After earning a Bachelor’s, Master’s and a Licentiate (PhD) of Arts degree from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, and then moving on for further studies in music in both Paris, France and Hamburg, Germany, Victor Pausktelis felt he had something more to express.
“All my life, whenever I started to draw or paint something, it felt very natural to me,” the pianist tells The Local from his home in Lithuania. “When I came back from Paris, I just decided to apply to the Vilnius Academy of Arts, and they accepted me.”
Pausktelis spent six years studying art at the academy, adding a Master’s degree in that discipline to his academic accomplishments in music. This Sunday, Aug. 14, he brings both art and music to a Music Niagara Festival performance at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Paukstelis has had a long relationship with Music Niagara, and an even longer one with festival co-founder and artistic director Atis Bankas. Bankas, also from Lithuania, studied the violin under Paukstelis’ grandfather, Victor Radovich, who had learned from legendary Russian violinist Igor Oistrakh.
“Atis was a very close friend of my mother’s,” Paukstelis says. “My mother (Tatjiana) was a pianist and a teacher as well, and they had a great friendship. She often told me stories about Atis and other students of my grandfather. Atis was one of his best.”
Though he undoubtedly encountered Bankas many times when he was younger, it was when Bankas came to one of his concerts that they developed a mutual admiration of each other’s work and a friendship of their own.
As a musician, the 39-year-old enjoys performing the music of the masters. He considers his admiration for the works of Mozart, Bach and others as a natural influence on his drawings and paintings.
At the same time, Paukstelis says pursuing his art opened up his creativity at the piano.
“When you are performing, you are playing something that is already written,” he says. “It’s important to find new things. When doing my art, I began to understand that I could find that same freedom in piano performance in small nuances that are very important. Even in the silence between notes you can find your own position.”
A visit to his website shows modern paintings that are at times reminiscent of the work of famous London street artist Banksy. As well, much of his art brings to mind the work of the Romantics in its use of iconic images from bygone eras.
It was a natural progression for the multi-talented Paukstelis to combine the two disciplines in his performances.
“Music is movement,” he explains. “I thought that to bring them together, the paintings also have to move. I started to make moving drawings on my iPad. It’s not traditional animation, it’s my drawing recorded on the iPad.”
Projected on a screen or a wall as he performs on the piano, it’s fascinating to see Paukstelis’ visions come to life inspired by the music. It’s more than a mere display of his works. Beginning with a blank or semi-finished “canvas”, lines emerge and faces take shape. Backgrounds fill in and transform at a rapid pace, enhancing the musical experience.
It leaves the audience with a deeper understanding of Paukstelis’ inspirations and creative process than one would get from simply listening to him perform.
And he takes time to successfully curate each of the images with the music.
“It has to be a good combination,” he says. “Very often when I create I am thinking of specific music. All music tells a story. Very often it is abstract. And live drawings are often abstract as well. But both are about deep feelings, about loneliness, love, fundamental things.”
For Sunday’s program, attendees will experience about 20 minutes of his art, as Paukstelis himself understands that for many, a classical music performance is a personal and solitudinous experience.
“The other part of the concert will be a solo performance,” explains Paukstelis. “It’s very difficult for people to concentrate when you have two arts at the same time. Very often, I close my eyes when I listen to music, to go much deeper into the music.”
His animations will be accompanied by music from Bach, Pärt and French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. The remainder of the recital will include Bach’s French Suite No. 5 as well as music by Chopin and Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti.
“It’s a combination of clear, light pieces with some dramatic things,” he says. “Some melancholy as well. It’s a very, very nice program.”
Paukstelis is also booked for a performance in Toronto at the Lithuanian Society this month. He is planning to stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake for about a week, catching up with Bankas, creating some drawings, and running along the Niagara Parkway.
“I am preparing for a marathon, either in Amsterdam or Frankfurt, in October,” the avid runner explains. “I’ve run five or
six marathons, and I try to do one a year. Running is a time to think, to be with myself, to have ideas come to me.”
He continues, “the life of the artist is very stressful, because you are always not believing in yourself enough. If you believe in yourself too much, it’s not good. You have to have your doubts, then you will find something new. When I’m not being social, I become calm, and I can decide where to go with it.”
Sunday’s program begins at 4 pm. Tickets are available at musicniagara.org.