They Went and Planted the Seeds of Shadows 
Because the Light Started to Sprout
A staged serenade in one act for texts by Artur Alliksaar
Varres*, Kolle, Kulpsoo / Kilgi, Kirikal, YXUS Ensemble
Black Box Studio
April 10, 2016

On a sunny Sunday evening, on April 10, 2016, I undertook the journey to Viimsi, where a music event of the Estonian Music Days took place in the brand new venue, Black Box Studio. The repertoire included composer Ardo Ran Varres’s stage serenade “They Went and Planted the Seeds of Shadows Because the Light Started to Sprout”, based on Artur Alliksaar’s night-themed texts. Director Liis Kolle, lighting designer Oliver Kulpsoo, costume designer Reili Evart, sound director Tammo Sumera. Musicians: Jaanika Kilgi (soprano), Taniel Kirikal (baritone/countertenor) and YXUS Ensemble including Mihkel Peäske (flute/bass flute), Toomas Vavilov (clarinet/bass clarinet), Peeter Sarapuu (bassoon/contrabassoon), Harry Traksmann (violin), Laur Eensalu (viola), Leho Karin (cello, artistic director), Madis Metsamart (percussion).

After entering the concert venue, I switched into a completely different reality. The audience could take a package of seeds to sow from a box placed across from the ticket counter (a great idea considering that the prevailing theme of this year’s EMD is “Green Sound?”). Moving forward, there was a cafe with different lighting solutions, two great chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and mist swirling around – like in a dream world. The atmosphere was spot-on.

Eventually, the anxiously awaiting audience was let into the hall, where something mystical began at 8 o’clock. At first, the whole ensemble of musicians performed behind a large white screen. The lighting artist used this to create interesting shadow theatre, backed by the music of Ardo Ran Varres and poetry by Alliksaar.

When the screen was lowered, one could inspect the musicians closer. The costume designer had tried to combine the title of the piece with the production’s concept using relatively minimal means. The stage design was rather minimalist (the musicians were placed on different levels, apart from each other) and the instrumentalists had branches tied to their backs, which gave the performance a rather interesting spatial dimension. Although, I don’t know what it felt like to play (and move) while carrying the branches on their backs, I believe that this artistic choice justified itself. It was different and interesting.

Viimsi’s Black Box Studio is a great new concert venue. It is perhaps a little too far from the city center, but it might be an advantage. I caught myself thinking that this venue is probably bigger than all the halls of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre put together. The last time I went to a concert in EAMT’s chamber hall, the distance between the audience and musicians was barely a meter – the audience could not fit into the hall and the singers were practically in the aisle. An abnormal situation. Viimsi Black Box gives a much larger playing ground for the artists and directors. The distance between the audience and musicians was decent and there was air as well.

About the musical side. We are very lucky to have a collective like YXUS Ensemble, who goes along with all sorts of ideas, sometimes completely crazy ones, and still manages to maintain musically high quality. The whole ensemble made music professionally together and worked for a common cause. I was glad they used bass instruments (bass flute, bass clarinet, contrabassoon). These instruments are not often met at concert stages. In my eyes, the bass instruments added depth and softness to the entire piece.

The performance was very stylish. For example, I really liked how vocal soloist Taniel Kirikal held a hat with light glowing inside while singing. It’s probably the most stylish way of holding sheet music that I’ve ever seen. It also suited the specific part, where the lighting was minimal and the vocal soloist first sang in duet with violin, then with bass flute. I was reminded of Arnold Schönberg’s “Moon-Pierrot” for a moment, although the sound language of the performed piece was simpler (in the best meaning of the word) and more easily followed. The timbre of Kirikal’s voice is very enchanting. He proved that in part V, “Full Moon” (song “Lemon Ballad”), where we could enjoy his mastering of the overtone for several minutes. When Kirikal came to the stage, four instrumentalists rose from their seats, grabbed bowl instruments and sticks, with which they created extra-terrestrial sounds, and formed a siege around Kirikal. They stalked him throughout the entire ballad and then returned to their seats, after which the next part smoothly followed. It was a great mid-part for the entire work.

I have noticed soprano Jaanika Kilgi on earlier occasions. I really like her chamber-like opera voice and good awareness of the ensemble as well as diction and acting skills. She gave several spot-on solo numbers and made me laugh a number of times. For example, she sang the phrase “Violins are playing, the violinists are silent”, while being partnered with cello instead. She managed to make it plausible and also make the life of the cellist more exciting. In part VI of the work, “Night Queen” (song “I Am the Child of the Logos of Ancient Spell”), Kilgi rushed onto the stage like the character of Night Queen, proud and confident, straight from Mozart’s “Magic Flute”. The people who attended could see how cool was Kilgi’s costume (decorated with a criss-cross of lights, with a big crown on her head), which she carried off with ease.

Part VII, “Duet” (song “Seraphic Serenade”), was very soulful and beautiful. The voices of the singers were timbre-wise very similar and at times it felt like one person was singing two parts. They were truly like one organism. This was followed by part VIII, “Northern Lights”, for midi instruments with clarinet and percussion in the lead roles. The instruments were connected to the lights and while playing, a real light show was activated.

The first part “Lullaby” and last part “Morning” framed the work into a dreamlike world and I am happy that it was all done in good taste. The work was easily traceable and the parts smoothly linked. I had a small victory at having sunglasses in my bag, which I put on during the light show without regret. Thus, I was not disturbed by occasional sudden flashes of light. I cannot underestimate the work of the sound director. The sounds were wonderfully balanced – there was no drowning out each other and not a single instrument sounded more like a soloist in the ensemble. The singers could also be well heard. Very enjoyable.

The programme said that this was not an opera, but rather a string of scenes in free form. I was, however, haunted by a genre I made up myself – stage mystery with light and darkness, as, in addition to the musicians, the work had two other lead characters – light and darkness.

Estonian Music Days  take place from April 7 to 16, 2016.