Between Riga, Tallinn, and “Tenso”. Kaspars Putniņš

Between Riga, Tallinn, and “Tenso”. Kaspars Putniņš
Kaspars Garda, Riga 2014 . Choir conductor Kaspars Putniņš
Una Griškeviča
“We are very pleased that it is the audiovisual performance “Brightness. The Series” by “Tenso” Europe Chamber Choir that opens the week of “Tenso” Days Riga, and that we have been able to bring together some of the greatest colleagues we have – such choirs and ensembles that today set new benchmarks for the quality of choral singing as an art,” choir conductor Kaspars Putniņš tells the “Riga 2014” culture portal as we meet a week before the opening of “Tenso” Days Riga 2014. Right after the “Tenso” Days, he and his new ensemble, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, will go on a tour of China.

Commenting on the concerts, the conductor emphasises that this is also the aim of the “Tenso” association – to co-operate in order to bring the best choirs together and acquaint the local audiences with choir singing traditions in other countries. Kaspars Putniņš also reminds us that “Tenso” Days Riga will open already on the 17th of October, featuring choirs from France, Denmark and Germany that will perform in Sigulda, Cēsis, and Ventspils.

As for the audiovisual performance “Brightness. The Series”, which will open “Tenso” Days Riga, Kaspars says proudly that an outstanding creative group worked on the performance: “For instance, composer Kristaps Pētersons this time not only composed new music, but also compiled works by other composers: something from Max Reger, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. In other words, it is the sound of a German choir of the end of the 19th – start of the 20th century – very traditional, very classical and, of course, of very high quality.” Kaspars Putniņš goes on to say that during this project, “Tenso” Chamber Choir will become an object of experiments, a tool for exploring various options and opportunities, adding that Latvian Radio Choir is also always involved in all kinds of musical experiments.

“That is why we want to help the young singers of “Tenso” Europe Choir to discover this kitchen and become participants in one such experiment. When the choir was at the summer school in Latvia, we prepared one normal a cappella concert programme, which we performed in Sigulda and Riga, as well as during a little tour of other cities in Europe. But the “Brightness” series is a project where the choir can prove itself in a different musical niche.

Here I probably need to explain that “Tenso” Chamber Choir is a two-in-one choir as we are trying to create a group that is changeable and yet possesses a unique identity, style, and principles of performance, and will hopefully find itself a place at the international music scene in the future. On the other hand, this is an educational project. The young people who participate in the project are either students or have just graduated, looking for opportunities to work professionally in the realm of professional choirs and ensembles. Hence this excellent chance for them to try it and meet young people from other countries, as this year representatives from eleven countries sing in the choir.” Kaspars smiles and says he still remembers himself as a student and graduate, emphasising that such “brief injections” were tremendously important: “They can generate such impulses and such discoveries whose development in the hearts and minds of young people are impossible to predict, but which can be of a very great importance.” This, too, is one of the reasons why the ensemble will always be changing, says Kaspars – at least thirty percent of choir members have to be replaced every year, although continuity has to be maintained.

Kaspars Putniņš goes back to “Brightness. The Series” performance, saying that it will deal with TV series as a form of art. “Couple years ago, we would shrug it off, but TV series in the contemporary world of audiovisual art are actually playing an increasingly important role. Furthermore, many of these series are actually of very high quality.” That said, the conductor also notes that TV series are a very unusual phenomenon as they should rather be considered surrogate lives, when we are involved in a life invented and brought about by an author. In addition, a TV series differs from classical art forms that usually have a beginning and an end. “In essence, it is a process that, to some extent, plays with reality and the easily-recognisable clichés that reach out to us, in which we can recognise ourselves in certain situations.” The series of Kaspars Putniņš and “Tenso” Chamber Choir, on the other hand, is not following some specific scenario, but there are situations created by the various relationships within the choir – they are free and ambiguous enough for every viewer and listener to create a story for themselves.

“Of course, “The Series” has a theme – our memories. It was Kristaps Pētersons’ idea as he wanted to talk about the phenomenon of people always remembering the most important things in their life,” Kaspars Putniņš tells us. “We may believe that the memories do not change, but if we really try to analyse our memories in an objective manner, we will see that the memories in our consciousness are in a kind of a thinned-out environment – crystal-clear, bright, thinned-out air. For this reason, “Brightness” was chosen as the title of the series.”

All of that will be performed on the stage – both via music and with the help of various on-stage activities. “This past July, during the choir’s summer school, and last year the choir both times had excellent co-operation with stage director Zane Kreicberga. She is a fantastic colleague and a highly skilled professional, as she can feel the very subtle details of how things develop and evolve, how the material grows on the participants, and find the most organic way to support and supervise the process until completion.” Given that the choir is made up of young people from eleven different countries, the performance will be in English. “I have to say though that, in some parts of the performance, texts by the great German philosophers will be read out, but that’s about all I want to say about it right now. I’d like people to come and see themselves what we have created!” There is a hint of mystery to Kaspars’ smile as he says that, at the moment, it seems that the performance will be staged just once. “Originally we had great plans, but now… We have to finish the work to see where it will take us. So far, every member of the team, including the choir singers, worked separately on the material. We will now come together and see each other in person.”

Kaspars Putniņš reminds us that in the future, “Tenso” Chamber Choir will continue to work the same way as now, preparing two musical projects – an a cappella programme plus something else: either a concert of avant-garde music, or a collaboration with musicians who play a different kind of music – rock music, electronic music, etc. “This is an international project run with money from the European funds, therefore the choir will work in some other European country. But I’m very happy and pleased that the idea for the choir had come from Latvia, and this is where the choir began. And we have a lot of ideas how to continue all this.”

We ask the conductor to tell us about his part in other concerts of “Tenso” Days Riga, and he reveals that he is also involved in one rather unusual project. “On the 21st of October, we will have a workshop or master class – an open rehearsal of one of our new projects that we are working on together with the “Sarband” ensemble. The ensemble’s line-up is different every time, depending on a given project, but all these musicians come from the nearer or farther parts of the Eastern world.” This time, the ensemble will include a Turkish singer, a Jordanian musician who currently lives in Germany and plays an instrument similar to the kokle, a Greek musician who plays a predecessor of the violin – a small instrument with a tone that resembles human voice, and Vladimir Ivanoff, Bulgarian ethnomusicologist and academician who lives in Germany – the founder of “Sarband” who plays percussion instruments.

“Together with this ensemble, the Radio Choir is working on a programme with texts from the Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon, whereas music for the programme is being written by six composers, including Mārtiņš Viļums and Santa Ratniece.”

The programme will have its premiere at the Sacred Music Festival in Oslo next March, therefore the concert on the 21st of October, where the musicians will meet for the third time, will be an unusual and exclusive opportunity for concertgoers to see a concert programme in the making. Of course, the audience will be briefed about the project to make it all the more interesting, says Kaspars.

As for his work with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (Kaspars has been conducting the choir since the beginning of the autumn – ed.), the conductor tells us: “This is my first autumn in Tallinn, and together with the choir we have just prepared our first programme, which was presented to the public at the end of September. At the moment, we are working on two more programmes, which are in different stages of development, and once “Tenso” Days are over I and the Tallinn choir will go on a tour of China. I’m really going through a very interesting and exciting time in my life!” Kaspars says that he will find time for the Latvian Radio Choir, too, and hastens to add that he has been working as a guest conductor for the past fifteen years, which has been a very important part of his life. “Clearly, there’ll be less running around, and my work with other musical ensembles will be very selective, as I will prefer those that I have worked with for a long time, and progressively,” says Kaspars Putniņš.

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