Last night at the Kennedy Center the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra performed works of Arvo Pärt, under the direction of Tönu Kaljuste. As spectacular as the recordings of Pärt’s music are (some of my favorites are the Berliner Messe, Te Deum, Fratres, and Für Alina), nothing compares to hearing it performed live by the world’s best interpreters. The acoustics in the Kennedy Center are grand, and the whispering violin in the opening sequence of Fratres was audible 26 rows back, while the choir’s roar during the Te Deum was rapturous.

It is now several decades since the fall of the Soviet Union.Yet a rising Russia and the new atheism, combined with threats on religious liberty by the Obama administration, means that the forgotten lessons must be retaught, before it is too late. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of the Republic of Estonia, presented brief remarks before the concert. Moving was his account of how the atheists had banned Pärt’s music, and so he first heard a recording while in Canada. Pärt’s music “was forbidden,” he said, “because it was too spiritual – which tells you something about life under communism.”