Esto-Ugric Project (2013)
The Esto-Ugric project was a concert tour and commissioning project featuring music influenced by Estonian and Hungarian folk song. The tour was co-produced with Scrag Mountain Music, with performances in Philadelphia, New York and Warren, Randolph and Northfield, Vermont in October 2013. Repertoire included Lembit’s These Memories May Be True and Three Songs of Remembered Love, along with music by Bartok, Kodaly, Ligeti, Veljo Tormis and five new miniatures commissioned by the Esto-Ugric project from composers Brad Balliett, Scott Wollschleger, Karen Ouzounian, Dan Sedgwick, and Evan Premo. These pieces were all based on folk-song transcriptions done in the Estonian countryside in 1908 by August Kiiss (1882 – 1965), Lembit’s great-grandfather.
Introductory program notes:
Having worked with Estonian folk music for many years, and having been strongly drawn to the music of Bartók and Kodály since I was a child, I have often been fascinated by the similarity of Estonian and Hungarian folk music, perhaps due to deep linguistic connections between these groups of people. This concert seeks to explore the various ways in which composers have incorporated and responded to this wonderful and strange folk material. The range of approaches includes direct settings or arrangements of folk melodies, as can be seen in Kodály and Tormis’s songs, as well as Bartók’s Hungarian Peasant Songs, and much less direct approaches, in which the folk material comes filtered through or hidden in other music, as occurs in Bartók’s string quartet as well as my own quartet. This breadth of approaches can also be seen in the Estonian Folk Song Miniatures, a set of five small pieces commissioned for this program. Five young, non-Estonian composers were given the task of responding to a collection of folk songs transcribed in 1908 by my great-grandfather, August Kiiss, who was an Estonian violinist, organist, composer and teacher. Perhaps the most exciting thing for me as I put together this program was to observe the emotional dialogue that went on between the composers and the folk songs. In my own writing, I think about my incorporation of Estonian influences not as a use of something, but as a search for something, perhaps a sense of belonging, history or story, rooted deep in the past and lingering on the edge of one’s memory.