Songs of glory from Estonia

Songs of glory from Estonia
The 30-strong ensemble has been nominated for the 2014 Grammy in the Best Choir Performance category.

SINGAPORE - Even before Estonia was an independent nation, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir made the world sit up and pay attention to the country's unique music and composers.

The award-winning 30-strong ensemble performs at the Esplanade Concert Hall this Friday, singing the melodies of Estonians Arvo Part and Veljo Tormis, as well as music from Debussy, Brahms and Bach.

The concert is part of the Esplanade's inaugural festival of a capella music, Voices - A Festival Of Song, which runs from Friday to Sunday.

"A capella is the most important style in music," says the choir's founder and honorary conductor Tonu Kaljuste (left), 60, in a telephone interview from his home in Tallinn, Estonia.

He believes the vocal style deserves to be preserved, just like the art of Swiss clockwork.

"If everything is digital, they forget the thinking, the mechanics behind it. A capella is the same, it's the mechanics of the human voice."

For Estonians like him, the choir is also an important symbol of national identity.

"It was politically important, the reason why I made the choir; also professional," he says. "I believed that Estonian culture was of good quality but for the world it wasn't clear what was different between Estonian and Russian culture. They are two completely different cultures."

Kaljuste founded the choir in 1981, while Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and had its history and culture suppressed in favour of Russia's. It would take another 10 years before the country formally declared independence, spurred by a mass movement in which protesters assembled in large numbers to sing Estonian music.

Among the first Estonian composers the choir worked with was the notable Part. The group took his work, and other Estonian music, to international festivals such as the Salzburg Festival and Edinburgh International Festival, as well as performing at the BBC Proms.

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