Classical Album of the Week: Translations of Nature Into Art by Eriks Esenvalds

Sep 7, 2020

September 7, 2020. From a quiet woodland to a pounding surf, nature can provide peace, solace, and inspiration, especially in difficult times. WRTI's Classical Album of the Week taps into the way nature transforms us, with music by contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds.

Esenvalds's music, incubated and nurtured in Latvia, has now been heard around the world. His Legend of the Walled-in Woman earned him first prize from the International Rostrom of Composers in 2006, he was named The Philadelphia Inquirer’s New Composer Discovery in 2010, and has been honored multiple times in his home country. 

A student of theology, composition, and creative arts, he’s had his work premiered by dozens of choirs and other ensembles, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Kings Singers, BBC Proms Youth Choir, and the Temple University Concert Choir.

Nature has been a big part of his artistic life. Here he talks about finding inspiration “in the sea, in skies, in trees, in sand, in a wind, in time," with respect to Nordic Light, his multimedia symphony on aurora borealis.

His album Translations, performed by the Portland State Chamber Choir, is a collection of music exploring how experiencing nature changes us.

Two works on the album set the text of Oregon Poet Laureat Paulann Petersen, who observes, “Art translates mystery for us without destroying that mystery.”

Peterson’s verse in "The Heaven’s Flock,"commissioned by The Portland State Chamber Choir, begins the story of a shepherd enamored of the flock of stars in the sky with vivid imagery:  “Stars, you are the heaven’s flock, tangling your pale wool across the night sky.” Esenvalds' richly textured music portrays the lonely shepherd and the majesty of the heavens. 

The title track, "Translation," commissioned by The Crossing's Jeff Quartets (a collection of new works in memory of  The Crossing's cofounder, Jeff Dinsmore) is also set to Petersen's poetry. "Translation" looks to the moon, and its potential to be turned into art: “Empty of words, not empty of light, the moon’s face awaits the touch of a pen.” Here's the work in its premiere by The Crossing: 

Other music on Translations explores the world under the sea‚in "Vineta," using vibraphone, chimes and glockenspiel" to conjure the movement and mystery of the deep.

The composer explores the relationship with the divine in "In Paradisium," as choir joins with solo viola and cello, in a piece written in memory of Esenvalds' grandmother.