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Arvo PärtLitany

World première recordings of Litany, Psalom, and Trisagion, made with the participation of the composer, comprise Arvo Pärt's first New Series album in three years.The text of Litany is derived from the prayers of St John Chrysostum for each hour of the day and night. These 24 brief prayers, first offered up by the hermit who became Patriarch of Constantinople in 398 (and who is best-known as the author of the liturgy now at the heart of the Russian orthodox service) are heard here as a series of invocations and responses. Each prayer, each plea, begins with the words "O Lord", variously intoned by the chorus - in this instance the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - and the soloists, members of the Hilliard Ensemble.London Times music critic Hilary Finch was present at the first performance of Litany in Oregon in 1994 (the piece was commissioned by the 25th Oregon Bach Festival, and is dedicated to the festival and to its artistic director, Helmuth Rilling) and filed the following report:"A two-note figure in divided violins introduces the work. 'O Lord of thy heavenly bounties deprive me not. O Lord, deliver me from the eternal torments.' The lines descend through the four solo voices, each time haloed by the chorus's sustained invocation and brushed by the spare orchestral texture. Five [bell] strokes signal the fifth prayer, as rhythmic and harmonic activity intensify only to arch back again to a quiet 'Amen.' (...) With a masterstroke which epitomises Pärt's distilled and rarified musical thinking, the work ends with a plangent countertenor cry as, a sudden bare octave apart, the voices intone a blessing 'unto the ages'."At a composition seminar at the Bach Festival, Pärt informed students that he had been familiar with the words embodied in Litany "for approximately twenty years. And I have always had a wish to find some kind of musical resolution for this text. And now, starting in November [of 1993], I was dealing with it."Although Pärt's music has found a very broad and appreciative public response in the 12 years since the ECM New Series was initiated to launch Tabula Rasa, reactions to performances of Litany have been exceptional by any standards. In Oregon, the ovation that greeted the first performance was, in the words of Helmuth Rilling, "unheard of", the veteran conductor insisting he had "never seen a première received with such enthusiasm." The work has continued to make a powerful impact on its listeners, as long-term Pärt associate Tõnu Kaljuste (refer to New Series recordings of the Te Deum, Silouans Song, Magnificat, and Berliner Messe) has assumed the conductor's role in the course of performances with the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. As with each of Pärt's ECM projects, Litany was allowed to change and to settle, as it were, to undergo a natural metamorphosis through concert performances until its composer and producer felt it ready to be transferred to disc. Arvo Pärt: "There is a kind of feeling of relief when I am pleased with a recording - a release of the piece from myself - the piece is now set free". Pärt elaborated on his feelings about recordings following the Litany première in Oregon:"I have had a great opportunity to make recordings according to my natural musical breathing. As an example, before we recorded Passio, we had thirty live performances and for most of those performances the people from ECM were there. We were looking for a sound and the right space to record. In contrast with another big name company where my work was sight-read and two cuts were taken and not even listened to. Can you understand how cosmic the difference is - not only for the recording, but for the soul of the composer'"Psalom and Trisagion are played by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under Saulius Sondeckis, whose pioneering interpretation of Tabula Rasa (ECM New Series 1275) gave early notice of the singularity of Pärt's musical vision. Trisagion, too, although purely instrumental, takes its inspirational impetus from the work of John Chrysostum, and is named for the "thrice holy" call in the frequent introductory prayers of the Eastern Church. The instrumental miniature Psalom, originally written for string quartet in 1985 and revised for string orchestra, is similarly inspired by the text of Psalm 113, "Praise ye the Lord, O ye servants of the Lord".The religious references are not to be gainsaid - their importance for the composer is plain enough - but nor should they encourage listeners to make assumptions about Pärt's own inner life or "spirituality". Asked what role prayer plays in his work, he responds, "I've heard that Haydn spent 45 minutes composing and then had a pause for 15 minutes. And if nothing came out of his composing he was praying very hard for those 15 minutes. There is something very beautiful in this story - it has always fascinated me. But I myself haven't reached this yet. We need to have a special situation to be able to speak about prayer at all. Sometimes even priests in the church are not able to do this. We can't have small talk about this kind of thing..." He also brushes aside queries about time spent in a monastery while working on Litany: "I am not a prophet, not a cardinal, not a monk. I am not even a vegetarian. Don't be confused by cheap tabloid information. Of course I am in monasteries more often than in concert halls - but then again, you have no idea how many times I am in concert halls."In the secular world, Pärt's achievements were honoured in his 61st year by his election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Honorary membership in the Academy is reserved for 75 artists, writers and composers, not citizens of the United States, whose work is gratefully acknowledged by their American colleagues. From the laudation welcoming the Estonian composer to the Academy: "Often composing with no more than basic scales and broken triads Arvo Pärt has created a body of religious and secular music that simultaneously moves the heart and impresses itself on the mind through its purity of craftsmanship. A devout Orthodox Catholic, he has composed a Te Deum, Miserere, and his enormously moving Passio, among others. His secular works include Fratres and Cantus In Memory of Benjamin Britten. While totally maintaining his integrity he has nevertheless become one of the most frequently performed living composers."

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