Monday, December 31, 2012

"The dream of a flower is its bloom." - Juhan Liiv

The Estonian Music Council's 2012 Composition Award Acceptance Speech by Arvo Pärt
Transcription and translation from the original ETV video at
Also see the English language article at

I am very moved. Thank you.
My dear ones, wherever you may be and whoever you may be.
I want to speak to you about a secret. Actually two secrets.
The first one I know. Perhaps you do not. But the second one, I don't know either.
Juhan Liiv has said... that... "The soul rings, the soul is words."
Liiv didn't say this about music.
He is speaking about the soul and words.
He places an equal sign between those two.
And that means that they are dependent on each other.
Imagine the power, strength and purity that words must have for them to flow into a person's soul so that it starts to ring.
The same could occur with music. Do you know why?
Because each musical sound is also a word, a word in the truest sense.
This is one secret. And this secret is frequently forgotten by music makers themselves.
They discard it as if it were a useless rock. But that rock has the potential to be a cornerstone.
I'll give you an example so that this will be clearer. This is a somewhat negative example... but bear with me.
When a writer feels the need to say something obscene in every third sentence.
Then the listener or the reader may conclude that there is something wrong with his soul.
How do you say it, it creeks or it squeeks. It needs lubrication. It needs lubrication with the word.
Until it again begins to ring.
With the Word, that should be written with a capital letter.
And this soul (hinge*), that acted in this way, it doesn't belong in any door or window.
In music, this sort of thing happens as well. I know this from my own experience.
Forty years ago I began to study early music. I did this together with Kuldar Sink. We had very interesting historical books from France and England and what amazed us the most were the musical examples.
But they were all written anonymously and there were many hundreds, hundreds of examples.
It was such amazing musical material that we encountered.
These anonymous people are like a firmament of the sky that shines down on us.
But we don't even know their names.
I feel ashamed to stand in front of you and them today in this spotlight.
It would be much purer to be anonymous.
Perhaps Juhan Liiv is that sort of anonymous, if you consider his world standing, in terms of his quality he definitely is.
You know, these anonymous people exist in every realm of the arts.
Even in Keila Parish they exist. (Audience laughs) I'll tell you right away, yes, yes.
Every year, every spring, every autumn, an unknown person plants a lovely bed of flowers at my front door... which is just like a work of art.
I don't know who they are, I have never caught them at it.
I hope that perhaps they are watching the television right now.
That's the reason I came here today. Yes! (Audience and Pärt both laughing)
Or perhaps they are here in this hall. No, I don't think they would be, because anonymous people don't do that sort of thing.
That person has brought such joy to my life.
Even if I walk out the door ten times a day, I still think about them every time I walk by that flower bed and have heartfelt thanks for them.
I would like to give them a gift. If I had a flower here, I would perhaps give it to them. But what would they do with that flower?
I think that, which was awarded to me here now, is also for that person.
Because it was awarded to me because...for that... which they have enriched within me.
I thank them again from the bottom of my heart, and...
But I will give you all a... I now mean instead of a flower...
I will give you a fragment of prose from Juhan Liiv.
Who said: "The dream of a flower is its bloom."
Perhaps Juhan Liiv wrote that for all of you.

*The Estonian noun "hing" has a double meaning of "soul" and "hinge" which Pärt is using here for its effect as an analogy.
Why is the Arvo Pärt Centre in Laulasmaa and what or who is Aliina?
25th December 2012 12:00
by Keila Leht

(Original at

The Archives of the Centre with its staff member Helge Saks. 
Photo: Arvo Pärt Centre

The International Arvo Pärt Centre Foundation was founded in the summer of 2010. But the preparations for the archive and for the creation of the Centre began even before that, when 4 tons of Arvo Pärt's archive material were brought from Germany to Estonia in 2009. The Centre began to work full-time in 2011 when it was funded by the Estonian state and with the further support of the Centre's main sponsor Swedbank. The Centre's Managing Director Anu Kivilo agreed to answer questions from Keila Leht.

Why is the Arvo Pärt Centre situated in Laulasmaa and where does the property name Aliina come from?

Locating the Centre in Laulasmaa was a conscious decision made by the Arvo Pärt family. Placing the centre in a natural environment gives it an extra dimension, a uniqueness, and provides a better opportunity for people to reach their essence. Laulasmaa has been a meaningful place for Arvo Pärt - this area is associated with two of Arvo Pärt's most beloved teachers from his younger years, who, in the composer's own words, left the biggest impression on his life. His piano teacher Ille Martin had a house at Kloogarand and Heino Eller had a summer home in Laulasmaa. Pärt went for summer music lessons to both of them when he was a young man. The Centre is located on a property which is named Aliina. During the Seventies in the last century, Arvo Pärt had been seeking for his own means of expression, and in 1976, after a long period of silence, a piano miniature was composed, which had as its title "Für Alina" (Estonian: Aliinale, English: For Alina). With this work the composer had found his musical language and created his compositional technique, which he called tintinnabuli. This short work is of great importance to the composer and therefore it was decided to designate the land on which the Centre is located as Aliina.

The Centre's mission is to preserve and to promote Arvo Pärt's creative legacy. When will it be open to the public?

There is still much work to be done before the Centre will be able to open its doors to the public. Over the past few years, a massive digital archive has been created and very soon the work on the information system will be complete, which will allow for the utilization of the digitized material. In order to do this it is necessary to create descriptions of the archival materials in the system and to create the necessary links and so on. This is not a mechanical process, but enormous painstaking work that will require a few years to complete.

How big is the early interest about the Arvo Pärt Centre? Are many people surprised that it operates out of a small coastal village, and not in Tallinn?

Interest is actually quite high, but because we are not yet open to the public, many may not even realize that we are not located in Tallinn, but in Laulasmaa. People in Estonia and abroad have sought us out through personal contacts, our website or with projects for the general public. For example, we have organized Arvo Pärt Centre movie nights for two summers at the St. Catherine's Church in Tallinn and have released the DVD set of "Playing Pärt", which was distributed to all Estonian music schools. There has been a steady increase in our website visitors and newsletter subscribers.

How large is the composer's archive at the present time? How much of it is sheet music, manuscripts, publications, etc.?

The archive consists of handwritten musical diaries, the scores of compositions, photos, documents, recordings of the performances of works, etc. There are also prizes, awards, gifts, and publications. For example, there are approximately 15,000 photos. Our aim is to systematize the physical archive and to digitize it.
At present about 230 musical diaries have been scanned (approximately 13,800 pages), 480 scores, a large number of program notes, etc. In total, approximately 20 TB of material has been digitized. A great deal of work with the scores, letters, and other documents remains to be done.

Is the work of the centre exciting?

Well, exciting means different things to different people. You certainly wouldn't find the suspense of an adventure film at the Centre, but quite often it happens that we find something, the existence of which we previously knew nothing about, or we come upon some interesting discovery or event, which had been otherwise forgotten - in this sense the work at the centre is very exciting. We have an unique opportunity to work side by side with a living legend, whose life and work have been a part of Estonia's and the world's cultural history. There is a great sense that, even though on a daily basis we are among the peaceful pine trees of Laulasmaa, our activities and relations are very international.

How large is the workforce at the Centre?

The Centre currently has a permanent workforce of six people. Depending on the current work in hand, we also hire temporary contract workers.

Can you describe an average workday at the Centre?

It is a bit difficult to give a generalization: the workdays of the music scholars are very different from those of the digitizers and for all of us the workday depends on whether it is a normal archival production day or whether a special project is in hand. In the coming years, the most important task is to record Arvo and Nora Pärt's clarifications and memories, and to systematize them.

What is it like to go to work in Laulasmaa from the city, when most people are travelling in the opposite direction?

I guess it has a bit of a strange feeling, but not all jobs have to be in the capital city. For some reason we are not surprised that people drive many kilometres to work in the city, and yet it becomes somewhat odd when the direction is reversed. The travel time to get to work at Laulasmaa is like a buffer during which you can attune yourself to the day ahead. You perceive the living natural world around you, and it gives you a charge for the diversified day. It may seem that Laulasmaa is far away, but in the greater world sense it is not a great distance at all.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review of "Arvo Pärt - A Portrait" eBook by Nick Kimberley

This is an enhanced ebook edition of "Arvo Pärt: A Portrait" which was previously released in 2005 by Naxos Records as a 2CD set with CD booklet to mark Pärt's 70th birthday year . This ebook edition takes the earlier CD booklet text by Nick Kimberley and enhances it by embedding the audio tracks as clickable links throughout the ebook.
Nick Kimberley's essay (about 10,000 words) is still an excellent overview of Pärt's life and work up to 2005. Having the music tracks directly available (when they worked) did also bring up the shortcomings of the Naxos compilation as there are many compositions or additional movements discussed by Kimberley which were not included in the 2CD set. This becomes more obvious when you are reading on for pages and pages and no related music tracks are available.
For the budget price of $3.99 on ITunes though, this is still a very economical introduction to Arvo Pärt's music which will hopefully encourage your further reading and listening. 

The idea of sound elements embedded in your books is extremely exciting and will hopefully be used in future ebooks as well. However, the actual iBooks software seemed to be very buggy and glitchy when I was using it. Tracks would sometimes not start to play or would only play for a few seconds or a few minutes. Because the play button was on the left side of the screen, I often found myself accidentally going backwards in the book when I was trying to play a track. If you exited the program to investigate outside links to iTunes to purchase further recordings the iBooks screen froze up when you returned to the ebook and required a hard reboot of the device (I was testing this on an iPod Touch) to work properly again. So the overall experience was often frustrating.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Estdocs 2010 Previews: Day 2, October 16, 2010

Erkki-Sven Tüür: 7 Etudes in Pictures, Rating **** out of *****
Director: Marianne Kõrver
Language: Estonian (with some English & German) - English subtitles
Length: 77 minutes

Embracing the world from a remote island

The multi-faceted talents and interests of Estonian modern classical composer and occasional progressive/chamber rock musician Erkki-Sven Tüür are on display in Marianne Kõrver's wonderful and wide-ranging documentary film "7 Etudes in Pictures".

As signalled by the title, Kõrver’s new film on Tüür is divided into 7 vignettes. Three of the central ones are based around the composition, rehearsal, recording or premiere performance of a new Tüür modern classical composition, one is about his original 1979-1983 rock group In Spe (Latin for “In Hope”) and their 30th Anniversary reunion in 2009 and one additional scene is used as a interlude for some comic relief. The film is bookended by two vignettes which feature views of Hiiumaa Island, especially those that can be found at its westernmost tip in the village of Hirmuste where Tüür lives year-round, except when work commitments draw him away. Tüür has built his own composition shed/music studio on his farm property which can’t help but remind you that one of his personal symphonic heroes, Gustav Mahler, had a similar cottage for music composition in his own day.

Aside from Tüür’s own observations, the film has interviews with many of his colleagues and collaborators such as the conductors Paavo Järvi, Anu Tali and Olari Elts, the writer Tõnu Õnnepalu and musicians Riho Sibul and David James. These are interspersed with rehearsal and performance footage of such works as Tüür’s Symphony No. 6 “Strata”, the Choral Symphony No. 7 “Pietas” which is dedicated to Tenzin Gyatso (the lesser known Tibetan name of the Dalai Lama), and the chamber choral work “Questions...”. A highlight for me was the 1980's archival footage of a 20-year-old Tüür performing his song “Igavik” (“Eternity”) to words by poetess Doris Kareva juxtaposed with clips of the 50-year-old Tüür performing the same song at the 2009 In Spe reunion. 

It has been famously said that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” and although Tüür makes several attempts to express in words what he is seeking to achieve with his music, in the end the words fail him: “If I were very good at putting the message into words, I think I would be writing novels, not symphonies.” Fortunately, the one-woman movie crew of Marianne Kõrver is not so limited due to her camera and editing skills (Kõrver takes both those roles in addition to her director credit for the film) and drives the film to its conclusion with a whirlwind of shots of drifting sands and blowing grasses on beaches, birds in the sky, leaves on the trees, still water and crashing waves on the shore, all to the swirling music of Tüür’s “Passion” for string orchestra. As a final treat, the end credits have a further archival clip inserted of the young Tüür performing “Laulud murdusid pooleks” (“The broken songs”) with words by poet Jaan Kaplinski.

Many people have difficulties when they seek to understand contemporary music by standard song & music structural rules. Marianne Kõrver’s film instead succeeds in making you feel Erkki-Sven Tüür’s music through the views of the natural world of the remote Estonian island which is at its source and its heart.
Erkki-Sven Tüür is well known to both the Toronto Estonian and the Canadian new music communities through several personal appearances over the past two decades, especially thanks to Lawrence Cherney's Soundstreams Canada concert organization. Tüür’s recent instrumental work "The Path and the Traces",  dedicated to Arvo Pärt, will be performed under Tõnu Kaljuste’s baton on Nov. 7, 2010 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall at Soundstreams' upcoming concert "The Mystical Worlds of Pärt and Schafer".

Film director Marianne Kõrver is also no stranger to the EstDocs community, as her previous documentary “The Sum of Absent Days”, about Eduard Tubin, an Estonian composer from an earlier generation, was screened here in 2007.

"7 Etudes in Pictures" will have its Canadian Premiere screening at the EstDocs Festival on Saturday October 16, 2010 at 7pm at the Papermill Theatre in the Todmorden Mills Museum & Arts Centre, 67 Pottery Road. Coincidentally, October 16th will also be Erkki-Sven Tüür's 51st birthday, so maybe EstDoc's traditional “kringel” (coffee bread) will have some candles in it for the occasion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews: Day 5, September 13, 2010

127 Hours, Rating: Five ***** out of Five ***** 
dir. Danny Boyle (present at the end for a Q&A)
English language - No subtitles
Ryerson Theatre, 2nd screening of 3 at TIFF 2010

I started loving this film within the first few seconds. 127 Hours begins immediately with the sound of Fresh Blood's "Never Hear Surf Music Again" ("There must be some f*%#ing chemical, chemical in your brain, that makes us different from animals, makes us all the same." etc...) just as featured in the trailer. That not-ripped-off euphoric feeling carried on all the way through the rest of the film.

The film has an energetic start with a split screen showing office-bound commuters/workers going along their daily drudge while our lead, x-treme biker/hiker/climber Aron Ralston (played to perfection by actor James Franco) packs his gear (unfortunately not finding his Swiss Army knife which might have made a lot of difference to him later on) for a trek into Blue John Canyon country in Utah. While on his way he has a brief fun climbing/diving/swimming interlude with two female hikers (played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn). He then heads off on his own and at about 20 minutes into the movie takes a tumble with a small boulder that ends up pinning his right arm against the side wall of the thin crevice of a canyon. And that is where we are with him for the next "127 hours" (but only 1 hour of screen time) that it takes him to get loose.

I'm not going to spoil that resolution here, although most will likely hear about it anyway before seeing the movie. An obvious clue that he survives is given by the screen credit early in the film that says it is "based on the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place by Aron Ralston". The guy must of survived if he wrote a book about it right? Well, you can survive in many ways and not all of them leave you whole (both mentally and physically).

Director Danny Boyle brings a lot of the key Oscar-winning players of the Slumdog team back for this new film. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, soundtrack composer A.R.Rahman and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (this time paired with Enrique Chediak) are chief among those. As an added bonus, from the director of the toilet-diving cam in Trainspotting, we now have the "desperately thirsty character saves his own urine so it can be filmed while drunk through a tube"-cam in this movie.

At the Toronto Film Festival's 2nd screening of the film, Boyle was there to take questions from the audience and his enthusiasm and excitement about the film was infectious. Tidbits included his talking about their 6 days of location shooting followed by a sound-stage recreation of the canyon based on 3D scanning imagery. Boyle also praised actor James Franco and emphasized how every time we see him in a new film he is stretching his talents and abilities, unlike many lead actors who are just basically playing themselves in various different situations.

Boyle said that for an audience to watch what would otherwise be deemed "unwatchable" you either had to be making a schlocky/not-to-be-taken-seriously horror movie OR you had to make the audience completely identify with the character to the extent that they would believe that they themselves would have done the exact same thing to save themselves if they had to. Well, Boyle succeeds in making you believe it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews: Day 1 September 9, 2010

Film Socialism, Rating: One * out of Five ***** (for the TIFF experience, otherwise likely a ***)
dir. Jean-Luc Godard (not present)
French with some German, Russian, English, Italian - No subtitles
4 word review: Fragmentary glimpses cruise-ship families

Ryerson Theatre, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010, 1st screening of 3 at TIFF
Advertised as a 6pm start, began about 6:40pm.

This was a bad TIFF 2010 start, with the audience already bitter and cranky as we stood outside for an unnecessary extra 30 minutes or so, past the advertised start time.
When I asked staff what the problem was, they said there was none.
I instead imagine a backstage scramble when they realized that they had a print with no English subtitles on it. Maybe Godard thought since it was Canada there was no need? "Ils parlent français là-bas, n'est-ce pas?"
Even at the Cannes premiere they had his subtitled version with what he had described as his "Navajo English" subtitles where sentences were stripped of verbs, adverbs and adjectives, but at least something showed on screen.
Here in Toronto there was none of that, so when the dialogue did come through clearly (often it was obscured by the wind conditions on board the cruise ship deck where most of the first half takes place) you were left to decipher and translate what you could.
Piers Handling's piece in the programme book made no mention of the lack of subtitles, the TIFF announcer at the start said nothing about the film whatsoever and seemed she was just stopping off at Ryerson on the way to a gala party somewhere else.

So we were left to our own devices. The walkouts started about 20 minutes into the film when people realized a) there was no plot and b) sub-titles were not going to appear. I counted about 30 walkouts from my side of the balcony but couldn't see the far side or the floor from where i was sitting. Many held out for about 45 minutes when they finally accepted that there was not going to be a story for them to follow and the sub-titles really were not going to come. Probably the floor had more invested in the film as they had probably stood in line for 60 to 90 minutes. Also, there is more self-consciousness about walking out when you are in full view on the floor. The balcony types had no such fear.

On screen, there were random fragmentary views of different people on a cruise-ship, some families, some musicians (Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, yeah!), some making conversation, some quoting from literature, often these scenes were just 5 or 10 seconds and would cut abruptly even in the middle of a sentence. Some of the high-def camera shots of the ocean and the ship were visually beautiful. Sound was choppy with wind blowing straight into the camera microphone with no attempt to filter it out. Occasionally fragments from the ECM Records catalogue could be heard on the soundtrack. Giya Kancheli's "Abii ne viderem" and Arvo Pärt's "In principio" amongst others.
Then we are at some sort of gas station where a llama and a donkey are kept as pets by the owner-operator family. The family's blond kid here was at least fun to watch in parts such as when he phantom conducted a music piece. The donkey's stoicism was also a treat (an "Au hasard Balthazar" symbol perhaps - certainly Godard had plenty of other film clips and references contained in here). At one point the kid could be heard to say (in English): "No Comment".
The final section had clips from mostly archival documentary footage or other films (e.g. Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin", someone's "Alexander the Great") about Egypt, Greece, Palestine, Odessa, Napoli, and Barcelona. It all ends with Godard's final screen images of text that also end with the words "No Comment". The end. Black screen. No credits (although some had appeared at the beginning). Mild scattered applause and everyone dashes to the exits headed for Inside Job, Legend of the Fist or Score A Hockey Musical and maybe a late night Midnight Madness Fubar 2. In any case, something with a story and communication and passion and drama to it.

TIFF 2010 file update Thursday Sept. 9, 2010

Updated the file to include about half of the Contemporary World Cinema (CWC) films from the August 24, 2010 press releases:

Stil have to finish CWC, TIFF for Free and Future Projections.

Click here for the pdf file.