Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: Heinavanker at The Cloisters

Image result for heinavanker
I bet their shoulders are really warm.

WHO: Heinavanker; Margo Kõlar, artistic director
WHAT: "From runic songs to Pärt"
WHERE: Fuentidueña Chapel at The Met Cloisters
WHEN: October 20, 2019, 8:00pm

"From runic songs to Pärt," could mean just about anything. I mean, I sort of assumed that the nucleus of their program would be....runic songs....and Pärt. But safe to say that this was the only concert from my October break where I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.

Well, the first thing I noticed, and the first thing I should say: god, I wish my choir robes were that cool.

Heinavanker's program did, indeed, include runic songs and Pärt, along with some 14th-century polyphony. A couple of anonymous French mass movements went off well, as did a Te Deum by artistic director Margo Kõlar, who sang while conducting minimally. The Pärt was also quite good.

But for now, I'm going to dismiss those pieces, because I remember almost nothing of them. Even right after I left, my mind was full of one thing and one thing only: Estonian runic song.

And here's the crazy thing -- Estonian runic song is so, so, so repetitive. Much of it is the same couple lines of music that just keep coming back to different text; occasionally the music changes a bit, but the changes are really very little, barely discernible. But thirty seconds in and you're entranced.

Heinavanker incorporated some simple choreography into their set, mostly stepping behind one another in some sort of hypnotized, down-beat conga line. As soon as they brought out their first runic song, the Kõlar arrangement that leads their 2013 album (which I've listened to at least four times since the performance [and may or may not be listening to now]), it as if this wash of calm descended over the audience. Something about the cyclic repetition combined with the kind of music that is just so....comfortable. No one's voice was stretched, no one's ear was challenged. It was just nice, good music.

I seriously cannot recommend this enough. Seriously.

And they were so in the zone. The verses and verses of text were second-nature to the ensemble, who performed mostly from memory. The voices blended effortlessly in the boomy-but-not-overly-so chapel; the plain chords were perfectly in tune.

I want to make one thing clear -- Heinavanker's program contained some of the simplest music I've ever reviewed. But they showed that simple does not necessarily equal unimpressive. They performed these simple runic pieces with the same focus and accuracy that they might have used for something fifteen times its difficulty.

This was another of those times that I came out of a concert and said: "I would sit through that again in a heartbeat." I was speechless. It's one thing to go into a concert knowing full well it's going to be fantastic; but the feeling of euphoria that follows uncertainty is even better.

Please, Heinavanker. Come back to the US. Pretty please, with Estonian runes on top.

P.S. This is one of their basses. Turns out he's an Estonian pop star. Who woulda thunk it?

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