Tuesday, September 04, 2007


New Music from Estonia
by John Clare, WITF's Afternoon Host for Classical Air

Erkki-Sven Tüür
is one of those composers I always keep an eye out for new music. I still remember hearing his first ECM CD back in the early 90s. He has a sense of tradition as well as the modern: almost a mix of baroque, serialism and minimalism! Tüür has a new release out on the Virgin Classics label that includes his 4th Symphony “Magma” – featuring percussionist Evelyn Glennie. It basically is a percussion concerto, but there is nothing basic about it. It aptly fits the cover and title of Magma – ranging from physical drive and dynamics to lighter, brighter almost rock sounds. There are also a couple of orchestra and choral works on the CD, amazing sound & word paintings, and the work I’ll play Tuesday was written in honor of the composer’s father and dedicated to Arvo Pärt: The Path and the Traces. Sitting down to listen to this disc was a real joy – both discovering new music and hearing Paavo Järvi lead the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.

More on Magma- Dick Strawser, Music Director & Evening Host of WITF’s Classical AirThe Estonian composer, Erkki-Sven Tüür, is one whose name I’ve seen, whom I’ve read about and who writes music that is always highly acclaimed, but I have to admit I’ve never heard any of his music before (and I don’t really know why that is.) He’s 48 and so of a younger generation of composers than the most famous Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, whose music I know well and love very much. And so I sat down to sample this disc with some concern: will I like him (or rather, his music – or specifically, the pieces on this recording) in his own right or dismiss him as an imitator of Pärt? I had no idea what to expect.“The Path & the Traces” was captivating – in a sense that I found the music so involving and so demanding of my attention (not that it’s difficult to listen to) that I had to stop doing what I was doing and just LISTEN. In the background of the piece (which I think does help to understand it for someone new to this composer’s style), he writes it had been composed while vacation on the ancient island of Crete where he heard some Greek orthodox chant in a cathedral with great archways that began inspiring in his inner mind a great sweep of music. Two other things I would note. It was composed as an homage to Arvo Pärt on his 70th birthday, a composer who opened up many new paths for composers in Estonia (and elsewhere). When Tüür began the work, he knew his father was dying and so the beginning bears traces of that struggle for life that might bring to mind Richard Strauss’ “Death & Transfiguration.” By the time he was completing the work, his father had passed away, so the peaceful ending becomes a beatific farewell.“Magma,” the disc’s title piece, is a percussion concerto he calls his Symphony No. 4 – a composer can call his own music whatever he wants: others have done it before, so why not? It opens with a suitably eruptive force in the orchestra and continues with an often glittering array of percussive effects that engage the imagination, sort of like listening to musical fireworks. And John’s comment (above) about “rock sounds” made me chuckle: rock music, certainly; flowing with a relentless force like lava, definitely!You can hear Tüür’s Symphony No. 4 – Magma – on Thursday evening (Sept 6th) during the 8:00 hour and figure it out for yourself.The liner notes also make an important distinction between Erkki-Sven Tüür and the older composer Arvo Pärt. We often talk about Classical and Romantic beyond the idea of the 18th Century Classical Style and the 19th Century Romantic Style. Apollo is the Greek god of order and symmetry, among other things, and an artist who is more concerned with the cleaner textures and formal structures of art – the intellectual process of art, perhaps – would be considered “Classical.” On the other hand, there’s Dionysos, the Greek god of wine whose emotional and often messy response, like one a little too much under the influence, may not seem to have any structure at all. This would be a hallmark of “Romanticism” – think of Berlioz, speaking of “messy” and “influence,” in his Symphonie fantastique. So in one sense, Pärt is the Apollonian Estonian with his more simplified, greatly reduced (minimalist) style, while Tüür is the Dionysian Estonian who may seem the opposite of Pärt and his pseudo-medieval style but in many respects has explored the emotional side of the same prism that perhaps he would never have been able to without Pärt leading the way.While he still owes something of his 21st Century sound-world to the previous generation, Tüür does it in such a way without sounding derivative or purely imitative. To me, he’s an exciting new voice and I’m excited to discover him, finally.

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