Tuesday afternoon, people lined in their dozens around John F. Kennedy Centre, Washington. An hour and a half ere the event was due to start, fans braved the blazing sun for a free ticket to a concert by Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra performing works of world famed Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
Before the concert ever kicked into gear, as the 2,400 gathered learned of the composer seated in their midst, their welcoming roar was altogether deafening. Thus, the modest and limelight-shy Arvo Pärt couldn’t help but stand for a second and do a timid wave.
After the event, Mr Pärt confessed to be deeply touched by the warm reception. «The attention. The quiet during the concert. The best of our musicians gathered again, to my surprise... it was a rare rendering,» he said in his own quiet way, underlining each word uttered. «We have a lot of work to do here. We have three major concerts yet to come. We hope we will make it and carry it to the finish line. Thanks for all who put such big events on their agendas, and up to now it has really been an unforeseen success.»
The hour and a half concert ended with a thunderous applause nearing the five minute mark. Only when absolutely convinced that Mr Pärt would not be popping up any more, on the platform, the overjoyed audience poured out of the hall.
Tõnu Kaljuste, the conductor, compared the final chords to a goal in ice hockey. «They sprang to their feet as one. One could feel it was quite an experience, for them. Deeply touching to behold.»
T’was a motley crew that gathered to the hall – Estonians abroad in their folk costumes, the shorts and T-shirt guys, the black dress high heeled ladies boasting pearls. All united by dedication and desire to partake of Mr Pärt’s music.
The public at Kennedy Centre’s Millennium series was not a random pick. For instance: a grey headed gentleman in a grey suit, lost in the wonder of the music, must not have been aware he was also «conducting» the opening piece, «Fratres».
Even the tiniest of the listeners, about three years of age, had something on offer. My eye caught two little ones, seated in daddy’s lap; during the second work performed, called «Adam’s Lament», they were clinging tight to his neck. As the piece drew to its end, their grip had weakened and, trusting the embrace of the music, the children were sound asleep.
Seated in the box opposite the platform, Arvo Pärt listened to the concert, also including his homage to Benjamin Britten and «Te Deum», is his unmistakable posture – hands joined as if praying, he only stuck them behind his ears at the most sensitive moments, to better catch each note.
As admitted by Tõnu Kaljuste, in a large hall like the Kennedy Centre’s, rather meant for a large symphony orchestra, performing with two «chambers» was complex, when it came to keeping the intensity and the large crowd. «It’s the hardest to keep peak attention with the quieter music, such as takes much focus,» explained Mr Kaljuste.
According to Mr Kaljuste, one needs to go to America regularly, like every four-five years, as the US public is excellent to charge the batteries. «Their reception and the entire support towards musicians, it enormous. You always feel the support.»
The choir and orchestra tour is to continue: today, a concert is held at Phillips Collection Museum, Washington. Tomorrow, they’ll perform at the renowned Carnegie Hall of New York, and on June 2nd the chamber choir sings at Metropolitan Art Museum. Arvo Pärt will sit in each of the events.
The journalist’s journey was financed by culture ministry and Arvo Pärt Centre.