Playing the part for composer's 70th birthday bash

  • 2005-09-07
  • By TBT staff
TALLINN - With the unfortunate exception of Vanilla Ninja, Estonia has a formidable international reputation for music, largely thanks to one man: Arvo Part.
Part is widely regarded as one of the most important and original contemporary composers in Europe, and to mark his 70th birthday a series of concerts in honor of the man and his astonishingly impressive oeuvre is being held throughout the country, including his native town of Rakvere.

The artistic director of the 2005 Arvo Part Festival is Paul Hillier, the British conductor who is as familiar with Part's music as anyone through his work with the award-winning Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and his more recently formed Theater of Voices, which will be performing in Estonia for the first time.

Arvo Part was born in Estonia in 1935, and he began studying at the Tallinn Music Middle School in 1954. His studies were interrupted by a year-long stint of national service, during which he was an oboist and drummer in a military band.

In 1957 he began attending the prestigious Tallinn Conservatory, and by the time he graduated six years later he was already well-embarked on his career as a professional composer having written music for the stage and several film scores as well.

Like the Polish composer Gorecki, who is somewhat comparable to Part in the musical themes he explored, Part didn't have much access to Western music. Nevertheless, the young composer began to develop his unique musical voice in the early 1960s with "Nekrolog," which was the first Estonian composition to use serial technique.

Part continued to make a name for himself with subtle but radical compositions such as "Perpetuum Mobile" and his first and second symphonies.

By the 1970s the famously laconic composer had begun to explore the experimental polyphonic sound for which he ultimately gained international recognition. Influenced by French and Flemish choral music from the 14th - 16th centuries, such as Josquin, Obrecht and Ockeghem, Part finished his third symphony in 1971, a truly uplifting and innovative piece of music that was at once introspective and transcendent.

Part stopped making music for several years only to re-emerge in 1976 with an utterly new compositional technique which was to become his trademark and which he has remained faithful to ever since.

He called the technique "tintinnabuli" (from Latin for little bells). "I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements - with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials - with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells and that is why I call it tintinnabulation," Part said of his new compositional method.

Following his new discovery, Part had a rich period of composition in the late 1970s, during which he wrote three of his most highly regarded pieces: "Fratres," "Tabula Rasa" and "Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten."

But increasingly frustrated by the constraints that the Soviet authorities imposed on him, Part left Estonia with his wife and two sons in 1980. After failing to make it to Israel, which was his country of choice, Part first went to Vienna, where he stayed for a year, and from there he moved to Berlin, where he has lived ever since.

The Arvo Part Festival will feature several works by the composer performed at various locations around the country.

Arvo Part Festival 2005

Sep. 11 - Sep. 28

For a detailed program list,

as well as more information about the performers,