From Estonian soul to Mexican hearts

In Time, Estonian Air Magazine

From Japan to Mexico the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is famous for performing the music of Arvo Pärt.

By Mariliis Pinn

“The choir and orchestra sound so beautiful. People around the world come to listen,” says Tõnu Kaljuste, the renowned conductor and founder of the choir.

“The EPCC is invited to sing in festivals all over the world, because the choir has a truly unique sound. It is the emotional style that really sets us apart. I plan to keep these precious values and to give concerts with the Estonian music abroad introducing it in the very highest level,” say Daniel Reuss, the current chief conductor and artistic director of choir.

The choir is excited about performing at the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Mexico. Tõnu Kaljuste will conduct and the choir will sing Pärt’s Te Deum and Adam's Lament. The choir was personally invited by Mexico’s ambassador to Finland who heard Adam’s Lament performed in Turku. “Many find devout prayers, peace and balance in that music. It is a great fortune to be so close with Pärt’s work,” says Kaljuste. Before embarking on a world tour, the choir in September perform the same repertoire in the framework of Nargenfestival in Tallinn.

“The EPCC has premiered most of the Arvo Pärt's choir music, so the choir is recognised as the finest interpreters of this composer's music – they have a very personal and direct link to Arvo Pärt and a deep understanding of his work. And the audience feels a special atmosphere in the concerts when the EPCC performs it,” says Reuss. Every year on Pärt’s birthday the choir gives a concert to honor the composer.

The EPCC does not only perform for fans of high culture. From time to time the choir performs in Estonian schools. Beside singing the beautiful songs they explain what to listen for and how. The choristers love these performances as much as singing at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, at Mozartwoche in Salzburg or at opera festival in Aix-en-Provence. They love the applause from a musically educated concert-going audience, and feel a great sense of satisfaction when they see young people without much experience of classical music – and who had only really come along to escape a maths lesson – rising to their feet in joy at a form of music they had never really thought about.

The EPCC has become the best-known Estonian classical music body and one of the best choirs in the world since it was founded in 1981 by Tõnu Kaljuste, who acted as artistic director and chief conductor for 20 years.

It gives 60-70 concerts per season and tours regularly in Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan. Their repertoire ranges from Gregorian chants to late baroque and 20th century music. Works by Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis and other contemporary composers, as well as Estonian choral music are at the heart of the choir’s programme. One of the choir’s trademarks is to add Estonian composers, such as Galina Grigorjeva, Tõnu Kõrvits and Erki-Sven Tüür, to the repertoire.

The choir has recorded work for a number of broadcasting and recording companies, as ECM, Harmonia Mundi, Virgin Classics, Carus, Ondine. Conductor Paul Hillier and the EPCC’s recording of Arvo Pärt's Da Pacem (Har- monia Mundi) won the Grammy award for Best Choral Per- formance at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in 2007 and the choir's work has been nominated for a Grammy no fewer than 15 times.