by Gerald Carpenter
FLY LIKE AN EGLE: The majestic Lithuanian-born pianist Egle Januleviciute has just released her first album. It is called Johann Sebastian Bach and contains her inimitable readings of Bach’s English Suite No. 2 in A Minor, Italian Concerto, Partita No. 2 in C Minor, and three Organ Choral Preludes (arranged by Ferruccio Busoni). In the credit-where-credit-is-due department, I must once again compliment Santa Barbara engineer Barbara Hirsch of Opus 1 on the clarity and sensitivity of her recording.
Although she probably does not see herself that way, Egle’s playing is “romantic.” She is a musician of extraordinary discipline, but every note that she plays is saturated with emotion. When you can say this of a pianist playing Bach, observing at the same time the almost uncanny articulation of the music’s complexity, then you know you are witnessing something rare and remarkable. She is also of interest as a kind of bridge between the Cold War system, in which she was born and educated, and the so-called New World Order, which is still struggling to establish itself in the ruins of the Berlin Wall.
I had a couple of questions for Egle about this, and the release of her CD seemed like as good an occasion as any to ask them. In the first place, I wondered what difference, if any, the collapse of the Cold War system would make to the status of classical music in her country, the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union.
“So far,” she said, “the relative ‘opening of the walls’ has allowed the musicians to travel more — meaning more exposure and more international venues. For instance, in 1989, I was the first Lithuanian pianist in 40 years to play the Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition in Cleveland. (I won.) Moscow would send Russian pianists almost exclusively during Soviet times. Fifteen years after the collapse, this has resulted in a huge ‘leakage’ of talented performers looking for more performance opportunities than in their own economically struggling countries. Now, only one out of six or so of the best Lithuanian pianists is currently working in Lithuania.”
I asked her to compare the musical education she received in Lithuania to that available in the States. She said, “There is one thing that makes Eastern European musical education better: specialized music schools for children, often combining general education with music subjects. I went to the same school in the same building for 11 years, and every day we had math, languages, science, plus solfeggio, choir, music theory, history, and specific private instruction in the chosen instrument. With few exceptions, musical education in the U.S. is left in private hands [until the student gets to] college, when many experience a certain degree of shock at how behind they are. … Teaching at UCSB, I encountered many kids wanting to enter the Bachelor of Music program, who had no realistic idea of their level of skills and musical knowledge (or the lack of it).”
Egle’s formative years were spent in Lithuania, but she has also spent quite a bit of time in Europe. “I spent almost three years studying in London. … Needless to say, one can go to a different great concert or opera or play every day while living in London (and I had great student discounts!). I’ve also spent three summers in Weimar (Germany) playing in master classes, where I heard hundreds of talented young pianists from the widest selection of countries (mostly European) in each international competition I entered (Brussels, Tokyo, Glasgow, Bolzano). Different countries have certain distinctive features in their piano schools. It is very difficult for me to talk about interpretations without specifics and actual music, but German and Russian pianists will very likely have different outlooks.” Egle’s CD is on Eroica (JDT3281), and will be available at eroica.com.