Tallinn Music Week 2018

Henning Bolte By

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83 venues in Tallinn
Tallin Music Week
Tallinn, Estonia
April 5-7, 2018

Tallinn Music Week (TMW) is an international multidisciplinary cross-genre festival. The festival is in its tenth year, founded and led by Helen Sildna. With more than 260 acts from 30 countries spread across 83 venues in the Estonian capital, 1330 international delegates, 150 international journalists and more than 34,000 concert visitors it has grown into a major international event. First and foremost it is the strong underlying innovative energy, daring imagination and determined implementation that makes it such an outstanding event.

Spirit, appreciation, imagination

It is impossible to return from TMW without sensation(s) of surprise, striking insight and substantial encouragement. It is not just the experience of high appreciation of creativity and arts. It is the experience of culture and arts as a nourished productive societal force, as capital and as a socio-political instrument for the whole community. This came across unmistakably and credibly in the opening speech by Kersti Kaljulaid, the young female president of the Republic of Estonia. The strong female side in Estonia is also manifested in the staff of TMW, in the organization of Kultuurikatel, the center where the conferences were held (see also the yearly list of strong Estonian women). A decade of TMW coincides with the centenary of the declaration of the Republic of Estonia (more about the history of Estonian independency you can read in this concise overview).

Maybe this is not so astonishing for a country that owes its independence and self-consciousness to a considerable degree to the singing voices of its valiant inhabitants. Estonia, with less than one and half million inhabitants, has brought forth a considerable amount of influential musical talent of the highest degree, like the composers Arvo Pärt (the world's most performed living contemporary composer), Veljo Tormis, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Helena Tulve, Tõnu Kõrvits and Mirjam Tally, conductors as Tonu Kaljuste, Anu Tali, Ants Sööt, the 3 Järvis (Neeme, Paavo, Kristjan), Jaan-Eik Tulve, popular music greats as Maria Minerva, Kerli, Ingrid Lukas, Maarja Nuut and Marie Kalkun, as well as internationally renowned jazz musicians as Kristjan Randalu, Robert Jürjendal, Jaak Sooäär, Maria Faust and Kadri Voorand .


This year gender, (big)data, values and Narva were some of the key words for the two days of the Creative Impact conference at Kultuurikatel, which outlined inciting perspectives of orientation/action and provided valuable and stimulating insights. Narva is a broken industrial town in the north of Estonia at he Russian border on the way to St. Petersburg; 96% of the population speaks Russian. Having struggled to find a new identity ever since Estonia regained its independence, the city decided to make a turn with "Narva is next" (candidacy for European Capital of Culture in 2024), thereby reframing itself as a creative hotspot making the most of the advantages of being a border city and a link between the European North and Slavonic East. To foster this process a festival offshoot of Tallinn Music Week will be launched. These are in short some of the elements the musical acts and proceedings were framed by.

What was different from other years was that this time there was no showcase night for jazz at the Vaba Laba venue at Teleskivi creative hub district. Jazz festival Jazzkaar is very close to TMW and in the eyes of Jazzkaar provides better possibilities to present Estonian jazz artists to the jazz community. There was a core jazz stream at Philly Joe jazz club in the old town instead.

This review is a mixed but coherent affair, connecting four concerts. Voice and choirs were the common thread in all attended concerts: the opening concert of Kristjan Järvi's Absolute Club, the concert of the Estonian Choral Association at studio 1of Estonian Radio, the concert of the Kira Skov/Maria Faust ensemble at Swedish St. Michael's Church and the performance of young Estonian composers Marianna Liik (1992) work "Kommentaarium/Commentary" at Kanuti Guild Hall.

Choir backbone

Choirs and choir works are the backbone of Estonian music(making). I was introduced to Estonian choir work during a residence of Veljo Tormis at Norwegian Punkt Festival (Kristiansand) in 2010. It was a revelation with consequences. The appearance of Tütarlastekoor Ellerhein at last year's edition of Tallinn Music Week made it to my year list of best concerts. One of the key features was the wonderful creativity of integrating high quality singing into a choreography of the singers' body movements and percussive elements. Hence I was eager to see this year's choir presentation with seven choirs of all ages, genders, sizes and focus at TMW that took place at studio 1 of Estonian Radio, presenting the Children's Choir of Estonian radio, the Male Youth Choir of the National Opera of Estonia, Children's Choir Ellerhein, Chamber Choir Helü, the Youth Choir of Tallinn Music High School and the Chamber Choir Collegium Musicale.

It was striking that so many pieces of composers of the youngest generation all born in the 80s or 90s participated in the program, namely Juhan Aru, Marianna Liik, Eeva Talsi, Riho Esko Maimets, Sander Mölder, Sander Pehk, Rasmus Puur, Kadri Voor. Young singers in particular enjoyed singing their compositions, for instance Sarvelugu/Hangover" by Sander Mölder (1987), "Imeline helin ..."/Wonderful Ringtone" by Riho Esko Maimets/Ernst Enno (1988), "laula, kuni elad/sing until you live" by jazz musician Kadri Voorand (1986) or "Läbi öö läheb päevade rada/Leading through the night is the path to the days" by Marianna Liik (1992).

It was astounding (and inspiring) how playfully the choirs worked with rhythm patterns, reverberation, confluence, sustained sounds and vibrations—all in sophisticated arrangements and in fine-tuned dynamic performances. It revealed how multi-branched, highly interconnected and clearly and seriously evolving Estonian choir work is.

Ancient Now

A special event was the performance of "In the Beginning" by Kira Skov and Maria Faust with a six-piece mixed choir of an almost complete range of voice types from soprano to bass (Marie Roos /soprano, Silja Uhs/mezzo soprano Annely Leinberg/alto, Raul Mikson/tenor Meelis Hainsoo/baritone, Joosep Sang/bass together with a six-piece instrumental ensemble comprising alto saxophone (Maria Faust) and tenor saxophone (Ned Ferm), trumpet (Tobias Wiklund), bass clarinet (Anders Banke (bcl/ts)), double bass (Nils Bo Davidsen) and drums (Jakob Hoyer).


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