Five Rooms of O. Narbutaitė in the House of Lithuanian String Quartet Tradition

Lithuanian tradition of string quartet began back in the beginning 20th century. Having laid the foundations in the works of M. K. Čiurlionis and J. Naujalis, later it was cemented by the European level success of Vilnius’ and M. K. Čiurlionis’ quartets. Today it has firmly grown into Lithuanian musical self-consciousness. Both Lithuanian composers and performers are relentlessly expanding the boundaries of this most intelligent chamber genre, forming its own expression during the joint creative process. String quartets such as Chordos, Mettis, Archi, Art Vio, IPA, Adora, which can be heard on the Lithuanian stage today, are on the rise. Next to the ranks of the creators of this tradition is the phenomenal Lithuanian composer Onutė Narbutaitė, whose internationally recognized quartets also receives applause on the world’s largest stages. The composer, who has established a close relationship with the Chordos Quartet living in the spirit of contemporary music, has strengthened the fusion of the Lithuanian chamber music tradition into the general flow of European contemporary music. According to the quartet manager Robertas Bliškevičius, O. Narbutaitė’s music is extremely close to them. In Chordo’s repertoire, next to duets and trios, there is all the quartet music of O. Narbutaitė. Nevertheless, the performers acknowledge that her pieces require immediate concentration, other movement, a sense of structure, sensitivity, and confidence in the sound. Every detail becomes very important in the transparent material of composer’s music.

This extension of the Lithuanian String Quartet tradition house, built by Chordos and O. Narbutaitė, will be crowned this autumn with a new CD claiming to become a chrestomathy. It contains the quartets Opening the Gates of Oblivion, Drawing for String Quartet and Returning Winter, Melody in the Olive Garden, Drappeggio, and Just Strings and a Light Wind Above Them written by the composer throughout the forty years of her life. As a result, a wide range of emotional states on the CD becomes an archive of memories, when re-performed works from different periods of the composer’s life give birth to various cultural and personal associations.

All this strongly communicates to the listeners, keeping their attention to the enthusiastically charged, constantly changing musical flow, the uninterrupted potential tides, the change of harmony and tension that does not allow to breathe during the whole recording. According to O. Narbutaitė herself, music is born only from distant intuitions of sound. The lyrical, unhurried flow of the world of musical images, weaved by the composer, opens different musical spaces for the listener in each quartet. Located in a building of the Lithuanian string quartet tradition, the recording leads the listener on the routes by O. Narbutaitė’s composing and Chordo’s playing. They all lead through five music rooms, where they touch on the newly unfolded life forms of O. Narbutaitė’s chamber music.

Like four corners of the musical space, the four people, holding this experience in their hands – Ieva Sipaitytė, Vaida Paukštienė, Robertas Bliškevičius and Vita Šiugždienė – closes the sound between the lowest tones of the cello and the barely audible violin flutes. O. Narbutaitė’s music fills this space with movement that follows the rhythm and direction marked by the composer. Although built on the foundations of the twentieth-century Lithuanian string quartet tradition, the five rooms of this CD offer a new critical reflection of it, allowing us to look through the skylights at the future possibilities of Lithuanian chamber music, which are still transparent and potentially filled.

The first room – the fourth O. Narbutaitė’s quartet Drappeggio, was composed sixteen years ago. The alternating thicknesses, rhythms and shadows of the sound of music constructed through the metaphor of drapery are like an allusion to the past, heavy and light waves of memories. They are all navigated by a common organic, dynamic movement, the direction of which is often difficult to grasp, leaving the flow formed by the layout of the space itself, forcing the music to rise and fall, go in circles, dive underground, suddenly erupt again, finally stopping and turning back. At first glance, the formless volatile flow is indeed clearly structured in the very well-defined musical space in which the deluded listener descends into his own searches and discoveries.

The second in this record and the second in O. Narbutaitė’s work is the string quartet Open the Gates of Oblivion written by the composer in 1980. Here the author transforms life impulses into abstract musical forms. Although the field of inspiration for this quartet is not easily defined, the composer draws on Paul Celano’s favorite poems of “oblivion / memory”. The minimalist sound in Chordo’s recording is fulfilled and felt in a calm meditative movement towards silence. The boundaries of this room are much fainter and harder to feel, but the listener found here becomes constrained by the repetition of his own oblivion and experience. Oblivion becomes a cultural symbol as well as a milestone in the musical space itself.

In 1991, O. Narbutaitė presented the third string quartet in this recording, “Drawing for the String Quartet and the Returning Winter”. The Japanese interior room is revealed step by step, followed by subtle changes, individual sounds and sonic figures that gradually find common ground and respond to each other. Finally, the listener perceives, together with the whole, revolving around a common musical axis and finding himself in a contemplative atmosphere without beginning and end. The space of this room is defined by its eccentricity and axis, which wraps this cycle of the “returning winter” around it endlessly.

The fourth CD room – “Melody in the Olive Garden” (2000) – is one of the brightest and most successful works of O. Narbutaitė, who won the European Creative Prize five years later. According to this quartet, the second symphony written by the composer in 2001 also gained international recognition, when it was included in the number one of the top ten recommended works published by the International Composers’ Tribunal. The fundamental allusion to the last prayer of Christ on the Mount of Olives is distinguished by the rich literary contexts of the poetry of the New Testament and the Austrian poet R. M. Rilkes. And also by the unique instrumental composition for two string quartets and the trumpet solo. In the latest recording of this work, the younger generation ensemble Mettis joins the Chordos Quartet. Mettis, formed by four LMTA graduates who later studied at the European Chamber Music Academy, is currently playing concerts in various countries around the world. Two quartets of different generations and high quality were masterfully conducted by Karolis Variakojis, and the solo trumpet part was recorded by Lithuanian trumpet player Laurynas Lapė, who studied at the Lithuanian and Malmö Academies of Music and today works in the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.

This composition was written by O. Narbutaitė with personal experiences, seen and imagined landscapes, as if singing out of hope and from desperation at the same time. From one closed sound between the four walls of the cluster, a trumpet party flying out of the open window, like a voice from behind, ripples in a warm pleasant timbre, reciting the musical journey of the work in its footsteps, descending itself with a hard-to-catch and imaginative spirit. When he is silent, the listener is released in infinite emptiness, with nothing to hook for.

The recording ends with O. Narbutaitė’s latest quartet “Just Strings and a Light Wind Above Them”, which is only a few years old. The composition, commissioned by the famous American quartet Kronos, became part of their international five-year project. O. Narbutaitė herself describes this composition as a pointless observation of an empty landscape. With her eyes, there is nothing in the last room and nothing happens, only the vibrations of the changing light and the light wind gently shake the musical shades of the composition. The simple walls of the texture and dynamics of this landscape allowed the ever-changing timbres of string instruments to appear inside them. The stable and changing elements in the quartet together form the illusion of both movement and statics, leaving the listeners to be with themselves in ten minutes of meditation.

Chordo’s viola player Robertas Bliškevičius hinted that the listeners wish for such an intimate experience in the world of chamber music created by O. Narbutaitė, which requires entering with an open heart and allowing yourself to be manipulated into such a musical space that you find yourself in. Each space of O. Narbutaitė is created by the quartet Chordos very organically and masterfully, allowing the listeners to discover unprecedented emotional experiences. Not surprisingly, such a pronounced effect of this music was honed and matured during a long collaboration between the quartet and the composer. In the latest – already the nineteenth – recording of the quartet Chordos, well-known and as yet unheard compositions of O. Narbutaitė are reborn. Not surprisingly, the quartet itself emphasizes that the reason and purpose of this CD is the composer Onutė Narbutaitė and her music.

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