Violinist Ieva Pranskutė: Sharing Lithuanian music with the world

One of the most prominent violinists of the young generation in Lithuania, Ieva Pranskutė, during the quarantine spent time revaluating her values. Music has always been and will be the star that shines in her professional way. Her latest project, Balys Dvarionas’s “Prie ežerėlio”, was recorded in different countries with the help of pianist Paulina Dūmanaitė, who lives in Barcelona, ​​and is depicted in the most beautiful shots of the Lithuanian landscape. Just before the quarantine, Ieva successfully completed her master’s degree at the prestigious Vienna University of Music and Fine Arts, in the class of prof. Johannes Meissl. The violinist also studies with the world-famous prof. Pavel Vernikov at a private university in Vienna. Sharing the stage with musicians such as Mischa Maiski, Martha Argerich, Gábor Boldoczki, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla and Andrejs Korobeinikovs, Ieva talks about the projects she organized during the quarantine, the sound of Lithuanian music in Austria and her professional motivation.

All musicians go through quarantine differently. How did this period go for you?

Of course, with the onset of quarantine, it was certainly not easy to admit that all scheduled concerts will be canceled or postponed to the next year. On the other hand, I am a positive person and I try to get something good from all situations. During the quarantine, I was able to devote more time to myself – reading, sports, yoga, planning a new repertoire and learning. The pace of life has slowed down, there was more time for reflection, appreciation, understanding what makes me happy and what is important to me in life. Music takes up a very large part of my life, so I’m endlessly looking forward to concerts and live encounters with the audience. I hope that people attending concerts have also developed a hunger for culture during quarantine. I have read that people, while sitting next to each other in concerts, psychologically experience a special moment – they react to music and start breathing in one rhythm. Quarantine stopped us all and made us think about what is important – live communication, being with people close to us, live music concerts.

During this time, you have created various artistic projects. Which ones were the most memorable?

Quarantine has really changed my daily routine, resulting in new creative challenges, new opportunities. I lived very intensively before the quarantine – I was constantly preparing for concerts, learning new programs. It was not until the beginning of March that I successfully completed my master’s studies at the University of Music and Fine Arts in Vienna. Many people have offered to graduate after the virus pandemic. After all, there was so much tension, uncertainty – everything will close, stop, what will be the opportunities to rehearse, to give a concert? Deep down, though, I sensed that I wanted to finish my studies right now. And with the advent of quarantine, there was a lot of free time for creativity, new ways of expressing music.

I have always wanted to connect my activities with Lithuania – its culture, beauty, past, people. I was very happy to find like-minded people who, like me, did not want to sit idly during the quarantine, but wanted to play music together. We created the project, combining Lithuanian music with the Lithuanian image. I collaborated with pianist Paulina Dūmanaitė, who lives in Barcelona. We performed together in Lithuania, and the experience was so positive that the desire to create together remained. It occurred to me that playing far away; I could record one of the most famous Lithuanian works for violin and orchestra – Balys Dvarionas’ “Prie ežerėlio”. I have performed this work many times in various concert programs. The audience always responds, shows interest in it. Listeners often hear this piece as a kind of musical image. For me, it is so visual – I see Lithuanian landscapes and folklore music in it. I often wondered how the composition could be linked to the visual fulfillment of the interpretation. I found impressive Lithuanian nature photographs that perfectly illustrated my vision. The cellist Mislav Brajković joined the work from the technical side of the project – he combined the overall audio-visual composition. He had to do all the hard part of this job – to combine all the material into a whole using professional computer programs.

Paulina Dūmanaitė was the first to record her piano part, and I recorded my violin solo while listening to her playing with headphones. Since this piece is very romantic, it would sound badly if we played it very rhythmically, without any agogic figures. Therefore, recording this piece in different countries was quite a challenge. I am very grateful to Mislav and Paulina, who believed in my idea and wanted to share our Lithuanian idea with the world. It is a pity that few people abroad know much about our country – how rich it is, how many talented people live here! Austrians who have not visited our country after seeing this video cannot believe that Lithuania is so beautiful, that there is so much to see and experience here.

In what other ways do you intend to link your music activities with Lithuania?

Lithuania, as an independent country, is very young and has a lot of potential. There is a lot of opportunities and space to create new things here. All it takes is enthusiasm and purposeful work. I compare our country with neighboring Latvia – so many world-famous musicians – conductors, vocalists, violinists – come from this country. After all, there are no less talented people in Lithuania! They should not be too shy – to share, tell, write about it. After all, it’s not just beer and basketball that are the country’s greatest pride.

As much as I had to talk to Lithuanian representatives abroad, I wanted more cooperation and appreciation. It is extremely important to feel supported in creating new projects and making Lithuania famous.

Lithuania is too small for people to do everything separately. While communicating with Lithuanians in Vienna, I noticed that they are very enthusiastic, interested in creating about Lithuania and for Lithuania. As a result, I would encourage our compatriots to be more connected, to help each other implement ideas. I believe that sincere faith and dedication will sooner or later pay off.

How did your inner desire to connect your activities with Lithuania born?

I have always loved my country. My great-grandfather is the pioneer of the fights for independence, Colonel Juozas Vitkus-Kazimieraitis, so love and respect for my roots have simply always been there. When I left, I began to understand even more how deep this connection is and how important it is to appreciate and nurture Lithuania. After all, it shapes a person’s identity. There are a number of organized events in Vienna that present the art of the Baltic States. I often join the organization of the music part, the coordination of programs. It is very fun to perform works by Lithuanian composers in concerts, to acquaint the audience with the wonderful cultural heritage of our country. Lithuanian music is rarely heard in the world – perhaps only the works of M. K. Čiurlionis are recognized as the heritage of Lithuanian music.

Perhaps while playing Lithuanian music in foreign countries, you notice different subtleties of its performance?

I try to include Lithuanian works in my repertoire all the time. There is certainly a great demand and supply – the listeners already know all the works of W. A. ​​Mozart by heart and are happy to hear the great works of contemporary Lithuanian composers. Last year I had a concert tour in India, the program of which included the already mentioned piece “Prie ežerėlio” (By the Lake) by B. Dvarionas. People were incredibly interested in a composer unknown to them and overwhelmingly grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the new sound. They can draw energy, new ideas and knowledge from the motifs of Lithuanian folklore.

Of course, I really appreciate my studies in Vienna, which provided knowledge that allows Lithuanian music to be presented at the highest professional level.

Are you interested in contemporary works by Lithuanian composers?

In fact, I would very much like to collaborate more with today’s Lithuanian composers. I have recorded and many times played Anatolijus Šenderovas’ composition “Cantus in memoriam Jasha Heifetz”. I was hoping to get to know this composer and it was very unfortunate when we lost him so suddenly… I also worked with the composer V. Barkauskas a few years ago, playing his “Partita for Violin Solo”. It was very exciting! Joint rehearsal, sharing of the composer, communication with the performer is, in my opinion, very valuable!

Have you received unexpected feedback from foreigners about Lithuanian music?

During one exhibition I played a work by A. Shenderov and the audience thought that the motives of the work sounded very Jewish. We have started a discussion on this topic. I realized that most foreigners do not know that a number of Jews and non-Jews lived in Lithuania, whose work has a great impact on the country’s cultural life.

Musicians from all over the world study at Vienna University of Music, so I find it extremely interesting to listen to traditional works in their cultures. In our profession, everyone is united by creativity, no matter where we come from, what skin color, what social layer. Music has always been and will continue to be a common language understood around the world.

Music has been in your life all the time. How has its significance changed for you and your daily life?

In fact, music and the violin occupy most of my life. For me, this is much more than a profession. Making music is my devotion, a wonderful way to express my personality and creativity.

I really can’t say it’s an easy profession. However, I feel that it fills me as a personality, allows me to constantly improve, to deepen myself as an interpreter, an artist. I believe that there will never be an end to this growth, and I see a great meaning in playing and concerts – I can wake up, delight; touch the sensitive “roosters” of the listeners. During the quarantine, we started to appreciate the importance of music even more – after all, it is a medicine for the soul.

During quarantine, a technological tool for disseminating and enjoying music emerged. You recorded the work in different countries, participated in the TV show recording. What is your experience playing with the help of technology?

The whole experience of making music changes drastically, because when playing a concert, you feel an indescribable live connection with the audience: the experience of the moment, people’s reactions – some listeners see images, remember, feel. But modern technology connects us even more, providing an opportunity to get closer to an otherwise hard-to-reach world, to share music at any time with people who don’t have the opportunity to come and listen live.

In my opinion, a live concert is a really special experience. Depending on the program, the emotional state, the moment we may feel different on stage. And music recordings are often perfectly crafted, glued from small pieces and therefore not surprisingly, it loses humanity, does not convey the sensitivity of a person as an individual. The uniqueness of a living moment will never be changed by technology.

I will not deny that new opportunities have emerged with the help of modern technology. Playing music together, even during a severe pandemic, is one of them. I myself could not believe that, being in different countries, we would be able to record a joint work of good quality. Of course, it took an extraordinary amount of time and patience to work countless hours. Not like being next to each other – I couldn’t hear the breathing, physically show the beginning and the end of the playing. In this case, such things did not exist, so Paulina and I had to memorize our personal agogics, fermats, and combine them into a common interpretation of the work.

What helps you balance the pace of life and put together your tense daily routine?

Self-discipline is very important to me. I plan my playing time, I try to learn a new concert program in advance, I do a lot of sports, read and write. All this helps me to qualitatively focus on my goals and work. However, it is also important to have a quality rest. In order to preserve the quality of performance and energy, I seek balance in life.

What motivates you the most in everyday life?

Many things. One of them is high-performance concerts. I am happy to listen to the world’s coolest musicians in the Vienna Musikverein or Konzerthaus. I am also motivated by my own concert and competitive experiences. They encourage me to keep working, analyzing and improving.

I love reading psychological books that motivate and nurture me. Since adolescence, I have been interested in cognition of personality, self-analysis, and work with oneself. This is very important, because you will not be fooled by anything on stage – you are “naked” and all things are visible in the brightest lighting.

I am motivated by love for a person – I sincerely try to see something good in every person. Motivated by the realization that music can heal. In Vienna, I am an artist from the world-renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Thanks to the organization, I have to play often for an audience that doesn’t have the opportunity to attend concerts. These concert experiences are often indescribable. Listeners are extremely looking forward to the performances, creating a strong community connection. It was often seen as the audience scratched their tears during the concert. Such exceptional moments are probably the most motivating.

Is there one concert experience that has strongly touched you?

I really had a lot of extremely strong concert experiences, but I will never forget the most funny one that took place at M. K. Čiurlionis School of Arts. The last graduation exam, the hall is full of listeners. I played J. S. Bach’s Partita. My eyes were closed and I felt so empathetic to the composition that I didn’t even feel like I was starting to spin while playing. After finishing the work, I opened my eyes and – you will not believe it – when I opened my eyes, I saw a portrait of M. K. Čiurlionis in front of my eyes. While playing, I felt like I was in some kind of trance, I didn’t even feel like I was turning my back on the audience. I didn’t understand at all how this could have happened. All the people who listened to me thought it was a pre-planned idea, a dedication to the end of M. K. Čiurlionis School of Arts. But of course, the audience was laughing from it. Music really manages to fly us to other planes of existence … (laughs – O.J.).

In your biography I read about another experience – when you were six you played solo with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra for the first time and after this experience you realized that you would dedicate your life to music. How do you remember this perception?

It happened so many years ago… I remember that from an early age I loved attention from people – I felt like a fish in the water being on the stage. Over the years, I felt more and more strongly that the stage was my place. This concert was a truly unique experience that I will never forget! Being so young to play solo with the wonderful Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra is a real honor. Although the responsibility was great, I remember well that I didn’t feel any stage fright at all; it was good, easy for me to play music.

While I can’t deny, in so many times, there have been all sorts of situations. When a more difficult time comes, different thoughts arise, but in spite of everything, I am extremely happy with my choice of profession!

You played with many globally well-known performers. How does your experience change performing on stage with other musicians?

I love chamber music very much, so I am always looking forward to such concerts. General rehearsals, discussions, sometimes unpredictable musical twists on stage (longer than usual pauses) fascinate me! It is important for me to share, to discover compromises and dialogues with other wonderful musicians together. These concert experiences make me very educated and give me the opportunity to look at interpretation from different perspectives. And how many interesting things happen during rehearsal! Each musician comes up with their own ideas, and then the search for a common idea begins – ach, that golden mean… By playing music together we can learn so much from each other, continue a tradition or create something new. I remember very well how interesting it was to analyze technical gestures while playing with Maestro Mischa Maisky or Maestra Martha Argerich, to see up close how they work, to communicate – these are unspoken gifts that have greatly influenced my musical taste and understanding.

You have also played in one of the most famous chamber orchestras Kremerata Baltica. How does the experience of playing in a chamber orchestra change?

I will admit that the concert tours with Kremerata Baltica were one of the most impressive and interesting experiences of my life. I got so much out of playing in this chamber orchestra with maestro Gidon Kremer and other top musicians – it was one of the experiences that most influenced me professionally. Maestro Gidon Kremer is one of the most inspiring personalities who has always greatly encouraged and supported me. He wished me to dream and strive to make dreams come true. Being able to play in one of the best chamber orchestras in the world while performing in the most famous halls in the world has actually been a very uplifting experience. And I’m not talking about training in organization and flexibility, after all, I often had to rehearse in different countries, quickly adapt to time, space, different food.

You mentioned, you are a dreamer. What has your dream come true for?

I really have a lot of them, and everything fills up slowly, step by step. One of the dreams that came true was the studies in Vienna. I really wanted to learn here – to get knowledge from the highest level of professionals, and after all, the city itself is always full of music! My professors I studied with are real erudites. Prof. Johannes Meissl is a profound expert in classical music. He has always advised me, was my mentor in recording and one of the most impressive, most virtuoso L. Kreutzer’s Sonatas for piano and violin Op. 47. This recording was also one of my little dreams.

I also dream of collaborating with dedicated artists and composers – last year I had to work with the well-known Polish composer K. Penderecki, as well as the Austrian composer F. Cerha, to perform their works in the prestigious Musikverein Hall. Dreams fly us forward, and life without them would be gray.

You mentioned that you met many strong personalities on your way. Do you have a musician ideal that you take into account when making decisions?

I can admit that there were really a lot of strong musical personalities on my musical path that I take my opinion into, I learn from them. My prof. Pavel Vernikov is a former student of the legendary violinist David Oistrach. After receiving such a learning, he is a professor from a “capital p” and, of course, as a violinist, I take his comments seriously. I have great respect for the fact that each student is educated differently – he encourages to look for his own ways of expression, personal sound, interpretation.

Another professor is Johannes Meissl, who had a very big influence on my musical perception. He inspires me to analyze, to delve into works from a theoretical point of view. I am grateful to my mentors – I feel able to contact them at any time with various questions. Of course, I really enjoy listening to good quality recordings with musicians like Janine Janson, Leonid Kavaka, Alexander Sitkovetsky and others.

You mentioned that Professor Pavel Vernikov is trying to emphasize the individuality of your performer. How did you discover and shape your character as a violinist?

I think that the character is still being shaped. It would be very difficult to describe myself. I know that I am shaped by life itself, musical experiences – concerts, competitions, personalities important to my profession.

I can’t fail to mention my parents, grandparents who raised me with devotion, always supported me. From childhood I studied at the prestigious M. K. Čiurlionis School of Arts. The farther away, the more I realize in what unique environment I grew up in. I had to interact with impressive musicians, with whom my opinion and musical perception was formed without discussion. My professor in Lithuania was Ingrida Armonaitė – a very philosophical, inspiring personality. I remember very well how often she asked questions that made my head turn. He once said, “Good man is not necessarily a good musician”. After that, I had to think for a long time about the meaning of this phrase. I stubbornly convinced that a good person can also be a good musician.

I have been living in Vienna for eight years and this environment really has strongly impacted my playing. There were opportunities to meet people from different parts of the world, to listen to their experiences about music, culture and life. I am grateful for everything because even a very difficult experience educates me.

What are you most looking forward to next season?

I look forward to upcoming concerts, projects in Lithuania and other countries. I am waiting for my duet with Croatian cellist Mislav Brajković – work by Z. Kodaly Duo Op. 8 CD record, which is expected to appear in 2021. I am looking forward to a concert tour with the international ensemble Scurdia with the so-called crossover music style program. I am also looking forward to a solo concert in which I will perform L. van Beethoven’s famous triple concert for violin, cello and piano on the occasion of the composer’s 250th birthday.

I feel that the listeners-music lovers are endlessly longing for live music and waiting for classical concerts after the quarantine. Since a lot of gigs have been moved to the next season due to quarantine, I’m looking forward to them even more than usual!

Thank you for conversation!

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