THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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M. K. Čiurlionis great grandson, Rokas Zubovas:
Text: Indre Lauciute
Rokas Zubovas. A world famous pianist.
2011 is a special year with regards to the famous Lithuanian national composer, artist and cultural activist Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. He died exactly 100 years ago. In April.
Naturally, this year is extraordinary special to his great-grandson, the world famous Lithuanian piano player, Rokas Zubovas.
We met Rokas, and simply asked him: Why? What is so catchy and special about the music of your great grandfather that you can’t tear yourself off from spending almost every day with him and his art, as well as the memory of him, continuously studying and playing his music?
“Last year I spent much more time with M.K. Ciurlionis’ music than ever before. All these tasks regarding Ciurlionis music I used to do before fade compared to the tasks I accomplished in 2010. In order to record seven hours of live music, one has to spend 8-9 hours every day continuously playing his notes. Of course, going so deep into his music I’ve discovered new experiences and grasped fresh ideas. Just imagine you’re holding the notes and feeling them not just intellectually, theoretically, but also physically at the same time. Such immersion into his music gave me something that I can’t even describe and express in words yet, but the thing I’m sure about is that I’ve changed and I am different now.”
“Last year was extraordinary because of trying to concentrate on one subject. The last time I had such an experience was 20 years ago, when I was studying in the United States; then I had to choose and determine my priorities. At that time I experienced that when you concentrate on the most important things in your life, you realize you’ve been surrounded by so many worthless things, although they seemed to be so important and amusing. And then you get surprised - you just don’t miss them at all.”
“I could describe the year 2010 using one phrase I heard from a priest in a church a few years ago: “Christmas comes to everyone in a very different time and separate.” This means, that the miracle of Christmas is very autonomic and personal. The last year I could call as my time for Christmas. I understood and discovered many things that I couldn’t before. By living with Ciurlionis music and playing his notes I achieved a better understanding of why did he write the music the way he did. When I hold the notes of such a composer, the feeling of the music is somehow more sensitive.”
I think one could be jealous of such a Christmas. I didn’t find my Christmas yet. It seems that last year was really remarkable for you. What other discoveries did you make in 2010?
“One of the precious and important things that I found for myself is the polyphonic music of Ciurlionis. It explains his late music really well or reveals why and what he was seeking in his studies.”
Another area that I didn’t pay enough of attention to - all his study is about the grey hour. I think it’s a subject that most of us never think about or at least didn’t ever before. One hundred years ago when there was no electricity yet, people used to outlive the dusk hour specifically. I mean the time when there’s no daylight anymore, but it’s still not dark enough to light oil lamps. That hour was perceived as the time for concentration, visions, recollections, dreams and stories. This period of the time is special, because you can’t trust your eyes - you can’t see the real objects anymore, just the shapes and shadows. Maybe that’s the source and the reason, why the reincarnation theme is so strong in the music and paintings of Ciurlionis. Those shapes just disappear in his music.”
“In addition, one of the most important goals that I achieved last year is that I’ve already launched a website about Ciurlionis. I already received some letters from the Netherlands, England and Japan, concerning the same question: where to get the notes of Ciurlionis? I’m delighted that there are more and more people who are searching for Ciurlionis and now they have this point where they can get it - the website”.
Čiurlionis and Sofija Kymantaitė-Čiurlionienė in 1908
Preparing for our interview I found out that Ciurlionis is popular even on social networking pages, such as facebook. In specialized pages for classical music and forums, people are discussing about his music and asking each other “who is he?”
“One year ago I had a dream. I want, that one day a man would wake up in Kenya and find out that 2011 is 100th anniversary of the death of M.K.Ciurlionis; one could google about it easily and find representative information concerning all one’s questions on the website I’ve launched. I’ve experienced that it is possible to find some letters or information about paintings of Ciurlionis in libraries and museums, but sadly not the music. It seems that music is such a peculiar area which exists only when it is being played.”
“Besides, I was shocked. Ciurlionis is such a big figure for all our history of music and has been dead for one hundred year already, but we still haven’t recorded all his music. That was also one of the reasons why I decided to take this big mission - to record all his notes. Everything is already done, and my goal is to send two DVD copies to city libraries, gymnasiums, music schools and schools of higher education.”
I’ve heard that the state of Lithuania doesn’t support your project the way it should. Does it mean that your work is considered to be as an underground activity?
“Recording Ciurlionis’ music is a must do thing. I remember the famous phrase of John F. Kennedy: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you. Ask instead what you can do for your country.” I like this phrase, but I still see one objection in it. It’s implying that a man has to do something for his state. I think that a state, Lithuania, is what we are. I am of the same importance as a prime minister of Lithuania, or some other famous and important politician. Why should I let, that the face of Lithuania would be built just by them? I am equal with the minister or any other Lithuanian you could meet on the street. Lithuania is not just somebody alone, it’s all the people. That’s why I don’t consider that the things I do are just for Lithuania. I think that Lithuania is doing this.”
“Despite daily topics about the lack of money, I think that every project could be started with saying: “There’s no money”. If we always give everything to the hands of money, then we just kill a human in ourselves. We give up ourselves to money because we think it is ruling everything. It doesn’t. It’s just us. There are so many people that live without being controlled by money. Let’s follow them.”
This year is special. What are the special events that will make people be interested in Ciurlionis?
“There are many events planned. It is really sad that the national program of Ciurlionis is structured not in the way I would be satisfied – money is given to the more bureaucratic things, but anyway, that’s the way it is.”
“Art is alive just when it is relevant. It has to influence people - otherwise it doesn’t exist. I’m very happy, that in Lombardia, in Italy there is an exhibition of Ciurlionis displayed at the moment. And approximately 10,000 children will have the possibility to participate in the project called “Ciurlioniada”. That’s a big investment in the future because a lot of children will know about Ciurlionis. That is informal learning and it doesn’t matter if a kid won’t remember the name of Lithuanian artists anymore but still, he would already have been trying to copy an angel from his paintings or a zodiac sign. They will have some understanding. That’s impressive. I would be very happy if Lithuanian children would have such a possibility - to touch the sense of Ciurlionis art.”
“Nevertheless, I’m very happy, because this year there will be two different exhibitions of Ciurlionis displayed in Vilnius - one in spring, and the other one in autumn. The first one will be devoted for sensational experiencing of Ciurlionis music and the second one - for musicology subjects. These conferences are going to last four days and attract many guests from all over the world.”
“One of the biggest accents I’m excited about is the conference in Finland in winter. This conference is organized by the Finnish Musician’s Union and is the biggest annual event for all the Finnish musicologists attending the symposium. One evening is devoted to Ciurlionis, and I think that’s the best way to spread the information that we could dream about. Imagine that suddenly the whole Finnish musicology community will be touched with a tiny colour of Ciurlionis and people will become aware that he exists at all. They are precisely the people who can carry the message about his music. But why don’t we do this? Why don’t we look for the ways the message about Ciurlionis could spread as a water-colour painting.”
Are you the only pioneer, initiator doing something about the works of Ciurlionis?
“There are more people doing something about it. Lately I’ve been talking to the students of the music academy, who want to make a music festival in Druskininkai this summer. There would be three colossal scenes with different kinds of music, such as jazz, classics and alternative music. There would also be an area for tents and paintings of Ciurlionis would be exhibited under the night sky by using lasers and there would be a direct broadcast on facebook and youtube. These are a few of the many amazing youthful ideas that could attract other young people to the knowledge of Ciurlionis. I hope it will work. It would be a great accent on Ciurlionis for this year.”
“There will be more and more people doing something related to Ciurlionis. I have no doubt because there are people who love Ciurlionis music. We just need ideas (not money) to start doing something. Nowadays we understand art differently. When we adapt Ciurlionis music to the changing world, a man can hear that the melodies are acceptable and touching. That’s why they adapt so easily. As I’ve mentioned already, the art of Ciurlionis is catchy. Usually, if someone hears and experiences the art of Ciurlionis, he stays connected with it. For this reason the sound of Ciurlionis spreads in the world. It seems, that there’s love shining from the inside of his art, and it spreads.”
How long have you lived with the music of Ciurlionis?
“It all started in my childhood, of course. When I was accepted to the music school of “Naujalis” in Kaunas, it was somehow always natural to think, that if there’s a need to play Ciurlionis, me as a great-grandson, would the best fit. So I got used to being related with the name of Ciurlionis since my primary classes. I don’t even remember what I used to play but obviously, it was already Ciurlionis. As I remember, even the first big concerts of mine were also shaped by Ciurlionis music. To sum up, it would be almost 35 years.”
“Almost all the time I used to have an internal prejudice that to some extent, I am as an advocate of him. I used to feel that everyone expects me to be the one who has to carry the message about Ciurlionis. That is my mission. I used to ignore it.”
“But once, when I was playing in United States, a perception came. I understood, that being a part of Ciurlionis, I should accept it as a blessing and it’s a gift to have the possibility to touch his notes and share them with others. I realized that his music is so great that I could exist or not but still his music would exist hundreds of years after my death. And if I touch it and spread it, it’s just a blessing for me and I should just embrace and appreciate it. I take it as a present to myself and every time I’m affected by his music I find something special for myself to grow.”
“True art can be the one that doesn’t have neither the bottom nor the top. If the painting is good, then every time you look at it you can find something different. It’s the same with a good movie or a book. But nowadays we have this fast food industry. If you ate a hamburger, you know that you can get the same later. There’s just massive production which is the same. Ciurlionis was living in that time and culture that is inexhaustible.”
M.K. Ciurlionis - Lightning Flashes
Could you be called as a missioner who’s like Prometheus carrying the torch?
“I don’t consider myself to be like this. Some people say that if I’ve recorded Ciurlionis music, then there’s no use to do that anymore for at least a few decades. No. The more interpretations of Ciurlionis, the better to the music. The music of Beethoven exists not because everyone plays it in the same manner but because of different variations and interpretations. When everyone plays it in different ways, then appears a line that combines everything into one. Tradition doesn’t occur out of one thing, tradition is born out of what is different. Among these different options you can find one common denominator that unites them all. There always has to be a dominator. To copy and to be the same is just boring and I don’t see any sense in it. That’s why I encourage to play Ciurlionis music and to interpret it in freestyle. I’m not perfect. No one is. I just do it the way I can.”
“Let’s allow Ciurlionis to be played in the manner of jazz, pop way of music or to be transformed into something different. Why not? When people will see him in this manner then they will try to find who he really is and will come to his music. And these people will be the ones who makes him famous.”
“Everyone has this basic thought that Ciurlionis is something “good”. Heritage, in other words. It’s kind of a basic thinking that you’ve learned at school and don’t analyze anymore. When we place something into a box then it’s already conserved and no one is touching that unless to clean the dust. The thing is that music is alive just when you hear it, not when it’s placed on some shelf. No one is interested in old authentic music from old, let’s say 1936, because for us it’s too boring. We have to transcribe it and adapt it the way we could understand it and to make it relevant. The same with Ciurlionis. We have to clean the dust and take care about his music but at the same time adapt it to our ears.”
How big is the difference between understanding the music of Ciurlionis and the nowadays lives we’re living?
“Ciurlionis was living in at time when art had the function that’s already forgotten. The art was as a medium among the human and all these mysterious unintelligible phenomenons - the nature and the human. I’m absolutely convinced that art appeared as an explanation of the things that we can’t understand by mind. When we don’t find the way how to make an explanation for anything, then we create our own explanation system through the paintings, music or mythology. It explains to us how we should live and why the things are the way they are. We don’t understand but we don’t need to, we feel. It’s the same about the music. The role of it is to explain our feelings. When you dive in and loose yourself in music then you feel how the world of your emotions becomes pure. But why? Because of the harmony you get. We don’t think about our world of emotions too much but with music we’re able to harmonize it end then continue living. When Ciurlionis was still alive, this role of the music was still important and the artists used to create trying to create a model to explain the world.”
What has changed nowadays?
“Well, partially I think it’s our fault. We don’t believe in such anymore.”
“I think today’s artists do not believe they are creating some kind of explanation of the world or creating some model for it. Still there’re many artists who believe in it but most of the artists don’t even come to such idea.”
So why do they create then?
“The phenomenon of 20th century is originality. Ancient art existed through copying. The position of the artist in the 19th century was like this: if you want to become a painter, first year don’t use paper, viper or anything because anyway, you won’t create anything valuable. It would be just a waist of expensive material. Just refine your arm. You do this, then find out the artist you admire the most and start copying him. Do this till you’re able to copy him perfectly. When you already reach this level, when you’ll be able to make the ideal copy, then you’ll understand what is wrong in his painting. You’ll experience who you are. When you’ll see this disagreement among you and your beloved artist, you’ll find out that this disagreement is you.”
„Nowadays this way of thinking has lost its sense. Quite often I see so many artists that try to make an impression by any means, anyhow. The goal is to make an impression to as many people as possible and after on everyone forgets it. No one cares about it anymore but does this impression explain anything and is there any deeper meaning? There’s nothing. Just a façade”.
“Let’s remember such a phenomenon as cinema. Almost 30 years ago such directors as I.Bergman, R.Fellini or W.Allen used to figure on the covers of magazines and newspapers. They were representing the time, it was pulsing. Nowadays the cinema revolves around the question of how much money did this or that movie earn and for sure you always have suggestions, which is the most expensive and that’s why it’s worth seeing. What does it have to deal with the harmony or the art I’m talking about? Nothing. Everything is just a façade.”
“When we pass from sensuous things to sensual things, then the art stops it’s function. We want to sell ourselves for a high price but you can just see that people come to the concerts with empty eyes and leave like this. Just made one more tic in their “to do list”. “
“We could say that’s because of the market. That’s the reason why we act like this. But no, still every person wares its soul and cares around his sacred mark and where to fulfill it. And finds it. Art is used to be considered as a source of satiation. But art is not like this anymore. People discover other sources for that: a small kitty, taking care of the children, flowers, practicing yoga. There happens that somehow these small things appear that satiates a man and there’s always be the desire of fullness. As long as we are humans, the desire will last.”
VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the editors: editor@VilNews.com.
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