Justina Repeckaite

Interview with Justina Repeckaite: “I had a sincere confidence in my piece”

Posted on October 12, 2013

On the 29th September, during the ceremony held by Lithuanian Composers’ Union, prizes were awarded for most prominent pieces of the year and musicology competition works. Every year the most intriguing nomination is the Début of the Year, this year the prize was awarded to young a composer Justina Repečkaitė for a string orchestra piece “Chartres”. The composition was performed for the first time by the St. Christopher chamber orchestra during the “Druskomanija” festival. Even than the piece was welcomed with admiration and positive critique. I believe most of us are keen to know how the author herself feels about it.

You are studying in France at the moment, why have you chosen this country after obtaining your baccalaureate in Lithuania?

I came back to Paris, because during my Erasmus year in the Conservatoire of Paris I met a lot of interesting artists, I got used to constant stimulation by exceptionally active cultural life, I have also missed contemporary and medieval music improvisation. It is important to me to develop not only as a composer but as an improviser (vocal) too. This year I had a chance to participate in various concerts alongside various active musicians as well as actors. For me this kind of getaway from the “composer’s shell” is the most revitalizing.

The French language is quite complicated. Did it pose any difficulties?

Yes, French is difficult, but mainly because of the tricky pronunciation. I believe that a musical person quickly grasp those small phonetic nuances which could change the meaning of words. I have been learning German and English for years, however, when I went to France to study, I learned the language in the same manner as babies do. As a result, French is my most fluent foreign language.

What were main differences between higher education institutions that you have encountered?

The Paris Conservatory is so called Grand Ecole which continues the old tradition. All lectures are linked to music. In contrast to Lithuanian education, here you are not obligated to do sports, learn foreign languages, philosophy, aesthetics or pedagogy. It seems some times as if in Lithuania they try to produce a universal intellectual, while becoming a musician is pretty much up to you. In Paris only music is taught. The course of composition is very wide, because as well as instrumental, electronic music is largely in focus.

Where did your artistic path start? Were you interested in music since childhood?

My mother use to play the piano all the time when I was still in her womb, or to get me to sleep later, however after I started music school she said I played better than her and she wouldn’t touch the instrument again. I remember now that my first “compositions” originated from my inability to reproduce what my mother played, as my baby fingers were too short. I would rearrange what I’ve heard. Finally I convinced her to let me attend the music school. It wasn’t easy to us since at that time I attended not only the middle school but J. Stauskaite art school as well. For years I was nurtured by these two artistic activities, always thinking that I would choose visual arts in the future, however discovering the creation of music made me change my mind. At this point I was taught composition by Donatas Prusevicius. He recommended that I should choose something more practical, however when I said that I didn’t want to go the easy way, he introduced me to the professor Osvaldas Balakauskas.

I know that you were the last student of Osvaldas Balakauskas. What does that mean to you?

I was sad when Osvaldas Balakauskas retired. I use to visit him even before applying to the academy. Once he wanted to give me around a hundred books about music, I must confess I was ashamed to admit the fact that I can’t read all those languages he knows. Professor O. Balakauskas is a real cosmopolitan and intellectual, without him I would have failed to enter the academy.

My new professor in the academy was Ricardas Kabelis. He has a very original and cardinal artistic insight. He puts forward the importance of loyalty to your idea. He always had confidence in me, sometimes even more than I had, when I was writing this piece “Chartres”, which won the award so important to me.

You are so young, however you already have some awards and a lot of positive critique. Have you expected this when you begun your studies? What does that mean to you?

Recognition in Lithuania is very important to me. I feel it’s difficult to achieve. Listeners can find their favourite music on the web, be it from a completely different part of the world, so it’s not that the composer can choose his own audience. This year “Chartres” is being aired by radios participating in International Rostrum project, among them Lithuanian Classical Radio. I had never thought about this kind of “cherry picking”, most of the time I quietly mined my own business in my closed creative life.

When in the year 2012 “Chartres” was performed by St. Christopher’s chamber orchestra (conducted by Karolis Variakojis), have you hoped that it will win the Début prize?

I had a sincere confidence in my piece, however I wasn’t sure what kind of impression it will leave on the audience. I’m always pleased to hear, when people tell me how they have experienced my music. After “Chartres” became the recommended piece by the International Rostrum of Composers, the Debut prize was a logical next step.

Where did the idea for this piece came from? How different is it from other music that you have wrote?

It took me half a year to write “Chartres”, it was a quite meditative period of my life.

It’s my insight into the south rose-window of Chartres cathedral, where the apocalypse is depicted. The symbolic meaning and the shift between visual and musical expressions were important when writing this piece. I was looking for ways to draw the chosen stained glass window by musical means. I based all musical parameters strictly on this one proportion: 6:8:9:12. Interesting fact is that the analysis of the piece’s structure shock the listeners who get the impression that “Chartres” is exceptionally emotional piece. However it’s abstract concept could be realised by other art forms.

This piece is the most loyal to the initial concept, there are no compromises.

I know that most composers find this to be a difficult question, but which one of your pieces is the most precious to you?

“Chartres” no doubt.

What are the most important aspects of creation work? To what do you pay the most attention?

The most important thing to me is the conception. Without it composition would be just a hoax. From the main idea originate all other decisions about form, rhythm, harmony and all other musical parameters, which only serve to base the conception.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

All my compositional conceptions have the initial non-musical form. It can be visual arts, theology, theatre, improvisation, proportion or even geological processes. All these topics might seem to be from completely different worlds, however they all come from my interests.

Which contemporary artists are your favorites?

Talking about composers – Salvatore Sciarrino has a unique sound, Gérard Grisey’s mystique hidden under precise sound organisation. A few years ago I’ve discovered a free music improviser, double-bass player Joëlle Léandre, last month I participated in the improvisation workshop led by her and Mat Maneri in the Royaumont monastery. She is an exceptional artist, capable of realising her potential with maximum intensity both in life and creation work. I am very much inspired by improvisation. It is vital for my development to create here and now. Key difference between improvisation and composition is that composition is meant to control the result each time it’s performed. Improvisation represents only one unique moment, space, performer’s experience.

In fact, contemporary art is always in struggle with medieval art to be my main passion. I am particularly interested in XIV century culture, historical situation, which stimulates my fantasy. I have accidentally become a missionary of this epoch, always trying to “enlighten” everyone who is at least a little interested in it. Ars Subtilior is in fact the music that I listen to most often! It all started when I first saw a few manuscripts and their transcripts. I realized how mysterious and encoded they were. Ars Subtilior is a wonderful expression of the medieval avant-garde.

I promise to everyone who would come to visit me in Paris to take them to the medieval Cluny museum and straight afterwards to Pompidou museum to see Picasso and Kandinsky.

Do you find it easy to collaborate with performers? Are they keen to play your music?

While I was studying in Lithuania it was very difficult to find musicians among students. I had to seek the help of professionals in order to record my piece. They were wonderful – the accordionist Raimondas Sviackiavicius and the flute player Giedrius Gelgotas.

My more recent works were performed with inspiration. In Paris there are lots of artists interested in contemporary music, who are always honestly enthusiastic about me writing music specifically for them. Like contemporary music ensemble “Warning”, who recorded my piece “Absence” and are currently waiting for me to write a short opera commissioned by NOA festival.

How often does the musicians’ interpretation is different from what you had in mind? How much freedom do you allow?

It is difficult to perform a piece perfectly, more so is to write a perfect one. So I’m quite forgiving in terms of performance errors and always try to show patience when introducing the concept. Even if the piece could never be performed, it would still exist, as according to a Russian writer M. Bulgakov, “manuscripts don’t burn” .

In the end, what are your future plans? When can the audience expect to hear your new piece?

I’m going to Russia, I’m taking part in International Young Composers Academy. The soloists of Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble will perform selected composers’ pieces in the Perm region. The last concert will take place in the Moscow National Philharmonic Hall. For this occasion I wrote a duet for accordion (Sergey Tchyrkov) and cello (Ilya Rubinstein) called “Plate Tectonics”, which is a musical meditation about slow and distant underground movements, their separation and impact on the Earth.

Journalist Vaida Urbietytė-Urmonienė, published on www.literaturairmenas.lt 2013-10-11