Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977)
The Heavens’ Flock (2013)
Tāls Ceļš (Long Road) (2010)
“I like to work with choirs and directors on my music because I want to share the exact feelings I had when composing certain pieces. I feel it is not possible to put all that information on music paper.”
— Ēriks Ešenvalds
Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds has rapidly gained an international following, with new works premiered by ensembles throughout Europe, the United States (including the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and Australia. His multimedia symphony Nordic Light received its German premiere with Rundfunkchor Berlin in 2016, and a second multimedia symphony, focusing on the natural phenomenon of volcanoes, will premiere in 2018.
Born in Priekule, Latvia, in 1977, Ešenvalds was educated in Latvian schools, including studies at the Latvian Baptist Theological Seminary (1995-97) and a masters degree in composition (2004) from the Latvian Academy of Music. In 2011 he was awarded a two-year Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. He is a prominent workshop clinician and speaker, and his work is included in a number of recordings, with five albums devoted entirely to his compositions.
The Providence Singers had its first encounter with Ešenvalds’ music in the 2016-17 season, performing Northern Lights, one of his signature compositions. It was a haunting, evocative piece that grew from Ešenvalds’ own nighttime experience in a frozen Norwegian field, watching the aurora borealis and listening to the sound of wind in trees, cracking of ice, movements of animals.
The Heavens’ Flock
For a composition commissioned by the Portland State Chamber Choir, Ešenvalds set a poem by Paulann Petersen, who served two terms as Oregon’s sixth poet laureate, 2010-14. As with many of Ešenvalds’ compositions, Petersen’s poetry often finds its point of departure in the natural world. In a 2011 interview with writer Drew Myron, Petersen spoke of Oregon and the particular inspiration it gives to poets:
Oregon is mountains, ocean, high desert, rain forest. It's the hotsprings in Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, the Church of Elvis in downtown Portland, pelicans on Klamath Lake, herons in Oaks Bottom on the Willamette. Oregon is abundance; it’s variety, vast and gorgeous. Our state teaches its poets inclusiveness and gratitude. Oregon encourages a wide embrace, and its poetry does indeed have a very wide embrace.”
Tāls Ceļš (Long Road)
Ešenvalds wrote this piece for Stephen Layton and Polyphony, which sang the premiere in April 2010 at Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. It is a setting of a poem by the Latvian poet Paulīne Bārda (1890-1983), who wrote it for her husband Fricis Barda (1880-1919). Fricis, a schoolteacher, philosopher, writer, and champion of the Latvian language, is among the most celebrated of Latvian poets. His life was cut short by a chronic kidney disease he had developed during his student years. He died in 1919 at age 39 after returning from Russia, where he had been a refugee during the latter part of World War I. The line from the first stanza of Paulīne’s poem is especially poignant: “And I mourn for this one thing alone / That to love, our lifetime was so short.”
The Heavens’ Flock
Poem by Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita
Stars, you are the heavens’ flock
tangling your pale wool across the night sky.
Stars, you’re bits of oily fleece catching
on barbs of darkness to swirl in black wind.
You appear, disappear by thousands,
scattered wide to graze but never straying.
While I, a mere shepherd of these words, am lost.
What can I do but build a small blaze
and feed it with branches the trees let fall:
that twiggy clatter strewn along the ground.
And lichen crusting such dead limbs glows silver, glows white.
The earthfood for a fire so unlike and like your own.
Oh, what can I do but build a small blaze.
Tāls Ceļš (Long Road)
Poem by Paulīne Bārda (1890-1983), translation by Elaine Singley Lloyd
I love you night and day
As a star in the distant sky.
And I mourn for this one thing alone
That to love, our lifetime was so short.
A long road to heaven’s shining meadow
And never could I reach its end.
But a longer road leads to your heart
Which to me seems distant as a star.
High above the arch of heaven bends
And light so clear is falling.
Like a flow’ring tree the world is blooming.
Overwhelmed, my heart both cries and laughs.