New York Audience Set to Explore Authentic Regilaul as Used by Veljo Tormis

4 Mar 2024

Tõnu Tormis foto

Renowned globally for his choral compositions, Tormis drew extensively from traditional folk melodies, with a particular fascination for the ancient Estonian regilaul, which served as a vessel for oral folklore and communal musical expression.

“A composer's “voice” can be recognized in the sound of any important composer's music. A characteristic feature of Tormis's “voice” is his use of elements of the Estonian regilaul – within the music that is fundamentally in late 20th-century style. At Scandinavia House, American choral music enthusiasts may hear for the first time the sound of the ancient Estonian song by itself as well as its use by two Estonian musicians in their contemporary folk music,” says acclaimed author Mimi S. Daitz whose comprehensive book "Ancient Song Recovered: The Life and Music of Veljo Tormis" (2nd edition) will take center stage at Scandinavia House on April 7.

Celia Roose, renowned for her dedication to preserving Estonian singing traditions, enchants audiences with captivating performances on the bagpipes and garmoška (a wind instrument), accompanied by guitarist Ants Johanson, a member of the band Johansonid.

Ants Johanson, whose life has been profoundly influenced by the compositions of Veljo Tormis, asserts that the music inspired by Tormis's runic songs not only brings an exotic and thrilling experience alongside other cultures but also exemplifies how folklore, even when it no longer serves its original purpose, can remain vibrantly relevant as part of contemporary high culture.

Johanson reflects, "While Tormis's choral compositions inspired by regilaul songs have graced New York before, the ancient runic songs, sung along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea for approximately 2000 years, remain relatively unfamiliar in this bustling metropolis. Together with choir conductor and musician Celia Roose, we delve into both traditional songs and Tormis's creations, bridging cultures through music."

The Estonian community in New York, along with enthusiasts of Tormis's music, have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the enchanting melodies of Veljo Tormis by uniting to form a large choir.

Choir leader Celia Roose elaborates, "There is something primal inviting in Veljo Tormis's songs, so anyone can sing them themselves if they dare, his sound language is so simple and clever." The "Laulusumm" workshop, offering the essence of Tormis-style regilaul songs, will take place at Estonian House on April 6.

Adding depth to the experience on both days of the event, the short documentary "One & Only" will shed light on Veljo Tormis's profound impact on notable figures such as former Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid and composer Arvo Pärt.

Additionally, the digital photo exhibition "Isa Ise / Father Himself" by Tõnu Tormis, son of Veljo Tormis, provides a vivid glimpse into Veljo's persona from 1964-2000. "Tõnu Tormis is one of the few photographers with exceptionally vivid vision who can reliably recreate the character of the action depicted in his photographs," the exhibition was described by Prof. P. Linnap.

Veljo Tormis, internationally regarded as one of the greatest choral music composers of the modern era, left an indelible mark on Estonian cultural heritage. His unique "Tormis style" revolutionized choral music, comprising over 500 individual choral songs, vocal and instrumental pieces, film scores, and an opera.

The Tormis events anticipate audiences from the United States to join the celebration of Veljo Tormis's 95th anniversary in the composer’s birthplace in Kõrveaia, Estonia in 2025.

The events are co-organized in partnership with the Veljo Tormis Virtual Center, Estonian Ministry of Culture, Consulate General of Estonia, and Foundation for Estonian Arts and Letters.

Photo © Tõnu Tormis