Monday, 11 September 2017

Serendipity: Mirga, Norman and Čiurlionis

Serendipity: 
Mirga, Norman and Čiurlionis

Last week's short vacation in Vilnius, Lithuania turned out to be a series of serendipitous adventures. It was actually a vacation with a dream, to finally visit the M.K.Čiurlionis National Museum of Art in Kaunas and soak up the musical vibes of the original paintings of an artist who was also a prodigious musician, poet, philosopher, activist and much more. He saw mystic symbols in nature and his paintings became more and more abstract as he included patterns and symbols of sound, as it were visual equivalents of his music. For this visionary composer the two disciplines naturally overlapped - a man after my own heart. He said "I am completely immersed in counterpoint. I see the entire world as a great symphony and people as notes". Sadly, he died in 1911 at the age of only thirty-five. He became a national cultural icon.
As soon as our charming hostess at the Cosy Old Vilnius apartment heard that I "paint music", she exclaimed: "Čiurlionis!". Then, when I told her that I was doing research for a performance in 2018 of his symphonic poem The Sea (Jüra) with a certain Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, she virtually leapt into the air - clearly a great fan. Would I mind if she alert the media?

The following morning I get a call from Labas rytas, Lietuva (aka LRT Television Good Morning Lithuania), asking if I would interrupt my vacation for an interview in the Vilnius Čiurlionis House. And could their cameraman also follow me round the Kaunas Museum to shoot my reactions to the paintings? Oh - they only have 100,000 viewers and would I mind if they dub my voice into Lithuanian? What the hell, I've always wanted to speak fluent Lithuanian.
On arrival at the House, I bump into the Director, the eminent pianist and teacher Rokas Zubovas who tells me that that he is the great-grandson of Čiurlionis. He shows us the tiny room that the artist/musician rented for a while with Sofija, the mother-to-be of his grandfather and says with a sense of wonderment: "I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for certain er, creative activity in this room." He is now devoted to the international promotion of the work of his great-grandfather and I feel a real mutual warmth. My interviewer really understood what I'm about and she asked me what I think Čiurlionis would say, if he saw me sitting in his house with his score in my hands, talking about my own lifetime dedicated to bringing art and music together. Struggling to control my emotion, I say that I think we would hug each other like brothers. I wish he could see me performing The Sea with Mirga.
Yet another happy coincidence was that Mirga's dad Romualdas Gražinis happened to be conducting an lovely outdoor choral concert in the beautiful park of the Pushkin Museum. Such energy! Such flexible hands and body language! Who does that remind me of?

The plaque near my café commemorates the former music school of the great violinist Jascha Heifetz, and as I stroll through the tiny streets to the location of the destroyed Great Synagogue of Vilna, I marvel at this tiny country that survived such horrible genocide, such a tormented history, yet for so many years has produced such a rich kaleidoscopic culture.  

As a portrait artist, I couldn't help noticing the typical Lithuanian profile, the sharp triangular nose - a determined nose that knows where it's going, as demonstrated when they walk straight at you on the street. They seldom give way, yet on a personal level exude such enthusiasm and friendliness.

Watch this space for more on the serendipity of how I met the CBSO Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in Birmingham and together conceived a plan to perform kinetic painting in my birthplace to a great work by a composer from her birthplace.

The exact CBSO performance date in the 2018/19 Season at Symphony Hall Birmingham will be fixed soon. I'll keep my Lithuanian friends posted on the date of the TV broadcast on LRT.
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