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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 .

Agenda

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).

The music was a most improbable blend of influences of Eastern ancient chants and hymns, folk-based funeral marches, Americana, rock drama and pop sensitivities. It coalesced as a strong, unique and deeply moving piece of musical expression. It cut deep, subsequently rising up again finding reconciliation. This was accomplished by a truthfully and deeply felt actualization and flow of apt means of expression. It transcended all perceptible genres and led into a unique way of musical expression, a rare case of confluent beauty in its own right. Daring to go into the depths of the soul all through, sing it out and the way Skov and Faust dealt with opposites and contrasts, gave it shape, made the difference and prevented the music from falling into the pitfalls of kitsch and bombast. It was the immediacy of the music, fully pursuing the trace of the chant and the full-bodied projection of the amalgam of voices, brass, bass and percussion, that made it a memorable performance. This music with its swaying, dancing quality underneath finds its way between earthy and celestial, between lamenting and life celebration. It is not experimental but existential music.

The realization of the music of "In The Beginning" from field work and experiential listening in(to) deserted spaces at the Russian-Lithuanian border in the south of Estonia apparently was a very physical thing. Skov and Faust returned to the place of experience to record an album in an old abandoned Orthodox Church together with producer Mark Howard -a story apart. Live performances like that in the Swedish Church of Tallinn are an (repeated) echo of this first hand. Their precious approach bears a resemblance with the adagio of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov to give shape to the musical echoes of the past. In the case of "In The Beginning" echoes of disruptions of the past fuel contemporary music.

Maria Faust (1979) and Kira Skov (1976) are both characters, artists of a kind. Highly imaginative, soulful, impulsive, humor-filled playing combined with decisiveness and natural leadership: these are some of the remarkable traits of Maria Faust. Having initiated ensembles like Jazz Catastrophe, Sacrum Facere, Shitney and Machina, she developed a rich and unique range of free music expression with her larger ensembles that is not caught in freejazz or Nordic sound formats. She makes use of the extended techniques of freejazz as a means of expression in place.

Kira Skov is a Grenzgänger of a different capacity, with an odyssey (via Los Angeles and London) of her own. Her slightly grainy voice with a gentle silver edge can touch deeper dark sides of the soul, but she also has a gentle side of reconciling patient passion in her singing. Her songs and singing held already a strong hymnal quality.

Ready for reset

"Kommentaarium/Commentary" was an especially designed collection of work by highly active young Estonian composer Marianna Liik (1992), a scholar of renowned Estonian composers Helena Tulve and Margo Kõlar. It comprised vocal improvisations by Laura Põldvere -one of the most dazzling figures in Estonian music—in between the four plus one pieces commencing with "Concerto for Cello and Electronics"(2016) followed by "Miniature for the Harp" (2014), "Postludium" (2014) and "Irregular Pearl IV" for four percussionists. Especially the percussion piece with its attractive dynamics opened up a rich sound space and evoked moods that strongly spoke to listeners' imagination. It was strong enough to evoke curiosity, tension, amazement, relaxation, and surrender. The excellent lightning design (Kristjan Suits) and sound design (Katrin Kvade) emphasized and facilitated this to a high degree.

The concert was concluded by "Veereb, kuhu tahab/Rolling, wherever it wants to" for mixed choir (2016), a piece based on the comments listeners had posted on the Kommentaarium website after having listened to a recorded performance of the aforementioned four works. The idea is that audiences can familiarize with the music in advance and give individual comments. A choice of that comments is used for the shaping and reshaping of the concluding choral piece such that a live audience can hear it. The piece was performed by the 15-piece Chamber Choir Collegium Musicale under conductor Endrik Üksvärav that also participated in the choral meeting earlier that evening.

It is an interesting idea to co-opt the audience and offer it more possibilities to exteriorize its listening experiences. For the application here, however, it is unclear how far in advance of the performance to be attended the verbal feedback is needed. It is also not clear to what degree the performance can be affected by the comments. Is it confined to mirroring the verbatim version incorporated in the choral piece? Or is it possible that the sequence of the pieces, for instance, can be changed as a result? Would it also be possible to work with spoken comments in a call-response structure—possibly even in real time improvising as a live-remix? It is worthwhile to pursue this approach consequently to make the process of music making more tangible and open, creating a higher degree of identification of the listeners.

Kristjan Järvi Jukebox

Every edition's opening concert is a Kristjan Järvi thing, together with his New York Absolute Ensemble and an illustrious, colorful gathering of guests. This year Järvi joined forces with Luxemburg pianist Francesco Tristano, Estonian multifaceted composer, music producer, and DJ Sander Mölder, energetic (jazz) vocalist Kadri Voorand, young Estonian singer-songwriter Mick Pedaja, Estonian multi-facetted singer Elina Netchayeva and the Estonian Folk Orchestra (founded by Estonian accordion player Tuulikki Bartosik in 2011). It took place in the grandeur of the splendid building of the Russian Cultural Center of Tallinn, formerly the House of the officers of the Baltic fleet of the Soviet Union.

What was announced as "a journey into sounds, spaces, senses and a new realm of possibilities" with reference to club sounds of the past century became a hasty, showy, quite forced potpourri, or a Kristjan Järvi kind of jukebox. Stamping and loud monotone beats superseded and often buried other musical elements. Unfortunately a good idea did not take shape and the high potentials of the participating could not unfold satisfactorily.

Postscriptum

Tallinn and especially the building of Kultuurikatel, an old power plant, is closely related to the making of the famous movie "Stalker" (1979) of Russian director Andrej Tarkovsky (1932-1986). During shooting the film, the letters U and N (short for United Nations) were painted on the power station's chimney and have remained visible to this day. The central part of the film was shot in a few days at two deserted hydro power plants on the Jägala river near Tallinn. The shots before entering 'The Zone' were made in an old Flora chemical factory in the center of Tallinn, next to the old Rotermann salt storage and the electric plant—now a culture factory where a memorial plate of the film was set up in 2008. Some shots from 'The Zone' were filmed in Maardu, next to the Iru power plant, while the shot with the gates to 'The Zone' was filmed in Lasnamäe, next to Punane Street behind the Idakeskus. Some shots were filmed near the Tallinn-Narva highway bridge on the Pirita River. The Rotermann district is an intriguing reflecting combination of old, unrestored buildings from Soviet times, and modern new buildings—a constellation to be found in the shaping of the urban space in Tallinn quite often also with other periods from the past. This mirroring is also experienced when you meet Estonian people at places like the Kultuurikatel power plant or restaurant Pegasus on Harju, which, for young locals, were quite different hangouts in the past.

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