Cappella Amsterdam presents Baltic Souls: Estonia 100 years independent/non-independent

Cappella Amsterdam

Although Estonia is nearly 4000 square kilometres larger than the Netherlands, it has barely more inhabitants than the province of Utrecht. For centuries, powers such as Denmark, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Poland disputed the rule of this country on the Baltic Sea. Because of its geographical location, it formed an important link between East and West.

It was not until 1918 that Estonia proclaimed its independence, though this sovereignty was regularly violated. From 1944 to 1991 the country sighed under the yoke of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless the Estonians proudly celebrate the centenary of their independence. Cappella Amsterdam joins in with the programme Baltic Souls, conducted by Endrik Üksvärav.

As a matter of course Arvo Pärt is featured, alongside music by lesser known composers such as Pärt Uusberg, Galina Grigorjeva and Veljo Tormis. There are three Dutch premieres, starting with Pärt’s Litanei. The Stabat Mater of Tõnu Kõrvits and the Missa Brevis by Erkki-Sven Tüür were never heard in the Netherlands before, either. Both composers will attend the concert on 28 February in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, which forms the start of a short tour.

Stabat Mater: the text of texts

Tõnu Kõrvits (1969) composed his Stabat Mater in 2014. It was commissioned by The Sixteen and already appeared on CD.  ‘While composing, I listened to many other settings’, says Kõrvits, ‘for instance those of Pergolesi, Rossini and Pärt. It is the text of texts, long and complicated. It contains everything: substance, sonority, sensitivity and concentration. And above all, it has a lot of empathy. I felt that a composer should deal with this text in the second half of his creative life.’

His colleague Erkki-Sven Tüür (1959), is perhaps better known in the Netherlands. The Radio Philharmonic Orchestra presented the Dutch premiere of his impressive De profundis in 2015; two years later the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performed the world premiere of his piccolo concerto Solastalgia. Now Cappella Amsterdam sings the Missa Brevis that Tüür composed in 2013. It was commissioned by the Deutscher Musikrat for the side-programming of a choir competition.

Personal resonance

‘Over the centuries the Latin Mass has been set to music many times’, says Tüür. ‘Therefore there are many archetypes associated with this “oh-so-overused” text, which made composing a new version exciting and challenging. I really had to dig deep to find a way to make my individual voice resonate naturally with the text. Without a personal resonance it would have been impossible – at least for me – to set the Latin mass to music.’

‘Although I had no specific other compositions in mind while composing, I acknowledge that everything in this world is implicitly connected. I have listened to and studied a lot of music from others in my life, which has undoubtedly left its mark on my own. Yet you won’t find any direct quotations in my Missa Brevis. – By the way, the assignment was to write something for a semi-professional choir, which sets limits to the possibilities. On closer inspection, however, the score appears to be more suitable for professional choirs.’

Text dictates form

What is more important: for the listener to understand the text verbatim or to experience its meaning?

‘The one cannot exist without the other. If we do not understand the text, we cannot comprehend its deeper meaning. I have “underlined” some sentences, or even words. For example by making them sound more or less colourful, more or less filled with light, tension or emotion. I use the tools of harmony in order to create these different nuances.’

‘While composing vocal music, my approach is completely different from when I write abstract, instrumental music. The musical form is already largely predetermined by the text. However, there are many ways to mold it. That is what I find most fascinating: how do various composers experience the meaning of these very old phrases? How do they respond to the challenge of adding their voice to the very long tradition of writing a mass? I myself have worked hard to find my own signature.’

Journey into light

You once told me that you want to stimulate the creativity of the listener. How have you tried to achieve this in Missa Brevis?

‘I just write music, I don’t deliberately use tools to manipulate the audience. As soon as the work is finished, I cherish the humble hope that it will appeal to the listener’s inner imagination. While composing, one of my most important criteria is to what extent the music can take me along on a journey into light. All means serve this purpose – how I deal with texture, colours, rhythms, harmonies, dramatic tension etcetera. It must help me. Only then can I hope it will work the same way for others.’

On April 14th, chamber choir Amphion also looks eastwards in the Papegaai, with music by a.o. Indra Rise, Ester Mägi and Veljo Tormis.

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About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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1 Response to Cappella Amsterdam presents Baltic Souls: Estonia 100 years independent/non-independent

  1. Pingback: The music of Arvo Pärt: from fierce dissonance to euphonious bell sounds | Contemporary Classical – Thea Derks

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