Baltica string orchestra, who invited the young talented pianist Onutė Gražinytė to join them, and the whole evening primarily rode on a wave of minimalism. However, during the preparation of the concert, the programme was changed and instead of Geörgy Ligeti's String Quartet No.1 "Métamorphoses nocturnes", works by Jēkabs Jančevskis and Olli Mustonen were performed in their place.

A Message to an Ordinary Man - that is the name of the opening three-movement composition (2009) by Ukrainian composer Viktoria Polya (*1962) for violin (or flute), vibraphone and string orchestra. This minimalist work combines the pulsation that dominates the first and third movements with long areas of sound and colour that listeners could enjoy in the middle movement, entitled Lullaby. Be it the meditative character, the aforementioned pulsations or the distinctive melodic-rhythmic motifs in the solo violin (Džeraldas Bidva) and vibraphone (Andrejs Puskarevs) sounded crisp and masterful, mainly due to the precise performance of the Kremerata Baltica orchestra. The work with phrases, time and space, in which the ensemble allowed each idea to reverberate, contrasted nicely with the construction of musical arcs in the last movement (Metta), which had a slightly dance-like waltz character. Despite the ending of the piece, which could have seemed slightly monotonous with the endless repetition of motifs in succession, it was a good opening to the concert.

The Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra (1979) by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) brought harshness and expressiveness. The work, rich in diverse compositional techniques - hints of minimalism, strongly contrasting dynamic bands, figurative accompaniments, polyphonic voice leading and exposed dissonances (clusters) underlined by a distinctive rhythmic pattern at times reminiscent of big beat - is very difficult for both soloist and orchestra due to its variety and technical difficulty. The piano part was played with grace and inner calmness by Lithuanian pianist Onutė Gražinytė, who completely captivated the audience with her captivating playing and feeling for the music (both of which she expressed with her whole body). Her thinking on this work reached a high level, both in terms of performance and general music. In addition, the orchestra, which in this case was mainly an accompaniment, was absolutely compact. There were effective places full of rhythmic variations, where Schnittke used the strings together with the piano in the manner of percussion, and absurdly contrasting surfaces (e.g., tonal homophony in the strings vs. dissonant clusters in the piano), where Onutė Gražinytė and Kremerata Baltica did not shy away from sonority and hard hitting, thus further enhancing the composer's musical intention.

The second piano concerto of the evening, Concertino bianco from 1983 by Latvian composer and musicologist Georgs Pelēcis (*1947), was a musical, stylistic and characteristic contrast to Schnittke. The designation "bianco" refers to the main feature of the piano part, in which the soloist - in this case again Onutė Gražinytė - plays only on the white keys. The calm, quiet and meditative beginning of the piece gradually transitions into melodiousness, sonic colour and fullness, from which a dominant and very catchy theme emerges in the final movement. The lighter character of the composition reflects the author's noticeable influence on the composers Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich. Long minimalist surfaces full of ostinato repeating chords and motifs were interspersed with sometimes over-sweetened melodies, illuminated by the higher position of the strings and the major basis of the harmony. There is nothing to complain about in terms of the performance itself, only the simplicity of the composition combined with the constant repetition of the catchy theme was sometimes reminiscent of a hit song. However, the young pianist Onutė Gražinytė deserved applause and a big ovation, which she followed up with her own initiative in the form of an encore, when she played and sang a more unspecified song for the audience and the orchestra.

Lignum by the young generation Latvian composer Jēkabs Jančevskis (*1992) was commissioned by Kremerata Baltica in 2017. Because of the author's inspiration, which is the book Conversations with Trees and Birds, in which Ivars Vīks encourages people to listen to nature and communicate with it, Jančevskis chose an unconventional cast. The piece is scored for a string orchestra, with chimes, wind chimes and svilpaunieki (Latvian folk ocarinas in the shape of birds) appearing at the end of the work. The composer himself said of his composition: "This piece depicts my listening to nature, where the trees cast their great shadows, where the leaves tremble and the forest whispers and gusts of wind combine to form the four indescribably beautiful Latvian seasons." The author creates a varied palette of sounds and colours reminiscent of the sounds of nature in the composition using various techniques. However, the areas where the ensemble played with a mute or used glissandos to expand the harmony with quarter tones, creating a new spectrum of colours, were particularly striking. Jančevskis also made interesting use of flugelhorns, especially in the double basses, which have their own acoustic and timbral aspects. The melancholic work ends with the addition of the svilpaunieki, and through ostinato repeats the same motif until the piece is completely silent, transitioning into an allusion of sea waves, which the composer achieved by playing (a kind of rustling) the bow against the instrument. In this case, too, Kremerata Baltica's performance was absolutely supreme and a fantastic musical experience.

The concert closed with a three-movement composition with the characteristic title Triptych for string orchestra by Finnish-born Olli Mustonen (*1967). Originally written for three cellos, Mustonen composed the work after a commission from the physicist Sam Steppel. The string orchestra version was commissioned later by the youth ensemble Helsinki Strings. The work as a whole consists of three contrasting sentences, which correspond in character to their titles. The opening Misterioso, the mysterious movement, is characterised not only by the mood of the movement but also by harmonic transversality, frequent dissonance and a strong expressive violin melody. The Furioso, on the other hand, is full of vivacity in the form of three harsh rhythmic sections that imaginatively disrupt the other actions in the movement. The orchestra did not hesitate here and abandon its homogeneity, but it simply breathed and gave the piece its momentum. The cathartic Ad astra , in the form of an initially very dissonant and towards the end absolutely transparent passacaglia, graduates from the initial (deep) notes and, in the words of the composer, "rises to ecstatic and uplifting heights".

The convincing performances, remarkable works by composers which are not often performed here and the professionalism with which Kremerata Baltica and Onutė Gražinytė performed at the Moravian Autumn were duly appreciated by the audience. The ensemble, under the direction of Džeraldas Bidva, added the well-known composition Melody by Ukrainian author Myroslav Skoryk (1938-2020)as a thank you, which not only expressed support for Ukraine, but also served as a way to say goodbye to the Brno audience.


Viktorija Poljova - Message to an Ordinary Man for violin, vibraphone and string orchestra

Alfred Schnittke - Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra

Georgs Pelēcis - Concertino bianco for piano and string orchestra

Jēkabs Jančevskis - Lignum for string orchestra, svilpaunieki (Latvian folk ocarinas in the shape of birds), chimes and wind chimes

Olli Mustonen - Triptych for string orchestra


Onutė Gražinytė - piano

Andrejs Puskarevs - percussion

Džeraldas Bidva - violin

Kremerata Baltica

4 October 2023 at 7 p.m., Besední dům



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