On 30 June and 1 July, the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania hosted the premiere of a work written for this space by one of Europe’s most influential composers, Austrian Beat Furrer. Considered one of the most important composers of contemporary music and a major influence on the shaping of European music in recent decades, this is the first time that Beat Furrer has given a world premiere in Lithuania. His new work Prophezeiungen (translated from German as “Prophecy”) for voice, bass clarinet and accordion was performed at the National Library.
According to Mr Furrer, throughout its existence, the National Library has preserved and borne witness to Lithuania’s complex path of statehood and national consciousness. The staff had to save Lithuanian books at great risk during both the Nazi and Soviet occupations. From the beginning of the Sąjūdis to the present day, the National Library has remained an active centre of social processes. Furrer was impressed not only by the monumental and exceptional architecture and the acoustics of the space, but also by the significance of this place for our country.
The dedication of a work by a world-renowned composer to a particular space is a culturally significant event, a personal connection to the place and an imprint on the history of the city and the country. Therefore, according to the Director General of the National Library, Prof. Dr. Renaldas Gudauskas, it is an invaluable gift to the library, which will provide a creative impetus.
“On behalf of the entire library community, I would like to thank you most sincerely for the priceless gift of an exciting cultural event – a musical work dedicated to our library. Modern life is inseparable from music; it has become a natural part of our lives. Whether performed live or through modern media, music enriches our daily lives and encourages us to reflect on eternal values. We accept this gift from Beat Furrer as an important source of strength for new activities and artistic ideas for the Library,” said Prof. R. Gudauskas.
The world premiere concert at the National Library was ingeniously hosted by the head of the cultural innovation agency “Meno genas”, composer Matas Drukteinis, and the head of “LENsemble Vilnius”, composer and conductor Vykintas Baltakas.
B.Furrer’s work is described as “conceptual music” – each piece is created using a new consistently developed musical concept. He explains, “I wouldn’t be so interested in composing music if I simply replicated an already known and working sonic concept instead of going in unexplored directions. Of course, there are pieces that are based on the same idea, but even then the musical idea reveals itself from a new angle.”
In the composition for the National Library space, the musician draws on the story of the French philosopher, anthropologist and ethnographer Claude Levi-Strauss, as told in his book Tristes Tropiques (Sad Tropics). It tells the story of a Brazilian tribal elder who retires and starts singing. He sings in the voices of various individuals, animals and mythological figures – in the pitch and register assigned to them.
“This story interested me in reflecting on the idea of the song itself, especially the melody – its multifaceted nature, as a combination of many different musical strands, sounding in relation to the positions of the body, timbral qualities,” revealed Furrer.
At the composer’s request, the work was presented to the audience by guest stars of contemporary music from different countries, who have performed Furrer’s works many times before.
The vocal part was performed by Latvian mezzo-soprano Helena Sorokina. The golden-voiced singer’s field of interest is extremely broad, ranging from church vocal music to Edith Piaf programmes, from the classics to her latest passion for contemporary music. Her absolute pitch – her innate ability to accurately identify the pitch of the sound she hears – is particularly useful for this performance.
The bass clarinet was played by Italian Marco Sala, a performer specialising in contemporary music who has worked with ensembles such as the New Art and Music Ensemble Salzburg (NAMES) and the Antonio Vivaldi Orchestra. The work was accompanied by Roman Yusipey, a Ukrainian accordionist based in Germany, who performs with “Cremerata Baltica” and as a soloist.
About Beat Furrer
Born in Switzerland in 1954, Beat Furrer received his first-class musical education in Vienna. In 1985 he founded “Klangforum”, one of Europe’s leading contemporary music ensembles, in the Austrian capital, which he led until 1992, and with which he still collaborates as conductor. In addition to his impressive symphonic and instrumental works, Furrer is a prolific composer of operas. His first opera, Die Blinden (1989), was commissioned by the Vienna State Opera, and in 2006 his sound theatre production FAMA won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. In 2019, his latest opera Violetter Schnee was staged at the Berlin State Opera.
For his great artistic achievements, Furrer was awarded the Vienna City Music Prize in 2003 and became a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts in 2005. In 2014, he was awarded the Grand Prize of the Austrian State and in 2018 the Ernst von Siemens Foundation Music Prize for Lifetime Achievement.
About the project “Music for Vilnius”
The International Festival of Indigenous Music “Music in Space” presents a part of the “Vilnius 700” programme “Music for Vilnius. Works by world composers for the spaces of the capital”.
World-renowned composers of contemporary music from seven countries and cultures have created new works for selected places in the capital, especially for the 700th anniversary of Vilnius. Their works are presented in prestigious concert halls and festivals from New York to Tokyo. The world premieres of their works have been given in the venues of their choice.
The project started on 6 May and will end on 6 July. The participants are renowned composers from Japan, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Poland, Austria and the United States of America, who were invited to create a piece for a Vilnius venue of their choice. In addition to the world premieres of these works, the project also presents a broader panorama of the invited composers’ work.