Gunta and Giedrius Gelgotas: About the Musical Thread of the Family

Photo: V. Jurgelevičius

Until meeting each other, Giedrius and Gunta Gelgotai took different paths towards music. Giedrius from an early age was surrounded by classical music. After graduating from the LMTA, the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Vienna University of Music as a soloist and chamber music performer, he was a laureate of many prestigious competitions, having given concerts at various Lithuanian and foreign festivals. He is also the founder of the Lithuanian Flute Quartet and the Vilnius Kristupas Wood Wind Quintet. At the same time his wife, soprano Gunta, spent her childhood singing Latvian folk songs. She came to Lithuania to study for a master’s degree with Professor Regina Maciūtė, without even knowing that she would find her home here. Today, the flutist and singer combine vast professional experience by playing music together on stage, and commissioning works by contemporary Lithuanian and Latvian composers. Even though caring for children and everyday life during the quarantine period was their first priority, Gelgotai cherishes their love of music talking about their future plans and memories of the past, eagerly awaiting the next season and live music returning to the concert halls.

What did your daily routine look like during quarantine?

Gunta Gelgotė: I have heard other musicians’ talking about quarantine and giving advice – to be playing exercises, etudes, learning new works… Yes, a lot of new notes have appeared in our house as well, but the everyday life of musicians who raise children is a bit different. Our children are preschoolers; they do tasks every day, although there isn’t as much workload as raising schoolchildren yet. I would say all musicians quarantine differently: for one, it’s actually a very creative period, and the other spends most of its time in the family. Creating and engaging in art is now a bigger challenge for us than usual. We cannot devote so much time to ourselves now. Giedrius occasionally goes to the village with the children so that I can sing quietly at home. Usually, when Giedrius is playing or I am singing, children play on the ground under the note sheet stand and repeat the motives they have just heard. Once, while I was singing a long high trellis, our son Karolis turned and shouted, “Wow, good one!”

You often perform together. How do you shape your duo’s repertoire for flute and voice?

Gunta: Since Giedrius can play any piece, I search for music that suits my voice and taste. Then I ask Giedrius whether he likes it.

Giedrius Gelgotas: The learning process for Gunta, as she is a vocalist, takes longer. The flutist can already play while reading notes for the first time, and the singers needs to learn first so we can perform the piece together. Of course, I don’t play everything from the first glance, but it’s even more difficult for the vocalists.

How often have you decided to perform works by Lithuanian and Latvian composers?

Giedrius: Initially, we performed various classical music pieces for voice and flute. Lithuanian and Latvian composers are close to us, so we want to spread the word about their music. In this way, our ever-expanding common duet repertoire is gradually being formed.

Gunta: We really want to perform music by composers from our countries. If we devote our time and energy to the preparation of concert programs, it seems sensible to devote it to Lithuanian and Latvian music. After all, it is important and fun for our authors today when their compositions are performed.

Giedrius: From the very beginning, we aim to play original works, not arrangements. A significant part of our repertoire consists of contemporary music. Even when we perform in halls further away from big cities, we definitely include modern music in our programs.

Gunta: From my experience in Latvia, I am used to thinking about the general concept of the concert program. When choosing tracks, I think about why they should sound together, what their interface is.

How do you commission new works for Lithuanian and Latvian composers?

Gunta: I can say that it is easier to commission in Latvia, there is already a good system established. By agreeing with the composer and the hall where the premiere will take place, the author of the music can expect to receive a funding after writing the application. It is more complicated in Lithuania. When you talk to a composer, he agrees, but who will pay him for the work? There are scholarships for only a few composers per year. We are glad that Onutė Narbutaitė wrote us the work “Labyrinth”, which we performed for the first time in Riga, then in Vilnius, at the composer’s author’s concert, and finally at the Thomas Mann Festival in Nida. “Labyrinth” was awarded as one of the best compositions of 2018. In autumn, we will play this work in Klaipėda Concert Hall. Music by Latvian composers Mārtiņas Viļumas, Georgas Pelēcis, Gundega Šmite with her husband Greek composer Dimitris Maronidis, Laura Gustovska were also performed, we are now waiting for a new composition by Santos Bush.

Do you have to edit a work proposed by a composer?

Giedrius: Yes. When an author uploads their work for review, it usually contains elements that don’t work well. It is difficult to write down all the modern ways of playing. We have been sitting with the composer and exploring the unusual possibilities of the flute together.

Gunta: It happens that at first, when you see the score, even your eyes open wide in anxiety. But after a while it turns out that it is possible to sing such music with pleasure. It has been the case that after singing a piece for a longer time, I get used to those places that seemed simply impossible to perform. Then I say to the composer: “You don’t have to change it anymore, I will sing it as it is!”

Giedrius: I have had such things too. Narbutaitė wrote long flazolettes, which I thought I would not be able to play, but after playing for a longer time it becomes possible. By the way, we didn’t change a single note in the Labyrinth! So masterfully written!

Do you feel the difference between Latvian and Lithuanian music?

Gunta: Contemporary music is hard to summarize. We might have an answer to this question in a decade. When I lived in Latvia and did not know that I would connect my life with Lithuania, I heard that Lithuanian composers are more modern because they are closer to the Warsaw Autumn Festival. Several Latvian composers went to study in Vilnius. But now everything is more or less equal.

What did your musical paths look like?

Giedrius: The paths of the two of us were different. My parents took me to M.K. Čiurlionis School of Arts. In principle, I could not imagine myself anywhere else. Now I know I could do a lot of other activities as well. But I don’t regret choosing music at all, because I mostly want to play. After graduating, the country walls opened and I started to travel a lot. It was a significant period for me, I met a lot of professors, I attended many master classes. Eventually I got tired of all that moving around. At the same time Gunta came in my life and we started a family. Until today I don’t really like hotels, planes, any trips. Gunta already knows that planning a vacation at a resort or hotel, is not worth it. While working in the National Symphony Orchestra, I also have strong musical experiences. It is a wonderful, ambitious team, with great programs and great work atmosphere. I also care about my personal projects – quartet, quintet activities, recordings, solo concerts.

Gunta: My path was different. I don’t come from a family of musicians, but everyone in my family was always singing. So I have been singing folk songs since childhood, I remember a lot of them by heart. It didn’t seem like my singing is somewhat exceptional to my parents, so I started attending music school relatively late. By the way, during the quarantine, a wave of folk songs kind of came back and “hit” me again! Latvian folk songs are deep in my heart, and I am still learning Lithuanian traditions. I have already agreed with the LMTA teaching composer Mārtiņš Viļumas and his wife, ethnomusicologist Liana, that they will help me with it.

Are Lithuanian and Latvian folk songs different in terms of musical language?

Gunta: I should get more acquainted with Lithuanian folk songs so that I can evaluate the differences. We Latvians have little polyphonic music. I first encountered Lithuanian folk music at the Latvian Academy of Music. I remember listening to that indescribable ‘trance’. I know less of your other folk tunes. Latvian folk songs are very melodic, I remember how much fun I felt as a child as I sang songs whose melody wiggles far away. I’m singing at home at the moment, I want the kids to take over that, too.

How was your interest in contemporary Lithuanian music born?

Gunta: My teacher Regina Maciūtė is a very well-known Lithuanian music performer. She promoted a natural connection with Lithuanian music by dedicating to learning Lithuanian works. Last autumn, at the Gaida Festival, I performed the opuses of Julius Juzeliūnas and Bronius Kutavičius with the Vilnius Quartet, which were once sung for the first time by Regina Maciūtė, and it was great for me to see her listening in the hall. I really want to show Lithuanian music to Latvians and introduce you to music from my country.

How do you find a balance between all the different professional activities?

Giedrius: The activities of the orchestra take place consistently. And the wind quintet does not have state status; we do not receive a salary, so we are playing from our enthusiasm and love for music. We have a large repertoire, a library and plans for a long time on how we are going to be moving forward. The flute quartet works according to projects, so usually we organize several concerts a year. I also play in the projects of the Lithuanian ensemble led by Vykintas Baltakas. The constant creative process also takes place in the activities of our duet with Gunta.

Are you waiting for an external stimulus – an order, a project, to start creative process?

Giedrius: Yes, and no. If you do nothing yourself, just sit and wait, nothing will happen. Musicians need to plan, negotiate. Organizers need musicians, and musicians need organizers. Organizing a concert or festival is a huge job. Together with the Christopher Quintet, we recently released a music CD “Aerofonija” by Lithuanian music composers. I wanted to capture original works written especially for the woodwind quintet, to perpetuate as a certain time period value. Perhaps our next step will be a world music project – we have played the entire golden quintet repertoire. Of course, during the quarantine, all activities got stuck, but in the future they are likely to break down.

Are there tracks that you played for a long time and you feel like they grew on you?

Gunta: Composers put a lot of work into creating music; we work a lot by rehearsing. Therefore, it is important for me that the piece sounds more than once on stage. I would really like to play a piece more so that more listeners can hear it. And the longer we practice it, the more mature the interpretation gets.

Giedrius: When you put in a lot of work, the piece starts to sound different.

Gunta: Sometimes it’s unfortunate that contemporary music becomes short projects, in which musicians gather, rehearse several times and perform almost “reading from the sheet” on stage. In this way, the work is not felt, conveyed more deeply. It takes time.

Giedrius: The composition of the Latvian composer Mārtiņš Viļumas “Gaismojumi” is the most grown with both of us. We polished the work with Mārtiņš himself. Now we often perform this composition. Latvian radio wants us to record it, but the author is still going to rewrite the ending.

Gunta: We already consider Onutė Narbutaitė’s work “Labyrinth” our own. For example, a musician plays it all year round to perform some opus of Johannes Brahms. Such preparation is also needed for music written these days.

How is the preparation for embodying different characters on the opera stage differing?

Gunta: In operas, I often embody young, cheerful girls. Such characters fit my high, bright voice. I have often heard from the directors: “Be like champagne, like a butterfly!” It is not so easy to create such fun or frivolity mood, I want to find depth and seriousness in the roles. I look forward to working with Gintaras Varnas this fall on Michael Nyman’s chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. There I will embody neither a young nor a cheerful character. I enjoy singing associated with acting, full body movements. This creates a sense of freedom. In addition, I am happy to play modern and ancient music next to the opera, and I feel great pleasure in singing Lied.

How does making music together change the relationship between the two of you?

Giedrius: There are times when I say while preparing the program that this will be our last concert. Working together is intense and provokes arguments.

Gunta: When we rehearse with colleagues, we are much more diplomatic. And with each other we communicate more directly.

Giedrius: However, the result – a concert – is always a very pleasant event that brings us closer. It takes a while and you start thinking about new common concerting plans again.

Gunta: I can’t say that the concert is a joint flight, because we were very focused at the time. There is an instant unification of moments that are difficult to describe in words, when music carries us on one wave. In addition to words, we experience something common, significant together. It is also important for me to attend Giedrius concerts. It is closer to participate in what is very important to someone else.

Thank you for the conversation!

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