Feb. 1, 2013
Music Is Like a Dream
Composer Arvydas Malcys speaks with Daiva Tamošaitytė
Author: Daiva Tamošaitytė
Publication: Kultūros Barai
Feb. 1, 2013
Composer Arvydas Malcys speaks with Daiva Tamošaitytė
Author: Daiva Tamošaitytė
Publication: Kultūros Barai
Arvydas Malcys (born 1957), a well-known cellist and composer, has graduated from the Lithuanian State Conservatory (the present Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) twice: the cello class of Domas Svirskis in 1980, and the composition class of Vytautas Laurušas in 1989. Since 1979 he has been a member of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, in 1991-97 of the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra, in 1995-97 of the Vilnius New Music Ensemble. With the latter, he performed in many countries and presented premieres of the works by Lithuanian composers.
The composer Malcys is highly prolific. His works are performed at music festivals both in Lithuania (Gaida, Jauna Muzika, Iš Arti) and abroad (Ravenna, Belgrade, Cyprus, Riga, Kiev, Kazan, Odessa, Moscow festivals, the ISCM World music days, etc), at concert venues from USA to Israel. He is a winner of many international composers’ competitions (3rd Prize at Sinfonia Baltica in Riga in 2004, 1st Prizes at Juozas Karosas Competition in Vilnius in 2005 and 2008, Conductor’s Prize at Mozart 250 in Moscow in 2006, etc), his works are included in the programs of performers’ competitions in Haifa and Berlin. His creative partners – worldwide famous collectives, conductors and performers, among them the violist Yuri Bashmet, on whose commission Malcys wrote the Concerto for Violin, Viola and Chamber Orchestra. The premiere of this work was performed on 24th of January, 2013, in the Moscow P. Tchaikovsky Conservatory, during the huge festival ‘Yuri Bashmet – 60‘ (the performers – Elena Baeva, Yuri Bashmet and Moscow Soloists).
The composer has released 9 CDs of his music, the latest is Blackthorn Eyes (2012). He composes mostly instrumental music – symphonies, orchestral pieces, concertos for flute, viola, trombone, accordion and orchestra, chamber works (string quartets). He is great master of orchestration, his music is very picturesque, theatrical, full of original timbres, textural contrasts, sonoristic and aleatoric elements. The instrumental parts, brimming with irony, grotesque, based on unexpected dramatic turns, often resemble bright stage characters. Malcys’ work is intense, organic, full of life, the composer rejects the postmodern ideology and maintains a lucid emotional, lyrical, and at the same time, effective, concerto-type quality.
- You are the world-famous composer, your works are performed all around, from Vilnius or Saratov to New York. How did your music reach the world?
- I really am not known in the world, I think that I am little known in Lithuania as well. My works get in the repertoire of the orchestras in different ways. They are commissioned or selected from already existing ones by the organizers of the festivals, or by conductors, or they are offered by the performers.
- How do you accomplish your commissions? Is it easy to implement them?
- It’s hard to compose any piece without a vision, an idea, if you do not hear how does it sound in your subconscious, if you do not hear the pulse, the “heartbeat” of the upcoming work when walking on the street... The commission makes me concentrate, and so it is different from “free” writings.
Those who commission new works usually specify the instrumentation, the duration and the deadline. This partially simplifies the process, because it puts the limits you can’t exceed.
I have several commissions this year. One is for the festival concert on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Widold Lutosławski. The program of it will be comprised of works by contemporary Polish and Lithuanian composers.
The other commission is from the Berlin Chamber Orchestra – Concerto Grosso for two soloists and orchestra. So far, all commissions were fulfilled in time and evaluated positively.
- You collaborate not only with Lithuanian conductors but also with those from abroad – Misha Rakhlevsky (Russia), Alan Buribayev (Germany), Olari Elts (Estonia), Andris Nelsons (Latvia), Petar Ivanović (Serbia), Andrej Petrač (Slovenia), Per Christian Arnesen (Norway), and others. Would you single out a conductor or collective collaborations with whom were the most interesting?
- I didn’t meet all the conductors and orchestras that performed my music. If it is not the first performance and not in the festival, then the author is not necessarily invited.
Mstislav Rostropovich of blessed memory made the greatest impression on me, I was in touch with him for many years. The Maestro felt sympathies for Lithuania, so there was a period when he performed with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra yearly (mostly at the festivals abroad). This personality has strenghtened the prestige of Lithuanian music in the world. From the foreign artists, his contribution to the promotion of musical culture of our country was the greatest – bringing the Lithuanian Ballet and the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra to famous festivals.
- It is perplexing to ask the composer which of his works is best for him, but I will take a risk anyway: maybe it’s Impetus, dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, commissioned by him and conducted by him in concert of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra at Ravenna Festival, Italy, in 2002? Or is it perhaps Milky Way (2004), considered by musicologists the most popular?
- I think, one has to ask performers and listeners. For me, all works are precious, no matter if you write for the orchestra or the piano. However, if the performer asks for the particular piece and that for the particular instrument or ensemble, and I don’t have such a version, then sometimes I make different instrumentation. Milky Way has a dozen versions – from solo piano to full symphony orchestra.
- Last year, Andželika Cholina used your Bolero in the ballet Barbara Radziwiłł. Didn’t it inspired you to undertake a ballet or an opera? After all, your music displays such colourful musical characters, it is so theatralic and dramatic, and tempting to visualise it.
- I am very pleased that Cholina included my works. Without Eccentric Bolero, this ballet also features Symphony No. 1 (A Presentiment of You). I would be very interested to write a ballet, I hope, this will happen... Listeners, colleagues, and also musicologists say that my music is to ballet, in general to dance, to the theatre. I hope that it will be more widely applied in the performing arts.
- How do you rate the situation of artists in today’s Lithuania?
- The art of interpretation prevails now. Take a look how much attention is paid to the performers – in fact, not even to them but to the noise around them. The brutal invasion of commerce into intellectual life. Even the price of the work of art is now more important than its content. A well paid artists immediately gains “added value” in the eyes of the public, a figure haunting on TV becomes the “star”, and the media discusses their outfit and behaviour, but not their creative work... What a vanity fair.
Most people generally avoid thinking, because it’s not easy to admit that we are stuck in a spider web woven by ourselves from self-made stereotypes, illusions and myths. Almost nothing genuine is left. There is a gigantic industry helping people to dissociate themselves in the perfect way, to shut their eyes and to float suspended, immersed in trance, between horror and oblivion, or to drown in the sea of the TV or the internet...
Today, Lithuanian cultural politics and fashions are determined by the “aesthetics of negation”. However, in the absence of “the positive” in art, there will be neither soul, nor civic consciousness in the society. People are kind of ashamed, even start apologising if they feel bound by eternal values, true feelings. Talking about patriotism, love of your homeland gets awkward altogether.
Most artists seek to live simply in comfort. They absorb the habits of the consumer society. Now, the key is to strive for two things: to satisfy those who give commissions, and to please the critics. The first relieve the artists from their artistic responsibility, and the second are compellingly telling things what might be nonexisting in this “art”. Nowadays, what is expected from art is entertainment, a mild shock, a slight irony or just pleasure for eyes and ears. The artist has become toothless nowadays. He does not want to be dangerous, because he is afraid of risking his snug conditions. He does not conflict with the authorities, because they still promise him and still give somesthing.
Right now, the artist is a coward, apolitical, and happily lets his inner drama go grazing into the fields of decorative expressions. The importance of art, its depth, philosophical connotation, criticism, they all disappear. The art is getting boring.
The visual artist or writer has something to show the public: here’s my picture, a book... And if a buyer who pays for it comes out, their works are on the market! It is much more difficult for the composers... Reward for our work is not enough, we need performers – a soloist, quartet, choir or orchestra who would rehearse a new work a good week. All this has to be included in advance plans, including finding a venue for the performance of the new work. Then the recording, for safekeeping the work. Costs are rising markedly. In Lithuania, as everywhere, the society feels being closer to theatre, literature, architecture, than to music, except for, of course, the popular one. After all, a very rare philosopher, researcher of culture or politician would dare to discuss contemporary music. A competent knowledge of it requires special education, in order of not to make a funny spectacle of oneself... Therefore, the situation of composers today is more complicated than that of architects, writers, theatre directors or sculptors...
- What should be corrected, possibly reversed, refused, to deliver the best possible, diverse creative work to the public?
- We are what we are... Lithuanian musical culture has matured in the Soviet era, at the latest from all arts, and this is felt. Although today this gap is filled as our performers and authors are involved in various projects in almost every part of the world – the traditions are still very fragile. I am glad that the regional festivals are growing – back in time, all musical events were organized just in a few of cities.
I think that all music collectives with the state or national status should initiate the creation of new Lithuanian works of music more often. This is avoided for some reason; don’t they trust the work of Lithuanian composers? At least, the opening and closing of each concert season should be crowned with the premieres of works by Lithuanian authors...
- Could there be a more flexible cultural policy, which would help there?
- The state allocates a little bit of funds for culture, the professional ideologists distribute them “as needed”, the media publish a “correct” message about “achievements”, and it does not matter that all this art finds its way into the dustbin the next day. The most important thing is that the cultural campaign took place, the money was used, the people received the intended dose of art. Then another project is being developed; if it will be approved by the comittee of experts, the funds will be allocated from the state budget, and so on. Unrelated people don’t even understand what is happening here, they think, if it so, then it should be so. Culture that does not have a lasting value is intended to kill boredom, much like golf, horse riding, air ballooning, etc. The society whose ultimate goal is a rich, comfortable life, does not need art of lasting value.
The great part of the official culture became noisy celebrations, festivals, happenings... Everything should look as impressive as possible, as the goal here is only one, to kill boredom.
Every epoch, even the most despicable, is convinced that it is superior to the previous ones, but the real image will be revealed only in the time when our bones will be decayed long ago. What were we worthy of, only our children could say, or maybe grandchildren. Of course, they will overwrite the history in their own way, probably subjectively as well...
If we want to know what our lives are worth, we have to look at it in the context of history, to learn the past, the present, and even see the future at the same time. We have to understand who we are, where we cane from, we must discover our history and show it to the world. I am convinced that our history is one of the strongest backbones to preserve and support our national identity, and one of our main obligations is to prevent it from oblivion.
Only when you become one body with your nation, when you share in its destiny, you can then think about the creative work – the sculptor Stanislovas Kuzma said. I agree with him.
- Consequently, creators should not create art for the sake of art. On the contrary, they should be kind of ideological guides of the society.
- In Lithuania, everything we can, we redesign, remake, or break down. In order to have nothing to remind us where did we come from. The Soviets did not like the legacy of the “bourgeois” times, the current party bureaucrats are trying to disguise the Soviet past. The human life is cheapened down to a toy in the hands of the politicians, sucked in the daily rumpus. Well, the Soviets at least had an ideological background for their destructive deeds; the present bureaucrats do it for money.
Television also carries out a very important political function – deliberately demoralizing the society to turn it into the crowd of scum. It’s easy to manage stupid and demoralized people even without coercive powers.
- To avoid wandering too much into a sociopolitical realm, better tell us what led you to the choice of music – parents, people around you, teachers?
- I spent my summer vacations in Rokiškis with my grandfather, who played violin in his spare time, especially in the evenings of weekends. The cousins accompanied on accordions. I also tried something vith the violin and accordion, besides, I knew a few songs that I sung with pleasure, accompanied by grandfather with cousins. In my childhood I was a definite tearaway, so my parents let me to the J. Naujalis Art School, to prevent me from climbing the fences and keep me busy all day. There they identified my ability of absolute pitch, and I went to the cello class. My first music teacher was Vilnius Petrauskas – very demanding teacher who indoctrinated me not only with love of music, but also with diligence and persistence in striving for my goals. Later, from the 8th grade, I used to listen to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, King Crimson, who opened up a new world of music for me...
I created my first songs while studying at the J. Gruodis Conservatory. I played the guitar in the ensemble of popular music in Kaunas, then in Vilnius, while studying at the State Conservatory. Later in the army, I served in the song and dance ensemble, wrote songs and instrumental compositions, orchestrated the entire repertoire of the ensemble. After returning from the army, I wanted to gain more knowledge of composition, so I began to attend the optional composition courses with Prof. Eduardas Balsys.
- Do all genres obey you, or do you have your favourite one?
- It does not matter in what genre do I write, but I’m an instrumentalist, therefore instrumental music is closer to me. I have played many contemporary pieces. When I rehearse a new piece, I always analyze: why is it written in such a way, where is the “key” to the piece, what would I do differently, what is great in this work and what just “does not sound”... In my youth I wrote for voices – a lot of religious hymns, pop songs. Witht the help of the Lithuanian National Radio and Television, I recorded an album of pop songs, The Light of Faraway Summers.
- Tell us in general about the principles of your creative work. Do your style changes according to the challenges of the present?
- I write “pure” instrumental music, and I hope it will not lose its depth and appeal.
The creative process consists of two complementary stages – the intuitive and the rational. The initial phase is the search for an idea. When I have an idea – the legend of the work, then I think of how to write it down... Including various doubts and compromises. Witing the music requires a system (like in architecture – constructions of the building are needed). I choose a model, a technique, but sometimes it starts to interfere, I have to change it. The work is not just an idea or a thesis expressed in musical language. It is also a document showing how does the composer understand his craft, his aesthetics, the surrounding world, combining moments of his suffering, happiness and frustration... Music for me is also an acoustic space in which I can be myself. I write how I hear, how I can, how I feel. I do not endeavour to blindly thrust on my works on anybody. Each listener discovers what do they have in their soul. And for me, every work, whether successful or not, is a step forward...
I think, music does not need to be understood by the mind. Music is like a dream – it is hard to explain it by logic, but if it’s overwhelming, if it’s striking your deepest feelings, then it makes a huge impact on human behaviour and worldview... To create interesting, suggesting, emotionally compelling contemporary works, one needs to have a good understanding of classical music based on centuries-old experience... When looking forf interesting and convincing means of expression, I insensibly enrich my music with neo-romantic harmonies, echoes of expressionism or impressionism... I use my academic experience to master the large-scale works – classical laconic forms, cyclic forms. The flow of the dramatic development and the “warming up of the material” are facilitated by tonal, consonant harmonies... Sometimes I combine the echoes of the past with post-minimalist elements – pulsating rhythms, repetitive groups of sounds, symmetric repetitions of periods.
After all, writing the music is a kind of puzzle that resembles the Glass Bead Game... Music conveys thinks that can not be expressed in words, statues or images. I think, the music is being created at the level of feelings.
Once I have read that creativity is born out of moans and sighs of love, of mental disorders, sense of revenge, desire to dominate and defeat other “colleagues”. It is also said that the creative work is not a pursuit but a way of life, relentless desire, passion, a fruit of unrestrained fantasy. All are right in their own way...
- What are your immediate plans? Do you maybe have a dream that you are aiming to realise as a great creative ambition?
- I will do what I know best, because no one will live my life for me...
- Thank you for the conversation.