Veljo Tormis’s Finno-Ugric music to be performed at the Paris Philharmonic

Estonian conductor Ingrid Roose and the Paris Orchestra Choir bring Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’s choral work, “Forgotten Peoples”, to the Paris Philharmonic concert hall on 14 March.

“Forgotten Peoples”, consisting of six cycles, is considered a masterpiece of Tormis’s choral work. Three parts of the cycle – “Izhorian Epic”, “Votic Wedding Songs” and “Ingrian Evenings” – will reach the French audience. During the performance, there will be as many as 80 French choir singers on the stage singing in the languages of the Votic, Izhorian and Ingrian peoples.

The Paris Philharmonic said on the event page that Tormis’s “Forgotten Peoples” project has a dual aim, both cultural and ecological – accompanied by projected images, it seeks to evoke the little-known or forgotten Finno-Ugric landscapes and peoples. “Guided by a magician of sound and voice, we discover the Lives, the Votes, the Izhorians, the Ingrians, the Veps, the Carelians, and their sometimes pastoral, sometimes tragic histories,” the prestigious French concert space said.

Collegium Musicale performing “Hällilaul”, one of the songs of Veljo Tormis’s “Forgotten Peoples” song cycles.

Introducing Estonian choral music in France

Ingrid Roose, who in 2022 started working as a choirmaster of the Paris Orchestra Choir, said it was her aim straight away to introduce Estonia’s choral music to the French audiences.

“When I started working in Paris, I knew right away that I wanted to introduce our rich choral music. Performing Tormis’s ‘Forgotten Peoples’ in Paris was one of the first ideas I proposed, and it was immediately approved,” she said in a statement.

“The Finno-Ugric culture and people are still waiting to be discovered in France and there is great interest in it. Repetitive motifs in both text and music have a meditative effect, and the traditional content connects us to a time thousands of years ago. For the choir, this cycle is a very special experience in addition to the classical large-form repertoire, and they are fascinated by it.”

Ingrid Roose. Photo by Mait Jüriado.

Alyona Movko-Mägi, an Estonian artist, created a video and lighting design for the concert that conveys Finno-Ugric culture and traditions.

“When creating the video design, I was focusing on how the Finno-Ugric people are presented in Estonian visual culture. The audience will experience both sonically and visually special and peculiar world view of the ancient peoples. To create the animation, I used Kaljo Põllu’s graphic elements, which accompany the cycle of ‘Izhorian Epic’. ‘Votic Wedding Songs’ and ‘Ingrian Evenings’ are accompanied by visuals created on the basis of material from the Estonian film archive and selected frames from Lennart Meri’s films,” Movko-Mägi said in a statement.

“The extensive visual language of Finno-Ugric mythology, symbolism and folk costumes has inspired me a lot lately. The interesting architecture of the Paris Philharmonic Hall sparked the idea of using video mapping at the concert. This will create a special atmosphere and melt the audience into Tormis’s composition,” she added.

One of the greatest choral music writers

Veljo Tormis (1930-2017), internationally regarded as one of the greatest choral music writers in the modern era, was one of the most important composers of the 20th century in Estonia.

He created a choral tradition of his own, the unique “Tormis’ style”. From his student days until his retirement from composition in 2000, Tormis composed over 500 individual choral songs, as well as other vocal and instrumental pieces, 35 film scores and an opera.

Veljo Tormis at the Estonia concert hall in 1998. Photo by Tõnu Tormis.

The state of the art concert hall of the Philharmonie de Paris opened in 2015 with a performance by the Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi.

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