(TORONTO, ON) – On February 2, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performed at the historic St Paul’s Basilica in Toronto, completing the group’s 5th performance in Canada. Considering the songs were of religious bent, the venue was perfect.
The performance was presented by the agile and dynamic Soundstreams, which is never shy about its choice of venue and program.
The evening opened up inappropriately with the singing of both the Estonian and Canadian national anthems. The national anthem of any country is a sad attempt at patriotism, whether it be at a church as a place of worship, peace, and tranquility, or at a sporting event, where roaring jets overhead confuse patriotism with militarism.
After recovering from this misguided gaffe, matters got back to business with Sergei Rachmaninov’s The Theotokos, Ever Vigilant in Prayer (1915). If you have ever doubted the power of choral music, this number was slow paced, tragic, haunting, and melodic, all with a razor sharp intermingling of both male and female voices.
It was replete with deep solemnity and quiet intensity.
The other highlight of the evening was Riho Esko Maimets’ Three Prayers from the Holy Rosary (2016). What made this special was that Maimets was born in Toronto and educated here as well as in Philadelphia and Estonia.
Maimets visited churches and synagogues and spoke with clergy to get a better idea how to formulate this composition. He seemed to lament that Christianity has lost its meditative and contemplative characteristics.
“For a long time now I have been drawn to religion, the older forms of Christianity more specifically, as a source of spiritual vocabulary,” Maimets said. “There are scholars who lament the decline of contemplative religion and who maintain that like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism, Christianity provides a rich tradition of meditation, which has gradually been sidelined over the course of the last several centuries. This piece is a setting of the first three prayers from the Holy Rosary. Each bead of the Rosary corresponds to a prayer which is then meditated upon in silence and solitude.”
Maimets’ composition induced a brief meditative spurt on me, so it must have had its intended effect. And it impressed the audience who gave it an enthusiastic standing ovation.
The slow, melodic, contemplative, and so very sad piece was astounding.
After Maimets’ piece, the choir continued to dazzle, displaying various singing styles including tragic, contemplative, and even jazzy and upbeat. It was an evening of technical perfection including the rarest of rare; technical perfection that elicits emotion in the listener.
Although the choir is on a North American tour, there are no further stops planned for Canada. What a shame.