Oct. 18, 2023
A New Symphony by Composer Arvydas Malcys Invites Everyone to Feel the Vilnius of His Youth
Author: Dalia Musteikytė
Publication: Lietuvos rytas
Oct. 18, 2023
Author: Dalia Musteikytė
Publication: Lietuvos rytas
Arvydas Malcys, cellist of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and resident composer, is probably one of the most prolific composers in the country. In recent years, two premieres of his musical works have taken place one after the other, and on 20 October, another novelty composed by him will be heard in the concert of the Gaida Festival at the National Philharmonic Hall - his sixth symphony Symphonia Vilnensis. The orchestra will perform it under the baton of the French maestro Victorien Vanoosten.
– Tell us about your new symphony – how and why did you write it?
– This composition is dedicated to the 700th anniversary of Vilnius. It was commissioned by the Lithuanian Composers’ Union. In one of our conversations with Remigijus Merkelis, the director of the Gaida Festival, he got me interested in a proposal to write a work for a symphony orchestra, which would be linked to the themes of Vilnius and its anniversary. Symphonia Vilnensis is a story about the history of my generation’s life in Vilnius. While writing the symphony, my mind kept returning to a cult book of the time – “Vilniaus Pokeris” by Ričardas Gavelis.
I tried to feel the metaphorical nature of Vilnius, the states of the people who lived there, the vibrations of dreams and visions, the juxtapositions of paradoxes, and the surrealism that surrounded us all. This is a story about the mystique of Vilnius, the mystery of the stone pavement, the nighttime bustle of the crumbling walls of the houses, the evening vibrations, and the morning rustle. It is a story about a ghost city, about the strange characters walking its streets, about homo sovieticus, about socialist reality and its backstreets, about my generation remembering all this: grey and pure, mysterious and open, spontaneous and withdrawn in itself...
– What was Vilnius like when you saw it 50 years ago when you, a Kaunas resident, came to study here? Where did the magic of this city, which kept you here and made you decide to stay after your studies, lie?
– Since my youth, Vilnius has been a city of fairy tales, dreams and mysteries. Back then it was not as modern and clean as it is today, but all its simplicities, its curves, the dust and dirt of the city, and the crumbling walls of the houses in the Old Town were very lovely, very special and precious. Moreover, today, from the perspective of almost 50 years, it gives a different view of everyday life, the city and the people around it.
I remember the fizzy water machines on every corner in the centre with glasses, which were used by everyone who was thirsty, the booths with telephone sets where you could take shelter from the rain for a short time, and, in the new districts, the kegs of beer and kvass on wheels. I didn’t return to my hometown of Kaunas because I got an appointment to the Lithuanian Philharmonic in Vilnius. I graduated first as an instrumentalist cellist, then, after serving in the Soviet army, I got a diploma as a composer. There were no humanities studies in Kaunas in Soviet times - the university, the conservatoire, and the art institute were in Vilnius. Therefore, all the young people in Lithuania who wanted a humanities education studied in Vilnius.
– Is your relationship with this city different now? Does Vilnius attract, does it feel good here or do you want to get away from this city for as long as possible?
– Vilnius is a very cosy and convenient city, not too big, not too much industry, very green, nice old town, lots of churches, impressive hills. When I settled in Vilnius, I became very interested in it, wandering around the crooked narrow streets and dilapidated courtyards of the old city for days on end, discovering something new every time. When I arrived to study at the then-Lithuanian Conservatoire, I rented an apartment in Karoliniškės for a while. At that time, the only connection to the centre was via Laisvės Avenue through Savanorių Avenue, there was no road through the slope of Karoliniškės to Žvėrynas, and in many places, there were outdoor toilets in the courtyards of Žvėrynas, Užupis, Paupis, Naujininkai. During physical education lectures, I used to run with the students of the Conservatoire in the stadium on Gediminas Avenue, which is now the site of the Seimas Palace.
– What is your sense of Vilnius in this musical work?
– I tried to present my view of Vilnius through the prism of my generation. People of my generation are those who were born between 1950 and 1960. We lived through almost seven different decades, two different centuries, two millennia. During that time, Vilnius has also changed. It has become more beautiful; it has turned into the capital of a real state. At the beginning of my generation’s life path, the only communication was the “long-distance” calls, today it is video calls to any point in the world. We were happy with vinyl records and tape recorders, today we listen to music on the internet – YouTube, Spotify.
My generation has evolved from handwritten letters to email and social networks, from hand washing to washing machines and dishwashers, from listening to the radio, from monochrome TVs to gigabytes and terabytes on mobile phones and tablets. We knew how to print photos, we all rode bicycles as children, we skated in winter, we kicked a ball in the yard all day long, we played ball games and hide and seek. Our generation has been through many changes, many shocks and many crises - national, personal, economic and global.
– What musical means do you use to convey the image of the city?
– When I was writing, I was trying to listen to the memories and states of mind that remained. By migrating from one state to another, I tried to express that period by moving from paradise to hell. The construction of the work is a variety of plots and landscapes with their own thematic dialogues, allegories, climaxes and drama. I have used various formulas of balance and symmetry, which will be reflected in the sounds, rhythm, texture and other musical elements. I tried to feel the atmosphere of my first years in Vilnius. I wanted the listener to feel that leaden and depressing fog in the music from the very beginning as if they could see the outlines of the towers on a colourless, smoky screen.
I tried to convey several different emotions tied to specific places - industrial districts with the noise of factory conveyors, grey people walking around with mute faces, cutting firewood in the courtyard of a Krakow Street, with toilets standing outside, and wandering at night in the mysterious dark streets of the Old Town, with unclear shadows floating around. I wanted to create several different characters, to give them expression. I tried to construct a work from many fragments that would reflect the capabilities of the orchestra, as well as today’s cultural layer, today’s pulse and the narrative of history. I wanted the listener to love this story of our experiences, of loves and losses, of the people we met, of the challenges of life.
The symphony is in one movement and has a suite-like quality.
– You are insanely prolific - this year has already seen the premiere of your fifth symphony “Yesterday’s World”, followed by “Olivia’s Awakening” in Klaipėda, Kaunas and Vilnius.
– “Yesterday’s World” was written back in 2021, but the pandemic that struck us altered the performance plans, the concert schedule was disrupted, and the premiere was postponed to January this year. In that work, I talked about the crises and premonitions of catastrophe in the modern world. “Olivia’s Awakening” came about naturally with the birth of my granddaughter Olivia. The work has found its own performers and is already playing in concert halls without my knowledge. It hasn’t even been a year yet, and it has just been performed in Kaunas for the fifth time. The work was inspired by the harpist Joana Daunytė.
I wanted to create something bright, childishly pure, joyful and transparent, and the harp was the perfect instrument for it. The music was written during the Christmas period as if recalling the romantic moods of Hoffman’s fairy tales, which have been with us since childhood.