Forgotten Peoples Voices Resound

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performed Veljo Tormis “Forgotten Peoples” music in Berkeley, California, 1990

Thousands of years after Baltic-Finnic peoples settled on and near the shores of the Baltic Sea, Veljo Tormis composed a song cycle, Forgotten Peoples, people on the verge of extinction and whose languages are spoken by a handful of people—Livonians, Votes, Izhorians, Ingrians, Vepsians and Karelians.

I loved writing the piece Estonian Music Week Sparks Reflections of Forgotten Peoples. It memorializes the first time I heard this magnificent music, which was thirty years ago in Berkeley, California, during The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir’s debut USA tour, with Tõnu Kaljuste conducting. I’m so pleased the article about my memories and its continued significance was published by the weekly newspaper, Eesti Elu, in December 2021 (Issue 50, p26.)

My writing was partly inspired by a recent VEMU (Toronto-based Museum of Estonians Abroad) virtual program led by VEMU’s chief archivist, Piret Noorhani, that featured a spectacular documentary by Collegium Musicale and their 3-year quest to sing the Tormis songs while visiting the people portrayed in Tormis’ music. Serendipitously, at about the same time as I saw Collegium Musicale’s documentary, I came across a home video which turned out to have a twenty minute excerpt of the concert I attended thirty years ago! From research, including tracking down the original US Tour agent for the concert, I realized that this concert tour was in all likelihood the first time Tormis’ masterpiece was performed in the United States.

I have since been able to make a digitized copy available to historic and musical organizations in North American and Estonia. I have also created a shorter (approx. 6.5 min) annotated version for you to enjoy.

Excerpt of The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir’s 1990 performance of Veljo Tormis’ “Forgotten People” song cycle in Berkeley, California

I recommend visiting websites of the phenomenal choirs, The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Collegium Musicale. Collegium Musicale’s documentary is narrated in Estonian, with wonderful music and footage available to be enjoyed simply by your ears and eyes, here. The Veljo Tormis Virtual Centre‘s website is full of riches, and they also have a presence on Facebook.