THE SOUND OF SPIRIT
By Arthur Lubow
Published: 15 October 2010 (NY Times)
"Emigrating from the Soviet Union to the West in January 1980 with his wife, Nora, and their two small sons, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt was stopped by border police at the Brest railroad station for a luggage search. “We had only seven suitcases, full of my scores, records and tapes,” he recalled recently. “They said, ‘Let’s listen.’ It was a big station. No one else was there. We took my record player and played ‘Cantus.’ It was like liturgy. Then they played another record, ‘Missa Syllabica.’ They were so friendly to us. I think it is the first time in the history of the Soviet Union that the police are friendly.” He was joking, but not entirely. Later, when I asked Nora about that strange scene at the border, she said, “I saw the power of music to transform people.”
Most contemporary composers aim to ravish the ear or to tickle (or boggle) the mind. Pärt is playing for higher stakes. He wants to touch something that he would call the soul, and to a remarkable extent, he is succeeding. When I would mention to friends or acquaintances that I was writing about Pärt, I was surprised at how many responded, “Oh, I love Arvo Pärt!” It’s not something you often hear when you mention a contemporary composer. . . "
For the rest of this article - and to listen to examples of Arvo Pärt's heart-opening music - go here