Rihards Dubra and Vytautas Miškinis
Some of the composers featured in Chorale’s upcoming Arvo Pärt at Eighty concert are veritable rock stars in today’s classical music world. Pärt himself, John Tavener, and Henryk Gorecki, have cross-over appeal; CDs of their music sell millions of copies. Other composers on our program work in relative obscurity, but their music is no less worthy of consideration.
Latvian composer Rihards Dubra was born in Jurmala, on the Baltic, about 30 miles from Riga, in 1964. He studied at the Emils Darzins music school in Jurmala, where he now teaches, and the Latvia Music Academy, specializing in composition. He teaches theory, is organist of Mater Dolorosa Church in Riga, and is a member of the Schola Gregoriana Rigensis singers. Though he grew up in the secular milieu imposed by the Russians during the years Latvia was a member of the USSR, Dubra has devoted himself exclusively to the composition of sacred music, citing his admiration for the works of Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. He has written, “As faith is the only purity in this world, I cannot imagine anything better than to write only sacred music… I doubt that the energy I feel inside me is mine. I do not create music—I just write down what has been sent to me.” Elsewhere, he has written, ‘’Just as everyone has their own pathway to God, so every composer has his own pathway to emotion in music, and through that—also to God.” He says that for a long while he has had a great love of Gregorian chant and the music of the Middle Ages, and that these provide his favorite inspiration, but “through the view of a man who lives in the present century.”
Even before Latvia regained its independence in 1990, and public expressions of religious faith were once again allowed, Dubra was setting liturgical texts in Latin. These works were conceived for concert audiences whose experience of sacred music, due to the anti-religious nature of the Soviet state, was not informed by theological or liturgical understanding. Dubra feels that emphasis on careful text-setting would be largely meaningless in this context, and prefers to emphasize the spiritual and emotional aspects of his settings—“People should not always understand the text exactly because its meaning is encoded in the music … my main task is to work on people’s subconscious level, people’s emotional level.”
Vytautas Miškinis was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1954, and is the Artistic Director of the Azuoliukas Boys’ and Men Choir, Professor of Choral conducting at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and President of the Lithuanian Choral Union. Although by training and experience he is primarily a music educator and conductor, his more than 700 choral compositions, both sacred and secular, have become increasingly well-known and respected in the twenty-first century. Unlike Dubra, who claims to care less for clear text setting that for a spiritual and emotional subtext, Miškinis’ works display close connection between music and text. He writes, “The essential for me is the meaning of the lyrics. The content. For that reason I accept any means of expression that refers to the meaning of a word.“
Like most current Baltic composers, especially those who specialize in choral music, Miškinis utilizes an essentially diatonic vocabulary, with much overlaying of harmonies and colored cluster-chords. His characteristic sound includes many perfect fifths and fourths reinforcing the harmonic series. Lithuania is largely Roman Catholic, and Miškinis was raised in this faith, to the extent that this was possible during the Soviet era. Although he does not consider himself a strong believer, he is drawn to sacred, liturgical texts for their universal ideals, their “unique poetry”. He sets primarily Latin texts, because they are the most universally recognized and accepted, and because he prefers Latin sounds for the singing voice.
Reviewing a recent CD compilation of Miškinis’ works, a reviewer in Gramophone wrote, “His music has a timeless and highly atmospheric quality. Textures and nuances are used with great perception … the effect on the listener is best summed up as being one of “contemplative meditation.”