Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Baltic Voices 2
Baltic Voices 3
========= from the cover ==========
The countries clustered around the Baltic Sea are as different from one another as the various lands and histories that stretch away behind them in numerous directions. But, setting them somewhat apart from the rest of Europe, there are similarities too, which one detects not only when slipping across the border between neighbouring countries, but also when travelling across the sea which they share. This identity, partly imaginary, partly real, can only be defined loosely by the word Baltic. It represents a tentative and fluctuating alliance that comes from having the same kind of trees, the same fish, the same weather, the same white summer nights, and the same berries.
In the music of the region too we encounter a similar range of likenesses and mutual influences. To a certain extent these have been reinforced by political and cultural initiatives, whether Nordic, Baltic, or Scandinavian in name, just as in medieval times the business interests of the Hanseatic League created the first multinational corporation linked by a web of shipping interests. (Lubeck, Bergen, Tallinn, even Novgorod were Hanseatic towns.) But in addition to musical style there is also a choral sound which people identify with the region, and which, like much of the repertoire, has its roots in folk singing.
I first encountered it in 1984 when I went to Finland with the Hilliard Ensemble. We gave concerts and masterclasses, took smoke saunas beside a lake, ate potato pancakes, and were eaten in turn by mosquitoes. And just before we left for the airport, I met the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir for the first time. It had already been whispered to me that this was the new choir to look out for, with a conductor, Tonu Kaljuste, whose skills verged on the shamanistic. They gave me some of their LPs featuring music by a composer I had never heard of. It was Midsummer - the Eve of St John's Day-a holiday right across the Baltic, and as we flew up into the midnight sunshine, bonfires were visible all over the slightly darker landscape below. When I eventually got home and played the LPs, I was entranced: the music sounded like choral minimalism (a plus in my book), the choir sounded wonderful (focused, tuned, without vibrato but nonetheless resonant), and the composer's name was Veljo Tormis.
Over the next few years came the discovery of Arvo Part and his exponential rise to fame, and for me, a visit to conduct the EPCC to perform John Taverner's "Westron Wynde Mass." This led in turn to my acting as producer for the choir's first ECM recording - of Tormis' "Forgotten Peoples," which contains some of his finest music. Further visits to Finland, Estonia, and later to Denmark, greatly enhanced my knowledge of the Scandinavian-Baltic choral scene, its sound, its repertoire and, above all, its singers. When eventually I was invited by Tonu Kaljuste to take over the artistic direction of the EPCC, I resolved on the one hand to maintain the choir's advocacy of composers such as Part and Tormis, but also to use the opportunity thus presented to explore the region's music in some depth.
And so, with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, I have embarked on a three-year project to explore the choral music from the countries around the Baltic Sea. From Copenhagen to St Petersburg, from Stockholm to Riga, and of course with a strong representation from the choir's native Estonia, we will focus primarily on the mainstream tradition of the past hundred years, but there will also be music from other periods, and newly commissioned works from younger composers. It would be impossible and surely undesirable to attempt any kind of complete representation - there will always be composers who should not have been omitted. So the path I will trace will be a personal one, trusting that the music itself will justify my choices.
- Paul Hillier