For the upcoming 700th anniversary of Vilnius, a special project entitled “Music for Vilnius” has brought together seven prominent international composers who will create compositions for specific spaces in the capital. Anna Korsun, a Ukrainian composer living in Berlin, and Michael Gordon, a composer from the United States, have already visited Vilnius and searched its corners for inspiration for their work. Now, just recently, Germany’s Heiner Goebbels – a composer, director and legend of today’s European theatre – has been to the capital as well. Years ago, his compositions were featured in Lithuania at the Gaida festival, and there were also opportunities for audiences to see his stage works (Eraritjaritjaka – musée des phrases and Max Black) and hear his orchestral compositions. Although the musician has not yet decided on the location he will use in Vilnius for his new composition, there is no doubt that it will be unique and innovative, just like all of his work.
Goebbels, who is known for breaking the mould of the traditional canons of art, has been recognised by some of the most prestigious music and theatre awards, having been nominated several times for a Grammy, and awarded Norway’s International Ibsen Award for innovation in the field of musical theatre. The artist’s works are performed at probably all of the most important theatre, jazz and contemporary music festivals, and at the world’s largest modern arts forums.
“I want to discover the treasures of your cultural heritage”
The last time Goebbels visited Vilnius was seven years ago, when he went home with the very best impressions of the audience: “Their curiosity and openly expressed emotions were incredible. I never considered myself to be superior – someone who should educate and tell people what to think and how and what to understand; I offer my works to the imagination of the audience. I can say that your audience’s imagination was very open-minded here, and I was impressed by their curiosity and immediacy. That’s why I’m very happy to return to Vilnius – when travelling, personal meetings, conversations and discussions always leave the strongest impression on me. I wasn’t here when you had just won Independence, but I see the changes, which are really inspiring. During this visit, I can see Ukrainian flags everywhere – Lithuanians support Ukrainians unwaveringly; your recent history probably allows you to understand and support those who are fighting for their own freedom”, says the composer about his freshest impressions of Vilnius.
Goebbels says that the task of creating a piece for a specific spot in Vilnius gave him the opportunity to learn about the history of the capital, which he never had time for on his previous trips. He is impressed by the abundance and diversity of churches in Vilnius and wants to explore the cultural heritage more deeply. The artist was also surprised to see book stands at the Vilnius City Fiesta: “During festivals like that in Germany, it would be impossible to find books – people there do not associate reading and literature with public events; this was a pleasant surprise for me in Vilnius. Literature is one of the most important art forms that inspire me. I’m not a big reader, but a number of authors, such as the American Gertrude Stein, the German Heiner Müller, the Czech Adalbert Stifter and several Austrian writers, had a great influence on my work,” Goebbels admits.
“It will be interesting to give this city a gift”
The artist says that he is grateful to Vilnius, where his compositions have been played so many times, even though he was not always able to come here himself, and when he did come, his visits were always short and hectic: “That’s why now, as the anniversary of Vilnius approaches, I felt that I could give something back to this city, which has been giving us – creators and performers – its attention and the love of its public for 20 years now. I’m happy to be able to come up with and create something interesting for a specific place. I have received a few similar invitations to compose music for the anniversary of the city of Frankfurt and for various European capitals of culture – I was always pleased by them, because I’m one of those people who like concrete orders and tasks. That’s why I haven’t created anything that hasn’t been performed. There is already enough music in the world, bad music too, so I want to look for something that hasn’t been said or answered yet – I want to give the audience a different perception of music. And I ponder for a long time, because I don’t trust my ideas until I find that ‘certain something’ worth creating and surprising myself with, first and foremost.”
The composer says that he is inspired by Vilnius’s polyphonic and multifaceted history. “For example, I’ve already started looking for Lithuanian futuristic songs – maybe I won’t use them, but they’ll be part of my research for a specific place. I still haven’t decided which space would be suitable– I’ve seen several historical corners of Vilnius as well as some interesting industrial ones,” says Goebbels.
“I can answer not with words, but with sounds”
Goebbels’s work is usually described as “non-standard, unusual”; in his performances, lighting design plays a special role, combining sound and image, and music is sometimes born from sounds or chatter, the speech of actors on stage. Goebbels wanted to create a theatre not based on text, where music is just an illustration, but to utilise the possibilities of music and light and find a balance between words and sounds.
“I grew up in a family of composers, but I thought that music was only for pleasure, and I wanted to be more useful. So I studied sociology – I’m a certified sociologist – and I think this had an impact on the formation of my creative approach. Music was my second major, but at the time I had no idea whether I wanted to be a teacher, a composer, or a jazz pianist. And I became a composer very late in life, after working in theatre, radio and cinema. I think that my music always touches on topics that raise questions and excite me. I can answer those questions not with words, but with sounds,” says Goebbels about his work.
The future innovator of music and theatre met like-minded people and began collaborating with an international ensemble of soloists in Frankfurt that he still composes for. “They inspired me to create music in a non-standard way, as well as to question traditional things. Our concert business, and especially the opera business, is very traditional. I’ve always wanted to do things out of the ordinary and question everything: maybe work with the lighting, or maybe put the performers on stage in a different way? Music halls and opera houses seem to be built to perform only 19th century music. And there are so many traditions in the music industry that it is difficult to turn them upside down, but with this ensemble we managed to do it,” says the composer, pleased with their accomplishments.
“I’m not a creator with just one style”
It is difficult to pin Heiner Goebbels down to one style, especially since his work is not limited to just one branch of art. He can work passionately with a heavy metal band, with jazz musicians, and with prestigious symphony orchestras. “I’m already preparing installations for next year, one of which is for the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, another is for a steel factory in southern and western Germany, and the third is for Vilnius. I don’t compare my works to each other, and I also don’t create them alone, so even if it sometimes seems like a lonely process, I involve other people, a video or sound designer.
The last work that I did here in Vilnius a few years ago was also a collaboration like that – Max Black. I’m proud that I created it, but I’m also proud that I managed to put a group like that together – a fireman, an actor, another composer and a sound designer, who all created this incredibly thick chain reaction between thoughts, text, fire, space, light and sound. Now I’m proud of my latest work, House of Call, which is written for a large-scale orchestra. It has 15 parts and contains many stories and narratives, as well as some tragic experiences. And the material for a piece can be many things: sound, biography, text, space, location – these are important components for me”, says the artist, whose works will already be delighting audiences in Rome, Paris, Frankfurt and Vienna this autumn.
Composers from Japan, Italy, Austria and Poland will also be visiting Vilnius. They will be looking for places that arouse emotions in them, and will be dedicating the work they create to the anniversary of the capital. The composers participating in the Music for Vilnius project will be writing pieces for specific spaces in Vilnius, which will turn into long-term musical installations that will also be available for viewing later. In addition to providing a musical reminder of the impressive anniversary, these pieces are also expected to invite people to reacquaint themselves with different places in the city. In 2023, the premieres of the works created especially for this occasion will be accompanied by educational and creative workshops, excursions, concerts and other events.
Find more about Music for Vilnius here.