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Onutė Narbutaitė

Onutė Narbutaitė (*1956) is a composer, whose music bears the mark of exceptional individuality and is recognisable from the very first bars of all her compositions. Besides the wide spectrum of various emotional states and feelings in Narbutaitė’s creative work what is also palpable is the sense of aristocratic moderation and a strong compositional discipline which only serve to enhance the emotional impact of the music. However, the constructive origin manifests itself not by systems of organisation of various musical parameters borrowed from others or created by her. Narbutaitė’s intellectual opuses remind ‘hand work’ carried out with great precision. The rationality of her composition reveals itself through meticulously detailed textures, the precise proportions of smaller or larger sections and the overall form, as well as the not immediately perceptible interplay of the most minor details. At the same time the abstract musical narrative is extremely expressive, coming into clear relief and often reminiscent of ‘something familiar’ – Perhaps the most apt description of her present work has been provided by the American musicologist Richard Taruskin: “Not ‘tonal’. Not ‘romantic’. Not ‘retro’. Consonant.”

Onutė Narbutaitė is Lithuania’s best-known female composer. She learned the basics of composition from Bronius Kutavičius, graduating in 1979 from the Lithuanian State Conservatory where she studied composition under Prof. Julius Juzeliūnas. From 1979 to 1982 she taught music theory and history at the Klaipėda Faculty of the Lithuanian State Conservatory. From 1982 she has concentrated solely on her creative work and lives in Vilnius.

In 1997 the composer was awarded the Lithuanian National Prize for her oratorio Centones meae urbi. The cycle of symphonies Tres Dei Matris Symphoniae and the symphonic composition La barca were recognised as the best symphonic works in the 2004 and 2005 competitions organised by the Lithuanian Composers’ Union. In 2008 in the same competition in the vocal-choral music category her work Lapides, flores, nomina et sidera was chosen as the best and in 2015 Narbutaitė was chosen as Composer of the Year for her opera Kornetas (The Cornet) and the composition for chamber orchestra Was There a Butterfly?. In 2004 Melody was chosen as number one in the list of nine recommended works at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. At the 57th International Rostrum of Composers held in Lisbon in 2010, her Bank River Symphony was in the top ten list of best compositions, as well as her composition for chamber orchestra Was There a Butterfly? at the 64th Rostrum in Palermo in 2017. Onutė Narbutaitė is also the recipient of the Lithuanian Association of Artists prize (2005), the St Christopher statue awarded by the Vilnius City Municipality, the highest honour it can bestow, for depicting Vilnius in her music (2008), the Gold Star awarded by the Lithuanian Copyright Protection Association (2015), as well as of other prizes. Onutė Narbutaitė’s works, a large number of which has been specially commissioned, have been performed at various festivals.

Still in the 1980s, Onutė Narbutaitė enjoyed the reputation of a composer of subtle chamber music. Her early opuses were suffused with depictions of ‘night’, ‘silence’, and ‘oblivion’; her compositions, unhurried in their flow, with their transparent textures and nostalgic in mood, not infrequently would remind one of the pages of a diary written with sounds. In the years following Lithuania’s independence the composer’s music underwent a significant transformation. Firstly, Narbutaitė devoted herself to large-scale symphonic and symphonic-vocal works. In maintaining her undeniably creative independence, Narbutaitė has developed an expressive musical language, characterised by intellectualism and structural thinking, expressive instrumentation and a haunting melodic quality, sounds stacked vertically one on top of the other, and an intense musical flow. The subtle sonic imagination in her music is in harmony with the rich cultural references to be found there.