Estonian Piano Orchestra 25/02/2011 King’s Place, London
On a Friday night in London, ‘Eesti Fest’ was not the most likely place one would think of ending up. The beautiful King’s Place building held a piano orchestra concert. ‘Eesti’ is Estonia in Estonian. The concert was curated by Fiona Talkington from BBC Radio 3 whose work in Tallinn started in 2001 and she felt that this project helped her renew her enthusiasm for Estonian music. Tallinn is also the European City of Culture 2011, so it was a good time to bring a bit of Estonian culture to London.
A piano orchestra is a group of instruments that does not pop up in our music talk very often. As a matter of fact, Estonia is also not much talked about. So, the idea of a piano orchestra was intriguing, especially when comprised of some of the best pianists from that little country and some of the biggest names among Estonian composers in the repertoire.
The concert started with the ‘Concerto for Eight Pianists on Four Pianos, Op.126’ by Jaan Rääts, an Estonian composer of neo-classicist orientation. The performance of this eclectic concerto was a masterpiece in itself. The interaction between the pianists was admirable as four grand pianos together might seem like a complicated setting. It was playful and emotionally charged. The use of the stringboard gave an original touch and the avant-garde taste made the performance almost athletic and a unique sight to see.
When talking about Estonian music, Arvo Pärt is definitely one of the best known names all over the world. He is among the most prominent sacred music composers. His compostion style ‘tintinnabuli’ which he created himself for works such as ‘Für Alina’ (1976) and ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ is unmistakable and stunning. ‘Für Alina’, performed by the world renowned pianist Lauri Väinamaa alone, had the audience dumbfounded. It is possibly one of the most beautiful modern pieces of music and the concert hall at Kings Place created a mesmerising atmosphere for it. ‘Für Alina’ sounds very whole, playing on long pauses and echoes, the distinguishable ascetic approach has a strong effect on the listener. It sounds like a white feather flying in the wind, alone and it sends shivers down the spine. Listening to such incredible composition performed with passion and skill is breathtaking. It is difficult to not be in awe before the sound when Pärt’s music is performed.
Peeter Vähi’s ‘Pianist Internet Week’ was a high contrast to Pärt. The originality of using percussions and an electric guitar worked out surprisingly well. Quite often the experimentations with modern and eccentric touches added to piano music do not come out the best, but Vähi excelled and the result was far from boring.
The second half of the concert started with video installations of waterscapes on the wall and the corresponding music composed by Ülo Krigul – ‘Aquaspherics’. The use of experimental techniques added character to the tribute to the sounds created by forces of nature. The final piece was Urmas Sisask’s ‘Voices of the Universe, Op.88’ (2002), which summarises half of the composer’s life’s work. Sisask, who is known for a rich style and variation in his works, brought the intergalactic mysteries to that concert hall. The idea of outer space is somewhat abstract and unfathomable, yet the music conveyed the astronomical grandness with utter brilliance.
The elevated feel and spirit after the concert speak for themselves. The concert hall was not sold out, but those who were there witnessed a bit of magic in the form of music that night. Absolutely stunning.