Nordic & Baltic choral composers

At our 11am service on Sunday 13 February we will be singing Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s setting of the Beatitudes, reflecting the gospel reading for that Sunday. The photo is of Estonia’s pretty capital, Tallinn, where Pärt completed his composition studies.

Looking back on the new music we have bought recently, we are struck by how many composers are of Scandinavian or Baltic origin: along with Pärt, we have recently sung works by Kim André Arnesen and Ola Gjeilo from Norway, and Ēriks Ešenvalds from Latvia. What is it about far northern European composers and choral music?

American conductor Joshua Habermann addresses this question in the program notes of a 2018 concert series ‘Nordic Songs’, which he guest-conducted with Phoenix Chorale:

“The cultures of the far north have a special affinity for choral singing. Perhaps this can be attributed to the long, dark winters, or to the emotional release it offers to the generally reserved peoples of the upper latitudes. Thanks to these societal factors, as well as generous government support, ensembles such as the Swedish Radio Choir and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir have come to represent the pinnacle of contemporary choral culture. Nordic and Baltic composers, inspired by the opportunity to hear excellent performances of their music, have turned to the choral instrument as never before, creating an extraordinarily rich repertoire, most of which has been written since 1960.”

Look out for more Pärt later in the year!

Photo: Peter Kelsall

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