Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Estonian Music Days - day two, Polish/Estonian collaboration and a cartoon

Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn - photo Robert Hugill
Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn - photo Robert Hugill
Maria Korvits, Age Veeroos, Tonu Korvits, Mari Vihmand, Ewa Fabianska-Jelinska, Witold Lutoslawski, Michal Ossowski, Rafal Zapala, Artur Kroschel, and Kazimierz Serocki; Sepia Ensemble; Estonian Music Days at Tallinn Secondary Science School
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 11 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Estonian/Polish interaction in this concert by a Polish ensemble spanning music of two countries

My second day at the Estonian Music Days in Tallinn started with a sightseeing tour, spending two hours walking round the Toompea and the historic Old Town, and then driving out to the Song Festival Grounds. These are used for all sorts of music events, but their main focus is the Song Festival. Established in the 19th century, this festival (originally every 3 year and now every 5 years) gathers thousands of people together to sing national songs. The Song Festival Grounds were the focus for spontaneous singing demonstrations in 1988 which helped lead to the overthrow of the Soviet regime in the Singing Revolution. 

Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Then at 6pm we assembled in the hall of Tallinn Secondary Science School (Tallinna Reaalkooli Saal), a handsome late 19th or early 20th century building with a hall far grander than we had when I was at school. We were there to listen to the Polish new music ensemble, Ansambel Sepia (Sepia Ensemble) performing their Zooming: Estonia programme. The programme was a collaboration between Estonia and Poland and the ensemble has already presented a similar one in their native Poznan. The first half of the programme contained new Estonian music from Maria Korvits, Age Veeroos, Tonu Korvits and Mari Vihmand, whilst the second half contained new and contemporary Polish music from Ewa Fabianska-Jelinska, Witold Lutoslawski, Michal Ossowski, Rafal Zapala, Artur Kroschel, and Kazimierz Serocki.

The Sepia Ensemble was founded by Artur Kroschel and Rafal Zapala in 2012, and consists of graduates and higher level student of the IJ Paderewski Academy of Music in Pozanan. There is a core of 12 musicians who perform in various combinations; we heard Paulina Gras-Lukasewska (flute), Szymon Jozwiak (clarinet), Wojciech Jelinski (trombone), Tomasz Sosniak (piano), Aleksandra Dzwonkowska (percussion), Olga Winkowska and Anna Podsiadly (violins), Tomasz Citak (viola), Anna Szmatola (cello), Mateusz Loska (double bass), with artistic director Artur Kroschel.

Aleksandra Dzwonkowska of Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Aleksandra Dzwonkowska of Ensemble Sepia
photo Peeter Larvits
The concert started with the Estonia music, opening with the Piano Quartet (for piano, violin, viola and cello) written in 2008 by Maria Korvits (born 1987) when she was a second-year student at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. It was confident work, with magical textures created from suspensions and harmonics combined with a highly arpeggiated piano.

Aither (for flute, trombone, piano, percussion, two violins, cello and double bass) by Age Veeroos (born 1973) was receiving its premiered. An exploration of high timbres in highly spaced contexts, it used bowed percussions, playing inside the piano, blowing down the wind instruments as well as the more obvious harmonics.  Though she developed her material, Age Veeroos always kept the sense of notes being placed in space, along with a transparency of texture.

Thule Patterns for string quartet was written in 2007 by Tonu Korvits  (born 1969). In three parts, Tonu Korvits used the instruments to evoke the traditional patterns which occur in old knitwear and belt ornament. The Thule of the name is the mysterious mystical Northern land. The three sections used material which had a folk-ish feel but played in constantly intertwining lines. These used simple repetitions to create some lovely light shapes.

Tomasz Sozniak of Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Tomasz Sozniak of Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Finally, in the first half Gib uns lange Lachen im kurzen Sommer (Give Us a Long Laugh in a Short Summer) which was written in 2005 for flute, clarinet, trombone, piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass by Mari Vihmand (born 1967). Mari Vihmand combined interesting melodic shapes in a not necessarily tonal harmonic structure with interesting effects which arose from her decision to transfer the work's original tape of found objects (rain, thunder etc) into the instruments. Despite the narrative hints from the title, this was real chamber music with a feeling of discussion between the instruments.

After the interval we moved to Poland, first with Miniatures sonoristiques written in 2011 for solo trombone by Ewa Fabianska-Jelinska (the trombonist Wojciech Jelinski is her husband). The work arose from player and composer couple wishing to create repertoire for the trombone which calls for a prepared instrument. Ewa Fabianska-Jelinska has written seven short movements (played in an order decided by the player) in which she calls on the player to play with a variety of music, and use disconstructed elements of the trombone like the mouthpiece, and various styles such as singing through the instrument whilst playing (creating two notes) or tapping on the bell. The result was a symphony of surprising sounds and to someone who knows nothing about the mechanics of the instrument, it was mesmerising and fascinating.

Wojciech Jelinski of Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Wojciech Jelinski of Ensemble Sepia
photo Peeter Larvits
Grave: Metamorphoses for cello and piano was written in 1981 by Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994). It was written in memory of Stefan Jarocinski (1912-1980) and as he was a musicologist devoted to Debussy, Lutoslawski based the work on the opening notes of Pelleas et Melisande (D-A-G-A). It was an intense and dark piece, lyrical but with a very distinct atmosphere and rather powerful.

The Trio for violin, cello and piano written in 2014 by Michal Ossowski (born 1984) was receiving its premiere. The work consisted of dramatic arpeggiated figures  in the piano against atmospheric string slides and sustained notes, which almost gave a sense that like Mari Vihmand, Michal Ossowski was transcribing a work for piano and tape (though a colleague did wonder whether the piano should have been gentler and merge with the strings more).

Scherzo was written in 2014 by Rafal Zapala and was described as being for six instruments, though strictly was six players at five instruments as there was violin, flute, cello, piano and a percussion player using the inside of the piano. Just about tonal, it was a vibrant and upbeat work with lots of ostinato. Serious fun, it really felt like the player were interacting.

Fracture by Artur Kroschel (born 1973) was written in 2006/7 and was for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, percussion and piano. The work was premiered in London in 2007 by the Warehouse Ensemble, conducted by Edwin Roxburgh. For this performance pianist Tomasz Sosniak played much of the piano part with one hand and conducted with the other, though the middle section was an extended piano (two hands) solo).  This was another work where the spare texture felt as if the composer had placed all the notes very carefully in space.

Finally, Swinging Music from 1970 by Kazimierz Serocki (1922-1981), for clarinet, trombone, double bass and piano. A catchy jazz-inspired piece that combined rhythm, colour, timbre and texture, to make a lovely way to end the concert.

This was a well filled (perhaps over filled) concert, with a feeling of slightly too many pieces competing for our attention. But it was superbly played by the players, and highly illuminating in the way that we could compare and contrast a variety of works from Estonia and Poland.

Märt-Matis Lill at Kloostri Ait
Märt-Matis Lill at Kloostri Ait
Later that evening, we were in a cafe, Kloostri Ait where the composer Mart-Matis Lill (born 1975) presented his new CD Lines in Silence. This is a beautifully produced disc, with a long and thoughtful essay by Alari Allik, in which Mart-Matis Lill presents a group of works inspired by Japanese artists. Mart-Matis Lill talked about the Cd, but was reluctant to simply play us excerpts from it, so instead we saw an imaginative recent cartoon which he had written the music for. This was more complex than it sounds, as his music formed the essential narrative of the cartoon.

You can catch Day One of my visit to Estonian Music Days on this blog.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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