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Raiser of the musical garden


        The legendary group - Estonian ensemble of early music "Hortus Musicus" meaning "Musical garden" if to translate from Latin - was founded 35 years ago. Despite its considerable age this ensemble is full of youthful spirit and essence, and new interesting ideas. This was quite evident to the people who came to the jubilee concert of the musical group in the Small Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic on the 18 November 2007. After the concert Andres Mustonen, the art director of the "Hortuses", kindly agreed to talk with me. The talk seemed to be quite unexpected and interesting, as well as Mustonen himself who is always vivid, improvisatory and unpredictable.

Vladimir Shulyakovsky
        Andres, you have been raising your musical garden - "Hortus Musicus" - for 35 years already and, in my opinion, you have been quite successful. There appear more and more new "patches" in the garden, some new trees start growing that are often quite exotic and unusual. The main thing is that there is nothing "candied" about you. When an ensemble keeps changing dynamically, keeps transforming, there appears something new - this is a sign of life. I think it is very good and, what is more, quite a rare thing for a group that has turned 35. However, I've got a question: what has caused the interest that has been recently displayed by "Hortus Musicus" and you personally in traditional music, in music of various cultures? Is it a tribute to fashion, of some general trend in European music? Or is it a necessity, an organic need coming from the depth of the soul?

Andres Mustonen
        And what the FASHION is? When we actively started performing early music, did we say it was the fashion? There is a huge diversity of various ensembles in the world. But it seems to me that it is just the visible part of the large spiritual wealth. Musicians, and not merely they, but all people living consciously always need to express what they want. Or, in other words, they have their own level of thinking. However, where does the problem lie? Now people in the world get a good musical education, but they do not comprehend culture. They just reproduce some musical compositions. But already in the 50-60-ies there appeared people who wanted to discover something new for themselves because neither they, nor we, nor many people in the world and in Russia wanted just to copy under the motto: better, cleaner, faster We went rather farther than back. And generally now the things we use - other cultures, it is not quite correct to call them "other cultures", all this is connected with the European culture: both Jewish and Arabian - all this is very close to Europe. There are a good few ensembles now that deal with music at the "crossroads" of Asia and Europe. All this is one part of some new thinking, new idea that European culture is not a unique culture at all. This is wrong to say there is the only culture and nothing else in the world. We do know that, we all studied history of music but nobody told us about that. Or they told us that there were folk musicians, meant dilettantes, and that they were nonprofessional ones. But this is wrong. Those who play their music - Arabs or Hindus, for instance - are professional musicians indeed, they just do not play Haydn or Beethoven. But they play absolutely different music. And our interest in such music is quite explainable because we discover a new world through it, however, without fully copying of traditional musicians. I want to perform the interesting for me musical material without imposing any limitations on myself, and to make something of my own out of it. To my mind, this is what the real authentism is, - to understand and to comprehend everything by yourself and to develop music further, - is better than to invent something "as it may have been". You see, there is a great difference between "we consider that it should be played like that" and "I am sure that it is so". These are quite different things.

VSh
        Ethnomusicology has a term - an authentic performer, that means an immediate representative of his/her culture performing music in accordance with the tradition. And in a sense "Hortus" has possibly achieved the highest form of "authentism" on the academic stage. At first the ensemble has created its own aesthetics of playing music. And then, staying in this aesthetics, it delights us with increasingly more paradoxical new programs, however, remaining always itself.

AM
        I'd most like if it were so. Many things are certainly conditioned by education, knowledge, etc. But education is just the basis we use for further development. Besides, personally I always want to create at the composer's level. That is, I want to express the thoughts that I have inside, and the wishes that sound inside - because they have no boundaries. And, therefore, I see nothing exotic in what we do. This is a commercial word, a word to be used for sales: "exclusive", "exotic", "mega-" This is the way they sell "music of Catholic monks" or "Buddhist sisters" now, all this is just something external. People do their business with such words and there is no point in fighting that.

VSh
        Andres, I just want to say that I used the word "exotic" at the beginning of our talk as a certain allegory and in the proper sense of the word. The point is that in the contemporary consumer society the sense even of the best and most innocent word is often distorted. But you are right that if they use the words "exclusive", "exotic" - they use them just as an advertising bait. However, let us return to the main topic of our talk. If we recall the history of "Hortus Musicus", we shall see that for quite a long period, from the time of its creation, the ensemble has been playing some particular music. You did not start from Indian ragas, you started with the European tradition, with the music of XIV - XV centuries.

AM
        Still before that

VSh
        Plainchant

AM
        Anyway, with monody. Our thinking and activity started with monody.

VSh
        Fine, you started with monody and it appears you have come

AM
        No, everything is still there - renaissance, baroque - always there. But even monody does develop. It may have been more soloistic once. Fewer instruments, fewer voices. And there are periods when monody music is already almost orchestral one. How do we work with this monody? This is extremely interesting. And I like the Oriental influence in this sphere. I get a lot of inspiration from it. Monody does not imply that 1, 2 or 3 voices sing or play in unison.
        It is possible to play monody even by very large orchestras like they do in Egypt, for example, and it sounds very rich! It sounds rich because everybody knows there what he does with this monody. And two-voice texture and three-voice texture and so on It is only the European culture that has so-called development. And it is very good, of course, that there is such a culture that always stays where it was. There is some external development but the material is the same.
        Here, in Europe, everything keeps changing. When we wanted to perform early music it means that we wanted to add something new to develop our performing art further. In this respect we were avant-guardists, pioneers. Now composers write already not "in the spirit" but "under the influence" of Dutch polyphonists or monody. And the contemporary musical world already looks different from as it looked like forty years ago. And thanks God, because the boundaries have become wider. There is a trend that other cultures will be still wider and we will yet get new original compositions from composers. For example, there is a Chinese composer, Tan Dun, who is interested in the European "passion" tradition of the XVIII century, embodying it by means of the traditional Chinese composer's technique. This may also be possible. There is the European Union, there are other associations. There are now no borders between nations and cultures as well and this changes the world. But old things will stay. However, everything that is new is sure to be different.

VSh
        When somebody comes now, well, I don't know, to the most backward country, he can buy a Coke in any stall. And this is not bad, probably. Just in a sense a Coke is a symbol of the consumer society. Sometimes I even use this term - "coca-cola" thinking, that is the brand thinking, when a person is willing to use only some well-known brands in which huge money has been invested and irrespective of the quality of these goods. Besides, for me it is a certain standardization of thinking - certain "brainwashed" state of the contemporary mass culture. The best illustration is the well-known "media" characters of pop-music that manage to draw stadiums of the audience despite their absolute creative and professional inadequacy and thus work out the producer's millions invested in them.
        However, my next question will be as follows: Don't you think that the borders' destruction process between nations and cultures will be dangerous for small, authentic cultures? You spoke about a Chinese composer that works with western, Christian music using elements of his traditional music. In the same way "Hortus" started from the European music of X-XI centuries and now presents multicultural projects on the stage with a strong trend towards ethnics. Isn't it a danger that will eventually dissolve small local cultures? Won't it result in a situation that in 200-300 years or even sooner we will get something absolutely diffuse and identical that will be called "common-to-all-mankind culture"? (I nearly said "universal values")


        identical? No! That will never happen because people stay. These are quite different things. Authentic cultures will stay anyway. There is another danger. For example, there are 20 million pianists in China and all of them play only a narrow part of the classical piano repertoire. This is an extraordinarily ridiculous situation, it means that the piano is already more popular than folk instruments. But the problem is not that everything keeps changing with time. We do not know and we cannot find out HOW music was performed even one hundred years ago. Aesthetics changes but it does not develop with time (I never use the word "development"). I certainly have some ideal of non-development. That is, to PREVENT art from developing. In my opinion, the most valuable thing has already been achieved; all cultures have already achieved this. European culture has already had its culmination and it seems to me that this high point should have been retained. To some extent you must be happy in Russia as in my opinion the Orthodox Church preserves this, with great difficulty though. It is not eager to interfere in western development of culture. It somehow stands aside.
        Falling back on music, we see that musical education starts from what students are given at the conservatory. But there all students play in the same way, unfortunately, there is no individualism in performance. There is just the pursuit of some abstract quality, i.e. we suppose IT to be quality. Of course, it is impossible for somebody simply to come and play differently just in order not to play like everybody does. This is pointless. Therefore, the performing art must be at a very high level. But if it goes together with individualism and some thinking and spirituality, then we will start talking about something serious

VSh
        Andres, now about another interesting sphere of the ensemble's activity, I mean cooperation with the living composers, performance of contemporary music. As far as I know, a lot of interesting musical compositions have been dedicated to your ensemble, including those for old musical instruments. Arvo Pyart is known to be one of the "spiritual parents" of "Hortus Musicus". Pyart was one of those Estonian "sixtiers" who "were afire" with early music, who discovered their individual style fully based on tradition and who, nevertheless, created their unique musical language. I think this is partly the due of your ensemble.


        It is right to some extent because he heard, saw us "learning to ride a bicycle, a tricycle". By the way, Pyart has a very large library of sheet music. We have got a lot of printed music from him: Jasquin Despres, Machaut Of course, they were his teachers but with "Hortus" he heard alive how everything sounds because playing the piano is one thing, but the way it really sounds, furthermore with the instruments that are more or less authentic, is quite another one.
        I listen to lots of historical records of the early XX century of Mahler's performance. There are even records of Brahms' performance. But this sounds absolutely different. And hardly a hundred years have passed. And what was it like 500 or 600 years ago? However, we strive to give this music original sounding, original performance. And this is sure to influence composers - this striving, this search for a new musical world, another thinking. This is a more polyphonic thinking - in a wider sense of the word. Everything starts although from the melody, from one note. Very many composers, apart from Pyart, have approached this thinking. Aleksandr Knaifel also "searches with notes", rarely sounding notes - I mean his minimalist opuses. Giya Kancheli also wrote his new compositions for us. Not just adaptations of something old but absolutely new. And Estonian composers - Galina Grigorieva, Peeter Vyahi. At first there were few composers of the kind. Slonimsky was the first to write "Troubadour's songs" - they were already performed in the 70-ies. We wondered at the time if there was anything uniting modern times and the Middle Ages, and the answer was "Troubadour's songs". Beautiful music.

VSh
        What you are talking about is very important for the future of European culture. What trends of development of contemporary music do you see? For example, with only a few exceptions the composers that you have listed have always appealed to some primary sources in their creative work, to certain archetypes that have existed in the European tradition for several hundreds years.

AM
        Yes, this is very important. I don't understand the so-called avant-guardists. They have already broken everything and they keep breaking. Nothing will come out of it, this has already long been in the garbage can. It is performed once or twice and only for a narrow circle. And the reason is lack of tradition, lack of the tree growing from the depth and giving us both inspiration and material for creative work. And one can endlessly draw from it! And if you are a composer you will do it. What is Haydn's, Schubert's or Mozart's music? We just do not know it but these melodies are old folk music! All these songs, these melodies were singing everywhere, they were singing by people. But how can one explain the creative work of avant-guardists? Who now sings such music, who performs such music? People immediately close this channel and listen to cheap pop-music. Why? Because there one can feel the traditional line of melody, harmony and rhythm. However, all this has sufficiently degraded in pop-music if we compare it to songs of Schubert or Brahms. But principally this pop-music uses these very major things; it looks for a good melody, this is not cacophony in terms of harmony, they choose simple rhythms. This is pure Renaissance. But the point is the spiritual level. "Pop-music" was once written by Dufay or Josquin. But these were the outstanding spiritual authorities of their time! And they wrote these chansons. But at the same time they wrote very complicated church music.
        And now there is some fight among musical genres. I mean the worldwide offensive of mass "culture". A fight is almost a war. And how can freedom, free spiritual culture, emerge during a war? There is no war in the Heaven! We don't want to have a fight inside us, we want a spiritual quality that is free from everything: from conflicts and problems and we want to feel the thin threads given to the human being. And if you deal only with material things, if you are concerned about one single problem of getting more and earning more, your threads will stop working This is quite a different topic, you didn't even ask to speak about that but this is a big problem that now everybody wants to get a lot and give very little

VSh
        On the contrary, I have just spoken about that - about the false mirror of the consumer society. What you have just said is the law of the consumer society.

AM
        Some people want to get, others want to foist. It is very hard to speak about culture in such a situation, there is no place for culture.

VSh
        I think that any traditional society was built on asceticism, on colossal self-denial. Whatever a traditional human being was doing, he would forget about himself, about his needs. He created things and gave away everything he had in some strongest ascetic impulse. To feel that one can just look at any ancient town and on seeing some old temple one should feel how people were creating it at the then technological level - for example, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Moscow Kremlin. It was possible to build that only with incredible concentration of absolutely all internal forces, with full self-devotion, complete renunciation.


        And this is not a materialistic idea, absolutely not!

VSh
        And now, unfortunately, we often have to think about what our contemporary society will leave behind.


        Well, almost nothing. Let us just look at what we see every day - architecture. What kind of houses are these? These are generally children's boxes if to compare with real European architecture both in terms of technology and quality. I repeat myself: this is not new, we have already had the culmination and we are proceeding FROM that. Europe already lives in the past, sells the past. It does not live in the spirituality coming from the past but rather sells these achievements. And we sell achievements of the musical world in the same way. We ourselves cannot do anything special, anything good - we sell what we had. And this is the reason for emergence of musicians involved in historical performance art. Nobody played early music till the very end of XIX century. Almost nobody played it even 50 years ago.

VSh
        This is really so. Practically till the end of XIX century musicians always played things composed right at that time.


        But this process was once launched

VSh
        Except for romantic interpretations of Bach by Mendelssohn and Schumann, this started at the very end of XIX century. In 1890 Englishman Arnold Dolmetch played a concert on original instruments, the program consisting of masterpieces of the English viol music of XVII century. And this was not a romantic interpretation any more, because just some years later Dolmetch published his book "The Interpretation of the Music of XVII-XVIII Centuries" that demonstrated his deep knowledge of the performance art tradition in the time of baroque.


        Yes, but WHY? There is a very important point here. We now value some old Italian towns, churches, monasteries, ancient tractates, or other monuments of culture. But at that time it was some Art Nouveau, the present day of the time, it was NOT history. But traditional cultures - Arabian, Indian - they have preserved because it was not commerce, it was not for sale, it was applied art. And therefore they do not have the problems we have. However, most recently things there have also been gradually becoming an object for sale: both their culture and music. Hindu musicians dream of entering the American and European market. Everything gets increasingly mingled

VSh
        Summing up our today's talk I would say that further existence of European culture and world culture in general, its further development or as you would say "changing" is possible within the Tradition only.


        Right. And in religion as well. I think that history generally proceeds in waves, not just downwards and not just upwards. One can feel and there are a lot of indications that XXI century will become an epoch of a new spiritual uplift. And, certainly, as you have said, "coca-cola" thinking becomes an enemy of the mankind and lots of people will sense that. And they will start avoiding it and we are going to see all that in our life yet.

Andres Mustonen

Andres Mustonen

        Andres MUSTONENs (1953) discovery of music has followed a very unusual path. His adolescent fascination with contemporary music made an about-face in the early 1970s towards early and Christian music. In 1972 it led to founding the early music ensemble Hortus Musicus, which gives vital performances even today.
        Since the founding of the ensemble, Hortus Musicus and Andres Mustonen have been performing constantly on the worlds concert stages and at music festivals: the Utrecht Festival, the Malmo Baroque, concerts in Prague, St. Petersburg and Moscow, performances at the Mozart-Fest in Chemnitz, the Jaffa Festival in Israel, the Lufthansa Baroque Festival in London, the Scottish Early Music Festival in Glasgow, the Lockenhaus Festival in Austria and the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival.
        In these years Andres Mustonen and Hortus Musicus have succeeded in storing their work on 25 records.
        Andres Mustonen is partly a solo violinist but mostly a conductor, whereas the latter post has been developed via a career of a performing artist and musician. Mustonen conducts several distinguished orchestras: the Great Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio, the Moscow National Academic Symphony Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Musica Viva Academic Chamber Orchestra, the national orchestras of Finland, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Latvia and Lithuania, the Bayerische Rundfunken, the Helsinki City Orhestra, the Finnish Radio Syphony Orchestra.
        During many years, Andres Mustonen has worked together with the Tallinn Philharmonics and with the National Symphony Orchestra. Mustonen has gone through and performed the music history both as a performer and a conductor. He transfers his musical experience of history to performances of classical, romantic and new music. This is but not the new music that infatuated young Mustonen in the early 1960s, when his interest lay in the avant garde and the happening. It is the harmonic new music created by Gija Kantsheli, Arvo Part, Krzysztof Penderecki, Philip Glass, Toru Takemitsu, Vladimir Martonov, Avet Terterjan and Valentin Silvestrov. Several composers have dedicated their work to him. Mustonen is in close creative contact with many Estonian composers - Erkki-Sven Tuur, Peeter Vahi, Galina Grigorjeva and Helena Tulve - also giving premieres of their new works.
        Making music, Mustonen can be characterised by spontaneity, improvisation and radiant performance. "For me an orchestra is not a static form but a living organisation of musicians, one whose members enhance and affect each other."
        Mustonens repertoire includes pieces of early music as well as of new music, which he often premieres. He places a special significance on religious oratoric masterpieces from baroque to the modern day: Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Gija Kantseli, Krzysztof Penderecki, John Tavener, Aleksandr Knaifel.
        In time, Andres Mustonen has developed a wide circle of musician friends with whom he makes music: Natalja Gutman, Aleksei Ljubimov, Dmitri Sitkovetski, Michel Lethiec, Inesa Galante, Juri Basmet, Gidon Kremer, Ramon Jaffe, Francois Leleux, Marcel Peres, Yoshiko Arai, Pascal Gallois, Seppo Kimanen, Vasili Pantir. I never share the stage with someone I dont know, dont consider my friend, or dont love.

Early Music ensemble Hortus Musicus

Early Music ensemble
Hortus Musicus

        Hortus Musicus gave their first concert in 1972. The ensemble was established with the initiation of Andres Mustonen, a violin student of the Tallinn State Conservatory, and is therefore the oldest continuously working ensemble in its field in Eastern Europe and one of the few of such longevity in the world.
        Born in the conditions of the soviet isolation, a group of enthusiasts, uniting their youthful energies and using minimal outward assistance (for it was simply not available) found their way and face in Hortus Musicus. Andres Mustonen performed a central role as the generator of ideas. His unacceptance of the then regime, as well as of the rock-hard conceptions that had developed in music, pushed the group towards a quest into the yet unknown world of pre-Bach music.

        The music making of Hortus is first and foremost (and, often, differently from their European colleagues) characterized by a creative and cliche less attitude to music that is distant to us in time, but not necessarily in essence. Never becoming in direct controversy with the so-called authentic or temporally informed way of performing, Hortus have never had it for a goal in itself. Thus, the concerts and recordings of Hortus sound fresh, comprehensible and powerful - this is the living music of todays people.
        For more than 30 years now, Hortus have investigated and presented in their programmes European music from the 8th-20th centuries: the Gregorian coral - organums - medieval liturgic drama - hymns and motets - the Franco-Flemish school - the Trecento-masters of Italy - the 16th-century rigid polyphony - French chansons - Italian madrigals, frotollas and villanelles - a large amount of suites from Renaissance dances from all across Europe - early sonatas and secular large works of baroque composers of the 17th-18th centuries - the music of 20th century composers (often created specially for Hortus).

        The works of contemporary composers serve as interesting challenge for the ensemble - one has to overcome some inabilities of the earlier instruments involving tuning and dynamics. On the other hand, it expands the emploi of the renaissance instruments and enables the new music to use especially beautiful and natural sounds, which would not be attainable with todays unified instruments. The new music performed by Hortus carries in itself the same values that are appreciated in earlier, more balanced music - the purity and clarity of form, harmony and beauty in simple things.
        During their lifetime of more than 30 years, Hortus have given concerts in most European countries, the USA, Japan, Israel and the vast territory of the former Soviet Union, as well as performed at most major early music festivals. They have recorded ca 35 programmes, a part of which is available even today in companies like Erdenklang, Musica Svecia, Forte and Finlandia Records.

Vladimir Shulyakovsky and Andres Mustonen
Vladimir Shulyakovsky and Andres Mustonen

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Raiser of the musical garden