Lithuanian composer and painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis had a short, yet very prolific life (he was just 35 when he died in 1911). He considered himself a synesthete, in that he perceived colours and music simultaneously. Čiurlionis composed about 400 pieces of music, mostly for the piano, and he also created 300 paintings – many with musical names. In addition, he wrote literary works and poems. An asteroid – 2420 Čiurlionis – was named after him. Few artists have left such deep influence on Lithuanian culture.
Petras Geniušas and Liudas Mockūnas at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, DC Photo Ludo Segers

Among Čiurlionis’ music his two symphonic poems, The Sea in the Forest, are often performed. It is these works that inspired two of Lithuania’s foremost contemporary performers, pianist Petras Geniušas and tenor saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas, to revisited Čiurlionis’ music in their own way. This turned out to be a musical treat for the audience that gathered on Saturday, 25 October in the Lithuanian Embassy on a pleasant Washingtonian autumn evening. This concert was part of a short North American tour that saw the duo perform earlier this week in New York City and will also see them travel to New Orleans and Houston.

With their ‘The Sea in the Forest’ project, Geniušas and Mockūnas found inspiration in Čiurlionis’ music but used this to explore these works further with their very own interpretations. Petras Geniušas, said during his introduction that about 20 percent of Čiurlionis’ original work was retained in this project, whilst the duo contributed the other 80 percent. One could call it a crossover musical project - not a new concept per se; Michel Legrand, the Modern Jazz Quartet, even ELP come to mind - but the duo used different styles and succeeded remarkable in bringing together elements of a wide range of classical music and jazz. Liudas Mockūnas improvisations reached well beyond the conventional and the intensity of his performance reached levels rarely seen in today’s live performances. Petras Geniušas is probably one of Lithuania’s most talented and accomplished present-day pianists. His insights and experience in a wide-range of solo and orchestral works provided the right counter balance to Mockūnas’ improvisations in an evening that captivated an enthusiastic American and Lithuanian audience.

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