MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Deep Listening with Arvo Pärt

The best-of lists for a worst-of year are being finalized all around. One sure contender is this remarkable collection of choral music by Arvo Pärt from Gloriæ Dei Cantores.

The Cape Cod-based choir, which is led by Richard K. Pugsley, has a deep affinity for the Estonian composer. Each member of the choir has participated in study projects on Arvo Pärt’s style and his approach to text setting.

Gloriæ Dei Cantores’  repertoire includes larger Pärt works such as Passio and the Stabat Mater as well as the less frequently heard L’abbé Agathon and Berliner Mass. The recording is rooted in their experience singing his music in worship, on tour, and as part of an extensive concert series at their home, the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts. 

The recording offers a powerful sampling of the range of Pärt’s choral writing, including his settings of Salve Regina and Nunc dimittis. L’abbé Agathon “sets the scene of an ancient 4th century story of the chance (or was it?) meeting of the hermit Agathon and a leper. After several testings of the hermit’s patience and his generosity, the leper reveals himself to be an angel, and blesses the hermit Agathon, and goes on his way. “

The exuberant Peace Upon You, Jerusalem and the Magnificat are juxtaposed with Pärt’s unforgettable setting of the sorrowful Stabat Mater, the culminating work on this collection. Originally commissioned to mark the centenary of Alban Berg’s birth in 1985, the piece was expanded in a new version that premiered in 2008.

“Music is my friend, ever-understanding. Compassionate. Forgiving, it’s a comforter, the handkerchief for drying my tears of sadness, the source of my tears of joy,” says the composer. These six selections span a large part of Pärt’s career and encourage a state of deep listening, far past the poisonous noise of the year now coming to a close.

Filed under: Arvo Pärt, choral music, recommended listening

A Milestone Birthday for Arvo Pärt

Today the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt — as bearded as Brahms — turns 80. “[H]ere’s where it’s easy to be fooled by preconceptions about Pärt’s work. To dismiss it as cliched and sentimental holy minimalism is simply wrong,” observes Tom Service in a smart intro to his work.

From my recent notes about Pärt and “the contemporary sublime” for a Los Angeles Master Chorale program last season:

This year the music world is celebrating a milestone anniversary for Arvo Pärt, who was born 80 years ago, on September 11, in the small Estonian town of Paide. Although he gravitated toward music quite early (at the age of seven), Pärt points out that in fact he “matured very late, and that back then I wasn’t in a position to find the path that might have led me toward what I was really looking for.”

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Arvo Pärt has had a longterm partnership with producer Manfred Eicher and his label ECM, beginning with the pivotal release of Tabula Rasa. For the occasion, ECM is releasing Musica Selecta, a special two-CD collection of remastered ECM recordings of Pärt’s music curated by Eicher.

Per the label: “Musica Selecta proposes an optimal crash course in Pärt on ECM for the newcomer, and evokes fresh associations for the experienced listener with its juxtapositions of pieces, as we are invited to hear the music anew.”

Filed under: anniversary, Arvo Pärt

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