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At the Opening of the Arvo Pärt Centre


Dear Arvo!

Thinking about this day while I was far from here, on the other side of the world, I listened to your work Spiegel im Spiegel, Mirror in the Mirror, once again. That piece, which you wrote 40 years ago on the eve of your involuntary departure, says more in today’s confusingly multipolar world than perhaps ever before. Especially when you are far from home.

I listened and thought about the sun illuminating red maple leaves in the Estonian autumn at the very same moment. In my mind’s eye, I saw the ruddy trunks of the pine trees back at home momentarily glowing in the autumn sun before it sinks too low, transforming silence into song.

Spiegel im Spiegel. Ten minutes of dialogue, questions and answers, repetition, reflection, elucidation, and acceptance.

Through your music we can experience the multitude of sounds hidden within one carefully considered note.

We come to realise that silence says more than verbosity; that determined, constant movement takes us further than restless fidgeting. Your music sharpens our ears until sorrow turns into comfort and grief thaws and gives way to joy. Distance becomes warm proximity.

The world turns and home remains with us, even if, in reality, it isn’t. A lonely hotel room becomes a familiar forest. An Estonian bog. A view from the bench next to a shed door, stretching over fields and cairns towards the setting sun.

You and your work play a part in this reflection of the soul, but in reality, it is born anew with each listening, depending on the time, place, and mood.

This singular piece has tugged on the heartstrings of millions of people around the planet and reminded us that the external hides the internal and that goodness and peace of mind do exist.

No doubt it has encouraged quite many people to search for Estonia on a map.

But more importantly, it has delivered an understanding that people’s inner desires are universal – they are the same everywhere around the world. This piece becomes everyone’s own: it remains yours, but so many thoughts and feelings emerge from between the sounds that you can no longer consider what happens in the listener’s soul as the composer’s creation. Naturally, it is indeed your music that fills our soul when we listen to it. You have created billions of variations on this piece in our souls.

The music is so very furtive, as if you don’t want to interrupt the listener’s thoughts, only amplify them, making them somehow more significant and much brighter.

In our noisy, restless world, this centre offers us a place to reflect on silence and stillness. For a moment, you can step off the planet and return later, holding on to your, Arvo’s, supporting and guiding hand.

We could all use a walk with the good-humoured and friendly Arvo Pärt by our side whenever we feel we want to stop the world and get off for a moment. Holding on to your hand, we can be more or less certain that we can still climb back onto that big ball we call home once the moment passes. There is no fear, only peace. Seen from afar, the Earth seems beautiful, clean, unspoilt. The way it actually no longer is.

Arvo, the style of your music is often described using the words ‘bright sadness’ and ‘silence and stillness’.

When we came to see this centre being built – I wish to say ‘grown', as it fits here so organically beneath the canopies of Lohusalu – your hard-working helpers showed me, dear Arvo, how your music is born.

Many pieces began from a single word; someone’s need for your music. This word was often followed by many others before notes appeared on the sheets of paper, all neatly arranged in their folders. As time passed, the notes continued to form a somewhat similar pattern, regardless of the piece – always that same cleanliness, emptiness, and repetition.

As the pieces progressed towards completion, they gradually became airier, leaving more and more room for the listener’s thoughts; at least this is how I felt. Browsing through the pages, I saw that luckily, each piece was completed in time before the notes vanished from the staves entirely.

Yet looking through those folders, I felt that if one could go onward, further, then it would still happen. There would be nothing left but pure thought and complete silence, though it would still be Arvo Pärt’s music.

Standing here, today, in this new home for your music, it doesn’t seem impossible that you might write such a piece in the future: one comprised of sounds so subtle that not a single one can stir the listener from their thoughts, but only hold a mirror up to their soul.

Perhaps you don’t even need to write such a piece: it already exists within this building. Here, each and every one of us can find a quiet moment to sit down and listen to it in their soul in peace.

I recommend giving it a try.

When we come to Lohusalu, you will certainly be here to greet us.

However, sometimes you surprise us elsewhere, in the middle of a busy day. It has happened to me, personally. One track. An outstanding Estelon sound system. The daily grind came to a halt, only to resume several minutes later. I honestly don’t know how much time it took. I honestly don’t remember the title of the piece, either.

I remember hearing the bright voice of a child singing the music of grown-ups. Your music. I’m sure you could tell me which church it was recorded in and what it was titled. It certainly wasn’t a studio recording. For some reason, I can remember that you yourself were accompanying on piano.

The young singer must have drawn courage from your presence. Caught up in the moment of that song, the child’s voice was joyous, self-assured, expressing childlike confidence in our world.

The world was at its best, just the way it was.

For an instant, everything in my own world became crystal clear. Things fell into place. The thoughts that usually scurry around my head like ants slowed and formed a line, as if they had arranged themselves according to the pristine page of sheet music written in your hand, filled with sounds and yet so clean. I pictured the pages in your collections of sheet music, a chronicle of the birth of your works.

I can’t remember what happened next. I suppose the ants scuttled off the sheet music, the crystal clouded over, and the spell was broken – but not really, you see. Something indescribable is still with me. Even today.

That is my story of your music. Everyone has their own. I was a little afraid to tell you, especially with the whole of Estonia listening in. But now, I’ve said it. Thank you for listening, Arvo.