M/S ESTONIA IN MEMORIAM
In September 1994, one of the biggest maritime disasters of our time took place. Ferry and passenger vessel M/S Estonia sunk on its way between Tallinn and Stockholm, and 852 people lost their lives. Almost exactly 25 years later, the Radio Choir and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste remember and honour the victims of the tragic accident in a numinous concert.
Around 9.00 a.m. on Wednesday the 28th of September, 1994, the last survivors were saved from M/S Estonia, which had sunk in the middle of the night. Out of 989 passengers, only 137 survived. More than half were Swedish, almost 300 were Estonian, and there were Latvians, Finns, and people of nationalities from across the world. Three years later, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi had completed his choral piece Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae, “a meditation” as he describes the piece himself, but as such, very dramatic.
Three texts form the foundation of the piece: the Catholic funeral mass, the Book of Psalm’s hymn 107, and a news broadcast about the accident from Nuntii Latini, a programme that broadcasts world news in classical Latin on Finnish national radio. A soloist from the choir intones the news text against a thundering drone, a wordless melody that is reminiscent of an old sailor’s song, and with the requiem lyrics as the dirge: “May eternal light shine on them, Lord.” Fiery whispers mimic the murmur of the stormy sea, and of the communication radio of M/S Estonia that, 29 minutes past midnight, sent its final message. “Have mercy, Lord,” laments the choir.
The lyrics from the Book of Hymns take over with a restlessly billowing motif that follows most of the piece: “Others went on ships across the sea, and traded on the vast waters.” Sharp dissonances depict metal being torn and snapped, like the ship’s bow visor when it became an open, bleeding wound to the merciless sea. A rhythmical middle section like a Morse code SOS call: “They were thrown against the sky and the depths, courage failed them in danger.” In the end, everyone cries out their despair to God, who calms the sea again. But for the passengers of M/S Estonia, no safe port awaited, only eternal rest: “Requiem Aeternam.”
One of the pieces that Mäntyjärvi was inspired by was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-night Vigil. It’s a setting to music of texts from the eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches’ night-time mass celebrated ahead of big festivals. Composers like Tchaikovsky and Rautavaara have written similar compositions, but Rachmaninoff’s is the best known, and many consider it among his best works. It was also Rachmaninoff’s own favourite, alongside choral symphony The Bells, and at his funeral, the fifth movement was performed: “Lord, now you let your servant go home in peace, as you have promised.” Of the 15 movements, the sixth, Bogoroditse Devo or Ave Maria, has also – not least in Sweden – become a beloved concert piece. The whole piece breathes a warm and fervent spirituality, trust and hope for all those who yearn and miss.
Text: David Saulesco
For more than 90 years, the Swedish Radio Choir has contributed to the development of the Swedish a cappella tradition. Under the leadership of legendary conductor Eric Ericson, the choir earned great international renown and is hailed as one of the best choirs in the world today. The choir members’ ability to switch between powerful solo performances and seamlessly integrating themselves in the ensemble creates a unique and dynamic instrument praised by critics and music lovers alike, as well as by the many guest conductors who explore and challenge the choir’s possibilities.
The Swedish Radio Choir was founded the same year as the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts and the choir had its first concert in May 1925. Right from the start, the choir had high ambitions with a conscious aim to perform contemporary music.
Since January 2019, Marc Korovitch is the choirmaster of the Swedish Radio Choir with responsibility for the ensemble’s continued artistic development. Two of the choir’s former chief conductors, Tõnu Kaljuste and Peter Dijkstra, were appointed conductors laureate in November 2019. Both maintain a close relationship with the choir and make regular guest performances. A new chief conductor is currently being recruited.
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.
Chief conductor of the Jeune Choeur de Paris, he started a collaboration with the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart in 2013 (including a recording of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé), and also works regularly with the Chœur de Radio-France and the Choeur Accentus since 2014, for tours, radio performances, recordings, preparations and A Cappella concerts. He collaborates with many personalities, such as Sir Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Daniele Gatti, Louis Langrée, Stéphane Denève, Daniel Harding, Laurence Equilbey, L. G. Alarcon… He has also conducted the WDR Rundfunkchor in 2016. In July 2016, he has prepared both the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and the NDR Chor for Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette. In 2017, he has participate to the opening of the Seine Musical conducting the choir accentus and in 2018, he starts a collaboration with the Croatian Radio Choir. Korovitch works for many festivals: the Mozartwoche in Salzburg, Recontres Musicales d’Evian, the Festival de Radio-France in Montpellier or the festival Mozart in New York.