Jānis Petraškevičs Jānis Petraškevičs Darkroom (2012) Phantasy Piece for Ensemble

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Orchestration: flute (also piccolo & bass flute), oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon – horn, trumpet, trombone – percussion, piano – strings

There are many possibilities how to address the question of one´s own identity. An important aspect when doing so is the introspective, the inner self-questioning. Jānis Petraškevičs writes music, which is such an inquiry itself. His Darkroom is a place where the sound develops in the conditions of isolation. A place in which each nuance, each shade, each flicker of a sound is able to unfold. Petraškevičs upraises Robert Schumann to a certain guiding figure of the work. The first movement, Motto, is endorsed with words "... SCHumAnn/boom ...". Schumann allowed different perspectives in his musical observations and therefore he created two art figures, Florestan “the wild” and Eusebius “the mild”. For Petraškevičs it is not the temperament of those two figures that matters most, but the possibility to approach the core of music in a dialogue situation. It is therefore not an obvious matter; he does not give a clear answer. It is, nevertheless, the questioning, searching and contradicting itself which is a part of the musical process. “The sound personality”, writes Petraškevičs, „is according to its character a double one“. On the one hand the music should be able to observe its own colours, shades, and its own emotional state. On the other hand, it should also live through this emotional state as a genuinely felt state. In the figurative sense it means that the question of one´s own identity does not allow for any simple answer, but it has to be observed from various perspectives.

Petraškevičs unfolds the central sound figure of the piece in the first movement. The first violin plays a flowing figure which narrows itself according to the intervals, one fourth, one third, one second. Those intervals, which are of course microtonal, are so intertwined together that they seem to emerge apart from each other. In an early draft of Darkroom Petraškevičs speaks of the fact that singing is often attributed to the Latvian, and that the new music does actually not allow for this singing as an emphatic renunciation of the subject. One of the questions that preceded the work is therefore the question of how is the inevitability of being a Latvian related to the singing. The central violin figure of the piece appears as the residuum of singing in front of this background. At the same time Petraškevičs composes obstacles which disturb and hinder the flow of musical lines. The diversification of the shape or spreading of intervals, these are all techniques with which Petraškevičs works through his material structurally. The differentiation of the sound is remarkable, the fact that the clarinet keeps on searching various different fingerings to play the same tone; or that the strings work with three different kinds of dampers, namely made of wood, rubber and metal. The process which he accomplishes is one of a linear musical time towards a non-linear, static vertical musical time, whereas at the end there is not simply a chord in which the interval steps are eliminated, but rather dissolution of the material in the sound heterogeneity of the ensemble. The second movement ends with stagnation: "quasi silenzio assoluto (quasi immoto)" before a short postscript indicates the state of weightlessness again.

Jānis Petraškevičs was born in 1978 in Riga and he studied composition at the Latvian Music Academy in 1996-2003. In the years of 1998-99 a scholarship enabled him to study with Sven-David Sandström at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and in 2004-2007 he completed his post-graduate degree with Ole Lützow-Holm at the Academy of Music and Drama in Göteborg.

Jānis Petraškevičs visited courses in Schwarz/Tyrol (1996), Darmstadt (1998) and Royaumont (2000), he was also a guest at the Academy Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart (2003) and at the EarLab in Stresa (2008). In 2001 he received a composition commission for the Ensemble Intercontemporain (trop proche/trop loin). His Opus 2 et la nuit illumina la nuit won the composition contest of the Association of Baltic Academies of Music in 2003. His works were performed in 2008 at the Venice Biennale and ISCM Festival in Vilnius. Renowned ensembles incorporated the works of the 34-year old in their repertoire, including Ensemble Ictus, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble SurPlus, or Ensemble Modern.
Björn Gottstein
works as a freelance journalist about contemporary and electronic music. He lives in Berlin.

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