Nuku Koor concert
On Friday evening, February 26, 2016 the Nuku Koor, from Tallinn, Estonia, performed to a full house at the Estonian Lutheran Church in Montreal. The concert, organized by the Montreal Estonian Society, in conjunction with the Estonian Embassy in Ottawa and with the support of the Estonian Foundation of Canada, commemorated the 98th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. Prior performances took place in Toronto and Ottawa.
The choir’s conductor, Reeda Toots-Kreen, is the former music director of the Nuku Theatre and that is where they rehearse, hence the name for the choir. She is assisted by Saale Kreen and Jaanus Väljaots. The members of Nuku Koor are mostly young adults, musicians, choristers and actors, many of who have been associated with the Nuku (puppet) Theatre and their productions over the years.
The Nuku Koor elevated the choir performance to a new level through the dramatic use of movement, dance, wardrobe transformations, masks and expressive nuances. This is what makes the choir different from the roughly 1,000 other choirs in Estonia. This theatricality is not unlike the way choirs were employed in ancient Greek tragedies. Clearly the puppet theatre has been a significant influence in their presentation.
Of course, the singing was the main focus of this concert. Clarity of diction, rhythmic exactitude, complex harmonies and the careful blending of voices were unquestionably evident and performed at a very high level. Moreover, most of the music was presented from memory, not an easy feat for most choirs. The all Estonian repertoire featured well-known composers. Tormis’ hauntingly familiar 13 Lüürilist rahvalaulu was the opening number, followed with pieces by Pärt, Mägi, Kõrvits and others, as well as several up and coming younger composers. Krööt-Kärt Kaev (Ave Maria) is someone to keep in mind.
During a brief intermission, Reeda Toots spoke with warmth and passion of the importance of song in Estonia. She was then joined by her actor-husband, Toomas Kreen, who recited an Estonian poem, Sünnipäev, by Hando Runnel, which she translated into English on the spot. The audience was moved by both the poetry and the artistic honesty of this couple’s interaction.
One composer’s music stood out from the rest. Siim Aimla is a classically trained jazz musician, big band leader, choir conductor and teacher. He is also the son of Priit Aimla, the well-known Estonian humorist, playwright and political activist. Siim Aimla’s music encompasses arrangements of simple folk tunes and traditional Estonian choir music re-envisioned, humorous original works utilizing jazz harmonies and pieces that are more serious and sublime. His Soome Lahe Kaldal (On The Shore of the Gulf of Finland), would tax the abilities of the best choirs, not to mention its dance sequence.
One of the last pieces performed was Ülo Vinter’s Põhjamaa (Song of the Northern Land), originally composed for an Estonian musical adaptation of Pippi Longstocking. This song has been performed at virtually every Estonian Song Festival in recent memory. Both Põhjamaa and Mu isamaa on minu arm (composed by Gustav Ernesaks to lyrics by Lydia Koidula), have been proposed as a replacement national anthem for the Republic of Estonia. Their rendition of the former brought tears to many Estonians in the audience.
After several standing ovations, a reception followed the concert in the church hall, where everyone was able to meet and talk with the singers. The choir generously performed a few more Estonian songs and everyone who could, joined in and sang along. A truly memorable evening for all.
Prior to the concert beginning, a special ceremony was held to honour Kersti Leetmaa. On behalf of the Estonian Central Council in Canada, Kersti was presented with their ‘Teenetemärk’ (Medal of Merit) for her untiring and many-faceted contributions to the Estonian community in Montreal and at Lättemäe.
Karl J. Raudsepp