Kutavičius, The Gates of Jerusalem

The Salzburg Landestheater‘s music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla decided to conclude her tenure here with two works by her Lithuanian countryman Bronius Kutavičius.  Knowing nothing about him, I bought a ticket for one – his oratorio “The Gates of Jerusalem” – and figured I would then decide whether to get a ticket for the other.  Having now wasted 80 minutes and 26 Euros, there won’t be a second ticket.

Although Jerusalem has more than four gates, Kutavičius only made four (perhaps we should be thankful – 12 gates would have presumably lasted four hours): East, North, South, West.  Stylistically, he drew inspiration for each movement from music coming from each of those directions: Japan, Ancient Lithuania, Africa, and the Western Church.  Each movement was indeed quite different (the Japanese-inspired one involved playing string instruments incorrectly, including scraping something against the strings inside a piano).  What they all had in common, however, was mind-numbing repetition.  Kutavičius came up with an idea for each movement and then repeated it for twenty minutes.  Although none of the movements reflected the musical language of Ravel’s Bolero, in some respects this oratorio used the same logic as that endlessly awful work, never understanding when enough is enough.  

The only movement that partially worked was the African one (the South Gate), with spirited solo singing by Elliot Carlton Hines.  But even this was interminable.  At the end of the curtain call, Hines reprised part of this, which was welcome because the abbreviated reprisal was indeed the right length.  What a shame Kutavičius did not think to edit his own work.

The setting for tonight’s performance, in Salzburg’s University Church, allowed the chorus and orchestra to move around and explore the resilient acoustics.  I think highly of Gražinytė-Tyla’s conducting, and her infectious smile permeated the evening.  But while patriotic she made a poor choice of music to champion.

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