Age Veeroos

Age Veeroos – Külmking (World Première)

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It’s nice, sometimes, when a composition isn’t concerned with layers of complexity and subtext, but instead focuses on a single idea. So as the days grow increasingly cold (here in the UK, at least), it seems an ideal time to explore one of Age Veeroos‘ latest works, the title of which, Külmking, translates as “chills”. It was written for one of my favourite ensembles, Una Corda, an Estonian trio comprising harp (Liis Viira), harpsichord (Ene Nael) and kannel (Kristi Mühling). Playing together, these instruments make for a heady, even an opulent combination, but in Külmking they create an altogether different musical environment.

In essence, it’s an onomatopoeic music, manifesting both the source and the effect of the chills. This is primarily articulated in two highly contrasting kinds of material: clear, repeating notes and vague chords that more often than not are packed into tight, reverberant clusters. Veeroos uses these materials to generate considerable tension and drama. The former often bring about a kind of pressurised poise, the repeating notes not so much progressing the narrative as doing the opposite, staying put, actively fearful of pushing ahead. The latter provide release but not relief, increasingly wild bursts of discharged noise, the chords – regardless which instrument they’re on – detonating like small cluster bombs. Read more

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World Music Days 2019, Estonia (Part 3)

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This year’s World Music Days featured a substantial amount of music involving electronics. That being said, relatively few of the fixed media works made as strong an impression as those combining electronics with acoustic instruments. A notable exception was Marianna Liik‘s Mets [Forest], one of several pieces during the festival that, due to the organisers’ need to cram in such a large number of works, ended up being shoe-horned into incongruous contexts. Liik found her music bizarrely serving as the overture to an afternoon of wind and brass music (the previously-discussed concert given by the Estonian Police and Border Guard Orchestra), yet while it took far too many members of the audience far too long to realise the piece had even started – prompting a member of festival staff to eventually stand up and silently shush them(!) – nothing could detract from its evocative power. Beginning from tiny snufflings and shufflings, conjuring up imaginary ‘creatures’ lurking throughout the space, Liik combined these with longer, sustained pitches that sounded vocalised yet seemed almost like an incidental consequence of wind blowing. Kept at something of a distance for most of its duration, Mets built to a hugely overwhelming climax that demonstrated how much potential energy had been locked away, just waiting to be released. Read more

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Estonian Music Days 2018 (Part 1)

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A few days ago i returned from spending a week in the city of Tallinn, experiencing most of this year’s Eesti Muusika Päevad, the Estonian Music Days, the country’s most important festival devoted to contemporary music. In previous years i’ve commented on the perception that what one hears during EMD often seems remarkably removed from the conventions and traditions that we associate with new music in western Europe, and in tandem with this, that the development of Estonian contemporary music can appear to have taken place – and, to an extent, continue to be exercised – in a kind of hermetically-sealed bubble. As my understanding and appreciation of this music has deepened, i’ve come to realise there’s both truth and falsehood in these perceptions, but to say that the situation is a complex one – due to a tangled mixture of political, geographical and cultural elements – is to put it extremely mildly.

For the last three years the artistic directors of EMD, composers Helena Tulve and Timo Steiner, have chosen an annual theme for the festival, which is deliberately pithy and allusive in order not to be too prescriptive and to allow composers and audiences the widest possible scope for interpretation (to date: ‘abundance’ in 2015, ‘green sound?’ in 2016 and ‘through dimness’ last year). For 2018 the theme was püha, the Estonian word for ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’, and this point of reference could be felt as a constant through pretty much every concert, though continually provoking a need for reassessment of what that word means and implies, and from much more than just a musical perspective. Read more

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