Thanks to Nico Muhly’s “Mothertongue” album, composer Philip Glass, and some late night programing from John Schaefer on New Sounds WNYC, I have recently rekindled an interest in choral music. My knowledge of choral music was previously limited to Handel, Mozart, and Carl Orff; however, I am currently discovering a surplus of incredible choral music, particularly coming from Eastern Europe, that has reinvented the category in the past several decades.
A few of the artists that I have been listening to over and over are Veljo Tormis, Giya Kancheli, and Einojuhani Rautavaara. Tormis, considered one of the greatest Estonian choral composers alive, was born in 1930 and has written over 500 pieces, most of which found airtime outside of Estonia until the mid-1990′s, given their exclusion by the Soviet Union in Eurasia. His music is based primarily on Estonian folksongs that, in Tormis’ words, “makes use of me,” referring to his desire to preserve and share Estonian folklore and culture with the world. Most of the work is layered with complexity, adding in very few instrumentals, and focusing primarily on the vocals.
Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t already, and go pick up one of these masterworks. They are perfect for a quiet weekend at home or for exploring in the park in a snowy day.