An Estonian experience

erki-sven tuur

The emotional charge of music, its integrity and directness, its ability to reach human hearts – that is what really counts,” says renowned Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür (pictured), whose opera Wallenberg will be screened on January 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The composer will be present at the screening of his award-winning opus.

The two-act opera tells the story of legendary Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued thousands of Jews during World War II but himself is said to have perished in the abyss of the Gulag.

In a Skype interview from his country home on the Estonian island of Hiiumaa (“amid unspoiled nature, with a forest around my house and the beautiful Baltic Sea a 10-minute walk from here”), the composer talks about his opera and his country’s musical life.

Tüür recalls that in the 1990s he was approached by prominent stage director John Dew, who suggested that he compose an opera about Raoul Wallenberg.

“I immediately agreed because it corresponded with my desire to create an opera about a contemporary hero,” says Tüür.

“Wallenberg’s story is a complicated one, with a mysterious ending. Raoul Wallenberg was a tragic hero who was caught between two evil empires and, against all odds, managed to save thousands of lives. That is one of the ideas of the piece – to never give up.

Another is that the story can repeat itself in every society in a slightly different form, and we should not forget it. Musically speaking, the entire story was very challenging for me,” he admits.

The composer describes his cooperation with German librettist Lutz Hübner as excellent.

“While the first act is quite realistic, in the second part the piece gradually moves to the imaginary world,” he says.

The opera was first staged in 2001 in Dortmund, Germany, and was well received by the audience and critics, “although I was not too happy with the staging,” he says.

The true sweeping success came later, when in 2007 the opera was re-staged in the Estonian capital Tallinn by Moscow-based director Dima Berman.

“Dima’s staging is very inventive and, above all, he is very musical.

He looked in the score for his directorial solutions,” says Tüür It is that version that will be screened at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

Tüür is regarded as “Estonia’s second composer” after Arvo Part.

“Yes, I know,” laughs Tüür, “that is the media’s way of putting it.

Arvo, who is my close friend and colleague, is the most widely performed composer in the world.

But I have no reason to complain, either,” adds the composer, who was discovered by the West following perestroika and whose music is commissioned and performed by Europe’s leading orchestras.

Born in 1959, Tüür studied flute and percussion and later composition. He headed the rock group In Spe, one of the most popular in his country, before leaving it to concentrate on composing music. He admits that during his formative years as a composer he, like many creative people of his generation, was deprived of accessing fresh sources of Western contemporary music.

“That said, we in Estonia were in a better position compared to musicians in other part of the USSR, with the exception of Moscow and Leningrad, because our friends from Finland would bring us the latest LPs. But then again, there were also positive aspects to that isolation. I was never told how to write my music but rather developed on my own,” he explains.

“As soon as Estonia gained independence, many young and not-so-young musicians went abroad to study. Today, I am immensely happy to see the fruits of this change: So many young composers, creating in various styles, have emerged in Estonia! And I feel that my musical language has been enriched, too,” he says.

For Tüür, this will be his first visit to Israel.

“I didn’t want to come as a tourist for sightseeing only but rather as a musician who has a chance to meet his colleagues,” he says.

Tüür will meet Israeli composition students at the University of Haifa on January 11; at the Jerusalem Music Academy on January 12; and at Tel Aviv University on January 13.

Another interesting event will take place on January 14 at the Fellicja Blumental Music Center in Tel Aviv. The Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta from Tallinn, led by conductor cum violinist Andres Mustonen, will perform the music of three generations of Estonian composers. The Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta is regarded as one of the country’s leading chamber ensembles and has performed in many of Europe’s prestigious concert halls to great acclaim.

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