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March 7, 2006

Estonian Chamber Choir presents original works

The Grand Rapids Press (MI):

Mention contemporary music to many and watch them make the kind of face you'd see if you served them a plate of Brussels sprouts. But in some corners of the world, contemporary composers such as Estonia's Arvo Part are writing contemporary music that sounds new and original but also remarkably familiar, too. "They're writing very original, very fresh sounding music," said conductor Paul Hillier. "It is, to put it bluntly, very rooted in traditional tonality. They've found new ways to use it."

Hillier will lead the celebrated Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in a program of music by Part, Cyrillus Kreek and other more familiar composers on Tuesday in Fountain Street Church. The award-winning professional choir from the capital city of Tallinn is on a 10-city U.S. tour. Its local concert is the group's only appearance in the upper Midwest.

Though the ensemble is just 25 years old, the choir springs from the rich Estonian heritage of choral singing. "There's quite a tradition of massed choir singing, which is remarkably good, musically speaking," said Hillier, an Englishman who has conducted the choir since 2001. "The very fact that this tradition exists explains the willingness of contemporary composers to write for choirs," he said. "In many places, they don't really bother." The 26-voice choir also will perform such pieces as Benjamin Britten's "Hymn to St. Cecilia" and Francis Poulenc's Mass in G. North American Choral Company's top chamber choir, Caritas, will join the guests to sing a setting of "Locus Iste" by Anton Bruckner.

Though the Estonian Chamber Choir hasn't appeared here previously, the choral company from Grand Rapids first heard the group rehearsing while on tour two years ago in Eastern Europe. "It was such an opportunity," said NACC executive director Jayne Schuitema. "I've been a very big fan of theirs for many years." The Estonian Chamber Choir's recordings have won many awards in Europe, plus four Grammy Award nominations in the United States, though no actual award yet. "That would be nice, too," Hillier said.

Hillier's career is equally eminent. In 1973, he co-founded the Hilliard Ensemble, an internationally regarded chamber music ensemble. In 1992, he founded Theatre of Voices to explore a wide range of vocal music from Renaissance to rural American shape-note singing. Hillier has enjoyed a long collaboration with Part and with contemporary American composer Steve Reich and has written books about both. Though he spends a great deal of time in Estonia, he doesn't speak the language, which like Finnish and Hungarian, is unrelated to nearly all of Europe's languages. "I know words and phrases," he said.

See their US tour dates here.

Posted by acapnews at March 7, 2006 12:17 AM