A Tree – New composition for two choirs and two conductors

In the next programme,  Man was here, Venus will perform a new piece for chamber choir. Fascinated by the character of her compositions, Venus has asked Evelin Seppar (Tallinn, Estland) to write a new piece for two conductors. Member of Venus, Hans Noijens, a conductor himself talked to her about the preparations for this piece.

Interview: Hans Noijens  Editing: Jenny Houtgraaf, Bram Verkerke

What made you become a composer?

When my sister and I were very young we both attended music school and played the piano. After some time I came to the conclusion that this way of making music didn’t suit me and I began to try my hand at composing. At the age of 15 I started taking composition lessons, which opened up a whole new world for me: I loved it from the very first moment. I also sang in a choir at this music school and when I left the school and went to the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre I started my own choir with a group of friends (mostly composers and conductors). Vocal music and the human voice attracted me increasingly. The choir as a musical instrument is just magical and is my absolute favourite.

Foto: Evelin Seppar door Tiina Talts

How does a piece such as A tree take shape in your creative brain?

Krista Audere asked me to write this composition and asked whether I could compose the piece for two choirs and two conductors – and to involve Lodewijk van der Ree (conductor, former member of Venus and Evelin’s partner, ed.). Initially it was difficult to imagine how it would work: for the conductors, for the two choirs and of course for the audience. This was quite a challenge and I really had my struggles and moments of doubt as to how I could make it work. But eventually the idea grew within me. To learn how to compose a piece of music in two different tempi was rewarding: I like challenges and enjoy learning new things. The text was actually a ‘remnant’ from the piece that I composed for the Nederlands Kamerkoor in 2016 (Cities). It’s made from excerpts of poetry from Vasko Popa (1922-1991) and Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) and it’s about two different worlds, two different views of a tree. This fitted quite well with the idea of two choirs singing in different characters and tempi.

Evelin Seppar 3 by Lodewijk van der Ree (2)
Foto: Lodewijk van der Ree

How do your compositions fit within the tradition of vocal music in Estonia and the Baltic States?

Of course by living in Estonia and being a part of the vocal music tradition I’m influenced by it to some extent. I think the current new music scene here is quite varied, like everywhere in the world, so everyone has the opportunity to find their own place. More important than following a particular style or technique is to express oneself sincerely and genuinely. Of course there are some trends in vocal music, such as the music of Rihards Dubra or Eriks Ešenvalds: I see these musicians as similar to Eric Whitacre. I guess I feel more connected to Veljo Tormis and Arvo Pärt than to Dubra or Ešenvalds but that’s simply a matter of taste.

To me as a composer the most important thing is to keep my musical ideas as clear as possible, using the least resources. I look up to composers who can do that and remain playful and have an immense amount of fantasy, such as Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen for example. To me music is an art, which on rare and precious moments can move me to tears, help me escape from daily life, resulting in me losing track of time and sense of myself. It can be pure magic. I hope one day I’ll be capable of writing music like that.

For more information about Evelin click here.

For more information about the concert programme Man was here  click here.

Libretto, A tree: Compiled by Evelin Seppar from the poetry of Vasko Popa and Czesław Miłosz.

Tekst 1 (Vasko Popa) Tekst 2 (Czesław Miłosz)
I remembered where to turn but did not recognize the river.
Its color like that of reddish automobile oil,
no rushes and no lily pads.
They’re widening the street
clogged with traffic
they’re felling the poplars.
The bulldozers take a run-up
and with a single blow
knock down the trees.
One poplar just trembled
withstood the iron.
The bulldozer pulls back from her
prepares for the final charge.
In the huddle of passers-by
there’s an elderly man.
He takes his hat off to the poplar
waves his umbrella at her.
Don’t give in love.
Evening comes
I am walking here, now, before I am replaced in my turn.
Machines up above, the rumble of métro below.
The city lights up.
The nights are running out of darkness.
The river flows through a forest of oak and pine
I stand in grass up to my waist,
Breathing in the wild scent of yellow flowers.
Above, white clouds.
A tree
A green-eyed tree
It breathes and so it feeds
An anaemic star
You do not recognize me, but it’s me all the same,
You grew large, your shade is huge
I rejoice at seeing you, magical as always.
O the quiet of water under the rocks, and the yellow silence of the
afternoon, and the flat white clouds reflected.

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