‘Classical music attracts everyone, even gangsters’

'Classical music attracts everyone, even gangsters'
Justina Auskelyte is trying to bring music closer to the people. Photo: Marco Rossi
MY SWEDISH CAREER: Justina Auskelyte is Malmö's Violinist on a Bike. Not that such a job ever existed – but the Lithuanian created it, and the city seems to love it.

Justina Auskelyte moved to Sweden for love. Marriage, residency permit, permanent job, and creative projects – all this happened in less than a year. Violinist on a Bike is her most recent idea and she's surprised how quickly the word spread. A week into the project, she met people who were already informed about it.

“I'm not a street musician. People tried to give me money and I had to explain that was not the point,” Auskelyte says, explaining that the concept is an alternative project to bring live classical music as close as possible to the people.

A “freelance musician”, as she describes herself, the 28-year-old has previously worked at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy, recorded albums with colleagues from abroad, and travelled across Europe to win numerous international music competitions.

After she moved to Malmö, Auskelyte's then-fiancé suggested auditioning for the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen. She was accepted after the first attempt.

“It fit perfectly into my new life in Sweden,” she smiles.

Listen to one of Auskelyte's performances here:

A new job meant commuting from Malmö to Copenhagen, rehearsals in the mornings, concert performances in the evenings, and individual work to catch up with the orchestra or prepare for international competitions in between. Sometimes, Auskelyte would arrive back in Malmö around 1am, only to wake up a few hours later and jump on the train.

Due to such a high workload, she eventually developed health problems. But when I ask about the toughest moments of her time in Sweden, she only shrugs, confused.

“I decided to take a break now so that I could work on my own projects,” Auskelyte explains. She puts on a violin case like a backpack, puts on a helmet, throws a couple of bananas into a basket in front of her bike and goes on to cruise the city. “It's all about being spontaneous,” she smiles.

Photo: Marco Rossi

For her current project, the musician picks a place that looks inviting and asks its administration for permission to perform some classical music there. During the first week, she's been to a barber shop, an ice-cream shop, music shop, tea shop, a museum, the city library… She plays for around 15 minutes and then continues her journey.

Just like when Auskelyte played violin on the streets as a child, she still feels a bit scared and embarrassed making the first sounds. But then people react – and everything falls into place.

“I have recently stopped at a Kungsparken. There were teenage guys nearby, in sports suits, like young gangsters, listening to their own beats. I took out my violin and started playing classics. They lowered down the volume and stopped talking, faced in my direction and kept listening until I finished…Then you realise how big the energy of music is: it attracts everyone, even gangsters!”, she says.

Although she doesn't collect money from listeners, Auskelyte doesn't rule out developing her project in the future. She believes it is not only a unique and attractive way of presenting classical music but also a chance to promote herself as a performer and make connections that would lead to new collaborations, not only in Malmö but eventually all around Sweden as well as abroad.

The Lithuanian musician says she is optimistic about life in Sweden.

“It's said that Swedes are closed, individualistic and too much independent, but you just need to present your ideas right and most likely you will be greeted with enthusiasm and helpfulness,” she says.

Auskelyte gives as an example concert she recently organized at Malmö's STPLN meeting place in collaboration with Italian musician Cesare Pezzi. The location was chosen because it has a piano and she explained her idea to the management, which subsequently welcomed the musicians, tuned the piano for free, and helped with the organization and promotion of the event.

It took Auskelyte and Pezzi less than a week to spread the word, and around 70 people attended.

“We didn't make money but we were impressed by the interest in classical music and help of the staff of the venue,” she says.

“Sweden has a lot of space for new ideas”, she adds, concluding that “open-minded people and helpful attitudes are what make Sweden a country of possibilities.”

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