WWhen Max Richter sat down to compose a new ballet score in 2015, he knew what he meant. In April of that year, a crowded ship sank off the coast of Libya, en route to Italy, killing at least 800 trapped migrants, including children between the ages of 10 and 12. From his (then) hometown of Berlin, the crisis was impossible. ignore. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke the words We do that (We can do this), But as the number of refugees seeking asylum increased, so did the attacks on their homes.
Richter’s response was instinctive: a 33-minute play titled Exiles, composed for Sol León and Paul Lightfoot’s Singulière Odyssée at the Nederlands Dans Theater, inspired by what Richter calls “the big question at the time.” Five years after its release in 2016, this thoughtful piece now forms the heart and soul of Richter’s new album, Exiles, recorded in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2019, due for release on August 6. It is a retrospective collection made up of newly orchestrated tracks taken from their previous catalog. Yet Richter tells me, in a video call from his home in Oxfordshire, that he remains relevant despite our rapid news cycle: “This crisis is still with us in different ways.”
The theme of exile, travel and borders is something Richter took into account when choosing the orchestra to play his music, an informal gathering of musicians from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden. Richter believes that Baltic Sea Philharmonic it has a “pacification” function: “The idea that music is a shared space where people with different experiences, points of view and social contexts can come together and do something”. The UK’s isolationist post-Brexit stance has only emboldened this spirit for Richter. “I am a European,” he says. “These kinds of transnational problems demand collaboration, they demand fundamental joint work and a rethinking of what limits and borders mean even in 2021.”
When conductor Kristjan Järvi describes the orchestra he founded in 2008, he calls it “youthful” and “naive”; a vagabond collective that seeks to “erase the borders between east and west.” Smiling in the sunshine from his garden on the outskirts of Tallinn, Järvi recalls his early childhood in Estonia in the 1970s, looking out over Finland, a beacon of freedom frustratingly out of reach on the other side of the Gulf. “Those borders no longer exist,” he tells me. Instead, the Baltic Sea is now “the glue that holds all these EU and non-EU countries, Slavs and non-Slavs, together as a cultural unit. States is reborn as an orchestra ”.
Every era has a different kind of exile, Järvi tells me. Just a few weeks ago, Estonians celebrated the 80th anniversary of what is called the June deportation, in which thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes by the Soviet Union. “This whole idea of the exiles is a history of humanity because it can even be summed up in tribalism,” he says. “I own this piece of land, you own that piece.” The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s mission statement is to transcend these limits and break the rules, not only in regards to what contemporary society means in 2021, but also how a traditional orchestra should mobilize and create.
In 2017, they performed Stravinsky’s The Firebird entirely from memory, a technique that the Baltic Sea Philharmonic regularly adopts. Musicians usually stand rather than sit, and are often separated from their sections. “Why would Mozart want to be like Haydn or Beethoven like Schumann?” Järvi asks. “Each orchestra is a microcosm of society and this society is a completely non-hierarchical model of authority.” For Richter, this ideology made them the perfect orchestra to perform his works: compositions he calls “activist music.”
Can you explain what you mean by that, I ask? “I think creativity by its nature is activism,” he says. “It’s about meaning, it’s about experimenting, it’s about the unknown, it’s about discovery.” Each Exiles theme has been carefully chosen. Richter has reviewed his musical past, reorchestrating On the Nature of Daylight, his response to the outbreak of the Iraq war, and reimagining The Haunted Ocean 1, from a soundtrack that wrote the animated documentary by writer and director Ari Folman about the Lebanon War, Waltz. With Bashir, in 2008.
Every music recording is a voyage of discovery, Richter tells me. “Those human beings in that room that day, that’s what makes it special. It’s a laboratory. “Järvi calls it sub-quantum music. The Estonian conductor may be a F sharp type and Richter may be G-flat, but they are still sitting on the same note. When you listen to Richter’s orchestral visions, you feel them as if they were. he would have written himself Harmonic changes, he says, live within all of us.
And yet, despite all his searching, Exiles ends in a “what if” moment that is far from resolved. “Is there a better way to go?” Richter asks me. “Will we be able to transform things into something more humane, more sustainable and a little more equal? That’s the big question “.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism