A long-standing artistic director and chief conductor (Honorary Conductor since 2015) of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO), one of Lithuania’s most experienced and influential conducting teachers and an accomplished performer having developed a distinctive manner of interpretation, JUOZAS DOMARKAS is like an invariable standard of artistic value that must not be disregarded when one is to line up the generations of Lithuanian conductors and to measure the performance standard of symphonic music in our country, which has changed beyond recognition since he first stood at the helm of the LNSO in 1964. His innate vitality and perseverance and acquired volition and skill helped him greatly in achieving his most earnest goal – to raise a symphony orchestra of the highest artistic standard in Lithuania. An almost half century path of his intense and diverse career may well attest to this.
Juozas Domarkas was born 28 July 1936 in Varkaliai, Plungė district in west Lithuania. Having started his musical education in Klaipėda, he first studied clarinet at the Lithuanian State Conservatory (present Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) under Juozas Jasenka (1955–60). He switched from clarinet to baton in 1957, when he became conductor with the Vilnius Wind Orchestra (present Trimitas). Aspiring to pursue conducting career and broaden his musical knowledge he went on to study conducting at the St Petersburg Conservatory (1960–5) with Prof. Ilya Musin (1904–1999), a renowned teacher and founder of the modern Russian school of conducting. It was on his recommendation that Domarkas was chosen, in 1963, among the sixteen young conductors from all over the Soviet Union to have a unique opportunity to participate in the four-month master course in Moscow with the world-famous French conductor and composer Igor Markevitch (1912–1983). The influence of these teachers has left an indelible mark on Domarkas’ personality and can still be traced in his repertoire, which, besides the greatest classical masterpieces, encompasses many works by Russian composers and contemporary music.
In his last year of studies at St Petersburg Conservatory Domarkas was invited to conduct and direct Lithuania’s prime symphony orchestra, the LNSO. The proficiency of orchestra’s musicians grew in pace with their director’s artistic personality, presenting the audiences with many classical large-scale works previously unheard in Lithuania (including Beethoven’s Ninth and Missa solemnis, symphonies by Mahler and works by Stravinsky). In 1969, the LNSO embarked on their first international tour in Poland. The ability of the young maestro and his orchestra to perform the most complex symphonic scores was recognised internationally in the 1970s when they began receiving numerous invitations to perform at the prestigious concert halls in Moscow and St Petersburg as well as abroad. In the 1980s they performed to wide acclaim at two contemporary music festivals in St Petersburg. After Lithuania regained independence in 1990, their concert routes have expanded even more, to include most of Europe, Japan, major European festivals and halls, such as Vienna’s Musikverein, London’s Barbican Centre, Philharmonie Köln and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.
Both in Lithuania and abroad the LNSO has partnered many great musicians of various countries and generations, including singers Elena Obraztsova, Sergei Larin, Violeta Urmana, Gražina Apanavičiūtė, Irena Milkevičiūtė, Virgilijus Noreika and Vladimiras Prudnikovas; pianists Emil Gilels, Dmitry Bashkirov, John Ogdon, Justus Frantz and Petras Geniušas; violinists Leonid Kogan, Vladimir Spivakov, Gidon Kremer, Julian Rachlin, Raimundas Katilius and Vilhelmas Čepinskis, cellists Mstislav Rostropovich, David Geringas, Natalia Gutman, Ivan Monigeti, Alexander Rudin; violist Yuri Bashmet, trumpetist Håkan Hardenberger and clarinettist Kari Kriikku, among many others.
Lauded by the critics for his musical intelligence, bright and emotional manner of performing, which combines paradoxically with his fondness for monumentality, Domarkas has been frequently invited to perform with major orchestras of Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Estonia, Venezuela, Turkey and Finland. Several memorable productions in musical theatre may also testify to his artistic versatility. He directed and conducted productions of Bizet’s Carmen (1985), Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé and Bizet-Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite (1997) at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, as well as those of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (1997) and Bizet’s Carmen(1998) at the Klaipėda Music Theatre.
Contemporary music also makes a substantial and important portion of Domarkas’ repertoire, in which works by Lithuanian composers certainly occupy a special place. Under Domarkas’ artistic leadership, the LNSO has performed almost ninety percent of all Lithuanian symphonic scores written to date – from M.K.Čiurlionis through Eduardas Balsys, Julius Juzeliūnas, Antanas Rekašius, Feliksas Bajoras, Vytautas Barkauskas and Osvaldas Balakauskas to the young composers’ first symphonic opuses. Many of these works have been inspired by longtime friendship and bear a dedication to their first performer. Thanks to maestro Domarkas, these works can be heard today not only in the concert halls, but also on numerous recordings released in Lithuania and abroad (by „Melodiya,“ „Marco Polo,“ „Col legno,“ „Ella Records“ and „Naxos“).
Besides his busy concert schedule, Juozas Domarkas has been always concerned with the nurturing of an emerging talent. Since 1968 he has been teaching at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre where he has founded the Department of Orchestral Conducting and became its Head and Professor in 1995. From 1972 to 1991 he was chief conductor of the students’ symphony orchestra at the academy. Since 1975 he has been organising appearances of young performers with the LNSO, which developed into the “Atžalynas” Young Performers’ Festival that over the years has triggered many successful careers. He also served as a jury member at the international competitions for conductors, including Fitelberg (1991, 1995 and 2003) in Katowice, Poland, and Prokofiev (1993 and 1996) in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Juozas Domarkas became the last Lithuanian artist to be awarded with the People’s Artist of the Soviet Union title in 1986. His accomplishments in cultivation of Lithuanian musical culture have garnered him several highest national distinctions: the Lithuanian State Prize (1974), the Lithuanian Government Art Prize (1998), the Officer’s Cross (1994) and the Grand Cross (1998) of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas and the Lithuanian National Arts and Culture Prize (2000). In September 2006 he was awarded the Chevalier Cross Order of the Republic of Poland for his contribution into Polish-Lithuanian cultural collaboration.