Suddenly, there are Estonian composers where there were none before. The past
few years have seen the emergence of Estonia’s Arvo Part, whose quiet,
mystical compositions have won a large following. As Wednesday night’s County
Museum concert by the California EAR Unit suggested, Part is not the only man
of his country worth our attention.
The concert included Part’s best-known work, “Fratres,” an 11-minute, slowly
unfolding exploration of a single fragment of melody, repeated over and over
with a rhapsodic line taking flight above it. The work exists in many scorings;
here it has also been played by the Philharmonic and by the Kronos Quartet. At
the EAR Unit concert the performers were violinist Robin Lorentz and pianist
Vicki Ray. In any scoring, the work exerts its magic.
So did the evening’s other Estonian work, Errki-Sven Tuur’s [*] yes that’s the
way it’s spelled [F/L] “Architectonics III,” subtitled “Post Meta-minimal
Dream.” Unlike his countryman Part, who has emigrated to the West, Tuur (born
in 1959) remains in Estonia. “Architectonics III” is a striking work, 15-or-
so minutes of dazzling instrumental writing, somewhat touched by the style of
American minimalism, but also rhapsodic in a way that reveals the composer’s
exotic origins. Cold, glistening and exhilarating, the work nurtures a
listener’s desire to hear more from this remarkable composer.
The Estonian works were the program highlights; a thoroughly American work,
Michael McCandless’ “Against Nature” was not far behind. A charter member of
the EAR Unit at its founding in 1980, McCandless has since defected to the New
York area. His work, claims descent from “Against the Grain,” the famous
Huysmanns novel about non-conformity, and it might even be that the form of
this work — in which a long lyric line for clarinet seems to thread its way
through opposing forces from the rest of the ensemble — owes something to the
That possibility aside, this is an attractive piece, strong and compelling. An
editor’s hand might help near the end; the composer seems to pass through a
number of logical stopping-places before finding the one that suits his fancy.
But the music was tidiness personified compared to the two other works on the
program: Greg Fish’s garrulous, unmannered “The Powers that Be,” and Mary C.
Wright’s self-consciously jazzy “He Don’t Care.”
Win a few lose a few; the collective skills of this attractive group of young
new-music wizards is, and was, never less than rewarding.