Researcher: Dr.Eugene Birman
Nostra Culpa, a cantata dubbed ‘financial opera’ by the world media, was commissioned by the Estonian Music Days festival for the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra with vocal soloist Iris Oja on an original libretto by Scott Diel. The work is among the first in classical music history to incorporate social media posts (Twitter and NYTimes blog posts verbatim by economist Paul Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Ilves) to dramatic effect in classical concert music, and was specifically highlighted for its groundbreaking libretto by Samuel Breen in the Independent in 2013, who labeled the project “hugely relevant…there’s the brutality of austerity and empathising with a belittled nation, a President’s frustration and an economist’s arrogance.” The work was also the subject of a BBC World TV documentary with host Tanya Beckett in 2015, where it was used as a cross-disciplinary entry/exit point to the documentary’s discussion of how the financial crisis affected post-Soviet economies, referenced in various scholarly articles in Estonia (particularly in a retrospective on new music in the March 2014 issue of SIRP), and further highlighted in the first critical scholarship of any kind on the use of Twitter by a political figure, written by Marion van Renterghem for Le Monde (Président twitteur, 2013). The juxtaposition of political opponents in two distinct movements, their social media posts sung by one singer, allowed for the expression and eventual discussion of complex social issues to directly take advantage of Nostra Culpa’s structural framework, highlighting both the “discord and conflict” (Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN, 2013) and the subject matter’s context: the work’s performances took place almost entirely in those countries most affected by the Financial Crisis itself. Only in the notation of a whistle tone to represent Ilves’ self-censorship of the word “sh*t” does the vocal writing directly inject itself into the political narrative.
Performances by Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonietta Riga, Anima Musicae Chamber Orchestra, and ContempoArtEnsemble, with Iris Oja as soloist