The opening of the Organ Competition 2011 September 13
September 13, 2011
Rokas Valuntonis - II prize winner of International M.K. Čiurlionis Competition shares his experience
December 1, 2014
About Čiurlionis, competitions and piano playing...
Rokas Valuntonis – many times international competitions' laureate, in 2011 won the II-nd prize at the International M. K. Čiurlionis Competition. Now, he has just finished his studies and already has secret ambitious dreams about the future. As next year and with it next International M. K. Čiurlionis Competition, marking the 140th birthday anniversary of the composer, are getting close, the laureat is sharing his experience with pleasure.
– Rokas, as I know, you perform M. K. Čiurlionis' music quite often. Maybe you could tell, how does it feel to perform M. K. Čiurlionis, what are the joys and the challenges?
– First of all – Čiurlionis is one of the most popular Lithuanian composers. Seriously – I think it is important that during hard times in Lithuania there were people like Čiurlionis and a lot of other Lithuanian composers, who didn't mind the huge influence of Russia and tried to nurture Lithuanian culture by working very hard. I am amused by such great sincere devotion, when there is no place for seeking tangible benefits for oneself; I think, their purpose was very noble. Čiurlionis is one of them; his life wasn't easy, but he remained devoted, what, I think, is a great patriotism. I myself think of me as of a patriot as well, because when I am away, I have a great wish to come back and when I am back I feel very well. Friends are even laughing at me that I come back from Turkey all well rested and inhale (inhales) and it's soo... (smiles while exhaling). You now, here we have this humidity; in Turkey it is dry, but here – you come back – and all these forests, humidity and assosiacions from childhood, you instantly feel that it is home. And ofcourse – lithuanian music and Čiurlionis remind home, something what is yours, what is here, what is very close, and the patriotic feeling and the determination to always create, do something good. While playing I always feel that I come into little contact with very high purposes and in a tiny way add something to Lithuanian culture.
– Now imagine that you went to the past three years ago when you were preparing for the competition and you are able to watch yourself and read your own thoughts. Tell me, what were you thinking, why did you decide to prepare for the competition?
- It has been only three years? (surprised) Not four? I thought four...
– In 2015 it will be four.
– Well, three years back, wait I need to go back...(thinking) As I recall, I wanted to prepare and take part long time ago.
– How long ago?
– Well, when we were studying at National M. K. Čiurlionis Art School (2007) we all ran away from school and went to listen to Čiurlionis competition. All the well known were competing then: Minkštimas, Januševičius, Laima Smolskaitė, Vyšniauskaitė Inga... It was so fun... Here we are sitting all with programme leaflets like professors, marking those, who are our favourites... The competition was a very fun event and its level, it seemed that it was unearth like level; very difficult competition, the most serious. And ofcourse for myself it was also interesting, this ardor, adrenaline to achieve this level. Already then I knew that I need to prepare and purposefully, little by little prepared myself. Ofcourse, it is not a final goal, but as long as there are not so many such competitions, there is a wish to participate.
- Maybe you will take part in it next year?
- I don't know yet, but most likely not. There are many competitions where I would like to take part in. In this one I got up to the final and ended up in a respectful position, that's why I think that I should try to participate somwhere else.
– And when you found out that you won the IInd prize, how did you feel, were you expecting to win?
– No, not really. I wasn't expecting to get to the Final as well. The competition was quite a difficult moment: during it I got sick (caught a cold), I felt nervous. I was very nervous before the first round, actually I didn't even want to eat anything the day before. Probably nervousness damages the immune system, and probably that is the reason why I got sick, and had to perform at the second round while being ill, with high temperature. I felt so ridiculous... Before the stage I felt the worst, you know, there is a moment in sickness, when your psychological autosuggestion „I am not sick“ does not help anymore and you have to admit that you are sick. I had fever. I remember how I was warming up in the room 308 and could not stop coughing, my teacher Žvirblytė came in and asked how I was doing, and I was not able to say a word because of the cough...I was lucky that the rapporteur that day was Ms. J. Pranaitytė, she always has something for the voice and throat. She gave me a palmful of mints, I tucked them all into my mouth and went straight to the stage. So, you know, I am playing and chewing those candies (one at a time), counting that it would be enough for the whole performance... It was so annoying that such an important event is happening in my life and I am like this... I remember the picture how I was performing and the music was demanding the concentration which was constantly undercut by this weakness and nervousness... And I am thinking right now – why did it have to be this way, such a coincidence that I had to go on stage in a worst physical state and perform...
– And what was the feeling to perform with the orchestra? Were you healthier by then?
– Yes, by then I felt better, I had a couple of days, slept over 30 hours, but still...A lot of stress... I don't know, maybe there are people who are stronger, but for me the stage is such a responsibility. Everything felt like a dream. Only after one week I started to understand what is actually happening.
– People share various experiences how they feel before the stage. What about you, do you physically feel the fear, nervousness?
– Yes, I do, very strongly. Very often I get nauseous... When I start thinking – I am going to do this for my whole life, so what, I will throw up every time before going to stage? How is it possible? I truly believe there must be a solution, because otherwise you could ruin your nerve system completely.
– Did you find any solutions yet?
– I am still looking. I found such a thing that nerves are directly dependant on how well you are prepared – if you are very well prepared, you know that anything might happen, but if you have rehearsed that anything might happen, it makes you feel calmer. But I am not saying that you can go on stage and be completely calm because the responsibility in front of the audience is always present. For me there is much more stress before concerts than before competitions, because competition is such a thing, you play there, they throw you away, listen to others and you think „well, what can I do“ and keep on preparing for something else (smiles), but before concerts... People come, give you their time, pay for the tickets and you definately do not want to ruin the evening. And what is towards the stage fear – I constantly fight, maybe I will find something.
– Maybe you could share your oppinion on this topic: it is common to think that young people who really want to perform in public need competitions.
– Well I think that it is something like being on train track, it is hard to fall from the track; now everybody think (the younger generation, the more certain belief is) that it is like this and there is no reason why. It is obvious that competitions are created for career purposes : to appear somewhere more, be seen. Now it is difficult to find agents who would organise concerts for you and to organise concerts for yourself by your own is difficult. In all, they are so you would have where to expose yourself. You practise practise than you have what to say and then you have where to say it. The more concerts the more possibilities to make your name more famous; I think it is the intermediate stop if you want that your job would be well paid. Ofcourse if you go to competitions to always win, I think it is not good, I think they should be more of a tool. Of Course, not all are able to win, it happens that someone is constantly participating and never wins. But even in this case I think that participation is useful, because after all you feel that you tried to do something.
– Regarding to the level of the M. K. Čiurlionis competition, would you recommend it for Lithuanians and foreigners?
– Ofcourse I would recommend it. For Lithuanians – I would recommend to absolutely everyone. For me as a pianist it always seemed natural and I had no questions about it – I always wanted to participate and participated. First of all – the competition is held in Lithuania, you don't need to go anywhere, second of all – it is not a common competition, it is the Competition named after Čiurlionis, whose music we know (or at least should know) how to perform.
– And for the guests from other countries?
– For the guests from other countries as well. I have travelled alot, have been to different countries and competitions and I can compare them. On my oppinion this competition is well organised, the orchestra to play with in the Final is very good, the halls are great, instruments – to the Great hall of the Lithuanian Academy a wonderfull Yamaha was brought, other instruments are great as well.
I don't know what else is needed for a good competition. Of course it is important that prizes would be good, what they are. Seriously, it's a very good competition. I would like to find something simmilar, but could't really find anything yet. As well the programme of the competition is very comfortable – not too long and not too short.
– What would you like to wish for those who will determine to participate in the competition next year?
– I would wish you all to participate but when you will be on stage performing - stop competing, forget all competition stereotypes and make a contemplation hour for yourself, 30-35 minutes of contemplation at the first round (smiles).
Decide that there is no need to try to astonish someone, no need to play very virtuosically and con bravura, forget all these thoughts and just play sincerely. During the last competition I just wasn't expecting anything and was playing how I can, how I imagine. On my opinion, there is a great need of sincerity, because all competitions are in lack of it. I think what we need is simplicity, not the wish to overwhelm but the wish to share your ideas with others. I believe it is much more interesting for the audience and for the jury. And even if you do not win anything, at least for yourself you know that you spent the time meaningfully.
– I heard that very soon you are going away for quite a long time, maybe you could tell us the secret where, to whom, why and for how long?
– You see, it is hard to expose this secret now as I am still waiting for answers. I can not officially declare but there is a wish to go to Paris to study with a professor Eugen Indjic. He is a student of A. Rubinstein, has won a prize at F. Chopin competition. I want to learn to play Chopin better, because it is not my strongest competence.
– Maybe you are planning to participate in F. Chopin competition?
–I don't know, I don't know... I can not say this, I have no idea. Of course, I would love to, but we'll see how it will work out. The music of Chopin is not my strongest card but I like it very much. It bothers me that I can't play it that's why I am going to study. I had some lessons with the professor, he teaches very well.
– Rokas, thank you very much for the conversation. I wish you the best of success!