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Crystalline voices from the land of song

Crystalline voices from the land of song

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performs Sunday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Crystalline voices from the land of song
The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Photographer: photo provided

Singing means something special to the people of Estonia and no one does it better than the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. They’ll be coming Sunday to sing along with the Tallin Chamber Orchestra as part of the Troy Chromatic Concert Series.

“Singing is part of our national identity,” said Esper Linnamagi, the choir’s manager.

“We’ve been having big song festivals since 1869. Next year, we’re celebrating our 150th year at the Song Festival Grounds near the sea where there’s a big stage. Thousands of singers can come together.”

Between 1987 and 1991 singing took on a more patriotic, nationalist tone. Thousands gathered spontaneously to give protest speeches and to sing patriotic songs to proclaim the people’s desire for independence from the Soviets, which had incorporated the country into the Soviet Union at the close of World War II.

“We’d have song fests where censors wouldn’t allow us to sing nationalist songs,” Linnamagi said. “We had a Red repertoire.”

The country gained its independence in August, 1991. A film about those gatherings that attracted upwards of 300,000 people, which is estimated at a third of the country’s population, was made in 2007 called ‘The Singing Revolution.”  As one narrator said of these mass gatherings, the film was about how culture saved a nation.

Tonu Kaljuste, who will conduct Sunday’s concert, founded the choir in 1981. The 26 singers have an extensive repertoire from Gregorian chant to new music with a special emphasis on Estonian composers like Arvo Part, whose pieces will be performed. The choir, which is known for its crystalline, shimmering sound, won Grammy Awards in 2007 and 2014, both for Part’s works.

Except for one singer from Belarus, all the singers are Estonian.

“We have choirs all over the country not just in churches,” Linnamagi said. “Every school has choirs and the students get music lessons every year. It’s seen as a social activity. And now that it’s getting cold and dark, it’s nice to get together and sing.”

The singers are also well trained and have studied at the Estonian Music Academy. Every two years, the choir has auditions.

“Every singer changes the structure of the group even as our voices are affected by the climate we live in,” he said. “But it takes time to meld in the group. In the last five years, fifty percent of the singers have changed.  We have three generations of singers. There are only two men who’ve been here since the beginning. Singing in the choir is very personal and so intimate. We try for a mellow, balanced, controlled sound.”

The chamber orchestra, which on this one-week U.S. tour will have 22 players, was also founded by Kaljuste in 1993. It also shared the 2014 Grammy with the choir.

Both groups are making their debut at the hall.

The program for this concert is a request from the series’ promoters. It includes two works by Johann Sebastian Bach: “The Art of the Fugue” and a cantata “Brich dem Hungrigen deim Brot.” There are three Part works: “Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten”; “Salve Regina”; and “Adam’s Lament.”



Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallin Chamber Orchestra

WHEN:  3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
HOW MUCH: $55, $45
MORE INFO: 518 273-0038; www.troymusichall.org

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