Sound and light spectacle by Arvo Prrt, Robert Wilson debuts in Tallinn

The little Baltic country of Estonia (population 1.5 million) is so invested in the inspirational power of art — particularly their own art — that it is willing to sink a considerable portion of the annual budget into a major performing arts project intended to promote the country to the rest of the world.

On May 12, the world premiere of quotAdam’s Passion,quot a joint creation of Estonia’s esteemed composer Arvo Paumlrt and the American stage director-designer Robert Wilson, was unveiled to the international press and public in the Noblessner Foundry, a former shipbuilding factory on the Baltic Sea coast in Tallinn, the capital city.

The project is, in part, a vehicle to jump-start the country’s advance advertising for its 100-year celebration of their independence in 2018, when they won a pivotal battle against both Russian and German occupying forces. But aside from this commemoration, the project, a suite of four pieces by Paumlrt staged by Wilson (and featuring his long-time colleague, dancer Lucinda Childs), is a cause ceacutelegravebre in itself for its pairing of the two artistic giants.

For Estonia, their native son Paumlrt is big business: His international profile, at the age of 80 this year, is enough to fuel a considerable trajectory loaded with a still-active career of distinctive contemporary orchestral and choral music. Wilson, known for decades for his avant-garde theatrical creations around the globe, adds enough edgy eacuteclat to the product to foment animated discussion, pro and con.

Estonia’s Ministry of Culture and the local promoter Eesti Kontsert, together with Milan-based Change Performing Arts are the chief supporters. The artistic forces are the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and vocal soloists, all conducted by Paumlrt’s primary conductor (and founder of the two ensembles) Tonu Kaljuste, solo dancers Childs and Michalis Theophanous, a cadre of dancers and actors, and a directorial and design team.

Turkey as a vital source

At the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art’s annual music festival in 2010, Paumlrt was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his extraordinary oeuvre of striking and mystical minimalist compositions that use liturgical chant and mathematical modes as inspiration. Coupled with the award was a commission for a new work: quotAdam’s Lament,quot a joint project with the European Capitals of Culture in 2010 and 2011, in Istanbul and Tallinn, respectively.

quotAdam’s Lamentquot became the second movement (and thematically related centerpiece) for quotAdam’s Passion,quot which began with a newly composed quotSequentia,quot and concluded with two older works: quotTabula Rasaquot (1977) and quotMisererequot (1989/1992).

Turkey as a vital source of finding Adam’s universality was summed up by Paumlrt in 2010 prior to its premiere there: quotI had a wish that it would be connected in some way to Turkey. I researched and went back to our common forefather, Adam. His name carries our human history and at the same time represents each one of us. He marked the tragedy of mankind: By committing a sin, he lost the love of God. And he is still suffering.quot

As for the premiere in Tallinn, the overall arch, from the initial spare sonic signals given to us in the prelude to the final orchestral wrath and its somber aftermath of disconnected vocal sounds, painted an apocalyptic vision of a fateful trajectory from mankind’s first innocent steps to the omnipresent potential for a soulless denouement. Paumlrt is never without hope, though, the light that shines throughout his darkest musical clouds is always radiant Wilson’s minimalist symbols (many of which he has used for decades): the vertical-horizontal architecture drawn with light beams, ladders, a house and an upside-down tree give us a surreal grid on which to navigate. Large leafy tree branches, one atop Adam’s head at first, and then a forest of them appearing at the finale, suggest guileless earthly gifts offering tenuous salvation.

Child’s embodiment of Woman, a sage clad in a white sheath and an arched helmet of white hair, functioned seemingly like a GPS from outer space, warning Adam (Theophanous) with a few meaningful flicks of the wrist and one raised hand poised in a white spotlight. Theophanous’s Adam effectively executed a mesmerizing physical journey from a naked wonder in a new world to a clothed and clueless modern Everyman.

The only inelegant moments that marred the patina of wonder were two clown-like characters that danced a buffoonish duet behind the main characters, and two children appearing with cardboard rifles, perhaps for shock value. The continuously billowing stage smoke added atmosphere but choked much of the audience this feature should be modified for ticket-buyers’ comfort.

Wilson and lighting designer A.J. Weissbard created a spectacular light show that illuminated the textual aspects of the two choral pieces that use the Latin “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) and Russian words for “Adam’s Lament.” A slim catwalk perpendicular to the proscenium, trod by the solo dancers at the slowest possible speed, resulted in a dream-like quality. Most of the human action, lit by glistening white against horizontal blue and purple hues, was both perplexing and inspiring. In a culture that is hooked on speed and results, this was a challenge to watch without impatience.

On the other hand, it was during “Tabula Rasa” (Clean Slate), the orchestral piece with two violin soloists (Harry and Robert Traksmann), where the realization came that it was the observer’s mind that needed to write the script and imbue it with emotions and interpretations. Wilson’s vision, uniquely married to Paumlrt’s luminous musical essence, is a primeval, sculptural, and slow-motion dream — an ominous dream that cannot be forgotten.

“Adam’s Passion” is intended to tour internationally, accompanied by two documentaries by Accentus Music (Leipzig) to introduce Paumlrt and Wilson’s work around the globe. Istanbul is on the list.

Estonian composer Arvo Paumlrt

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman