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.