St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Marking the anniversary of Arvo Pärt

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Chorus
Conductor: Kaspars Putniņš

Gustav Mahler (arrangements by Clytus Gottwald)
Um Mitternacht
Es sungen drei Engel
Im Abendrot

Kaija Saariaho
Day of the Year

Arvo Pärt
The Sum
The Woman with the Alabaster Box
Nunc dimittis

About the Concert

Mahler never wrote any choral a cappella works, and Clytus Gottwald resolved to amend this “error”. Gottwald was born in Silesia in 1925 and by the 1940s was an acclaimed figure of the post-war avant-garde. He loved producing choral transcriptions and, among other works, he created around a dozen arrangements of works by Mahler. These include songs as well as choral and even purely instrumental movements of the composer’s symphonies.
Um Mitternacht is one of five Lieder by Mahler to verse by Rückert; it is a vocal and instrumental elegy, one of Mahler’s greatest philosophical and songful artistic achievements. In part, the song reminds us of the slow movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony (Oh Mensch, gib Acht! Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?). Gottwald’s transcriptions also include a chorus from the fifth movement of the symphony Es sungen drei Engel – a children’s song about heavenly joy from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the song Urlicht – an excerpt from the fourth movement of the Second Symphony to lyrics from the same anthology. The famous Аdagietto from the Fifth Symphony, probably composed as a declaration of love for Alma Schindler, formed the basis of the chorus Im Abendrot to lyrics by Joseph von Eichendorff.

The choral cycle Tag des Jahres by Kaija Saariaho was written to verse by the exalted romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin. The work was first performed in 2002 by the Tapiola Chamber Chorus as part of the Week of Chamber Choruses in Helsinki.
In his annotation for the work, Saariaho writes that “The idea for Tag des Jahres came to me several years ago, when a close friend suffered a brain haemorrhage – he had a complete lack of sense of time and space, and I had to find new ways of communicating with him... It’s difficult to say what was going on in Hölderlin’s mind when he dated his verse that differ in real time by decades and even centuries and using the name Scardanelli... His verse focusses attention on the present – how it lasts then disappears and becomes transformed into something new. The text demanded an archaic stylistic resolution. I also wished to expand the sound scale in terms of the nature that has great significance in this verse. And so, along with the human voice, the cycle features birdsong, the noise of the wind and other sounds of nature.”

In the 1970s Pärt was experiencing a crisis: disillusioned with the avant-garde, he stopped composing and immersed himself in a study of early music. Once, on hearing a Gregorian chorale, he felt something of a revelation: like a “flash of lightning” came the understanding of “the universal mystery that is hidden in the art of combining “two or three notes.”
Tonnes of paper were used to write out these “two or three notes”, but several years would pass before the crisis reached its end. It was only in the mid 1970s that the composer’s pen began to produce short pieces written in the new technique of tintinnabuli (Latin for “little bells”). The tintinnabuli style was fuelled by the traditions of Gregorian chant, organum and plain chant, though it was not so much a revival of a tradition so much as it was a search for the truth. Pärt found the path to it by rejecting superfluous and maximum concentration: “one must consider every step from one point to the next on sheet music paper... then the sound, which has been subjected to all manner of tests, will be true.”
Summa is one of Pärt’s earliest opuses using the tintinnabuli technique. It was written in 1977 as a choral work to the text of the Catholic Credo. Like baroque composers, Pärt had a passion for transcriptions for various ensembles: that same year, Summa was arranged for end-blown flute quartet and for guitar duet, while in 1991 there came a version for string quartet and strings, and in 2009 there emerged a quartet for saxophones. The name Summa conceals the religious nature of the work – when it was being written, Pärt was still living in the USSR. Pärt’s Magnificat was composed in 1989. The work presents the  tintinnabuli technique in its most refined form. The structure of the work varies from two voices to tutti. The two-voice sections are staggeringly transparent – they consist of a melody against a background of restrained sound in upper voice, and the inclusions of the  tutti create a powerful contrast.
The chorus Woman with the Alabaster Box was composed in honour of the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Karlstad Diocese (Sweden) in 1997. It is based on an extract from the Gospel According to St Mark which tells of the woman who has come to anoint Christ’s feet with peace. Following the “small simple rules” of the tintinnabuli technique, Pärt, as always, amazes his audience: to create such a refined work from just a few notes is an all but impossible task.
Nunc dimittis is a Latin version of the Eastern Christian song Now let Thy servant depart in peace. The hymn is an integral part of both Anglican and Orthodox worship. The chorus was written for the Archbishop of St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh and was performed during vespers at a service which was broadcast by the BBC in 2001.
Yekaterina Yusupova

About the performers

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is one of the best-known Estonian music groups in the world. The choir was founded in 1981 by Tõnu Kaljuste, who was its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for twenty years. From 2001–2007, the British musician Paul Hillier took over. From 2008–2013 the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor was Daniel Reuss. Since 2014 Kaspars Putniņš has been Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the choir.
The repertoire of the choir extends from Gregorian chant and baroque to the music of the 21st century, with a special focus on the work of Estonian composers (Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Galina Grigoryeva, Toivo Tulev, Tõnu Kõrvits and Helena Tulve) and introducing it to the world. Each season, the choir gives about sixty to seventy concerts in Estonia and abroad.
The choir has co-operated with a number of outstanding conductors, among them Claudio Abbado, Helmuth Rilling, Eric Ericson, Ward Swingle, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Nikolai Alekseyev, Olari Elts, Andrew Lawrence-King, Roland Böer, Frieder Bernius, Stephen Layton, Marc Minkowski, Christoph Poppen, Sir Colin Davis, Michael Riesman, Louis Langrée, Paul McCreesh, Gottfried von der Goltz and Andrés Orozco-Estrada, and with orchestras including the Norwegian, Australian, Lithuanian, Prague and Stuttgart Chamber Orchestras, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Berliner Rundfunk Orchestra, the Concerto Copenhagen, the Concerto Palatino, the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra, the Salzburg Camerata, Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, the Philip Glass Ensemble, the North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Basel Chamber Orchestra , the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra.
The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has been a welcome guest at numerous music festivals and outstanding venues all over the world, for instance at the BBC Proms, the Mozartwoche, the Abu-Gosh Music Festival, the Hong Kong Arts Festival, the Moscow Easter Festival, the Musikfest Bremen, the Salzburg Festspiele, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Festival Aix-en-Provence, the International Cervantino Festival, the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, the Bergen International Festival, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Sydney Opera House, the Wiener Konzerthaus, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Versailles’ Opéra Royal, the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, the LSO St Luke’s in London, the Esplanade in Singapore, the Kennedy Center in Washington and the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Another important aspect of the choir’s life is recording music (for ECM, Virgin Classics, Carus, Harmonia Mundi and Ondine), resulting in award-winning CDs. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir’s recordings have twice won Grammy awards for Best Choral Performance – in 2007 for the album Arvo Pärt. Da Pacem (Harmonia Mundi) with the conductor Paul Hillier and Arvo Pärt, and Pärt’s Adam’s Lament (ECM) with the conductor Tõnu Kaljuste. All in all, the choir has had fourteen Grammy nominations with works by Arvo Pärt and Erkki-Sven Tüür and music from the Nordic countries. The choir’s recordings have also won the Diapason d’or, the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, the Danish Music Award and the Choc de l’Année from Classica in 2014 among other prizes.

Age category 6+

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