Tonu Korvits - Mirror (ECM)
If you'd like to hear a musical portrait of Estonian composer Tonu Korvits, check out his newest release, titled Mirror. "And if I would say something about my music," he says, "it's maybe difficult. But I think it's very much connected to the country that I grew up in, the nature, and of course the folk tunes of Estonia. So maybe something like this."
Tonu Korvits grew up in the 1970s with a father and uncles who were among the first rock musicians of Estonia. Many Estonian composers have inspired Tonu as well. "But of course, I've always admired the music of Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis, who are two grand old men of Estonian music," Tonu says. "And on my new CD, there is a kind of homage to Veljo Tormis's music there are two arrangements of his choir songs which I have re-arranged, and so this music, this beautiful melody, now has kind of different colors and harmonies. The first is 'The Last Ship'. And another is 'The Song of the Plains'."
On first hearing, "The Last Ship" sounds like a love song. However, Tonu says the text by poet Juhan Smuul goes much deeper. "It is a love song but the poet who wrote it, he had a very hard life," Tonu explains. "And actually this text … it is a very powerful text and it tells about a man who understands that everything has come and it's a kind of understanding that he has lived his life not the best way and probably he is regretting it but he understands that he can't fix it anymore, it's too late. 'Too late' is also the words in the lyrics. 'It's too late.' So it's kind of a last prayer of a man who is regretting but who also understands that he has to live."
Estonian culture is immersed in a choral tradition of more than 150 years. That tradition is reflected in the music on this recording, which features the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir with the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, led by Tonu Kaljuste. Cellist Anja Lechner also plays a unique role. "The last piece, 'Song,' is written for cello and strings," Tonu explains. "It's based in a simple riff of four chords and the metrical system is always changing there is no repeating. And it gives a kind of unexpected drive to that music. On all of that lies a simple melody which is played by cello and … it's a simple melody of a loneliness. It might be a lonely person in our Nordic nature or just a song of loneliness. It somehow also reflects everything overtones, nature, people around us and so on."
You mentioned that this music is a reflection of your native land. It sounds like loneliness might be a characteristic, perhaps because of the starkness of Estonian plains?
"You are right. There are not very many people living here in Estonia. It's a small country and our population is also not very big. So people get used to this loneliness. And Estonians like to observe the nature, all the changes in nature. We really do have all four seasons. We don't have it just in our summer and autumn … we have a real summer, which could be very hot like now. And we have a real winter which could be as cold as possible. So there is a lot of space in our nature. And not so many people. And I think this all somehow reflects somehow in the music at least in my music. A lot of space, a lot of time to think about, to concentrate, to feel everything … to feel love, absolutely everything.
"'Seven Dreams for Seven Birds,' it's also a seven-part piece for cello, choir and strings," Tonu says. "The main hero in this piece is cello. There are also genuine bird songs from Estonia reflected in this piece, especially in that third part, the cadenza. It is a kind of fantasy piece, a dream piece, a night piece or whatever. It begins with a peaceful breathing which somehow symbolizes that the person who sings it is actually in his or her sleep. You can't explain everything which you see in a dream it can be scary, it can be something very beautiful, it could be just a fantasy and it never can repeat itself. So that's a dream."
Estonian composer Tonu Korvits told me the title of this recording can mean many things, with Mirror is a very appropriate title for this self-portrait. "Mirror is a very symbolic title, isn't it? First, you can look into a mirror and see yourself. That's very important. But if you take a mirror in your hands and then look at yourself and then turn it a little bit … then you will see different things. The things around you. The nature, the people. So I think it shows everything. It shows the composer of this CD but it also shows nature and people and folk music everything which can inspire a composer."