Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly, concentrating on releasing any stress. No, we are not in a meditation session, we are listening to a concert featuring only compositions of Arvo Pärt.

Vlaams Radiokoor
© Marcel Lennartz

Estonian Kristjan Järvi, who has known his countryman personally from childhood, was chosen to conduct the Vlaams Radiokoor (Flemish Radio Choir under the direction of their conductor Joris Derder) and the Brussels Philharmonic in the eminent Basilica Koekelberg. Situated on an elevated plateau in the northwestern part of Brussels, the style of this fifth largest church in the world was inspired by the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Commissioned by King Leopold II, it was only completed in 1951 and reflects neo-gothic and Art Deco elements. The live stream camera let us guess cavernous and reverberating spaces as it panned around occasionally, showing architectural details. The members of the orchestra and the choir were not to be envied to performing with masks on. Many members of the choir visibly struggled with this impediment.

The central work of the concert was Adam's Lament, composed in 2009-10 and around 27 minutes long, for strings orchestra and mixed choir. Pärt sets to music the poem of St Silouan an Eastern Orthodox monk, canonised in 1987. The words express Adam's lamentations on his expulsion from paradise and, in the composer's own words “humankind in its entirety and each individual person alike, irrespective of time, epochs, social strata and confession”. Mobilising considerable choral and orchestral forces, this work alternates moments of tremendous world-weariness, monumental climaxes as well as extreme tenderness and fragility. Both the orchestra and chorus formed a homogenous whole under Järvi's direction.

Just as we thought all was lost, there was a ray of hope with the short Como cierva sedienta (As the hart panteth) in the version for female choir from 2002. The words are based on Psalms 42 and 43 and speak of the ongoing faith of the people, even in hard times. The almost constant choir contrasted with dynamic orchestration and outlines “A path filled with suffering and dramatic events, a path between consolation and ultimate despair that can lead to a struggle with God. But a way that is also filled with longing for Him,” in the composer's words.

Vlaams Radiokoor and Brussels Philharmonic in the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart
© Marcel Lennartz

The concert ended with the short Da Pacem Domine, commissioned by Jordi Savall two days after the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks. It is a meditative prayer for peace – a message, which resonates today as it did then.

Pärt's music continues to move and enthral, speaks to us at a deeply emotional and personal level, independent of religious orientation or understanding. In a word, listening to this concert encourages us to press the “pause life” button and lets his music calm you.

The Brussels Philharmonic website, by the way, is an excellent example of customer-friendly layout, providing the concert-goer information about the works, the composer himself (providing a link to the idyllic Pärt Centre in Estonia), a link to listen to the compositions in advance, and freely downloadable, trilingual programme booklet. All of these elements combine to prepare the interested visitor and contribute to a heightened listener experience.

This performance was reviewed from the Evil Penguin video stream