Arvo Pärt – The Master of Pure Sound

All the concert’s four choral works by Pärt have strong connections to the Christian faith, which characterized his life as well as his career. Most prominent are the two songs of praise from the New Testament: Virgin Mary’s, Magnificat, and Simeon’s, Nunc dimittis. Lars Johan Werle’s suggestive Canzone 126 inspired by Italian lyricist Francesco Petrarca is reminiscent of the same lyrical, vivid world of sound as Luciano Berio’s Cries of London, a portrayal of the city’s lights of long ago, and Tormi’s Tornikell minu külas or Tower Bell in My Village.

“I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.” – Arvo Pärt

It was a glorious winter’s day in February 1976. Arvo Pärt’s wife and soulmate Nora had tried to nudge Arvo into taking a walk with her all morning, but eventually gave up and left him hunched over his piano. Pärt had not composed anything for several years. Behind them lay an extended period of struggle, on the prowl for interesting literature in the closed Estonian society and anxiety in the search for his own voice, which would correspond to his inner life.

When Nora returned, Für Alina had been created, the little piano piece that in its simplicity bore the seed to all music thenceforth composed by Pärt.

Tõnu Kaljuste, founder of The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and former chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Choir has spent more time than most in the universe created by Arvo Pärt. It is a world where one single note is sufficient, as long as it is played beautifully enough. A mathematical structure, an ascetic aesthetic – a wholly unique voice, which has become such an integral part of our culture that Pärt in 2018 will be the world’s most performed living composer for the seventh year running. Many describe his music as mythical and meditative. Beautiful sounds, others claim. ”You should never talk too much about music”, says Tõnu Kaljuste, ”it will just be blah, blah, blah”.

For twenty years, the Radio Choir has both premièred and recorded Pärt’s music together with Kaljuste, and they know that, as a singer, you must have the courage to take the lead of the composer, as well as the conductor, when entering this world. It requires great vocal concentration and artistic dedication to give voice to Pärt’s long lines, pure triads and precise developments. ”Each piece is its own world, which opens up to us through the lyrics”, Kaljuste says about his collaboration with Pärt. ”He is very sensitive and demanding and frequently comment on the efforts of the musicians through his imagery. ’Lean into the silence’ Pärt is often heard to say to those who work with his music.”

Around Pärt’s gentle, bearded presence, there are other voices making a racket. Another compatriot, with whom Tõnu Kaljuste has long collaborated closely, is Veljo Tormis who taught Arvo Pärt composition during his years at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre in Tallinn. Tormi’s music has been called magical minimalism, but its folksy, sometimes rowdy and theatrical elements place it at some distance from Pärt’s austere version of minimalism. From the street corners, the dirty, impatient and rowdy vendors shout out their spiel in Luciano Berio’s crazy Cries of London, a cross between theatre and music. And from remote Italian beaches, we hear Petrarca sighing over his lost love, in Lars Johan Werle’s voice, in Canzone 126.

Text: Janna Vettergren




The Swedish Radio Choir is like a leading mountaineer in the world of music. The choir’s former chief conductor Peter Dijkstra has described the ensemble as “the group that leaves base camp first and stakes out the course for others to follow.” Three hundred years of Swedish a cappella tradition, combined with an ambitious and culturally diverse repertoire with some of the world’s finest conductors, has established the Swedish Radio Choir as one of the foremost ensembles of its kind. The 32 professional singers are as equally at home in completely new music by today’s most exciting composers as they are in classic favourites from the rich international treasure trove. Through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts and website the choir not only reaches concert audiences but also radio listeners everywhere.

The Estonian conductor Tõnu Kaljuste is familiar to Swedish audiences after his time as the Swedish Radio Choir’s Chief Conductor from 1994–2000. This versatile musician has been a driving force in awakening interest in the Nordic region to music from the Baltic countries. He founded the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and then, ten years later, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, both of which have become very successful and perform at the world’s major concert venues and festivals. He is known for his interpretations of the works of Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis, and has won prestigious awards for his many recordings. Among his latest collaborations are the Norrlandsoperan Symphony Orchestra, the Wrocław Philharmonic and the choir at Orquestra Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

Concert length: 1 h 30 min