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Tallinn Music Week 2018

Henning Bolte By

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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.

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