Josephine Burton (JB): Good evening. good evening, good evening. I’m Josephine, one of the Artistic Directors of Dash Arts and it is a pleasure to welcome you to the last Dash Cafe of 2018. We have an amazing evening planned for you. Working from the end of the evening, we will slightly transform this room so that it ends up being a dance floor for the amazing Baltic Balkan who have come over from Lithuania tonight just for you, Just for tonight, to play a gig on this stage. I hope you would stay for the evening and dance away on our dance floor, it will be raucous and fun and we need your help. And it may well be lubricated with a little bit of vodka to keep your spirits high by the end of the evening. So stick around for the great showcase event for tonight. But before that there will be a conversation with Baltic Balkan – one member of Baltic Balkan and Paulina – I’m going to have to struggle with pronouncing it, Paulina Pukyte?
JB: Hooray. Paulina Pukyte and Ben Lunn, talking a little bit about their work as contemporary artists and artists in Lithuania, inspired by Jewish culture. So we will have a little conversation on stage here and before that I’m going to be able to introduce to you a short film about 20 minutes long. It’s a film made by Paulina. Paulina is the curator of the biennial in Kaunas in 2017 and she is also an artist. She is going to, through this film, show a little bit of the work of contemporary artists in Lithuania and her work, that was made specially for the biennial. So it’s going to be about 20 minutes on the screen and then after we’ve seen the work and the short video, we will talk with her about the exhibition and the project and her own work and then we will kick off the conversation. So this evening is very informal, as you can see there is a bar open. Please feel free to grab a drink and replenish your glasses and there is a toilet outside and the evening will flow. I am delighted to involve you and have you all here and I look forward to seeing you again shortly after the film. Thank you.
JB: Thank you so much. So while my guests are joining me on the stage, I will give you a little bit of a lowdown on what the Dash Cafés are all about and why this evening has happened. So as I mentioned, I’m one of the Artistic Directors of Dash Arts and Dash Arts creates work with international artists. You saw snippets of our previous shows above me earlier in the evening. We create, we travel, we investigate, we research, we come across some extraordinary ideas. We want to explore them more deeply with audiences in London, so the Dash Cafés really became an opportunity for us to share our process with you, learn from you and learn from some extraordinary people. Some of whom visit from abroad and some of whom are based here and have come from as far as Scotland.
We’ve spent the last 5 years working with artists from across the Post-Soviet space and making work with artists and travelling and learning and putting on events and we have just this year started a new project which we call Eutopia – our exploration of what it means to be European and what we mean by Europe. As part of this early research I started to reach out and start to talk to people and learn and listen to people and one of the people that I met was Juste, who sadly can’t be here, who is the Cultural Attache at the Lithuanian Embassy and Asta who is here, somewhere in the audience here. Juste and Asta said well “we’d love to work with you and why don’t we bring one of the Dash Cafés into our Litvak Days?” Litvak Days is an annual event which has been running for the last 8 years exploring Jewish culture and Jewish history in Lithuania. The story obviously, as we have seen and as we will talk a little bit more about with Paulina through the evening, is extremely poignant and difficult – 95% of the Jewish population who hadn’t already left Lithuania, were wiped out in 18 months in 1941. So for us to talk about it this evening and explore it publicly, is poignant and difficult and also extraordinary that we have an opportunity almost 80 years on to talk about the stories together and learn from what we have left behind.
I was very interested for many reasons in exploring this in the context of Eutopia. Dash Arts became interested in exploring what it means to be Europe now because of the referendum. When the referendum happened in June 2016 and we were suddenly faced with the possibility of losing – well not the possibility but the reality of losing, a sense of ourselves as European and the sense of European identity, we wanted to understand what it was to be something and to have something and be part of something, when we were on the cusp of losing it. And that is what is interesting for me about tonight’s event, that Lithuania now is interested in holding onto and marking something that it really has almost lost and I wanted to understand that a bit more with some extraordinary artists. So that is the context for the evening.
On my left we have Linas who is one part of Baltic Balkan, who will be talking a little bit shortly and then will be playing for us, which is really his main shtick as they say – his main profession. To my immediate right we have Ben Lunn who is a composer and this evening has come down all the way from Glasgow to talk a little bit more about the contemporary classical music scene in Lithuania today and its influences from Jewish culture and heritage. And on my far right we have the wonderful Paulina whose work you saw just now in the film.
Paulina, I want to ask you first really, to tell us a little bit about how this biennial and your involvement with it came to happen?
Paulina (P): When I was invited to create this show about 3 years ago, I was invited as an artist and a writer not really a curator and I was given a white page and I could do whatever I liked with it really. So that was the reason (…) And at that time, approximately at the same time, the preparations started for the centenary of the nations state, which is this year. And also those preparations were kind of – I found them very strange, they were mostly suggestions of building more monuments, monuments for national heroes – we don’t have enough, apparently, of them and so I thought that it was strange for the nation state to think that, that was the best way to celebrate its centenary. One would have thought that maybe it would have been a better way to celebrate and show that we are a mature nation and the nation state is not necessarily the same as nationalism. So I wanted to oppose that kind of trend, and also at the same time the question of monuments became more pressing, not only in Lithuania but also in the wider world with the rise of nationalism and the reasons monuments were suddenly being toppled and then built. There were suddenly this issue of monuments. So I chose monuments as a theme for this biennial. I thought that it was an important subject to talk about. I invited artists, Lithuanian and international artists, to research Kaunas together with me, to look back at the monuments (…) Perhaps I should say that in Lithuania the oldest monument – there are no old monuments, in Vilnius the oldest monument is less than 100 years old. Because we had all these changes of regimes and occupations. Monuments were built and toppled and built again, so I asked the artists to look at the monuments that are no longer there and to look at the monuments that are there and to imagine the monuments that could be, that are not there and –
JB: And just to stop you… Kaunas is Lithuania’s second city?
P: It’s Lithuania’s second city and it was a temporary capital during the war and that is where my grandfather, from my mother’s side comes from. That was also important for me, to bring something personal in the show because my grandfather perished in the Holocaust and disappeared. We never knew, we never know why and how. So I tried to bring all these issues together in Kaunas and I invited artists to research Kaunas and we realised that there isn’t much. There are certain monuments outside Kaunas to the murdered people and to the Holocaust but there isn’t much in terms of that life that has disappeared, that was there and is no longer there –
JB: And when you say life…cultural?
P: Cultural. Cultural, yeah like Jewish life and what was a vibrant part of the city. There is no signs that it was even there but then I also turn to inspiration from Germany, which of course has the heaviest burden of this but they also have artists that tackle that question. So you think, OK maybe we should restore something to show that this life was here but then also the counter monument idea is not to restore, not to rebuild but on the contrary to show the loss and the absence. So I invited these artists, I invited Horst Heisel who is very well known in this field and whose proposal, was to destroy the Brandenburg Gate as a proposal for this memorial that is now in Berlin for the murdered Jews of Europe. So he is a very interesting artist and he agreed to come to Kaunas and other artists. I also invited (…) Jenny Kagan whose parents are from Kaunas, and they escaped the Kaunas Ghetto.
JB: And that was Jenny’s sparrows that we saw?
P: The sparrows and the carrier bags in the supermarket –
JB: This is an opportunity for me to apologise, to us all really for the skipping of the video during Jenny’s video, I’m sorry.
P: It happens, technology… So I invited artist who had something for different reasons and some of them because they had something personal – a personal connection to Kaunas and others because they work with ideas that I wanted to bring out and are not really known in Lithuania, unfortunately. You know there is no tradition, the tradition is only nationals on the horse and so on, so I thought it was very important to oppose that kind of tradition.
JB: (…) For me one of the most amazing pieces of those many films was the singing – your work of the singing in that democrats… In the car park of the supermarket. It’s the Democrats Square isn’t it? Which was the centre of the Ghetto? Can you talk a little bit about the creation of that work and how it came about?
P: Of course. What the film doesn’t show, it’s a very short film (…) the connections between different works and exhibitions, it’s difficult… And the history of it and also it doesn’t show the public reaction and it was really interesting to different works and the exhibitions in general. This work came about because I had never been to this suburb of Kaunas and when I went there I was really shocked. And also my idea was for this exhibition …[was]… To show the lack of something and the absence of something and also not to explain, to show that there are certain things that you don’t understand and there are things that are unexplained.
The singer was coming here. I had four singers (…) The songs were prepared by this wonderful person in Kaunas (artist name) who came back from Israel to live in Kaunas And the 4 students. They were singing but only one of them, on different days, one of them would come. It was for 2 1/2 months, everyday at midday, exactly at midday, for 10 minutes and there was no explanation. There was no text or anything. It was very interesting to see people’s reactions. At the beginning it was very hostile. Somebody suddenly starts singing and people thought those singers were fooling around or something. And there were these certain kind of people who hang around the shop and drink there and everything and they would start shouting when the singer would start singing. They started shouting and kind of mocking the singing. But during this 2 months, 2 1/2 months, it really changed, as you even saw in the film, people were making the sign of the cross and started reacting in a different way and also people started coming and asking when is it. Then we explain to them, they suddenly started bringing stories and what they remember and so on and so on. Yeah it was very moving.
JB: So it was generally recognised as being Yiddish, the songs?
P: I’m not sure but that wasn’t explained. But the point was for people not to understand what the singing is (…) if they don’t understand, if they are missing the understanding because the language is disappeared. Also the other thing is, there was one person, this old guy who came with his dog and he said well “I drink a lot and everything but now every time, every day before 12, my dog’s ears perk up.” So something that was an intrusion became something that you expect to happen because it was for 8 weeks. But then when it stopped, when it suddenly stopped and it wasn’t more, I’m sure that people felt that it’s no more. It was something that was happening regularly and then it wasn’t. So you know it was –
JB: They felt the absence?
P: I’m sure, yeah. I hope they, yeah..
JB: And the stories you encountered, were they very personal, were there people talking about their families? –
P: Yeah they remember how it looked after the war, the destruction and everything.
JB: And do you – before I move on and bring my other friends in – Do you think that (…) Is there more of an interest, would you say, in exploring this connection with Jewish culture in Lithuania today than what there was previously? Have you felt it in the response to your work and that biennial?
P: Yes there is but there’s also not very nice comments as well. There is more interest but there is also –
JB: Public responses? Or is that just people coming…
P: Well, social media and sometimes personal.
JB: Really? I’m sorry to hear that I think we might come back to that and talk about it a bit more when I’ve brought in my other two friends. But before I do, I’m going to do two things. Before I bring in Ben, I want to have a raise of hands for anyone who has been to Lithuania?
Mm… Like half the room. And how many people in the room would consider themselves to be Litvak?
Fantastic. So I might come back to you a little later and ask you a little bit more about your response to the work. That’s fantastic. Before I bring in Ben, we are going to hear a little bit of a composer, a chap called Senderovas – Oh fantastic, there are other people in the room that know Senderovas. I have recently been introduced to him. Senderovas is a contemporary Lithuanian composers and we are going to hear 30 second piece of one of his works which is called… the work is called Vignette –
Ben Lunn (B): Oh yeah ‘Vignette For a Folk Song’. So the work is taken from a collection of works called ‘Čiurlionis Sketches’ and then this particular one is Vignette For a Folk Song.
JB: Thank you so much.
JB: That might be the next bit. So that was a very kind of dreamy moment of his work. Ben and I had a bit of a challenge trying to work out what we were going to play because Ben really wanted to play his entire oeuvre.
JB: Can you tell us a little bit about Senderovas and who he was and how he’s changed, I guess the classical music world and its relationship to history and culture?
B: So Senderovas – he’s sort of the key Litvak to appear out of Lithuania towards the end of the 1980s up until modern day and middle of the 80s. He managed to study in Israel and then from that, then allowed him engage more with his Jewishness, which is something he didn’t necessarily have available to him while he was in Vilnius. Then he went to Israel and got to connect with it more directly, then moved back to Vilnius and (…) to this day he is also engaging with it in different forms.
The thing I find particularly interesting with him, is that there is a composer who was a few generations before him who is called (inaudible) and is also Litvak, essentially he is kind of disappeared, one, because he wrote Soviet pop song but then also the more abstract things that he wrote have just lost popularity so just hasn’t come about. But with him because of Soviet ideology and so on, he didn’t explore Jewishness at all. So I didn’t know the composer was Litvak until I investigated it. Whereas Senderovas was the first person to really engage with it properly.
JB: My understanding, having spent some time at the Litvak Days last week, is that Senderovas was not Litvak. His family moved from – someone is going to have to tell me where? From somewhere else in the Soviet world, to Lithuania in early – Lithuanian Republic post war – anyone going to clarify?
Audience member: From Belarus.
JB: From Belarus. So he’s not a…I don’t think he would consider himself a Litvak?
B: I think he does because the Litvak community isn’t just within Lithuania.. Obviously Lithuanian borders is one thing today. There are also Litvak communities in northern Belarus as well…
JB: Fine. Thank you for correcting me, maybe I’m remembering it slightly wrong. His family – During the second world war, his family had moved east and his family had not experienced the Holocaust, I think, in Lithuania, so he had a slightly different perspective…
B: Yes he wasn’t connected to it but obviously the Holocaust wasn’t just in Lithuania, it was in quite a few places as well so even though he didn’t necessarily engage with it, his family didn’t necessarily have to deal with it, it’s still something that was very aware to them in a slightly different format because of where they were at that point.
JB: So the other kind of moment of information that I discovered last week about Senderovas, is that he is considered now to be one of Lithuania’s greatest classical composers.
B: Yes he is one of the most performed. One, because of his age and because of the fact that he’s been able to engage with his Jewish heritage, so he’s been able to muster a lot of support because of that. Because there aren’t that many composers about who are really openly looking at Jewishness in the same kind of way. So he’s been very very successful.
JB: And has one numerous awards.
B: Many many many awards, yeah.
JB: And has his success opened doors to other composers, other classical composers who are interested in the Jewish culture, in the Jewish history of Lithuania?
B: Well it’s interesting in the sense that there was, particularly at the point Senderovas was engaging more directly with his Jewishness, it was at the same sort of time when Lithuania was escaping into what it is known today. And so a lot of composers were working out what to do, and for a lot of them, that then meant bringing in a whole mix match of everything that was in there. So for example, the example that I sent you, she’s written many works that bring in bits of Yiddish, bits of Russian, bits of Polish, bits of Lithuanian, all mashed together because it’s all part of the history. Even though it hasn’t been fixed, it’s all present in some form and so is what has been engaged a lot by various composers.
JB: That’s very interesting, to sort of date that interest..kind of revitalising Jewish culture to that moment when the shackles of communism came off the country and it started to sort of, I guess, move towards Europe?
B: Regardless of what anyone thinks of the Soviet Union, it’s ultimately a big change of ideology and so because of the big change of ideology you then have to change what it means to be that nation. So even if the Soviet Union was heaven on earth (…) you then have to address it very differently. And because of composers coming to the fore at that point, they were then directing engaging with the change that happened, so that’s probably why all these things were happening at once.
JB: Can we hear a little bit more of the other piece?
JB: So so… What would have been the influences that were driving Senderovas? So he’s interested in Jewish folk culture and also religious music?
B: Yeah, so religious music is one of the main points because, particularly in Lithuania within a lot of the former Soviet bloc, that’s the bit that was most well documented because… [inaudible]… engaging with other Jewish composers and just what their fascinated with and sort of the broader European sense of being Jewish. So all of those different things, he will bring in and it will change from piece to piece. So for example this excerpt that we heard is from his Song and Dance, which he wrote as part of his 60th birthday celebration, which there were two versions. There was this version which was his piano trio and then his big version for orchestra, which was written just as his big party piece at the end of the concert dedicated just to him. So he is having a wonderful time with everyone dancing away and all that other stuff and it’s one of the more lighter hearted pieces of his and just him having fun because he’s 60.
JB: Do you know if there has been a renewed interest in the cantorial music of Lithuania, as a result of the work that his generation have done?
B: Yes and the other thing that’s also interesting, that you sort of have to realise as well is it’s not just cantorial tradition that disappeared quite quickly, there’s also the Gregorian chant tradition disappeared as well but admittedly, that disappeared through the Stalinist empire. So if you wanted to find, say Lithuanian composers writing Gregorian chants in churches, the only places where you can find any examples of it are in the Vatican. All other examples of it disappeared and so because of the ones in the Soviet Union that disappeared, there’s lots of this exploration of delving further and further into the histories in various different forms and so people are looking in all avenues trying to find what they can, mix it in however they want and it’s one of the reasons why the music is so dynamic, because there’s so many avenues people can take.
JB: That’s fantastic and amazingly rich for contemporary composers and I think we’re going to come onto Linas momentarily, to learn about what’s inspired him. But I suppose it’s a question for the three of you and also for the audiences – The Jewish community remains very small in Lithuania, do I have any experts in the room on the Jewish community of Lithuania?
B: It’s something like 0.5% of the population, something like that. I think it’s 0.5% of the population, 90% is catholic, so it’s very tiny percent of the population of about 0.5% and that’s mostly concentrated in Vilnius as I understand.
JB: Right and I wonder if, to you all – have you found that – I mean principally to Paulina – Have you found that people have come forward with Jewish heritage as a result of encountering the music and encountering the art and the stories?
Linas (L): Um, Hello.
L: I see you are all listening very very concentrated and we are talking not very loud. So if we talk about me, sorry about my English. I’m representing maybe pop culture of what we are doing now in Lithuania, about Jewish culture about everything. And people now, maybe they have found some connection with the past and now they start to explore some things with their heart what they can. I will explain you a bit later about it but what we are doing, why we are here… what’s happening here and what’s happening in Lithuania now. Of course it’s a long history but I hope you will understand what I want to say.
JB: Linas, tell us a little bit about how Baltic Balkan began?
L: Baltic Balkan is…we are celebrating 10 years of our activity and we are all … we are three of us, I can see 3 guys more (counts) OK good. You can join us also. And it starts accidentally. I think all of us in Lithuania, we have connections, we have roots with Jewish culture, maybe not with Jewish blood but with culture we have, all. I am from Vilnius, from the capital… It’s still called this. It was biggest Jewish culture in Eastern Europe so my roots are here. So we start with why Balkan? It’s far away from Lithuania but no it doesn’t matter where I am from. If you are feeling some connections with places and you are feeling happy, like we are. I’m feeling connections with Balkan music, but in all music we can find some roots from other music. From Gypsy music, from Jewish music because we came from one place. We are not from the different walls, from all place – from one place, from one land, one earth. And I think there are no different people, they are all the same. So we all just felt a connection with it. So we start to play more Balkan music and we found some very nice cheerful music from the Jewish side, so everything came together. So I think, why we started this? To make joy for the people.
JB: And to bring together your favourite influences in one place?
JB: And tell us about the experience – well we are going to experience it shortly here in the room – But how have the audiences responded in Lithuania?
L: For Lithuanians, to understand this kind of culture, to understand the language you have to understand language. If someone is singing in Yiddish, some people, they are not recognising what the language is but if you’re feeling the rhythm, the beat of music it doesn’t matter. And if you’re feeling your legs are starting to move and your hands are shaking, so I think it’s going very well and people like it. And after they ask me “What kind of music are you playing?” “What’s the track?” It was all Jewish songs from the beginning of the 20th century! “Really?” No! And they recognise and “Ok, I like it!” So it was a big gap for our culture, it was one generation in Lithuania that lost a lot but not disappeared, it’s still here, in earth, in here surrounding you. So people like it, what can I call? They love it.
JB: I’m sure. I can’t wait to love it. You will see us all dancing shortly. Do you identify with Paulina, that sense of – do you understand that sense of cultural monuments? Because that’s what you are creating in some way, is a way to keep the songs alive and make it relevant for Lithuania?
L: Yeah. I can’t call monuments. Because to put a monument is to build something for the people who have to recognise what it is. For me it’s, you are living now. The past was horrible for some people, for my people, for your people for all people. Some part of the history. But we don’t need to build a monument. We have to live our life right now, remembering what it was to not do more mistakes in the future. So maybe monuments will help to remember it, but your life – our life is short so you enjoy. The main thing what we are doing in our songs – in our remade songs because we are not composers, we are selectors, we are MCs, we are DJs. We are working with very good composers and producers in Lithuania but we enjoy what we are doing, it’s not about the money. The money somewhere, it’s about the feeling. If we are feeling right, if we are feeling good, the crowd feeling too. So it’s very nice to call it monument, to make people happy and if they feeling joy in our performance, they remember us, so we can call it monument.
JB: Would you call it a monument Paulina?
P: Well.. not everything has to be a monument anyway, so.. it’s just something that continues perhaps.
JB: And are you known now – does the audience – have you opened the eyes to the audience publicly about exploring Jewish culture? Do the audience know this now, that come to your gigs?
L: Yeah – we play – we’re used to play in different places in all over the world, in some multicultural cities, in some Muslim cities, in some Jewish cities and no we never heard the bad things when we play. People in weddings, in somewhere in the middle of nowhere, in some countryside with some old people who never heard, but they are dancing. Why? Because the feeling written in these nice old songs, with the deep feelings and a lot of things added inside. I think they are enjoying. Some people ask, “you’re not shy to play some Jewish music? You see the people don’t understand what you are doing.” What about? We are talking, I’m not too shy to play Jewish music. They enjoying and sometimes we don’t need to explain to people why we are playing. But if they’re dancing, if they’re singing…not all people know the words but they are singing. It doesn’t matter.
We visited some local places, because it’s England, it’s London. We had to visit some local pubs and we saw [laughter] how people singing the pop music, all the rock music. They know the words because they are all English. In Lithuania they are singing some 10 – 20 words and after just [mimics singing] –
JB: In Yiddish?
L: No, in any language because you don’t need to know the words for some music and some songs. You need to feel them and it’s enough. You can sing “la la la,” it’s enough.
JB: So, it’s a question for all of you, before I open it out for more question from you all. What does it say about contemporary Lithuania today – this interest in Jewish culture? Is there a sense that – 100 years on this is the story that the country wants to present to itself, to the world, that it’s interested and talking about its Jewish heritage and Jewish past?
P: I don’t know really, the reasons and there are probably several different reasons and also there aren’t that many. Of course, we are here because we talk about it but there aren’t that many artists who work with that. And of course, I mean, should we…should we touch that? Do we have the right? Or maybe we don’t. Do we feel guilt? Do we feel shame? Or should we just enjoy, as Linas says, what we can and try to revive what’s possible? It’s a difficult questions and when I invited artists to participate, for example for the Kaunas Biennial show, there was an open call as well for the artists to come up with ideas and there weren’t really any, to be honest, only from Lithuanian artists with Jewish heritage. There was no proposition really. I didn’t really see anything, so I invited artists…the artists that were invited by me, they were working with it. So, you know it’s different.
JB: So are you suggesting and I’m sorry, I do want to hear from Ben and Linas – Are you suggesting there’s still a lot of silence and still 70 – 80 years on we’re still not ready to talk about it yet?
P: We’re probably ready to talk but there is still silence as well.
B: Yeah carrying on the point there. It’s almost like there’s a silence waiting for someone to fill the gap more than anything else. There is an enthusiasm to address it in some form but there isn’t a clarity of how in that instance. So this is where things like Senderovas is leading the charge, as it were, because he can then do it in his own self. in that instance and then everything he is doing is then an expression of his Jewishness and so on. The wider Lithuanian culture – it’s a challenge, to sort of work out how to engage with it.
JB: Without falling into stereotypes?
B: That but also it’s just not necessarily knowing, more than anything else.
L: What can I say? After the second world war all moved to cities. So my generation is from a city. Others from countryside, 99% because if they used to live in the city, the war was horrible. They moved somewhere they dead, they were murdered but people who came to cities, they found this culture inside. And we are the second generation and if we stop talking about this, our kids will know nothing. Because we are still in touch. So we are spinning this culture to the second generation and of course, maybe it looks like…about the Jew culture, about the Holocaust, about everything but Jew culture is not only Holocaust.
We play Klezmer music, we are Klezmer musicians, we are wedding musicians. They played in festivals, we can call it festivals in the past. They used to play everywhere (…) So we have to remember not only bad things. And if we introduce this culture in an easy way, like you know to sing songs, to play the music they remember it. And now its OK, maybe it’s a good reason to get some money from the government for the projects. But why not? (…) So you not taking money to go shopping. No you’re spreading this culture. So more and more, it will be more popular because we are a lot of artists who came from Litvaks. Bob Dylan, everybody knows Bob Dylan. You see now they know. Before we were in big depression of the Russians, soviet Russians (…) But my kids they don’t understand but if I explain, in this easy way, the nice way, they will keep it in the heart. So the main thing, I think to do it in the easy way. Because, of course it was bad, some part of history but we can spread some love for all around so it has to be popular and more and more popular, because we are losing people. We know, we remember. Sorry about the long answer.
JB: No, it’s a beautiful response. [To audience] Do we have any questions for any of my guests?
Audience member 1: I was intrigued by the number 42. I’ve never heard of that as a mystical number. Where did you learn all these things from? Did you know it, sort of instinctively?
P: Well…the number 42, I had to take it because the plaque was on the 42 – on the wrong number, on the wrong place. So I was given the 42 and so then I looked into it, what meanings it has and it’s all a coincidence, that it has all of these meanings. And I really love that in my work, I use a lot of coincidence.
Audience member 1: The other question, did Vilnius not suffer like Kaunas under the Nazis?
JB: Yes, it suffered.
Audience member 1: It did?
JB: Terribly. There’s a question at the back.
Audience member 2: Thank you. I don’t know if this is a question. I was very moved by the film, particularly the beginning of the film, that you spoke about your father Samuel and how you had to forget who you were or you were made to forget who you were because of the danger involved, presumably. And how this forgetting, forgetting who we are, is something that occurs for many people, who are the losers if you like, in any war or conflict or persecution. And we saw the part where the singer…the people were singing in Yiddish, which is almost a lost language – and then the woman was singing and then the man came in and for a moment, I had this wonderful feeling, or this hope that there was somebody left who could sing – it was like calling out, like the wolves in the wilderness, calling out those who still speak Yiddish, but have been denying that language for years and years and wanting to revalue and re-validate that. And I know that, particularly in United States now, Klezmer music and the old Jewish traditions – the Yiddish traditions, are still alive or they’ve been reinvigorated (…) when people came from Europe to Palestine, they were encouraged to forget their Yiddish and to speak Hebrew and become Israeli and all the loss that incurred… I was just wondering what you might have thoughts on that?
JB: Well I presume that you’ve thought about that a lot, Paulina in your work?
P: Yes just to say, in the beginning of this story, of this Adina. This is the story of my mother, not my story. It’s my mother’s story but I made up this artists, so I used this story to make up an artist because I think my mother could have been an artist but she never became an artist, so this is someone who doesn’t exist. So, you know, it has several layers of existing and non-existing because the artist does not exist as well.
JB: Can I also say, that there is a lady here who her native language is Yiddish, so it’s still in existence.
Audience member 3: Yiddish exists. [shouts] And is strong!
JB: There is a gentlemen at the back.
Audience member 4: Hello. This is a question for Ben. Hi Ben, it’s George. I was fascinated by what you talked about Sendorovas and particularly that you played an example of his Čiurlionis Sketches and this is not strictly Litvak related, but I think it could be quite interesting. Čiurlionis, the great Lithuanian composer from the 19th century is still an influence on contemporary music and art in modern day Lithuania. Just wondering, in Sendorovas case, how the integration of the Litvak element, perhaps into the more general narrative of western art music might work. Do these elements co-exist or are they separate?
B: Yes they co-exist but I think generally for Lithuania its connection to musical history is an intriguing one because with the constant change in regime, Lithuania didn’t necessarily dictate its history, so classical music didn’t necessarily get to engage in the same kind of manner. With the Čiurlionis Sketches, what’s quite interesting is all the movements are referring to Čiurlionis artwork and so he….[inaudible] to a folk song and then Sendorovas put in his kind of folk song, instead of what necessarily Čiurlionis would have heard. In much the same way Litvak communities or Litvak culture’s been actively searched for – Čiurlionis, particularly during the Soviet period, he was quite actively discouraged when a lot of propaganda suggested he’s not Lithuanian, he’s a Polish man so, “You shouldn’t celebrate him, you should celebrate the great Lithuanian composers, not this Polish person.” (…) So then when independence came back, he was then the figure head, because he was one of the earliest examples… For Sendorovas the two tie together very naturally in that instance.
JB: There’s a question at the front, hold on one second for a mic.
Audience member 3: On Sendorovas, I was sort of interested, because when I listen to it I hear a lot of….[inaudible]…and Shostakovich and i’m interested in that sort of cross fertilisation, that goes through the Russians and the Scandinavian countries and modern choral liturgical music and what’s going on there?
B: Ok so with, particularly with the examples you gave of…[inaudible]…and Shostakovich and so on, one of the very positive things that the Soviet Union was able to do was have this constant dissemination of information across its self. And so, composers like Shostakovich would be able to sort of go freely around the Soviet Union spreading his music to all the people. And so Sendorovas, would have been very aware of that all the way through –
Audience member 3: Do we know that he liked it?
B: I haven’t asked [laughter] we’ll have to ask him next time but I know (…) It’s all very closely connected because that’s how they built that sort of cultural dissemination because if it just kept everyone to one nation it would get very boring, very very quickly, so the Soviet Union was helping stir the pot a bit or just a very selective pot and so then for those composers, they had the same spear of influences to draw upon and that’s one of the reasons they came about.
JB: Thank you. Any more questions? There is one there.
Audience member 4: Hello. It’s been awesome just being part of the group. This is a cheeky question from a Russian but you can be as honest as you want –
JB: Please go ahead.
Audience member 4: Because you’ve mentioned, obviously, sort of the Soviet past. Is anyone interested in it? And sort of incorporating it, as you would, say some gypsy influences into your music or into other areas of art and culture? Or do we need to wait for another one hundred, two hundred years when it becomes the mysterious, exciting lost past and then we get terribly passionate about it and try and collect traces of it to create something. So is it at all present and if so, in what way? Thank you very much.
B: I was in Riga two weeks ago essentially having the same conversation about how do you address the Soviet past because particularly for composers, for artists working during that time, regardless of whether they were politically active or engaged in it at all, they’ve been given the baggage of the Soviet Union and so we are then asking the question “What do we do with that?” Do composers who have written really beautiful music but happen to have the words of Lenin or the words of Marx or all these other people – do we then save it because it’s beautiful music or do we disregard it? So the conversations are beginning to start but it’s still very very fresh and ultimately, I think there’s going to be people, sort of my generation, your generation, later who were born after all of that and can sort of sit back and look and see…
JB: It’s too raw.
P: Well the other thing is, that we still can’t escape it. You know, we still have questions like that, we still are interesting to the west mainly because we are Post-Soviet… We still can’t get rid of that. On the other hand, we detached ourselves, we haven’t detached ourselves enough from it and it bothers us. Soviet monuments bother us – not monuments, Soviet sculptures, Soviet art. If it’s public art, in Vilnius, they removed the last specimen of the Soviet socialist art. It obviously bothered us, that’s why it was removed. And it’s a shame that we still are bothered by it, we could have left it there as an example and as a reminder and probably it’s time for us to stop being bothered by it. But i also hope that in a hundred years or three hundred years, or whatever you say – it doesn’t become exciting – that period, we have to separate of course, art from ideology. Can we separate it? That’s the question.
L: We have to separate it. It was history but not in the best way. So we have to try separate it.
JB: I’m going to – I know you want to speak but I’m going to ask if you don’t mind to talk to people privately at the bar because we’ve got so much more happening this evening. We’ve got, kind of a gig on this floor by Linas and his friends who’ve come over especially from the – thanks to the Lithuanian Art and Culture – they’ve brought this especially for this evening and we’ve just got to hear them and you’ve got to stick around.
So I’ve got some stuff to do but first of all, I really want to very quickly thank Paulina, for her amazing film and for her presence and for her work.
JB: Ben, who has come all the way down from Glasgow for this evening’s event – We didn’t even hear any of Ben’s work but ‘Google’ Ben Lunn and hear his music. But really, just for introducing us to Sendorovas and so many of his contemporaries. Thank you so much.
JB: Paulina has very kindly brought a few of the brochures from her Kaunas Biennial and there’s one here and there are a few more at the back if you want to, this is for you. And to thank Linas who you will hear more from, with his colleagues shortly. Thank you very much Linas.
L: Thank you.
JB: So couple of things to say, shortly we will do some rearranging of the furniture in order to create a dance floor. It’s an opportunity for you to get another drink from the bar and to use the toilets but we will seamlessly transition into the next part of the evening. I hope that we will have the next slide. Can we have the next slide? In the next slide – We are planning ahead for 2019, we are moving towards Brexit [Laughter] and many other things as well but we are thinking about immigration and ideas and the first two cafes of 2019 are going to be exploring what it means to be not from here and live here. So please do explore more, there’s a little bit more there and there’s stuff up online. And unfortunately, austerity has slightly bitten at Dash Arts and we are going to have to introduce a small charge for entry to our Dash Cafés, I hope that won’t preclude you from coming along. If it does please email us and let us know –
Audience member 3: That’s fine, yes!
JB: Thank you! But if there is a problem, because we have always wanted our Dash Cafés and our events to be welcoming to everyone and there are some who may not be able to join us, so we would love to welcome you anyway. And finally, there are two very important things that I need to do before we move into the next part of the evening. Not to go but when you go, we have some questions that we would love you to fill in about how you felt this evening and what we can learn and what we should be doing next. So please find my colleagues at the back to do that.
I have a very important thing to do this evening, which is for the last four years we’ve had the privilege of working with an extraordinary individual Sherry Nyhus at Dash Arts and Sherry worked with us, amazingly – she was our steadfast mother hen at the heart of the organisation, organising us, managing us, looking after us, going to the shops to buy stuff, doing our budgets, manning the office… She was really a phenomenal tour de force at the organization and sadly we had to say goodbye to her and this evening, as well as being the last Café of the year, it’s also an opportunity for us to pay a tribute to Sherry, who I know is over there. Sherry can you come up and just take a bow on the stage?
JB: As she’s making her way up the stage, we have some vodka to distribute because it is always a tradition at Dash events to toast ourselves with Vodka. So I just want to make sure there is Vodka and I wanted to just give Sherry a present. This really is an awards ceremony.
JB: So I rather stupidly should have got the vodka coming out before but Sherry stick around so we can give you some vodka as well. Then we will take a vodka shot, we will toast to Sherry and – in fact maybe I’ll take some.
Thank you, so I’m going to do the toast so we can move on but you will all get a shot of vodka but I want to toast to Sherry and thank her enormously for everything, and thank you.