A Chat with Lithuanian Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute

Classic Arts Features   A Chat with Lithuanian Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute
Jokubaviciute's recent recording, Music of Tribute: Berg, was described by the New York Times as a "fascinating" disc showcasing "an artist of commanding technique, refined temperament and persuasive insight."


Jokubaviciute talks to Playbill Arts about this unique project with Labor Records, and her experience celebrating the music of Alban Berg 125 years after the composer's birth.

For those readers not yet familiar with the series, can you describe the Labor Records' Music of Tribute initiative?

The Music of Tribute series was conceived by Labor Records' founder and producer Heiner Stadler. The series pays homage to important composers by linking their works (mostly solo piano pieces) with music written in tribute to _ or in memory of _ the composer featured in each volume. To date, there are tributes to Villa-Lobos, Debussy, Faur_, Scarlatti, J.S. Bach, and now Berg. The series creates new resonances between these masters and the creative music that they have inspired by establishing and exploring intricate webs of musical dedication and thematic reference _ and in doing do, brings unknown and often previously unrecorded works to light!

How did you become involved with this project, and what inspired the decision to dedicate your debut recording to Alban Berg?

While studying at Mannes College of Music, I was performing rather frequently in concerts at various venues throughout New York City. Heiner Stadler heard me perform in one of these events and approached me about his Music of Tribute series and about the possibility of working together on the Berg volume. Over the next years, we then had many meetings and discussions about all aspects of the project. Since Berg's world is quite challenging and the repertoire very particular, we spent a lot of time researching _ Heiner was particularly careful in making sure that the pieces that we were to select would be musically interesting and powerful in their own ways and that I would be able to forge emotional connections to the music. It was only natural to dedicate myself to this project and to have Alban Berg be at the center of my debut recording.

This disc contains the very first recordings of pieces by Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Ross Lee Finney and Jacob Gilboa. Describe your experience approaching these relatively unknown works, and the connections they make to the music of Berg.

There is something adventurous and quite challenging in approaching a work that has no "recorded life" and shaping it into an interpretation with recorded permanence. Not only were these works unrecorded, but they are rarely _ if ever _ performed in concert. Well-known masterpieces, which are often heard in concerts and on recordings, become intimate partners when we have the luxury of noticing every nuance and every slight turn of expression; but, with new or unknown works, the canvas is potentially vast and open, at least as far as making an interpretive mark is concerned. Of course, the fact that these pieces are in one way or another connected to Berg's music offers an excellent point of departure: either thematic (as in Finney's variations, which uses the theme from Berg's violin concerto, or in Gilboa's piece, which uses three chords from Berg's opera "Wozzeck") or architectual (as in Ali-Zadeh's carefully crafted and structured sonata). Through the process of working on them, performing them, allowing them to live with me in a sense, not touching them for a while, and then returning to them again, I felt that I was able to get inside the world that each of these works creates.

Is there a particular piece on this recording that is nearest and dearest to your heart?

I often wonder _ I am sure that I am not alone _ what the results would have been had Berg decided to write more works for piano. His Sonata, Op. 1 is his only work for solo piano that he published _ and to which he assigned an opus number _ and it is undeniably one of the most important piano works of the 20th century. It really sits on the point at which one world comes to a close and another opens. The last breaths of tonality, if you will. Having lived with the Berg sonata and worked on it for many years, I still find it absolutely fascinating, continuously and constantly challenging, and endlessly beautiful. I would also like to mention the Giacinto Scelsi work that is featured on this recording, which measures up to Berg's emotional range in its long, sustained lines. Like Berg, Scelsi reaches for extremes while maintaining a fragile intimacy.

What repertoire would you like to record in the future?

I am interested in continuing to explore this approach of organizing repertoire around a certain idea, be it a composer or a historical period or relationship to another art form, for example. In this case, the recording is obviously organized around Alban Berg, however the ideas of tribute, of paying homage, of musical influence were also explored. At the moment, I am working on several recital programs that might eventually expand into recording projects. I am very much drawn to the color of sound, which is vast on an instrument like the piano _ perhaps an exploration of the French colorist composers and their relationship to the visual arts might be in order. I am also putting together a program that explores the notion of 'touch', of 'touching the piano', which explores how the 'palette' of the piano and pianism has expanded and developed over time, going back to Couperin (L'art de toucher le clavecin) through the Toccata (Italian for 'to touch') to contemporary works with extended techniques. We shall see!

Was there a defining moment or breakthrough when you decided that music would be your life?

Music has always been a central part of my life. At home, we often made music. Even though I am the only professional musician in the family, everyone can play a little bit of something: accordion, guitar... Singing was always at the center of all family gatherings and celebrations. Some of my most cherished memories are of late evening four-part folk song singing, which was an immense joy for me even though it was, at times, a bit nerve-racking trying to keep up with endless verses! There was never any defining moment when I decided to dedicate my life to music. I always made music, and my career has grown organically from these early experiences.

What is one of the most memorable performances you've experienced, either as a pianist or a concertgoer?

During Soviet times, we had some amazing artists give recitals in Vilnius, and I will never forget the experience of hearing Sviatoslav Richter perform an all-Scriabin program in a huge dark theater with only a desk lamp on the piano. Perhaps I was still too young to appreciate his incredible artistry, but I do remember his presence and the energy with which he filled the air throughout the entire evening. I am also continuously inspired by my former teacher Richard Goode. As a performer, some of the most liberating and sincere music making for me has taken place at Prussia Cove on the Cornish coast of England: a true haven for musicians and a source of great inspiration and genuine collaboration.

If you could choose one piece of classical music _ by any composer _ that would work as the soundtrack to your life, what would it be?

I would choose a work that mirrors the ups and downs in life, that is in a constant state of transformation and development, in which there is always something new to discover: Schubert's Cello Quintet, without a doubt.


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