Vytautas Smetona

Pianist and composer Vytautas Smetona was born in Cleveland OH. His parents, Birute and Julius, and paternal grandparents narrowly escaped the 1940 Soviet invasion and subsequent occupation of Lithuania. Smetona’s grandfather, Antanas Smetona, was the last President of independent Lithuania. The family arrived and settled in the United States in 1941 via a route through Germany, Portugal, and Brazil. Vytautas’ father, Julius, was an attorney, and his mother was a musician.

 

Vytautas’ principal teachers were his mother, Birute, and brother, Anthony. He studied theory and composition with the noted composer Starling Cumberworth. Birute was a concert pianist whose teachers included Robert Casadesus, Yves Nat, and Leonard Shure. She appeared as soloist with the noted German conductor Franz von Hoesslin. Vytautas’s older brother, Anthony Smetona, was also a pianist and a graduate of the Mannes College of Music and the Juilliard School. His teachers included Rosina Lhévinne, Nadia Reisenberg, and Leonard Shure. He was a laureate at a number of international piano competitions and made his European orchestral debut with the Hamburg Symphony in the Brahms B-flat Piano Concerto.

 

Vytautas made a successful New York debut at Town Hall in 1976. This was followed by three additional New York recitals, all favorably reviewed by the New York Times. He made his London debut at Wigmore Hall in 1980. This was followed by a live recital over radio station WQXR in New York City.

 

Among the orchestras with which Smetona has appeared as piano soloist are the Baltimore Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, and the St. Louis Symphony.

 

His recording debut, “Vytautas Smetona Plays Chopin Liszt, and Rachmaninoff,” was released in 1979 and favorably reviewed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the San Francisco Chronicle. Audio Magazine’s Edward Tatnall Canby wrote as follows about the album: “Fantastic technique, and better than that, a big concept of his music.”

 

His musical career was interrupted in March of 1983 after a final performance given at Xavier University in Cincinnati OH. He returned to school, earned master’s degrees in mathematics and operations research, and became a Fellow in the Society of Actuaries. He established a consulting firm but never lost touch with music, an oasis of beauty, as he continued to reflect and study. After a prolonged absence, he has once again become active in musical life.

 

Smetona’s album ALL THE WAY BACK was released by Navona Records in April 2015 and featured an original composition Capriccio. This was Smetona’s first recording since 1979 and was met with great critical enthusiasm. Audiophile Audition praised his “formidable technique,” “sustained legato,” “capacity to project intimacy,” and “striking performance of Liszt’s Funerailles.”

 

The Classical Reviewer called the album a “terrific disc from Navona” and praised Smetona’s “terrific technique,” his “remarkable performance of Chopin’s G Minor Ballade,” and noted that in Schumann’s Fantasy “his playing is spellbinding.” The reviewer went on to state that “It is Smetona’s Schumann that simply knocked me flat.”

 

CD Spotlight wrote as follows: “Nothing is routine with Vytautas Smetona. Everything is fresh, clear and makes compelling listening. His cantabile playing almost transports you to heaven, and his heroic, bravura power, when he’s compelled to deliver it, is breathtaking. Here is a true musician — so much more than just a pianist and I hope that he continues to record.”

 

Smetona’s 2015 New York recital – his first in over 30 years – was welcomed by New York Classical Review: “Pianist’s Return to Stage Shows a Restless, Exciting Sense of Rediscovery.” The article praised Smetona’s “exciting and individual musicianship” and said the following with respect to the final movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata: “The turmoil of the final movement was unusually intense, the final pages whipping around in the manner of Schnabel, but faster, with more weight and greater precision.” In the Schumann Fantasy, “The pianist’s playing and thinking were outstanding and utterly satisfying.” Finally, in selections by Chopin, “Smetona played the music with the explosive physical and emotional power that is intrinsic in every note and phrase.”

 

Smetona has an avid interest in composing as well as performing. He has written a number of original works including his Canonic Variations and Fugue for strings. Most recently, he completed A Country Song (a work whose title belies the fact that it is a serious composition with contrapuntal elements written in the style of the common practice period) and Fantasy for piano which appears in his new album release. He is currently finishing a piano sonata, a large scale work in four movements.

 

In addition to his musical and professional accomplishments, Smetona is a fitness and sports enthusiast. As a college tennis player, he participated in the N.C.A.A. Division III singles championship. After graduation, he was the top ranked men’s singles player in Northeastern Ohio and was ranked top ten in men’s singles in the Midwest. He once extended a former N.C.A.A. Division I singles champion to three sets in a best of three set qualifying match for an A.T.P. grand prix tournament. vytautassmetona.com

 

 

Photo: Cole Golphenee, Sandpoint, Idaho, September 2019

 

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