Vestard Shimkus was born into an intelligent and musical family. His father, Gunārs Shimkus, played in the Katedrāle art-rock group together with composer Vilnis Šmīdbergs. His mother, Iveta Shimkus, is a poet and literature teacher. His younger sister, Aurēlija Shimkus, is a pianist. And Shimkus himself has been married to singer Elīna Shimkus since 2012. In interviews, Shimkus has also always stressed the importance of the support he has received from his family, which helped him while studying abroad and as he launched his career. He has won an impressive number of awards, including the Maria Canals Competition in Barcelona in 2009 and the similarly prestigious Los Angeles International Liszt Competition seven years earlier. The list of musicians he has studied under at academies and masterclasses would be similarly long and include Dmitri
Bashkirov in Madrid, Vadim Sukhanov in Munich and Daniel Pollack in Los Angeles. [..]
First of all, it is for good reason that Šimkus calls himself a romantically thinking and feeling artist, and therefore the music he creates echoes the metamorphoses of turbulent imagination and vivid characters in the music of composer-pianists Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Sergei Rachmaninov. Second, virtuosity is an integral part of Romantic music, and here Šimkus fully realises his pianistic potential – the texture of the instrument sparkles with ever new variations, waves of rhythm and harmony crashing against each other. Third, Shimkus’ predecessors reacted very harshly to empty, meaningless virtuosity, and so he has also found room in his music for contemplation, meditation, lyrically serene moments and quiet observation.
Listening to this album, one can only marvel that Vestards Šimkus (born 1984) is not much more famous in this country – both as a composer and as a pianist. In both disciplines he has truly extraordinary things to offer. Šimkus, who studied composition with his famous compatriot Pēteris Vasks and belongs to the younger generation of Baltic artists who were able to learn their craft in the Republic of Latvia, which was liberated from the Soviets, locates himself in the succession of Romantic composer-pianists such as Schumann, Liszt, and Rachmaninov. In terms of virtuosity and technique, he is in no way inferior to his great role models. His Piano Concerto No. 1 was written in 2008 and is entitled "Veltīts neērtajam cilvēkam". The English translation offered by the album ("Dedicated To The Bothersome Man") is unfortunate, because "bothersome" is the wrong word here. Properly translated from Latvian, it should read in German: "Gewidmet dem unbequemen Mann". The booklet text does not reveal who is meant by this, but one may assume that it is Pēteris Vasks, who always stood up to the Soviet occupiers, especially since Šimkus literally plays on his keyboard here without ever getting under his teacher's wheels. The "Dreamscapes" etudes from 2014 bear eloquent titles such as "Floating Stars", "Tsunami" or "Snakes", and they are brimming with power, inventiveness and pianistic elegance. "Gates of Destiny" (2018), with its just under 7 minutes of playing, forms a concentrate of the 1st Piano Concerto. Šimkus and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra form a dream team!
Fono Forum, 08 / 2022