Wednesday, May 7, 2008


So we’re on the big green bus en route to a concert in Tallinn. Now that my badly stubbed toe is better, I’m wearing my dress-up shoes and feeling good! On the bus I always stand near a door, so that I don’t have to work my way through a crowd when it’s time to get off. Like subway doors, these doors in the back of the bus close automatically.

But this time we’re standing near the rear door because we haven’t yet figured out how to get the little ticket-punching gadget to actually punch the required holes in our tickets. Even worse, we begin to giggle about our ineptness. The driver probably has not noticed us, but all the other passengers are watching to see if we’ll figure out the little gadget attached to the handrail. Nobody offers to help. I imagine them all thinking, “If Americans can’t figure out how to ride a bus, what are they doing in Iraq?” By observing other people getting on the bus, I finally figure out that you have to pull the green button toward you; the whole device is simply mechanical, not electronic. (This tip is not found in your guidebooks to Estonia.) Surely the rest of the evening will go well.

The concert is to be at the Tallinn Methodist Church, located along the bus route. But we’re not sure if the bus will stop right at the church. So we decide to get off before the bus might pass the church; we’ll walk the rest of the way. As we expect, the bus stops well before we get to the church. Aarne steps off first, in order to help me down. Just then the bus door closes between us. Smack. We have just a moment to stare at each other through the window before the bus pulls away with me on it. At least my ticket is properly punched.

Immediately I have a flashback to seventh grade angst—everyone is watching me to see what I’ll do next. So I laugh. Of course I’m OK. No, I don’t speak Estonian. No, I don’t know where this bus is stopping next. But I’m exuding OK-ness. I wonder if Aarne is worried.

There goes the church; my bus and I are speeding right past it.

After another half mile, the bus stops. I’m out! I figure I have just enough time to limp back as fast as I can in my dress-up shoes with my toe that’s beginning to ache again.

Finally, as I’m just half a block from the church, I see Aarne walking as fast as he can from the other direction. I limp faster. I wave. It’s suddenly romantic and funny; I’m thinking we should do this more often.

Now here’s the kicker. We get inside this weird looking 1980s interpretation of a modern church. I mean it’s nothing like the Methodist church in Beaver, Pennsylvania, which is the last Methodist church I’ve been in. This church is imaginative in a 1980s kind of way. Instead of a tower or steeple set on top of a boxy sanctuary, this sanctuary IS the inside of a steeple. So, when you face forward, it’s like being inside a bright white teepee with a supersized cross fixed to the very tilted teepee wall. (For those of you who know, love, and own garden gnomes, imagine being inside the hat of a gnome.) Not wanting to sit directly under this heavy-looking cross, we find good seats behind a short, young couple.

We know nothing in advance about this composer, Tõnu Kõrvits, or his piece—Kreegi vihik (2007). The performers, however, are the famous Eesti Filharmoonia Kammerkoor (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.) For this concert the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra will play with the 28-member choir. When in Tallinn, the choir performs regularly in this church, because the acoustics enhance the choir’s amazingly clear tone. Throughout this summer, the choir will travel around Estonia and its islands to sing in small, old village chapels—quite a different sort of venue. Choruses and choirs are more than music in Estonia; as shown in the documentary, The Singing Revolution, much energy for Estonian resistance to occupation and for independence came from national song festivals in the 1980s. So tonight we will hear how a young composer builds on this strong choral tradition.

Silence. The choir begins, each note clear like bells ringing, rising into the space of the steeple. The impression is of vertical sound. Then the orchestra enters in a different musical direction—horizontal, right at us. The choir and orchestra meet and separate thematically throughout the entire piece. It’s as if two individual ideas play off each other, moving toward and away from each other. It’s like water moving forward and then coming back upon itself in eddies. It’s the most beautiful, interesting, original music I’ve heard in so long. We are entranced.

The applause is warm, a standing ovation, and suddenly the young man in front of us is beckoned to the front. He is the composer! Good seats indeed.

Afterward I realize that there was no better way for us to arrive at the concert than the way we did…from different directions. And Aarne points out that, in the program notes, the composer calls himself a “modern romantic.”




1 comment:

Rolling_Estonian said...

Tonu is a great composer. He wrote some solo pieces for me when I was with RAM, and we still greet eachother warmly at the occassional meeting. He has a wonderfully imaginative and romantic sense of musicality that I really enjoy. I'll find some recordings of some english stuff we did together.