Justina Jaruševičiūtė may become known as the woman with all the accents, but she follows in the footsteps of another accented individual who shares her initials. Inspired by an Echo Collective concert performance of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s and Thilo Heinzmann’s album 12 conversations, she began a conversation of her own, resulting in these exquisite works for string quartet. We are already skipping over “composer to watch” and going right to “composer to hear right now.”
The album traces a long, sleepless night from the “Wolf Hour” to “Sunrise.” Instantly in the opening track, the strings are stretching toward the heavens, as if yearning not only for sleep, but for the dreams that might come. The intense sadness may be traced not only to the experience of insomnia but to the shadow of Jóhannsson. So many composers have claimed him as an influence in recent months, but only Jaruševičiūtė and Rutger Hoedemaekers have touched on his greatness.
It’s an unusual experience to be worn out by an opening track, but the artist has more in store. First single “Prayer” underlines Jaruševičiūtė’s fascination with the spiritual. The track unfolds like a long night of the soul, despite its four-minute length; dyschronometria is one of insomnia’s effects, and the avid restraint of the piece is akin to the wrestling of St. John. But the album also includes two modern spiritual admonitions: “Breathe” and “Let It Go.” In each case, the music is a call to calm, to serenity, to surrender. If certain pieces resist clear conclusions, it is only to cross a bridge to the next, like the Liturgy of the Hours. But even in the midst of these hours may arrive a sharp awakening, or what one might call a revelation, as demonstrated in the suddenly surging epiphanies of “Reminiscence” and “Distant Star.” And when “Let It Go” yields a major, albeit fleeting melody, the soul sits up to take notice.
During the pandemic, stress caused insomnia levels surged across the globe. But no matter how long or dark the night, the sun always manages to rise. The closing piece reflects the first rays of the sun as they begin to lighten the sky, to stretch across the horizon, to rise above the sea. We don’t need to sun to reach the middle of the sky to begin to feel its cheer. (Richard Allen)