DUE NORTH: ĒRIKS EŠENVALDS AND AURORA BOREALIS AS A CLAIMED ARTISTIC SPACE
Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) has been rapidly gaining recognition in the global choral world with his consumer-conscious in terms of musical style and technical execution, and yet, textually complex compositions. A significant number of Ešenvalds’s works are inspired by the phenomenon of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), including at least three compositions for choir, a multi-media symphony, a piano piece, and a clarinet concerto. I focus on Ešenvalds’s composition Northern Lights for mixed choir, power chimes, and water-tuned glasses, utilizing excerpts from the journals of 19th-century Arctic explorers – American Charles Francis Hall and Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen – in combination with the ancient Latvian folksong. This well-crafted choral work demonstrates main features of Ešenvalds’s current style, including uncomplicated harmonic language and structural design. The ways in which Ešenvalds sets, highlights, and layers chosen texts, however, are sophisticated and effective, resulting in a powerful narrative. Drawing upon writings of cultural geographers, ethnographers, historians, and literary scholars, and using Ešenvalds’s Northern Lights as an example, I argue that, through his “Northern” creative output, Ešenvalds discovers, negotiates, and, finally, authors his cultural identity as both a Latvian and, more broadly, a “Northern” composer.