If 2011 was the year of Brenet ; 2012, Jean Catoire ; my "big shock" of 2013 is the fantastic piano music of Jaan Rääts.
A short bioborn October 15th , 1932, in Tartu
Rääts studied piano at the Tartu Music High School and graduated in 1957 as a composition student of professors Mart Saar and Heino Eller from the Tallinn Conservatoire. 1955–1966 he worked as a recording engineer at the Estonian Radio, 1966–1970 as chief editor of music programs and 1970–1974 as chief director and music manager of the Estonian Television. From 1974 to 1993, he served as chairman of the Estonian Composers’ Union and was also a long-time member of high party and government bodies. 1968–1970 and again 1974–2003, Rääts has taught composition at the Estonian Academy of Music (professor since 1990). Among his many students there were Raimo Kangro, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Rauno Remme, Tõnu Kõrvits, Tõnis Kaumann and Timo Steiner.
Jaan Rääts is a composer with a fairly constant sound and style. The bulk of his work consists of instrumental music. From 1957–1993, Rääts completed ten symphonies. He has also written 24 concertos for orchestra and soloist(s) and two concertos for chamber orchestra, symphonic pieces and a lot of chamber music.
In the 1960s, a markedly anti-Romantic, active and playful style was brought into Estonian music by Jaan Rääts, a composer of neo-classicist orientation. His youthful and rhythmic Concerto for Chamber Orchestra from 1961 became a landmark achievement in Estonian new music.
With this piece, a huge tour of more than 2000 concerts happened, that brings him to Russia, North Korea, France (at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées!), USA (Carnegie Hall), UK...
His music was performed and recorded by high figures such as Neeme Järvi, Rudolph Barshai ...
Rääts’ rhythm-centred idiom, developed in the 1960s, was exerting an influence on Estonian music as a whole as late as in the end of the 1980s. Although he started as a composer during the era of (re)discovering modernism and avant-garde compositional techniques, his mosaic-like, playful personal style signified the advent of postmodernist thought in Estonian music.
More than 40 vinyl records and CD-s have been released by several companies including Melodija, Antes Edition, Finlandia Records, Capriccio Records, Kreuzberg Records and Eurodisc. By Antes Edition two personal collections (1995, 1996) have produced. Rääts’s works have been published by Sovetski Kompozitor, Muzõka, Estonian Music Foundation, Edition Peters, Sikorski Verlag, G. Schirmer Inc., Antes Edition, Edition 49, Eres Edition a.o.
Jaan Rääts has received the honorary titles of Estonian SSR Merited Art Worker (1965) and People’s Artist (1977). He has deserved the Prize of Soviet Estonia (1972), Literature and Art Award of the Estonian Soviet Communist Youth Organisation (1970) and Annual Music award of the ESSR (1974). In the Republic of Estonia he has been awarded the Estonian State Cultural Award (1995), the Annual Prize of Endowment for Music of Culture Endowment of Estonia (2002), the Annual Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (2007), The Lifetime Achievement Award of the Estonian National Culture Foundation (2011), The Lifetime Achievement Award of the Republic of Estonia (2011) and the third class order of the White Star.
At this link you can listen to his famous "Concerto for Strings Orchestra Op 16" :
And here his Concerto for 4 Pianos and 8 Pianists :
his 8th Symphony :
Unfortunately, only part of his favorite piece: The Konzert für Violin und Organ
How i discovered it
In fact, i really discovered his music totally by chance.
I will skip many personnal and not interesting détails, and to sum up the discovery of Rääts music is linked to my huge admiration of Arvo Pärt music.
Last year, after an invitation to participate to the Dynasty festival in Kiev, i had to compose a recital program that would complete a big concert i had with the Kiev Soloist orchestra to premiere nationally the 2 Philip Glass concerti.
My first idea was to make a Mirror recital, the french avant garde with some minimal music, this time not Glass, but Pärt.
As many knows, Pärt piano music is extremely thin ... maybe ... 10 minute in total (of course you can still add the pièces he wrote before the "Für Alina"revelation , but ... it is not really the same composer.
So with Pärt i got an idea to make half my program with the Estonian music (yes, Pärt is estonian ). Like everytime i went to a list of composers that i got from the Neeme Järvi website, -> Google -> youtube ... and if i like it, i perform it. Quite simple!
So for Rääts i found out a pretty nice music, specially the Estonian Preludes who are good. Very few infos on internet and few videos. Some italian pianist did a recording with a pretty good quality, but nothing more.
The concerts i did with Rääts music (up to this day)
For Kiev, i could not prepare the program, as with the 2 concertos and a big 1.30 hours program to prepare in Monaco the forthcoming week, i could not do it.
On the other hand i still kept the idea in mind, and performed it for my Night of Minimal Piano in Collioure
and since the public answer to it was very good and positive, i programmed it again on 2 more récitals :
in Lantosque for the 'Les Estivales' festival :
and in La Sainte Baume during the Summer University :
In both concert, public reception was allways very good, as they liked the eerie touch of the music.
From my concerts :
Estonian Prélude n°13 Op 80
Madrigal n°1 Op 65
Bagatelle n°1 Op 50
Meeting with the Maestro
As a result, i had the honor to be invited to meet the composer and if it could fit, even to his own 81st birthday.
Luckily, i was free at this time (since i am now preparing some recordings, i have more free time than last year), and so i could come!
In Tallinn where the Maestro lives, i had the luck to have a visit with him all around the very nice old city and the Conservatory
But what was really the point of my visit (even is Tallinn is really a cute and nice city i would definitively recommand ) was to have a look at all his scores.
And ... i did very well to come. I was shocked to see how great Rääts compositions are ! A kind of missing link in between Shostakovitch and Steve Reich. Imagine the power of the repetitive structures of the americans mixed with the harmonies of the russian ! I was totally Under the spell of his Sonatas and his Piano concertos.
And also there is a very nice sense of humour (it can reminds a little bit Prokofiev) , and some very peacefull moment with right after some clashing harmonies.
Curiously, the Maestro is very shy and will talk very few about his influances and his compositions wishies (I still don't know if it was "ok" to perform in such a romantic way as i did, the only think i knew was, that the maestro really liked my performances). I had to ask very strongly to his wife, the very nice Ebba Rääts to know that in fact the Estonian Preludes are composed with an influance of estonian traditional folk songs. Of course it could be easy to guess, but on the other hand ... no proof of it ! The name could really means in both way "preludes from Estonia" or "preludes influanced by estonian trad" !
I was Lucky enough to listen to a very lot of recording. Sadly we could not find his Electroacoustic compositions, as ... yes ! he is also the very first composer from Estonia to have done Electroacoustic !
Now i am looking forward to receive his 10 sonatas ! If everything is going well, there should be some surprises and nice concerts on their way ;) Let's cross fingers :))))