The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (EPCC) is one of the best known Estonian music groups in the world. The EPCC was founded in 1981 by Tõnu Kaljuste, who was the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor for twenty years. During 2001–2007 his work was continued by English musician Paul Hillier. Since 2008 the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor is Daniel Reuss from Holland.
The repertoire of the choir extends from gregorian chant to late baroque and the music of the 21th century, ever special focus on the work by Estonian composers (Pärt, Tormis, Tüür, Grigoryeva, Tulev, Kõrvits, Tulve) and introducing it to the world. Each season the choir gives about 60–70 concerts in Estonia and abroad.
The EPCC has cooperated with several outstanding conductors and orchestras, like Claudio Abbado, Helmuth Rilling, Eric Ericson, Iván Fischer, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Nikolai Aleksejev, Andrew Lawrence-King, Roland Böer, Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Frieder Bernius, Stephen Layton, Marc Minkowski, Christoph Poppen, Sir Colin Davis etc. and Norwegian, Australian, Lithuanian, Prague and Stuttgart chamber orchestras, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, also Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Berlin Radio Orchestra, Concerto Copenhagen, Concerto Palatino, Salzburg Camerata, Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble and of course Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra.
The choir has been invited to perform at many renowned festivals, like BBC Proms, Edinburgh International Festival, Abu Gosh music festival, Moscow Easter Festival, Bergen International Festival, The Salzburg Festival, Musikfest Bremen, Salzburg Mozartwoche, Festival Aix-en-Provence etc.
Another important aspect in the choir’s life is recording music (for ECM, Virgin Classics, Carus, Harmonia Mundi), resulting in award-winning CDs, including Arvo Pärt. Da Pacem (Harmonia Mundi 2006, conductor Paul Hillier) which won the Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.
In the season 2012/2013 the EPCC gives concerts in Estonia in cooperation with Nargen Festival, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. The touring calendar takes the choir to Zermatt Festival in Switzerland, Internationale Cervantino Festival in Mexico, the concerts will be given in Vienna Concert Hall, in AMUZ in Antwerp, in Essen, Cologne, Dortmund etc together with Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble. The conductors are Daniel Reuss, Tõnu Kaljuste, Marc Minkowski, Arvo Volmer, Eri Klas.
The season 2008/2009 begun under a new artistic director and chief conductor Daniel Reuss with concerts of Pärt, Haydn and Bach in Rakvere, Narva and Tallinn, participating Tallinn Chamber Orchestra (TCO). In October new Estonian productions had its premiere – Galina Grigorjeva’s „Nature Morte“ and Ülo Krigul’s „Preces ad lucem“. Together with Sofia Gubaidulina’s „Теперь вcегда cнега“, they both were performed also at Tenso Days in Riga. After Paisley Choral Festival in Scotland, the EPCC together with TCO and Tõnu Kaljuste had a three week tour at the US, where 11 concerts were given with pieces by Pärt, Tüür, Tulev, Vivaldi and Kõrvits. In December Daniel Reuss conducted Händel’s „Israel in Egypt”, performers where EPCC, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and soloists. In the end of the year the choir participated at „Händel Gala“ at concert halls in Pärnu and Tallinn.
In the beginning of 2009 at the XX Baroque Music Festival Frieder Bernius conducted Domenico Scarlatti’s and Heinrich Schütz’s music, participating Helsinki Baroque Ensemble. The same festival ended with Vivaldi Gala conducted by Andres Mustonen. The 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn was celebrated with a concert in Niguliste Church under Daniel Reuss. In February the EPCC toured in Asia, giving concerts under Stephen Layton in China and South-Korea. In March the choir gave 11 free concerts at Estonian schools with the programme „School Baroque“ conducted by Toomas Siitan. In April the EPCC under Reuss gave concerts in Austria, including Wiener Konzerthaus and in Italy. In spring the EPCC together with Cappella Amsterdam, Daniel Reuss and international soloists recorded Frank Martin’s „Golgotha“ for Harmonia Mundi. In May Olari Elts conducted Haydn’s „The Seasons“. The last tours of the season took the choir to Germany to the Schwetzinger Festival and France to the Festival „L’ete musical“. In July the EPCC participated at the XXV Song Celebrations in Estonia, where Reuss conducted Bruckner’s „Ave Maria“. In summer the choir together with Corelli Baroque Orchestra performed Bach’s Motets in various Estonian churches. The season was ended in Bremen, where the EPCC participated in Mozart’s „Idomeneo“ production.
The season of 2007/2008 was named „Parade of conductors“ because the choir was conducted by many guest conductors from Estonia and elsewhere. The season was set off with choir’s former principal conductor Paul Hillier leading concerts at churches in Rakvere, Haapsalu and the Niguliste in Tallinn. The program, music by Northern composers , was recorded and released on CD as „Baltic Runes“. In September and October Tõnu Kaljuste conducted Pärt’s „Kanon Pokajanen“ and music by Tulev, Kreek and Tormis at a concert tour of Ireland. Schnittke’s „12 Psalms of Repentance” were performed at Niguliste church in Tallinn and the Nostalgia Festival in Poland and Estonian music set the stage at Gaida Festival in Vilnius.
In November conductor Olari Elts prepared with EPCC a program called „Napoleon in music“ with Haydn’s Messe in D minor performed in Tallinn and Võru. Bach, Rheinberger ja Vasks were performed in Tallinn and Tartu with German conductor Frieder Bernius. Series of concerts before Christmas, „A Lovely Rose Is Sprung“, were conducted by young Dutch conductor Peter Dijikstra. At the beginning of the new year Paul Hillier brought out a program called „Songs of love and war“ with music by Monteverdi, in cooperation with musicians from the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra. The EPCC concert at Methodist church in Tallinn at the end of January was broadcast in 14 countries via Estonian Classical radio. The program was voted best concert and realization in the „Nordic-Baltic Concert Season“ series. EPCC sang Stravinsky’s „Requiem Canticles“ and „Symphony of Psalms“ with Nikolay Alekseyev conducting the Estonian National Symphony orchestra.
EPCC was seen on Iceland in February, conducted by Daniel Reuss and singing concerts dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. The program included premieres of Tõnu Kõrvits’ „Three songs of Iceland“. Two concert series in Estonia were also dedicated to the anniversary – Estonian music at schools (Risto Joost conducted the choir at 9 schools in Tallinn, Tartu, Rakvere and Kuusalu), and Estonian music in villages (Mikk Üleoja conducted 8 concerts in churches on Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and Muhu islands and Harjumaa county, with actress Anu Lamp participating). In March, Daniel Reuss led the Bach „Easter Oratorio“ and April saw the choir singing Jüri Reinvere’s author’s concert at Estonian Music Days.
Festivals and tours
14 concerts were given in 7 different foreign countries from May through August. The festivals included the Moscow Easter Festival, Saint Zadar festival in Croatia, the Salzburg Festival, the 22nd Organ Festival in Estonia and three important festivals in Great Britain – the Cheltenham, Edinburgh and BBC Proms festivals. The choir performed also in Modena and Monfalcone in Italy, in Gent, at Estonian Culture Days in Hannover and at Bergisch-Gladbach and Saarbrücken with German Radio Philharmony Orchestra with Christoph Poppen conducting. The programs included music by Pärt, Sisask and Rachmaninov and the program „Arvo Pärt & Ars Antiqua“.
Pärt’s „Da pacemile“ was awarded the 2007 classical music prize in Denmark. The CD „Poetry, it happens not by wind“ with music by Mart Saar earned the annual prize of the Estonian Choral Society, while Mikk Üleoja was given the Estonian Cultural Capital prize for the recording. A solo album of Russian music with alto Iris Oja and CD „Scattered Rhymes“ together with Orlando Consort were released by Harmonia Mundi. Tõnu Kaljuste recorded Kreek’s „Requiem“ and Kõrvits’ „Kreek’s notebook“ with EPCC and Pärt’s „In Principio“, „Cecilia, vergine romana“ and „La Sindone“ for the ECM with Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.
The 2006/2007 season began with performances of Bruckner’s Messe in E minor with the Swedish Wind Symphonists, Paul Hillier conducting at churches in Haapsalu, Kuressaare and Tallinn. Rachmaninov’s “All-Night Vigil” was conducted by Hillier at the Wratislavia Cantans festival in Poland and Stravinsky’s “Wedding” by Daniel Reuss at Oslo Concert Hall. A major event in Estonian music life were the performances of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” with EPCC on stage with Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Estonian National Male Choir and conductor Olari Elts.
A series of programs took place at Niguliste church from October through December: Rothko Chapel, Kanon Pokajanen, Toivo Tulev’s author’s evening and Saint Nikolaus. Two festivals were visited in November – Lux Musicae in Siuntio and Culturescapes in Germany and Switzerland. Two concerts were given in Bolzano and Brunico in December with Rachmaninov’s “All-Night Vigil”. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” was performed in three big concert halls in Estonia together with Tallinn Baroque Orchestra and Andris Veismanis conducting.
In February the choir sang Händel, Bach and Charpentier with Andres Mustonen conducting at Baroque festival opening concerts in Tartu, Pärnu and Tallinn. Cyrillus Kreek’s Requiem in C minor was heard at churches in Tartu, Haapsalu and Tallinn, arranged for choir and organ by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent; the latter’s „7 Words“ for choir and organ, work written for the EPCC was premiered aswell. In March a concert with music by Brahms, Grieg and Martini was given at Niguliste, with Daniel Reuss conducting.
Paul Hillier conducted powerful performances of Bach’s „Mattheus Passion“ in Riga, Tartu and Tallinn. The choir was joined by Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and an international group of soloists: Julian Podger, Tomas Medici, Uku Joller, Kaia Urb, Iris Oja, Maarja Kukk, Aarne Talvik and Rainer Vilu, and instrumentalists Mikko Perkola and Aapo Häkkinen.
Brahms’ „German Requiem“ together with Estonian National Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Roland Böer in Tartu, Jõhvi, Tallinn and Pärnu. A program called „A Circle of Tormis 2007“ was conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste at Estonian Music Days, and music by Mart Saar was sung at the festival’s Mammuth Concert, Mikk Üleoja conducting.
May started off with four concerts of Pärt’s, Kreek’s and Rachmaninov’s music in Great Britain – in Norwich, Edinburgh, Perth and Manchester; Orlando Consort joined the choir for performance of Tarik O’Regan’s „Scattered Rhymes“, Paul Hillier conducting; the concert at Perth Concert Hall was recorded by the BBC.
In May Arvo Pärt was heard at Niguliste in Tallinn and at the reputable 44. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli festival in Italy which was dedicated to Arvo Pärt and Beethoven with a joint title „Beethoven, Pärt – voices of the soul“. EPCC and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra gave successul concerts in Brescia and Bergamo, conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste. The Bergen International Festival was visited at the end of May, with Paul Hillier conducting and one concert dedicated to Edward Grieg’s music, the other bearing the name „Baltic Voices“.
On the first day of June the choir gave an opening start to Cyrillus Kreek Days in Haapsalu, Tõnu Kaljuste was conducting and the second concert included Kreek’s Requiem and a new work by Tõnu Kõrvits „Kreek’s notebook“. The season’s last trip outside Estonia took the choir to Saarbrücken in Germany; there two concerts at festival Musikfestspielen Saar were conducted by Paul Hillier and Tõnu Kaljuste. The season was ended cheerfully with three theatralized concerts in Tallinn, Viljandi and Tartu, performing the „La Pellegrina“, marriage music by Ferdinando de’Medici and Christine de Lorraine. The conductor was Andrew Lawrence-King, with participation of guitarist and dancer Steven Player and actor Taavi Eelmaa.
Un unexpected whilst well-awaited prize came to the choir in the form of the Grammy Award for their recording of „Arvo Pärt. Da Pacem“, in the category of best choral performance. The recording had been conducted by Paul Hillier and produced by Harmonia Mundi. In December a new CD called „A New Joy“ appeared with Russian and Ukrainian orthodox Christmas music. It also comprised music of Pärt and Tchaikovsky side by side with premiere recordings of music by less known composers. Another album was released: Estonian choral music classics by Mart Saar: „Poesy does not flow with the wind“, conducted by Mikk Üleoja.
The season was the sixth and last for Paul Hillier as EPCC’s principal conductor. In addition to receiving the international Grammy award, Hillier was presented in 2004 with Estonian Cultural Endowment’s annual prize for cultivating the Estonian music scene, as well as with the Order of the White Star, fourth class, by the President of Estonia in 2007.
September 2008 saw the inauguration of the new EPCC artistic director and principal conductor – the Dutch conductor Daniel Reuss.
The 2005/2006 season was set off with concerts at Jaani church in Tartu under the auspices of the International Hymnology Society, and at Kuressaare Chamber Music Days on Saaremaa island. These concerts were dedicated to the music of Cyrillus Kreek. Arvo Pärt’s “Kanon pokajanen” was performed at the Baltic Sea Festival in Stockholm and also in Poland at the beginning of September. Haydn and Brahms were heard at concerts in cooperation with Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Olari Elts at the end of August.
On August 17, EPCC appeared at Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms festival, singing early music and Arvo Pärt under Paul Hillier’s leadership. In September the choir organized the Arvo Pärt Festival in Rakvere, celebrating the composer’s 70th birthday.
The Fall season took the choir to several festivals such as À Volta do Barroco in Portugal, NYYD’05 in Tallinn and the Autumn Festival 2005 in Budapest. Concert tour took the choir to Asia. At the end of November EPCC and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra performed the Schubert Messe in E-flat Major. In December the choir gave two concerts with a program of Orthodox Christmas music. On December 18, EPCC represented Estonia at a Euroradio Christmas music program, having their performance at Niguliste church in Tallinn broadcast over Europe and America via 24 radio stations. Newspaper Diapason declared EPCC recording “Baltic Voices 3” worthy of the “Diapason d’or” prize and German critics gave the same album a “Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik” award.
Critics from the New York Times named EPCC recording “All-Night Vigil” as one of the most noteworthy albums released in the world in 2005.
The year 2006 began with program “Pärt & Mozart”, which comprised of Pärt’s “In principio” and Mozart’s Requiem performed by EPCC and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. At the end of January, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart, the choir sang Mozart’s „Krönungsmesse“ with Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.
On February 15, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and EPCC performed at Arvo Pärt’s author’s evening at Torino cathedral in the framework of the Olympic Games cultural program.
In March EPCC took a three week tour of the USA and Canada. In mid April the choir sang Bach’s Messe in B minor with early music orchestra Concerto Copenhagen at concert houses in Estonia. In May the choir participated at the culture festival “Scene: estland lettland litauen in nrw“, presenting a program of music by Kreek, Pärt and Tulev at Münster Überwasserkirche and the Köln cathedral. Spanish baroque music was heard at churches in Estonia when EPCC presented a program called “Armonya de tres mundos: Harmony from three worlds“. In mid June the choir gave concerts with program „Poetry, it does not flow with winds“ centering on music by Mart Saar.
EPCC ended the season in Paris with a concert organized by the Estonian Embassy at Cathédral Saint-Louis des Invalides and the festival of Saint-Denis.
In addition, two concerts with a title „Night with Arvo Pärt“ were given on Naissaar island in Estonia at the beginning of August.
Season 2003/2004, besides concerts in Estonia, took the choir to concert tours in Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Israel, USA, Canada, Finland, Ireland and Germany. A unique project, stage production of two Japan-influenced chamber operas (Benjamin Britten’s “Curlew River”? and the premiere of “It Is Getting So Dark” by Estonian Helena Tulve) was undertaken in June. The summer included several concerts in Estonia with the program Arvo Pärt and Early Music.
Season 2002/2003 was marked by new partnership projects, which would continue in the future – performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with Concerto Copenhagen and Monteverdi’s Vespers with Concerto Palatino. In September the EPCC premiered the new piece by the British composer Howard Skempton, commissioned by the EPCC with support from the British Council (having the composer himself at the premiere). In November 2002 the EPCC had a very successful tour in Japan, including Japanese premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Litany together with Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Highlights of the season were also the performance of Kanon Pokajanen at Arvo Pärt Festival in Copenhagen, concert in Berlin Philharmonic Hall with Berlin Rundfunk Orchester (both with conductor Tõnu Kaljuste), Baltic Voices concerts in Denmark celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia (with Paul Hillier), concert program The Voice of the Turtle (music of Henry Purcell) with inspiring and charming guest conductor Andrew Lawrence King, festival Spiegel im Spiegel, dedicated to music by Bach and Pärt in Neuhardenberg, Germany together with Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and Tõnu Kaljuste. The season ended with concerts and recording of Baltic Voices 2 for Harmonia Mundi.
Season 2000/2001 had for its main concert series “Bach-Beethoven”, held by Tõnu Kaljuste, consisting of four concerts representing King’s Cantatas and Mass in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and Kaiser’s Cantatas and Mass in C major by Ludwig van Beethoven. The second half of the season was marked by the choir’s 20th anniversary, culminating with the birthday concert on the 1st of July.
Season2001/2002 began with new Artistic director and Chief conductor Paul Hillier. The top events of that season were performance of Händel’s Messiah in St.Petersburg Philharmonic Hall (together with Tallinn Chamber Orchestra), tours to Germany (with Paul Hillier) . Israel (10 performances with Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Ivor Bolton) and the US/Canada (with Tõnu Kaljuste) and recording of two first CD-s for Harmonia Mundi in July 2002.
In the 1999/2000 concert season the main events were concert tours to Israel (with “The New Israel Chamber Ensemble”), Australia (with Australian Chamber Orchestra) and the USA. In spring period a concert series of four, called “Vox Septem Saeculi”, was carried out by the choir’s young choir master, Mikk Üleoja.
In the 1998/1999 concert season the topical concert series was “Vox Romanticum” (sorry, Latinists!), consisting of different countries’ romantic music: German music was conducted by Tarmo Vaask, American by Dale Warland, Scandinavian by Timo Nuoranne and English music by Paul Hillier.
In the 1997/1998 concert season the guest conductor of the choir was Toomas Siitan, the artistic director of concert series “Vox Antiqua”, consisting of medieval music from Magister Perotinus to Melchior Franck. Another series, “Leaders and Gods”, was carried out by Tõnu Kaljuste. This one consisted of five operas (concert performances) from different ages, starting with medieval Ludus Danielis (directed by Luchia Nigohossian (BG/FR)) and ending with Nixon in China by J. Adams.
In the 1996/1997 concert season the choir was active in two larger concert series: “Chamber Philharmony”, based mostly on music by Joseph Haydn and Benjamin Britten, and “Vox Nova” the main subject of which was Arnold Schoenberg’s music. The “Chamber Philharmony”-series was held by Tõnu Kaljuste, the artistic director of the “Vox Nova”-series was Olari Elts, the choir’s guest conductor in the ’96/97 season.