Every seat in Carnegie Hall on May 31st was taken. You could feel the energy and desire of a crowd to participate in this historic moment, where one of the most important living composers would appear in New York City for the first time since 1984. This Project was conceived by two faculty members at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.
When Arvo Part was asked why, after the 1960s when he composed dodecaphony, he had started to compose using collage technique, Part replied using a metaphor of an immobile patient. The patient would have to use crutches to start walking again. “Same thing happened with my development as a composer. I was deeply into 12 tone music and that was the only style i could write music in. The way out of 12 tone music was possible only via collage technique and citing music that was not mine. Maybe my music was negatively acclaimed, while collages (there is a lot of Bach quotes), were positively accepted. Hence collage was my way”. This other “way” was presented in concert, i.e. the repertoire was dedicated to his tintinnabuli period, named for the compositional style that evokes the sound of little bells (tintinnabuli).
In tintinnabuli music, the formula could be defined as a minimized numerical program that incorporates the algorithm of development. They embody a new comprehension of simplicity and postulate a new stylistic paradigm of aural simplicity and structural complexity.
Part’s music was in good hands, the best hands actually- Tallin chamber orchestra and Estonian philharmonic chamber choir led by Tonu Kaljuste. I always felt that this orchestra recalls old court orchestras. Kaljuste is recognized for his work with contemporary composers such as Kurtag, Penderecki, Kancheli and Schnittke, and as a specialist of Estonian composers. He contributed to the Estonian contemporary scene as a founder of both Estonian Philharmonic Choir in 1981 and Tallin chamber orchestra in 1993.
The concert opened two of Parts best known early tintinnabuli works, Fratres and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, and they could’ve been encountered in several film scores. The reason why filmmakers were inspired by these compositions was obvious. This music evoked the same feelings and associations as film. Visual and emotional narrativea shape listener experience. Music evokes the visual.
Fratres and Cantus are composed according to formulas. The first one consists of nine segments, each with a series of chord progression follows a strict tintinnabuli rule in the orchestra and solo violin.
Gidon Kramer, the violinist who recorded the first performance of this composition, described it as a “cleansing of all the noise that surrounds us”. And that is exactly how it felt, space in its nascency, meditative. It empties and invites you to write the first words and paint them. It offers a sad melancholic frame, though, but the listener is invited to find his own ending, his own hope.
Musicians were just the composer’s messengers, with amazing, angel-like tone, and in piano segments it felt like the entire string section was playing only one hair of the bow. Then the whole orchestra joined together with the violin soloist Harry Traksmann to play with that same bow.
Cantus took us to the sound space of Estonia. This piece describes best the visual narrative in Part’s art with cold foggy and humid morning and church bells from afar. This picture becomes clear with more details – music (visual) details.
Parallel to this the outline of the piece grows dynamically. We are becoming more aware of the drone which is somehow present all the time. Gradually discant disappears and chords in lower register dominate this scene. They are becoming longer and more sustained, overlapping, and making one permanent sustained long chord.
The second part of the concert was dedicated to vocal works: Salve Regina composed in 2001 for the 75th birthday of Bishop of Essen Cathedral, Hubert Luthe, and Te Deum. The first composition is one of several works where the source material was found in Western Christian tradition, and the text is a medieval prayer for the Virgin Mary. The powerful and saturated sound of the choir and orchestra gave an impression of sound oneness. If we rely on our ears, the choir can be mistaken for four singers. They timbre was unique and even and felt like a knife cutting through the sound and through the air in the concert hall. Beautiful narrow dissonance was clean and accurate, and singers presented them as one the layers of motion in this piece, with subtle motion next to the changing of dynamics and color.
The choir which begins in unison expanded gradually to eight-part polyphonic texture. A similar principle can be observed in Te Deum, but this piece is musically in the Eastern and Western liturgical tradition. A mixed choir of twenty eight singers brought Gregorian and Byzantine chants with the Byzantine like drone which underlines the monophonic sections. Piano chords were treated as signals of change in the composition’s narrative which is structured in three main sections, each with a dramatic climax in major key. The importance of the structure of words is the basis of Part’s tintinnabuli style.
The final prayer is quiet and peaceful, with the repetitive citation “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus”. Although it is quiet, the intensity of the soft piano was forte fortissimo. This feeling prevailed during the whole night, which described Part’s aesthetics in its most glorious light and sound.