Nordic Stories is about showcasing people working in diverse sectors and fields. What they have in common is their interest in or inspiration from Nordic ideas or values. We are sharing stories of people who, with the support of the Nordic Council of Ministers Office in Lithuania, were able to get new ideas, gain knowledge and grow the impact of their work.
Julija Karaliūnaitė is an opera singer and the initiator of countless artistic projects. She was part of starting the art initiative NB8Art, which brings together people from the Nordic and Baltic countries working in different art disciplines to co-create and perform together. In this story Julija is talking about the special bond between Baltic and Nordic people, the power of connection for creativity and the mystical powers of the human voice.
“I always loved music from a young age. We had a very old piano that had a really nice sound and I just enjoyed playing. Eventually my mother let me to go to music school. Later when I went to university, I never actually thought about studying music but I started singing in the university choir. It was incredible hearing all the different voices and the experience of singing together. The choir leader encouraged me to go to the music academy. This experience was the first time I was acquainted with classical singing and I was amazed by the power of the human voice. I was fascinated with the mystical abilities of the voice and the sounds it can produce. You make a small change and the sound completely different.”
Julija Karaliūnaitė is a classical and operatic singer. One of her passions is organising and creating projects with other musicians and artists to develop concepts and concerts. The combination of different artists, musicians and ideas seem to spark her creativity. She has initiated and participated in many projects and one of the ongoing ones are NB8Art (NB stands for Nordic Baltic and the 8 represents the number of countries), which was founded in 2015 in collaboration with the pianist Simona Zbarauskaitė, after Julija had been part of a workshop in Nida, Lithuania.
“In our first event with NB8Art we had musicians, media artists, print artists and composers from Lithuania, Estonia and Sweden participating. I had met the composers the year before in another workshop. It was also in that workshop I got to know about the Nordic Culture Point and the mobility programs. The mobility program enabled us to bring these composers to Lithuania to participate in this workshop where NB8Art actually was started. The idea behind NB8Art was to create performances related to Baltic and Nordic cultural heritage and exploring related themes.”
NB8Art is a collaborative project including a range of artists including musicians, video and print artists, composers and singers. Julija enjoys the process of exploring new ideas together with other people and this was part of the motivation behind the project. Through the cultural exchange she gets to meet new people and learn about their countries while also performing in different contexts. It’s not only about getting to perform classical music but just as much about connecting with others and making something together.
“The idea of NB8Art was that more and more different musicians and artists from the Nordic-Baltic countries could join in the different projects. In that way we could also have workshops and activities in different locations. So far we have worked with people from Norway and Sweden and also performed in Sweden. We have also had concerts in Lithuania and the Nordic Council of Ministers also invited us to perform in a concert during Vilnius Culture Night festival. For most of our activities we have received support from the mobility fund, including a trip to Stockholm where we were also able to record music and also funding to participate in Lithuania New Music Festival this year.”
Julija says that without these funding opportunities they would not have the opportunity to meet as often since the traveling costs can be high. And she is very happy that they can because for her these meetings are valuable and powerful experiences bringing new ideas, perspectives, and a growing network of people. They come together for just a few days and bring new music to these meetings, which they only have a short time to rehearse.
“It’s really amazing when we get together. At our first meeting in 2015, it was an incredible feeling to get to know each other and starting to do something together. It was challenging since we really wanted to create a result and not just do experiments. When you want to get results you might get disappointed but at the same time when you have this ambition it can also drive you forward. The most interesting for me is really how the collaboration is developing and changing. It’s constantly changing from the very first idea of how it could look to the final results.”
Coming together with like-minded people, creating and rehearsing is a joyful time for Julija. The people participating is both composers and also solo performers and they often don’t have a lot of time to rehearse and make the performance perfect. This means that there is a lot of space for improvisation in their pieces which makes it a lot of fun.
“Having this space for improvisation means that every single meeting, rehearsal, and performance is different, each version of that improvisation is different. Being on stage for the rehearsal, we still continue to create all the time, and also even during the performance. It’s a quite fantastic thing.”
Julija has already had many amazing moments but she mentions their week-long trip to Gotland, Sweden as one of the most impressive ones. They had several performances in quite small and intimate venues which made the whole experience very special. The whole time spent there, rehearsing, creating, working together was memorable.
“We had so many great experiences though, it’s hard to mention just one. Participating in the Druskomanija festival in Lithuania this year was also a wonderful experience. We had a great venue and an amazing sound engineer. Sound is really important to us, but it can be very difficult to get it right with the different instruments. Some are acoustic like the harpe and also my vocal being an operatic voice. But we were very happy with the sound. We also had this incredible screen, where we could show this video complementing the music, that was really a great addition.”
The art and music scene in Lithuania is really booming. Many young people coming to the scene are bringing new perspectives and ideas. Many are doing things in a new and exciting way and also getting international exposure and participating in festivals abroad. Some are even winning awards and gaining recognition, including this new opera ‘Sun and Sea’.
“Sun and Sea won a Golden Lion at the Venice Art Biennale and received a lot of attention. It’s quite amazing, this opera. The scenography is impressive, they brought real sand onto the stage and all the singers are laying on the sand and singing. It’s supposed to seem as if they are by the sea. They are singing of how they are bored of the sun and these mundane themes but the bigger theme is about climate change and how we are impacting the planet.”
This is definitely a new approach to opera and its showing a very different side than what most people are used to. Often the fine arts are dismissed as something removed from normal people and everyday life. But even though mainstream music and art might have a bigger audience, Julija still sees an important role for the fine arts.
“I think this kind of opera shows the influence of art on society. We see very strong examples where fine art, music and culture, can reach large audiences if they find the right form. I think it’s really important, we need to be a bit better in the fine arts in trying to reach broader audiences because I think what we do can speak to people in a different way.”
One of the keywords of one NB8Art meeting was connection. This was also used as the title for the resulting concert, based on ideas of how we are all connected. This theme seems to be a core idea of what NB8Art is about and seeing the importance of connecting across borders, cultures, and also artistic fields.
“I think when it comes to connection, the more connected you become, the more you are enriched. It truly enriches you in many ways, when it comes to your view of the world, your thinking, and so many other ways.”
For Julija there is a very special connection between Nordic and Baltic countries. Somehow less words are needed. Things can be left unsaid but still be understood. She thinks that it would be a very different kind of connection if the focus was working together with Southern or Eastern countries.
“There is something in the humour that we share and also how we communicate. When you rehearse and create music together it becomes, you know, we have some similar ideas about how it should sound. There are some ingredients of our nature, of our spirit which is, I think, very meditative in nature.”
Julija has big ambitions for the NB8Art collective and how it can grow its reach in the Nordic and Baltic countries. What she is really hoping for is more opportunities to meet in new places and with new people from countries that still has not been involved. She would like to further explore the ideas and thoughts about how we are interconnected as people through time and space. She talks about it as a form of archaeology.
“What we do could be seen as a form of cultural archaeology, by combining all these different ideas and experiences from all the different participating countries and artists. It can be adopted in very different places and spaces, such as having a performance in nature. Those are my dreams. I’m dreaming about meeting more people and having more diverse artists join, like dancers. Having shows in unique spaces, like in a factory, desert, or forest. To really adopt the performance and music to the place, show people all these beautiful places we have. So that the places would speak through us.”
Music is hugely important in Julija’s life. It has been with her since childhood and it keeps playing a key role in her life. She seems to be translating her experiences of the world into sounds and music, and in the co-creation and sharing of experiences with others. So how would she explain her inspiration?
“When I first started to explore my voice and develop my skills, I dreamed about sounds at night. For me that has always been the main thing that inspires me in music, the sounds. I think an operatic voice, like a classical voice, can somehow enter us very very deep. I don’t know how, if it’s the vibration. It’s not even about what you sing, but about the sound. Apart from that, creating with other people is really important for me. Singers can’t create alone, we’re always creating with somebody, a pianist, orchestra, ensemble. This means you have double the power, the expression and emotion because you are creating together. The sound, the power, and creating together, these are the things that are most inspiring for me.”
Julija and NB8Art got funding from Nordic Culture Point and the mobility programs to help them bring artists to Lithuania and traveling to the Baltic and Nordic countries for collaborations and concerts. Are you working on artistic projects and are interested in Nordic-Baltic collaboration? Read more about the different mobilities programs and grants here.