Composers are inspired by myriad sources, including a particular event, emotion, person or landscape. The prime inspiration of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, however, was suppressed for a long stretch of his career. Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Pärt, a convert to the Eastern Orthodox faith, wrote works whose religious character irked the Soviet authorities at a time when the official credo was atheism.
Religion and composition have been intertwined throughout Mr. Pärt’s career, a synthesis that is being explored by the series of Arvo Pärt Project concerts. The composer attended an alluring performance of his “Kanon Pokajanen” (“Canon of Repentance”) on Monday evening at the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum, streamed live by the Met and broadcast live on WQXR.
The Kanon was commissioned to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Cologne Cathedral and received its premiere there in 1998, performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under the direction of Tonu Kaljuste, who also led the choir here. Written almost exclusively in D minor and sung in Church Slavonic, the music is set to the text of an Orthodox hymn called the “Canon of Repentance to Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The work incorporates Mr. Pärt’s signature technique of tintinnabuli, named for the Latin word for bells and developed from Renaissance polyphony and Gregorian and Russian chant.
The singers sat in a circle, rendering the work with a power and purity of tone that fully revealed its mystical, serene qualities. Throughout, the choir vividly illuminated the various choral timbres of the piece, which range from the robust, full choral sound of the opening to plaintive interludes featuring the resonant low male voices or the whisper of the upper voices alone. During one section the sopranos soared over a rumbling bass pedal point; in another, high dissonant harmonies proved striking.
The audience responded with a standing ovation as Mr. Pärt took his bows with the musicians.