Sunday, August 29, 2010

Arvo Pärt

On Sunday afternoon I was waiting for a #96 tram and listening to ABC Classical which was replaying a concert from the BBC proms season. I'm not normally the biggest fan of classical music, but this particular piece really struck me. It was Arvo Part's Fourth Symphony, the Los Angeles Symphony for strings, harp and percussion which debuted last year at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA. I found the piece to be strange, mystical, beautiful and quite moving. I liked the way the melody faded in and abruptly cut out and I enjoyed the way strings and percussion (usually timpani or triangles and bells) seemed to battle one another in the second and third movements. I am not a classical music buff or scholar and hadn't heard of Arvo Part before this afternoon. This evening Leah and I went out for a meal with our friends Adam and Anna. I had forgotten Part's name and was trying to explain what the music sounded like to Anna who teaches piano. I said that it was like the music that was playing during the melancholy vignettes of the astronauts on board the Discovery during 2001 A Space Odyssey except with a lot more bells. She said I might be talking about Arvo Part. I said that indeed was the guy's name and it turned out that Mr Part was a friend of her mother's and that she had met him several times. Anna's parents left Russia for London in the 70's and Arvo Part is an Estonian who spent a lot of time in England around then. Anna told me some good stories about Part and his strange obsessions with angels, icons and the Russian Orthodox Church. It was a real thrill to go from not having heard of someone to appreciating his music for the first time to talking to a person who actually knows him - all in the space of a few hours.
Anyway if you want to know what I'm talking about you can listen to the entire BBC Promenade Concert here. The Arvo Part part kicks in at about the 8 minute 30 second mark and begins with a brief interview with the composer where he disputes the idea that angels are solely an "idea". For copyright reasons the BBC takes these things down after a few days so if you want to listen you should do so soon.
And here's a little interview Part did with Bjork of all people a few years back. Bjork was obviously watching Star Wars right before the interview took place.