Heather Stebbins “KAKS DAAMI: A CONCERT OF NEW WORKS FOR SOLOISTS AND CHAMBER ORCHESTRA”

The first concert of the third day of Estonian Music Days comprised all different combinations of two violin soloists and chamber orchestra under the heading Kaks Daami (Two Ladies). The concert producers transformed the venue, the often unadorned Studio 1 of the Estonian Public Broadcasting building, into an inspiring concert setting using different colored and carefully placed lighting. Like most of the EMD programs, Kaks Daami included a majority of Estonian premieres. This particular program comprised six new Estonian works and one new Latvian piece. So many premieres can be a daunting and difficult endeavor, but it didn’t appear to cause any concern to the players. The concert showcased not only the talents of the soloists, but also the commitment of the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, led by Latvian conductor Atvars Lakstīgala, to giving the seven premieres such accomplished and powerful first performances.

The program opened with Kristjan Randalu’s Emigrane for chamber orchestra. Emigrane explored two very familiar string orchestra textures: driving, terse rhythmic structures and lush melodic figures. Randalu skillfully developed these two themes, weaving the two ideas together before recapitulating in the final moments. Randalu described the stimulus of the piece to be the tensions created when one steps out of oneself or moves beyond one’s comfort zone. This stress manifested mostly in Emigrane’s tense harmonic colors, which remained fairly static throughout the work, providing unity to the two textures.

Liisa Hirsch’s Ascending…Descending was the first to feature a soloist, violinist Triin Ruubel, and was also one of the highlights of the program. Hirsch worked with an unconventional relationship between soloist and orchestra throughout her piece, avoiding the traditional soloist-plus-accompaniment connection. Rather, Ruubel often acted as the spark that initiated the orchestra’s gestures. Throughout the first half of the piece, the gestures were largely ascending and tightly bound glissandi that took the listener through an upwards spiral of crystalline microtonal harmonies. The sound nearly never stopped, creating a wash of color. The soloist occasionally became buried in the texture of the orchestra, yet not in a negative way. Instead, it created the impression of Ruubel’s solo line twisting in and out of the orchestra, observing what she had created. Hirsch adeptly transitioned from the skyward gestures to the descending part of her piece, pulling the orchestra back down towards the earth. For the last section of the work, Ruubel dramatically turned to face the orchestra to lead them through the final pulses and swells. Hirsch remarks in her program notes that there is no virtuosity in the violin solo. Though this may be the case, the concentration and artistic vision needed to effectively perform a work like Ascending…Descending is often more difficult than performing a virtuosic or extravagant piece. Ruubel and the orchestra’s performance of Hirsch’s piece was captivating.

The next work on the program joined the second soloist, violinist Juta Õunapuu-Mocanita, with the orchestra and Ruubel. Composer Elis Vesik’s Stiihia (Forces of Nature) took on a more traditional soloist-accompaniment relationship between the two violinists and the orchestra. The work opened with delicate harmonics in the two soloists that quickly transformed into strong and virtuosic solo lines backed by powerful gestures in the orchestra. Vesik acknowledged that her work is “characterized by uninterrupted action of forces”, and the intensity of both the gestures and the harmonic color did not relent throughout the entirety of the piece. The soloists played their intricate and difficult lines expertly, the material of which covered a wide range of playing styles and techniques.

Sander Pehk’s Eduard oja ääres (Eduard by the Brook) was a welcomed respite from the large sound of the orchestra and also a special treat for the audience. Two young and talented violinists, Triin Piirsalu and Triinu Veissmann, performed Pehk’s duet with a level of skill and professionalism well beyond their years. Pehk’s well-crafted composition was very playable for the student musicians while still being mature and genuine. The performance was a slice of the ‘Mini-EMD’ program directed at younger musicians and audiences. The initiative is a fantastic idea that I hope continues in future years.

Marilis Valkonen’s Täitumine (Fulfilment), scored for violin solo and orchestra, featured Juta Õunapuu-Mocanita on violin and also added a few more colors to the string orchestra by way of percussion and bassoons. The piece followed a fairly traditional concerto-like format. Õunapuu-Mocanita performed very virtuosic and tense lines in the vein of the early 20th-century violin concerti while the orchestra played a more accompanimental role. The addition of the percussion and bassoons helped to fill out the low end of the frequency space, which was appreciated in a concert that features higher-register violins. The final few bars of the piece included a switch of instruments by Õunapuu-Mocanita in order to facilitate a new and lower tuning of the instrument. I only wish Valkonen had given more playing time to this deeper and mysterious tone quality.

The final performance of the ‘two ladies’ was by way of Helena Tulve’s duet kõrgemale kui hing võib loota või meel varjata (higher than the soul can hope and mind can hide). Another highlight of the concert, the work held the audience captivated throughout its seemingly timeless duration. The two violinist created a single complex voice, rather than two voices in parallel or opposition. The line grew and developed over the course of the piece, weaving through different levels of both intensity and calm. Tulve’s piece covered a wide range of violin colors, from the extremely delicate to the intensely powerful. At times, the duet was able to create the same power that was delivered by the full orchestra. Ruubel and Õunapuu-Mocanita played with an extreme sensitivity, giving the piece a evocative premiere.

The concert ended with a ‘conductor’s choice’ piece by Latvian composer Kristaps Pētersons. His piece, Chess for string orchestra and percussion, was the most stylistically different from the rest of the program. Throughout much of the work, the double basses and vibraphone provided a rhythmic foundation for lush upper string melodies to float upon. The rhythmical pattern and tone quality of the vibraphone and pizzicato double basses inferred a solid jazz influence without being strictly an homage to the genre. Chess was an entertaining and lighthearted finale to a fantastic concert.

Kaks Daami truly embodied the Estonian Music Day’s theme of abundance. Over the course of the program, the audience experienced not only an abundance of stylistic influences and compositional techniques from the composers, but also an abundance of musical talent from the soloists, orchestra members, and conductor. Putting together a program of seven premieres is no small undertaking; Kaks Daami delivered beyond expectation.