ElbphilharmonieElbphilharmonie, Großer Saal / Hamburg, Germany
just strings and a light wind above them
50 For The Future:
The Kronos Learning
“just strings and a light wind above them was composed for string quartet, for the Kronos Quartet’s project Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire. This fragment of time, which lasts about ten minutes, is like a purposeless observation of an empty landscape. Most probably of an imagined landscape in which nothing happens, only the vibrations of the changing light and a light wind agitate the stretched strings and modulate their shades of color.
“The range of musical expression – articulation, dynamics, texture – is very limited, in some respects even quite elementary. The most variable thing is the timbre. What dominates in the harmony is the interaction of scarcely more than a few intervals, the perfect fifth, native to a quartet's instruments, and the tritone, rising up from the occasionally used whole tone scale, but in the palpitating textures sometimes similar to the rippling reflection of the perfect fifth in a crooked mirror. Movement and stasis are illusory. The movement of the surface does not lead anywhere, on the other hand the externally static parts do not create the feeling of calm balance.
“It may be that a detached glance through an unstable, occasionally transparent, occasionally obscured image reaches further. After all, what lies most often behind aimlessness is contemplation, and a limitation is simply the consequence of limitlessness.
“After a multifaceted experience comes a need for a decrease, a pause, an emptying. In 2016 I wrote a composition for piano called In the Emptiness. This particular composition for quartet extends the line connected with the polysemous line of emptiness, a line that marks my present time.”
Translated from Lithuanian by Romas Kinka
Onutė Narbutaitė discusses her musical background, her composition process, her relationship with Kronos, and more.
Onutė Narbutaitė is one of Lithuania’s best-known composers. She learned the basics of composition from Bronius Kutavičius, graduating in 1979 from the Lithuanian State Conservatory (now the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) where she studied composition under Prof. Julius Juzeliūnas. From 1979 to 1982, she taught music theory and history at the Klaipėda Faculty of the Lithuanian State Conservatory. Since then, she has concentrated solely on her creative work and lives in Vilnius.
In 1997, Narbutaitė was awarded the Lithuanian National Prize for her oratorio Centones meae urbi. The cycle of symphonies Tres Dei Matris Symphoniaeand the symphonic composition La barcawere recognized as the best symphonic works in the 2004 and 2005 competitions organized by the Lithuanian Composers’ Union. This same competition chose her as Composer of the Year in 2015 for her opera Kornetas (The Cornet) and the chamber work Was There a Butterfly?. Narbutaitė is also the recipient of the Lithuanian Association of Artists prize (2005); the St. Christopher statue awarded by the Vilnius City Municipality, the highest honor it can bestow, for depicting Vilnius in her music (2008); and the Gold Star awarded by the Lithuanian Copyright Protection Association (2015), among many other prizes.
As early as the 1980s, Onutė Narbutaitė enjoyed the reputation of a composer of subtle chamber music. Her early opuses were suffused with depictions of night, silence, and oblivion; her compositions, unhurried in their flow, with their transparent textures and nostalgic in mood, not infrequently would remind one of the pages of a diary written with sounds. In the years following Lithuania’s independence the composer’s music underwent a significant transformation: Narbutaitė began devoting herself to large-scale symphonic and symphonic-vocal works. In maintaining her undeniably creative independence, Narbutaitė has developed an expressive musical language, characterized by intellectualism and structural thinking, expressive instrumentation, and a haunting melodic quality, sounds stacked vertically one on top of the other, and an intense musical flow. The subtle sonic imagination in her music is in harmony with the rich cultural references to be found there.
Onutė's piece is a true exploration of shimmery, harmonic colors through string instruments. Whether they're made by the individual players or by the quartet as a whole, just strings and a light wind above them introduces colors I've never encountered in quartet music before."