Lena Kramer “Summer Rain: Gregorian chant and modern art music”

The final concert of the Estonian Music Days 2015 was a performance of the internationally acclaimed mixed choir Vox Clamantis (Voice of someone who is screaming), conducted by Jaan-Eik Tulve. It took place in the medieval atmosphere of the Niguliste church. The impressive gothic architecture and the acoustic precondition of the church contributed to the concert’s stunning effect on the audience, while cameras and spotlights added an official tone. The songs performed at this concert were written by Estonian composers in recent years, some especially for Vox Clamantis. They follow traditions of old church singing like Gregorian chant, but are influenced by modern music. The audience, diverse in age, listens intently and in concentration throughout the whole concert. When the choir does not sing, there are no sounds.

During the first song („Bless the Lord, o my Soul“ by Galina Gregorjeva), the choir is standing behind the people, in the back of the church, so that the first impression is only music, not the singers‘ appearance. The song is starting like a dialogue between the choir’s male and female voices, and ending with a brilliant wide range of accords, harmonies and voices.

The performed pieces switch between melodic, harmonic and more dark, dissonant ones. The second song, „Stella Matutina“ by Helena Tulve (who is playing the piano to her own composition in this concert) is a slow, monophonic piece only for female voices. The lyrics come from Catholic liturgy, while the piano, using unusual sounds and intervals, create suspenseful disharmonies reminding the listeners of modern jazz. The melodic „Summer Rain“, written especially for Vox Clamantis by Toivo Tulev shows again the singers‘ extensive spectrum of tones and their ability to create beautiful harmonies.

During „Kuula“ (Listen) by Tõnu Kõrvits, the singers use the acoustic advantages of the church, whispering, playing with volume, dissonance and glissando, spreading throughout the hall to enable the audience to „listen“ as if in stereo. The singers‘ clear voices stay between the high church walls as a ghostly echo for some seconds after the music has ended, making the church not only the location of the concert, but also an acoustic device. Alo Pöldmäe’s „Ave Maria“ is going back in the traditional direction, being a church choir piece. Along with this, an originally Gregorian „Ave Maria“ is performed, showing the roots of the music performed in the concert.

The closing song, another work of Helena Tulve, „I am a River“, consists mostly of disharmonic, long notes, creating wide landscapes of sound, leaving traditional choir singing completely behind. Sharp, dissonant chords break out of the average volume range and shock the listener. After this impressive finale, the audience provides the singers and its conductor with a warm applause, thankful for a wide-ranging musical journey.

The choir’s repertoire was diverse and refreshing, connecting ancient church traditions with today’s art music in order to create something new and exciting. The blurring  and joining of genres was an important theme of this year’s Estonian Music Days, superbly shown in its last concert.