Isabelle van Keulen violin
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi conductor
Recorded May 2002 at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Engineers: Peter Laenger and Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Exodus is the third ECM outing for Erkki-Sven Tüür and represents a particularly robust electron in the Estonian composer’s molecule of exploration. To be sure, his music (as Tüür himself is first to admit) is all about energy: its explosions and implosions, its heads and tails, its ruptures and healings. Yet in these three premiere recordings one finds also a consistency of purpose, whatever directions Tüür takes. Looking, for instance, at the 1998 Violin Concerto, we find that the relationship between soloist and orchestra has been transmogrified. No longer is the violin (played with due crispness by Isabelle van Keulen) a moderator, but now a transducer of biological information in a vast, multi-cellular organism. Both forces filter one another until their registers cross-pollinate, leaving the arpeggio as the only discernible genetic signature. The violin is at once dancer and stage, opening itself like a strainer through the first movement. Between the microscopic percussion and winds to the dialogic cellos, there is plenty to entice us. Tüür’s multi-tiered approach lends itself well to the concerto form, such that the soloist is not always the centerpiece of the work’s visual display, but is sometimes just as content to inhabit a corner of it, or even to jump off screen for a spell. Keulen, who brings a personal affinity for the piece to bear upon her performance, clearly revels in this freedom as she frolics through countless clima(c)tic possibilities. The second movement undermines the formulaic fast-slow-fast structure with a layer of interrogation. Protracted reveries share the air with ephemeral platitudes, each a jagged accent strung toward the final highs. All of which brings us to the decidedly brief third movement, which pits marimba and double basses in a condensed debate. This escalatory format, a notable forte of Tüür, then clusters around flute and glockenspiel dramas more reminiscent of his earlier architectonic pieces, drawing a tail of vibration to end.
After this juggernaut of a concerto, the two orchestral pieces that follow seem to fit more opaque slabs of color into this emerging stained glass window. The wind-heavy Aditus (2000, rev. 2002)— written in memory of an early mentor, Lep Sumero—is also rich with brass expulsions and percussion. It conjures a a pile of sonic coinage at once sullied and newly minted and leads almost seamlessly into the 1999 title composition—this dedicated to its conductor, Paavo Järvi. Those same convulsive flutes coupled with glockenspiel haunt every nook of the music’s ecstatic unwinding. Vast orchestral forces subside into a more liquid sound, trampling through the fallen branches of introspection. Flutes flutter into the distance like flock of birds while strings lay down an icy drone: the tundra of self-awareness, melting in the sunlight of a tinkling bell.
If we take exodus to mean a forceful expulsion from one’s roots, then we might see the music of Tüür as being engaged in a likeminded project. It thrives on the asymmetries of displacement and the new symmetries forged in its place. Listening to Tüür’s music is its own experience, one in which we encounter a book to which language seems but a shadow, for the moment we try to capture it in words it has already been forced into a grammar as arbitrary as my own.