PÄRT'S LESSONS by Agnieszka Szyszko

PÄRT'S LESSONS by Agnieszka Szyszko

It was an enormous undertaking: 180 world-class musicians, churches changed into concert halls, difficult situations which always arise during events on this scale. The "Borderlanders," Pärt himself and many colleagues paid close attention to the details to ensure that everything ran according to plan. There was only one thing no one could predict: the public's reaction. In the end the silence and concentration that held sway at the concerts were valued much more highly by the performing musicians than the usual concert-hall atmosphere. 

Three Lessons From Arvo Pärt

For a single week three houses of worship were transformed into unusual symphony halls. Fans of contemporary music were not the only ones drawn to hear the music of Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer awarded this year's "Person Of The Borderland" title by the Borderland Foundation of Sejny. Some 5,000 people attended the musical events that took place in the Catholic basilica and White Synagogue in Sejny, and in St. Alexander's Cathedral in Suwalki. Yet music was not the only radiating presence - encounters with the Master and his work were also a great lesson in humility.

A Lesson In Humility

"You have made me a borderlander, and so a person guarding a border. There are different borders: the visible ones created by people and limiting freedom of movement. There also invisible borders: these are dangerous and should not be crossed. Sacred borders, they are inscribed in our souls," spoke Arvo Pärt during the honorary ceremony on November 8 in the Sejny synagogue.

Arvo Pärt is a modest person. He was surprised and deeply affected both by the "Dedications" concert consisting of works specially written for him by young composers from Poland, Estonia, Ukraine, Germany, and by the triad bell presented to him in Sejny, and by the many requests for his autograph. It may be a truism to say that such a demeanour stemmed from the composer's sense of spirituality, but it is very true nonetheless. During this week he invited us to a world of (his) spiritual experiences, which included the overwhelming Miserere, and the ascetic, deeply moving Für Alina, a 2-minute composition from 1976 which marked the beginning of his later works, all of them to be characterized by the tintinnabuli style. The composer once spoke of the two melodic lines in this work thus: "They are like the paths of two people which converged once, but not later on."

A Lesson In Mastery

The best interpreters of Pärt's music came to Sejny and Suwalki, outstanding musicians, for many legendary: the Hilliard Ensemble, regarded as one of the world's best chamber groups, and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, directed for over 40 years by their founder Saulius Sondeckis, who led them in concerts in Sejny and Bialystok; choirs - Gloria from Lviv, and Jauna Muzika ( Music) from Vilnius; and the best Polish musicians, including the Chamber Orchestra Wratislavia from Wroclaw under the direction of Jan Stanienda. It is said of Pärt's music that "it is so simple as to be unbelievably difficult," that it is "music of silence." The events of this week revealed something else as well: the musicians' virtuosity together with the public's concentration is no matter of simple addition. Those who were there know this very well.

A Lesson In "The New"

The great potential of the audiences and the deep impression left by the recent musical events need to be looked after. Once the events had ended, the members of the Borderland Centre stated, "From now on nothing will be the same." For the next two years they have taken on the task of making the works and person of the Estonian composer more widely known. Perhaps room will be found in this plan too for continued work by the International Youth Orchestra "Fratres", formed specially for the occasion of granting Arvo Pärt the title "Person Of The Borderland," perhaps something difficult to specify at this point in time....

Agnieszka Szyszko

translated from the Polish by Mark Klus,

with thanks to the Agnieszka Szyszko and Krzysztof Czyzewski

PÄRT'S LESSONS by Agnieszka Szyszko (Tygodnik Suwalski (Suwalki Weekly), nr 47, 18.XI.2003)


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