The Conversation: Oleg Pissarenko
Lauded by critics for his originality and virtuosity, guitarist Oleg Pissarenko’s music is genre defying. He hails from eastern Estonia’s border city of Narva and has worked tirelessly to promote musical education and jazz in Tartu, Narva and Estonia’s smaller communities. In 2013 he was named Estonian musician of the year by the music writers of Estonian Public Broadcasting. Tallinn Arts had a conversation with Oleg about his early influences, the mystery of song craft and why pigeonholing his music is someone else’s problem.
What drew you to the guitar?
I think it was like it often happens with very many young boys, when at the age of 12-13 some rock idols become important and you want to follow them in music, philosophy… I felt the same at that time listening a lot to The Doors, Queen, and the Russian band Kino. I think those musicians drew me to the music and the guitar as well.
What were some of your early musical influences?
I seriously investigated the philosophy of Viktor Tsoi (from Kino) and Jim Morrison when I was 12-16 years old but coming to Tallinn in 1996 changed my musical orientation a lot. I can say I was infected by the “jazz bacterium” and discovered geniuses like Miles Davis, John Scofield and other great jazz men.
How would you classify your music? Comparisons are seldom a good thing, but I hear a bit of Pat Metheny and Michael Hedges.
I don’t like classifying music at all, for me the most important thing is the energy, power and philosophy of music. Style and genre are important for other guys like music sellers, managers or critics. Pat Metheny is one of my favorites really, so some influences came from him anyway I think. I like him very much as well as Arvo Pärt, Michael Jackson and other very different artists.
Would you dislike the term “new age” applied to your music?-
New Age is more like an era in the development of our planet for me, not a music style. The music style “New Age” is not evident for me, what does it mean really? You can put any terms to my music, please be so kind, but as I said, I don’t like classifying or tagging music. Just listen to, feel and dip into it. Please don’t think so much about what it is!
Do you compose and arrange all of your songs, or is it a collaborative process with your band?
When I compose a new song, I play it on my guitar, changing some details until I feel it is “ready”. That means I have a very good feeling playing it and don’t want to stop playing it! At that moment I say – this song is ready! The next step is deciding what is the new song talking about – or maybe not deciding but discovering – that’s a more correct definition. After that we meet with my best friends and fantastic musicians – Raun Juurikas on keyboards, Mihkel Mälgand on bass and Ahto Abner on drums and start arranging this material. The final result is a product of co-operation between four men. Everyone is bringing his own personality to this music.
You are from Narva. What is the music scene like in eastern Estonia, which is perceived as so different from cosmopolitan Tallinn?
How did growing up in Narva influence you as an artist?
Narva is a very specific city in Estonia today, but it was not so in Soviet times. I was born in very regular small, Soviet, Russian speaking city. Today we have Narva as strategically important place on the border between the Russian Federation and European Union – on a border between east and west I would say. But if you ask about Narva’s influences on me, this was the place of my childhood, my roots are there. Unfortunately, I cannot speak a lot about the music scene there now. I have lived in Tartu for the last 9 years. We’re just trying to develop it, using the Narva Jazz Club project in the new building of University of Tartu, Narva College. Jazz Club events are taking place two times a month on Wednesdays and already have became very popular there! This is a connection platform for European and Russian musicians.
What are you trying to do with a piece of music? How do you know when you have captured something special in a song?
I try to get this mystical feeling of the right condition in a new song. This is like a meditation maybe. If I feel it is right, then I know exactly what is it talking about after some minutes. I understand that it can seem very obscure but I cannot explain it better. It is mystery anyway how music comes into to this world, or more correct would be to say – music exists already, the composer is only the man who finds and senses it. Every sound exists in nature, just listen to the singing of birds for example!
Do you ever play anything other than the Ovation acoustic-electric?
I play two different guitars for my concerts with two different tunings. Also I have a new hand-made guitar that being made especially for me by a master from Tartu called Halvo Liivamägi.
Where do you feel your music is heading?
My last CD asked a question, Who Are You? (the man, the human being). As that question was asked, I feel the need to answer this. The question is so simple but it is so difficult to find an answer. I will try to do it.
The Conversation: Abigail Sheppard
A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Abigail Sheppard began her professional ballet training in 2002 at Canada’s National Ballet School. In 2011, she moved to Amsterdam to study with the Dutch National Ballet Academy. During this time she performed in the Dutch National Ballet’s productions of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” with choreographer Rudi van Danzig and “The Nutcracker & The Mouse King” with Wayne Eagling. Since August 2012, Abigail has performed with the Estonian National Ballet. Here she has danced as the Snow Queen in the Ballet’s beloved production of the Nutcracker among many other roles. Tallinn Arts caught up with Abigail to find out about the daily life of a dancer, her aspirations as an artist, and why Hollywood’s depictions of the ballet world aren’t so far off the mark.
How did your life start in dance?
Well, I am from Thunder Bay, Ontario in Canada. My mom got me into ballet when I was 5 years old. At 11 I went to Canada’s National Ballet School, which is a boarding school so I was already on my own at such a young age. There was a regular school during the day and then ballet in the afternoon.
Was it rigorous? Did you feel a lot of pressure to do well?
I think some students felt really stressed out. I could see that. I felt so happy to be there and was so excited. The pressure didn’t really bother that me that much. As I got older it increased a bit. We had an evaluation every year to stay on, so this added some stress. Dancing is a regimented life and puts a lot of demands on your time.
How did you come to Estonia?
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Estonia. I graduated the National Ballet School at 18 and nothing presented itself immediately. I perhaps wasn’t quite ready yet so I moved to Amsterdam to study with the National Ballet Academy and was able to perform with the Dutch National Ballet in “Swan Lake” with Rudy van Danzig as choreographer and also the “Nutcracker” with Wayne Eagling doing the choreography. From there I was accepted for the Estonian National Ballet and arrived in late summer of 2012.
How does the approach to ballet differ in Estonia compared to other places you’ve been?
The artistic director Thomas Edur has an interesting background. He grew up in the Soviet era in Estonia so that Russian influence is felt, the rigor and attention to detail, even when warming up which was new to me. You could say it’s old school somewhat. And many of the dancers have that background so the Russian influence is strong. But Thomas danced for much of his career in England. His dancing partner and wife is Agnes Oaks who is also Estonian and she works with us as well. It’s a good mix of styles.
What the daily life of a dancer like? How do you prepare the day of a show?
We work six days a week including Sundays. Monday is the day off. A big part of the lifestyle, aside from actual dancing, is taking care of yourself. I work out a lot on the elliptical machine and do pilates. I’m afraid the clichés of the dancer’s diet are somewhat true. I try to eat well; stuff that helps my body recover, like lean meat, fish and vegetables. On the day of the show we rehearse until 2.00 and then I go home and have a nap, get up, have a hardboiled egg and a yogurt and get to the theatre and work out the nerves which are always there.
What are your aspirations as an artist? What are your long term goals?
As a dancer I am striving to be very comfortable on stage, where I can do my absolute best when performing and not leave it in rehearsal. Sometimes it easier to dance your best when practicing simply because you’re more relaxed.
I am very happy here and not worrying too much about the future. The great thing about working in Estonia are the opportunities afforded a young dancer. I have been performing as the Snow Queen with Sergei Upkin and Jonatan Davidsson in the “Nutcracker” this season. And we have very good attendance at our shows which is thrilling. The arts scene is quite strong here and I have been very impressed by that.
I apologize for this last question, but I had to ask. What did you think of Darren Aronofsky’s film The Black Swan?
I personally enjoyed it. And I think Natalie Portman did really well with the dancing, especially her upper body movements. But you can’t become a dancer in a year and they maybe could have acknowledged a bit more that a pro was doubling for her. Perhaps a better ballet film was Center Stage from around 2000 because they used real dancers. It’s a bit cheesy but entertaining.
Happy New Year from Tallinn Arts!
Tallinn Arts magazine has now been published and is being distributed around Tallinn, in Riga, in business class on Tallink ferries and in select lounges at Tallinn Airport. Thanks to all who have supported our efforts! The link to the online magazine is below.
The Conversation: Paul Kuimet
Paul Kuimet is a young Estonian visual artist whose works are garnering praise around Europe. His art pays attention to spaces and their potential meanings. During the spring, summer and autumn of 2012 Kuimet photographed more than 100 monumental paintings in public spaces throughout Estonia. The result was the book Notes on Space and an exhibit of the same name currently running at Kumu. This was the first time that the history of Estonian monumental works of art was recorded. Kuimet’s photos frame the works in their urban and spatial context, while also highlighting the rise and fall of Estonian public space during the 20th century. His pictures are a series of 38 black and white photos which not only capture but enhance the viewers’ understanding of context for these publicly commissioned works, which were intended to inform attitudes and social norms in Soviet Estonia and are fading from memory. Tallinn Arts had a conversation with Paul about how the project and exhibition came about and his methods and aesthetic sense for documenting a vanishing cultural legacy.
TA: Could you explain a bit about the project and goals of Notes on Space.
PK:The exhibition grew out from the Notes on Space book project (Konspekteeritud ruum http://www.lugemik.ee/book/konspekteeritud-ruum). It started when Tõnis Saadoja asked me to document the process of him painting the ceiling painting at Theatre NO99. I proposed early on that we make a book from the photographs and it resulted in the series 32 Photographs that was published in this book. While discussing this book within our work group which at that point consisted of Eero Epner from Theatre NO99, graphic designer and publisher Indrek Sirkel from Lugemik, Tõnis Saadoja and myself, questions concerning previous monumental paintings in Estonia arose, so it was decided to find out how many of these works still existed, what condition they were in etc. And of course, what kind of works they were, because this genre of art has never been fully documented or not much has been written about it. This is quite bizarre considering that it was very a prominent and important genre within visual arts, especially during the late 60s, 70s and 80s and I’m pleased that this exhibition took place in this space at Kumu, because it’s surrounded by the ‘official’ art history (the permanent display) of the same era. A young art historian Gregor Taul did the research and in addition to the bigger towns, we travelled to some quite obscure places to find these works. 100 of these paintings were included in the book. So the first goal of this project was to see if we could give context to Tõnis’ new piece at Theatre NO99, but because the material was rich and multifaceted, and there was a lot of it, it sort of grew into a project (and exhibition) on its own. 38 images were selected for the exhibition and I can’t help but stress the importance of Tõnis Saadoja who designed the exhibition. As the selection of images was based on the shape of the space in which it was exhibited in, I would almost say that he was the curator as well.
The general goals from the transition that the material went through from the book to an actual exhibition space, were to show enough images that there would be an overview of the various ways in which monumental art has been made, so we had to be honest to the material and not necessarily show the most well known and prominent pieces, but to also show the works that turned out quite bad. So it was a critical inquiry into the subject. Also, by painting the walls of the space all slightly different tones of gray and placing the booklets with Daniel Blight’s text in the middle of the room we wanted to make the space seem as a coherent and thus a somewhat monumental whole in itself.
TA: Why did you choose the black and white format?
PK: The black and white was at first chosen so it would blend in with the series 32 Photographs (the black and whiteness was decided here first) in the book. You must realize that for most monumental works we had no idea what we were going to see, as most of them lack any photographic documentation. Later when we began to have some sort of overview of the works and their large variety – I found it only good that all the images are black and white. It helps to create order in the series and it abstracts the subject matter and I wouldn’t say that it’s a nostalgic use of the style, rather an abstraction and a way of saying that “this is what’s been done, we should start over and question the role of public art today…” The black and whiteness and the subject matter might indeed evoke nostalgia, but I would like to say that this was not our goal. I see the handmade silver gelatin prints more as the most honest and actually as the most direct way for images to get from the physical world onto photographic paper. Furthermore, the way they were mounted in the frames, without being hidden behind a glass in a vitrine frame is my way of saying that this subject matter is indeed of importance now. If I were to place the images in classic vitrine frames, they would say that “these are important and historical images”, the photographs would become museological objects which would perhaps give a wrong impression.
TA: The pictures in NOS seem to be a commentary on cultural and functional obsolescence. Any thoughts?
That’s a correct assumption. The black and whiteness and the complete analogueness of the works printed in a medium that’s becoming obsolete itself can be seen to further address this idea. There is sequence of images in the exhibition that show early painted advertisements from ca 1990, an overpainted blank wall and an overpainted blank wall that now boasts a large L’Oreal ad. These blank walls of which several more were also included in the book all held large Supergraphics in the 1980s. These Supergraphics were some of the better examples of urban design in my mind and sadly a lot of them are fading or already gone and they’ve been replaced by advertisements. Among other things the recent years have seen the destruction of the so called Sakala keskus that’s been replaced by the Solaris shopping center, an idea I must remind you, that was ‘sold’ to the public on grounds that it would a cultural center… I’m not sure that attaching a couple of cinemas and a concert hall to a shopping mall makes it automatically a cultural center, or if it does then this is a culture that I don’t want to be part of. Just a few weeks ago, H&M opened their downtown store in the former Post Office building, another beautiful building designed by Raine Karp (architect of Sakala keskus, as well as Linnahall).These drastic changes have made people react – the Soviet heritage in design and architecture has seen a lot of projects and exhibitions recently – the last Estonian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennial that was dealing with the Linnahall building and other modernist architecture of this era, a couple of exhibitions at Tarbekunstimuuseum last year, the last Tallinn Architecture Biennial this year etc.
There has also been a trend toward Soviet era design and furniture in a lot of hip bars and cafe’s in Tallinn, which I’m assuming is the result of the younger generation of people who don’t necessarily remember the rather dreadful everyday of the Soviet reality or who have simply forgotten about it or have put it behind them so that they can embrace these objects and design in a new, perhaps nostalgic way. Maybe this is not the critical way of approaching this topic, but if it makes the public aware of this cultural amnesia that’s been going on with all those buildings being torn down and/or converted into shopping malls then so be it.
TA: What were you shooting for aesthetically with NOS?
PK: The black and whiteness, mounting and design of the space I already explained, but I can add that this was indeed a commissioned work, so that puts me in a different position from the beginning, because in my own work I could choose to not photograph certain subjects at all, whereas here, I’d have a list of subjects that had to be captured. That being said, the photographs try to be objective towards the works of art, precisely because I’m depicting other people’s works, but since the most basic question or problem in monumental and public works is the way in which the paintings are engaged with the space which they inhabit, I also tried to show the context around the works. Indoor pieces were more difficult in this sense, since some of them are quite large and the space and lenses have optical limitations. Because of this and the fact that the starting point or goal was to have as much of the paintings in a single frame, a lot of decisions were already taken out of my hands in a way. Still, that being said, I think with most of my work of this kind I try to find a vantage point with my camera that articulates the space it is depicting best. This means finding a place for the camera from which all important or large elements in the frame are well balanced within the frame and in relation to each other… quite basic compositional stuff I think.
The exhibition Notes on Space is based upon Kuimet’s book of the same name and runs until 5 January at Kumu.
Daniel Blight’s comments on NOS at his webpage:
The Conversation: Udo Dirkschneider
German heavy metal legend Udo Dirkschneider is still rocking into his seventh decade. Best known for his role as lead singer of Accept, who have sold over 17 million records worldwide, Dirkschneider has been fronting his own band U.D.O. since 1987 with occasional reunions with Accept along the way. Dirkschneider is a pivotal figure in the founding of the German metal scene which spawned the likes of Scorpions and Rammstein. Tallinn Arts spoke with Dirkschneider when he visited Estonia recently on U.D.O.’s Steelhammer tour.
Name: Udo Dirkschneider
Place of birth: Wuppertal, Germany
Occupation: Rock Star
TA: So how’s the tour going?
UD: Well we’ve been traveling throughout Russia. It’s been fantastic. But Russia’s always been good to us. But I’ll tell you it’s interesting. We just did a short tour of the US and metal is coming back. I was surprised to see, but it’s good to see. The metal scene was not very good in America for a long time. We did a tour with Saxon in 2001 and now twelve years later we’ve come back and it was great. We’re going to go back next year for one month. Yes, it looks like metal is back in America.
TA: So the Russian leg of Steelhammer was good?
UD: Well, you know Russia is huge. You can do a lot of shows in Russia if you want. We did 12, 13 shows, but you could do 30 or 40. There are so many cities there of even 2 million people that no one’s ever heard of. Everything is very easy because now you can also fly around. 10 or 15 years ago it was all by train which was hard. The plane means you can cover a lot more ground and do a more shows.
TA: What’s new for, Udo?
UD: Well, as a band we’ll be traveling in South America for one month at the end of the year and then I am doing something pretty special. In December I am doing 10 shows with a symphony orchestra with the singer from Anthrax (Joey Belladonna) and the singer from HammerFall (Joacim Cans) in Sweden, Czech Republic, Belgium and Germany.
TA: Do you see a connection between classical music and metal?
UD: Yes, in some ways. With certain types of arrangements you can create some feelings. It is very interesting but not all the time. It is good for creating a kind of atmosphere in a song.
TA: When you are listening to music, when you are not making music, what do you listen too?
UD: I put the radio on. I don’t listen to metal at home! (laughs). Just normal music, pop music. I live in Spain now so whatever is on the radio. I live on Ibiza which is nice. Every kind of music.
TA: What was it like starting out in Germany?
UD: There wasn’t much going on at all at the beginning. There was the Scorpions. There was some other stuff too, bands lost to time, but it was called “kraut rock”. When I started in Accept that was in the ‘70s. Wolf (guitarist Wolf Hoffmann) and Peter (bassist Peter Baltes) came six years later and I was already with Accept for a long time. But we already had our own songs. We didn’t play cover stuff. We composed our own music which was important. The scene wasn’t so bad in Germany but we went to the Netherlands and Belgium and became quite popular there and then we became more popular in Germany after that. The breakout year was ’81 when made the record Breaker and toured with Judas Priest. That’s when we became big in Europe. Then a lot of bands came up like Halloween, Running Wild and Warlock.
What can I say? We have had a good run. Over the years we’ve played with just about everyone. Aerosmith, Ozzy, Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Kiss, you name it.
The Conversation: Aija Kivi, Director of Metro Models
Name: Aija Kivi
Place of Birth: Tallinn
Occupation(s): Director of Metro Model Tallinn, Jewelry Designer, Stylist
TA: How did you find your way to working with Metro Models?
AK: It was coincidence of circumstances. First I started working for Metro Models in Zurich doing different things. Later when I came back to Tallinn to graduate from university, the owner asked me if was interested of continuing working from Tallinn for them. A year later the owner and I talked about opening a scouting office of Metro Models here as it’s really good place for finding potential models. So in March, we opened a scouting office in Tallinn and I am the head of that office.
TA: Do a lot of Estonian models go abroad and work?
AK: Yes, because there is not a lot of work and the fees are not that big. Much work is done for free or you get some beauty gifts and gift cards, but for new face models it’s still a good opportunity to develop their book and catwalk experience. It’s also good to get noticed in this market too.
TA: What has been a challenge so far?
AK: It’s not so easy to find perfect top model material models. We also have quite many model agencies in a very small country, so there is a big competition for the models.
TA: How do you differentiate yourself from other agencies?
AK: One of the big plusses about us is that the head office is in Switzerland, so we are getting very well paid modeling jobs from there too. We are working quite hard to get more direct booking jobs in, but not only, from Switzerland. I don’t know all the other agency rules, but in our agency models don’t need to pay for their test shootings and professional snaps & videos. It’s our investment to the models we believe in.
TA: Is the social media important to a model agency?
AK: Yes, Facebook is very useful. You can look through so many people in very little time. It’s not the same when you scout in the street. In the street you never know if you are gonna be lucky or not. In Facebook you can also get an idea if the person is photogenic, but to be honest most of the models who I have met are in real life much better looking and make great fashion pictures compared to the ones they have in their Facebook page.
TA: What do you look for when you scout? What are the requirements for your models?
AK: Her face needs to be somehow special and unique. She also needs a body of a model - skinny and tall. Minimum of 170 centimeters, but hopefully taller. It all depends on the face. If the face is sweet looking like a doll face, then 170cm can be enough. Editorial models need to be taller. There is not a formula because you never know who works well and what the industry wants. All the agencies and bookers have their own taste and the market is always in changing.
TA: What’s a good personality for a model?
AK: First of all, you have to like modeling. You have to be motivated and give your best in every job. And then there is the indefinable factor that some people just have, an aura or charisma. That’s the IT-factor.
TA: What advice would you give a model that going to a casting?
AK: Do a background check of the client. Show them that you know something about their brand.
TA: What’s your goal for the agency?
AK: I want to find strong models and take them to the top. I want to make Metro agency well-known in a good way in Estonia and worldwide too.
TA: What do you like about the job at the agency?
AK: I like to work with people. I like the contact with the models and also the contact with agency bookers and scouts. I really want to give my best when developing a model’s career who I believe in. I have a background as a jewelry designer but the agency seems to be more my passion. Of course I like jewelry design, but somehow the agency work seems to come more easily. I like to believe that I can make another person’s life better.
TA: What motivates you?
AK: A little over a year ago I graduated as jewelry designer but didn’t feel that it’s the thing that I want to do every day. Then came the opportunity to work in the modelling agency full time. Every morning when I get up I feel it’s the right thing for me. That I can do so much, make it stronger, find good models and somehow give a better life to them.
TA: How can you make her life better?
AK: If the girl already has the perfect body and face for modeling, then it’s the best way for her to travel for free and meet new people and earn a living through it as it can be very well paid. There are so many girls who would like to be a model but don’t have the face or body. But some girls are already born this way so why not use it in the best way.
TA: Is it a dream you share with the other girls?
AK: In a sense yes – it was my dream, but despite that I have had nice modeling experiences in Estonia and Finland. Maybe that is one of the reason why I would like to help my models to achieve that dream.
TA: How close is the stereotypical view of a model’s life to the real deal?
AK: In some way it is very hard job. You work all the time in different cities, so you are not able to see your parents and friends for many months. It’s not so easy to have a relationship too if your girlfriend or boyfriends can’t travel with you. The competition is also hard. You go to many castings per day where are many other models who all want to get the same job. When you start with modeling, you live together with other models and it can be hard for your self-esteem if you start comparing yourself to others, how they look and how much work they are getting.
TA: On a slightly different note, how would you define nostalgia?
AK: Nostalgia is some kind of missing. It’s when you have had a beautiful experience that is gone or lost and it makes you feel sad as you are not in the moment anymore. That way it feels like a sad word but there is something beautiful about it, because you can be thankful of the beautiful experience that you have had. For me nostalgia is being thankful of the moment that you have had in your life.
TA: Are you nostalgic about your modeling career?
AK: In some way yes, but in another way this is my dream now. It is much greater to help others if they really want it. I like that I can be in the process and see their development. For me it is very important to have a close relationship with my models so they feel happy in the agency and are not afraid of asking questions and advice. I want them to feel that I really do my best for them. I don’t do it because of the money. The money comes when you do what you love. When it comes from the heart.
Jewelry by Aija Kivi
Faces at Metro Models Tallinn & Zürich
The Conversation: Sirje Helme
Sirje Helme obtained her MA in art history at Tartu University. Her post-graduate work was done at the Estonian Academy of Arts. She has worked at the publishing house Kunst as editor of the Kunst almanac, editor-in-chief and director of the company, and as director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Estonia.Since 2005 Helme has been the director general of the Kumu Art Museum. She is a guest professor at Tartu University and the Estonian Academy of Arts and has published many articles in Estonian and foreign publications. In 1999 she wrote the acclaimed Concise History of Estonian Art with Jaak Kangilaski.In 2005 Helme was awarded the Order of the White Star of Estonia, 4th class. Tallinn Arts was privileged to chat with Sirje about developments in Estonian art through a tumultuous history and the current exhibition at Kumu, Critique and Crisis, which explores art in post-war Europe.
Name: Sirje Helme
Place of Birth: Tallinn
Occupation: General director, Art Museum of Estonia
TA:If you could define Estonian art at its essence, as something distinct from the art of Estonia’s various occupiers, German, Swedish, Russian and Soviet, what would that be?
SH:First of all, I can see the various periods, the art from 16th, 19th, 20th centuries as not so much different from the art of the occupiers. Our art has been in good contact with European art tendencies, but the great name is Michel Sittow, who was born and died in Tallinn, and the works by Bernt Notke in our churches expanded upon that.
The classicist architecture in the 18th and19th centuries in Russia was deeply influenced by Italian or German architects and the same happened in Estonia, especially in the Tartu University buildings. Art was very international during these periods.
The post-war Russian occupation is very different, of course. Political and ideological rules influenced our art in different ways. But at its roots Estonian post-war art was following the modernist tendencies, which we call today Soviet or Socialist Modernism. To point out the differences with western European post-war modernism, I have used the term different modernisms. These problems are not only Estonian, but common to all Central- East- European art.
But if you ask, was there something essential in our art, I will answer yes, but it is hard to define. May be in a very poetic way – we don’ see the crops under the snow fields, and how the next spring is prepared, but there is always something that we do know.
TA:What one Estonian artist brings out this essence? What Estonian artist should every non-Estonian be familiar with?
SH:A good artist’s work is always very personal, even in today’s global village with it’s endless international contacts and connotations. We don’t have anymore a one and common art world. Social media has invented tens of different art worlds with different heroes, but for common art history, I would suggest to know from the 1970s Ando Keskküla (1950-2008), from the 1980s Raoul Kurvitz, and from the 1990s -2000 Jaan Toomik. Today we have also some really good young artists with good international CVs already.
TA: What is the legacy and influence of the Soviet Union in Estonian art?
SH:We don’t have to underestimate Soviet Estonian art, it is our history like any other historical period. This period is different and complicated and needs much research. The more deep we go with the research, the more interesting problems we see. I mentioned already the term different modernism and soviet modernism. These terms can be seen as methodological bases for research.
We also have to keep in mind, that the Soviet period wasn’t the same age for 50 years. Inside of the occupation were different periods, depending on the Soviet Union’s politics (cold war, thaw period, Russification from the end of seventies etc). To protect themselves and to keep the knowledge of Estonian art as a part of European culture there was a process what I could name as building the ivory tower, which means not dealing with social and political problems but to concentrate on aesthetics and technical solutions in art works instead.
We had our avant-garde and main-stream and collaborations with ideological demands, but in the larger perspective it was creating a kind of closed island. It seems the island was done by the beginning of the 80s and could not resist anymore after ten years, but fortunately the big changes started already by the end of 80s and our art found a creative exit form this situation.
TA:The current exhibit at Kumu, Critique and Crisis, is an ambitious project, extraordinary in scope. How did it come about in Tallinn?
It has a long history. I remember our first meeting in Kumu with Henry Meyric-Hughes and Irene Weidmann in 2007 or 2008, to get an idea of what it was to be. The show is the 30th Exhibition of the Council of Europe and it took a lot of time and many people worked on it.
We met several times, and finally the Deutches Historisches Museum and Monika Flacke as curator were proposed to be the initiators and to work out the concept of a post-war European art exhibition. I was involved almost from the beginning and I am very proud to have the exhibition in Estonia, in Kumu.
The exhibition is a kind of case-study through post-war art history and we are using the show for several lectures, studies, discussions etc. The lecture series Looking at European art at the second half of the 20th century, opens with the topics raised at the exhibition by artists, art historians and critics. The program offers a possibility to gain additional knowledge about the artists and the works presented and to think about questions like: what possibilities are there for art to talk about social topics? How has art changed because of the rapid shifts and collective traumas of the second half of 20th century? etc.
TA:Could you comment on the themes of freedom and ideology in Critique and Crisis and how the rhetoric of the Enlightenment was used to justify the markedly different political systems of Europe over the period covered in the exhibition? How does the show’s theme of freedom particularly resonate in Estonia as compared to other places the exhibit has been shown?What pieces from the exhibit are most exemplary for you?
SH: The rhetoric of the Enlightenment was probably the most logical choice for the curator, as the modern world (there are endless debates on this, of course) gets its first basic ideas from the Enlightenment philosophers.
Were the final goals for the two power-blocs similar, although the same goal was attempted with the diametrically opposed means of repressive surveillance and playful self organization, as is written in the catalog? Maybe we stress too much the differences between the West and East in post-war art, and should find the similarities of artistic ideas and creation. This viewpoint is quite different from most research done from the beginning of the 1990s, but can be productive and open some new perspectives on research of post-war culture.
The term freedom can be different in different times and different places. Whereas for western artists freedom was mostly an intellectual phenomena, for us the word freedom was very concrete – to have back an independent Estonian Republic. It was the reason I kept the title for the exhibition as Critique and Crises and didn’t use The Desire for Freedom as it was opened in Berlin.
To choose one particular artwork from the exhibition is extremely hard and I wouldn’t do it because everything is a complex and works together. I am glad we have works by two Estonian artists at the show, and I found some new favorites for myself.
ERSO 2013/14 Begins
A new season for the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra began Saturday, September 7. And it wasn’t just any opening. This year is the 100th anniversary of ERSO’s home, the Estonia Concert Hall, which provided the inspiration for Saturday’s gala.
The opening concert featured Estonian composers and vocal contributions from the Estonian National Opera, including longtime favorites Heli Veskus and Mart Madiste, and an ensemble of choral groups led by the Estonian National Opera Chorus and Boys Choir and the Mixed Choir of Estonia Society. A unique feature of this event was performances of pieces first done exactly 100 years ago at the Estonia Concert Hall. The most poignant of these was Artur Kapp’s Cantata “To the Sun” which was dedicated to the opening of the concert hall a century ago.
ERSO 2013/14 will be divided into a five concert series called ESTONIA CONCERT HALL, FESTIVO, MAESTRO, 1001 NIGHTS and GOURMET respectively. Each concert series is organized thematically. For instance, the ESTONIA CONCERT HALL series features many works which were performed in the opening year of the building, whereas the Maestro series will feature longtime conductors of ERSO like Nikolai Alexeev, Eri Klas and also guest conductor Alexander Vedernikov, formally of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre.
Significant talents continue to make their way to Tallinn. In May, world renowned Finnish pianist and conductor Olli Mustonen will perform his own composition “The Old Church at Petäjävesi” and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major, K 537. January sees international Estonian opera sensation Annely Peebo, longtime mezzo-soprano with the Volksoper in Vienna, performing at the traditional Opera Gala, the first concert in the GOURMET series. In April, St. Petersburg native, mezzo-soprano Marianna Tarasova, will come to sing six songs from Hector Berlioz’s “Summer Nights”. Tarasova was discovered by legendary Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and has performed with the Mariinsky Theatre since 1992.
Alas, as ERSO continues to hold up its end of the cultural bargain, principle conductor Neeme Järvi feels greater support is on order. “We need to value culture more,” the maestro told Tallinn Arts this summer. “The government needs to value our cultural heritage. It is very important. This is what the future generations will remember; music, architecture. It’s a matter of thinking, of priorities.”
ERSO’s 2013/14 season is poised to make artistic moments and sources of future nostalgia right in the center of Tallinn; affordable and wonderful culture.
The Conversation: Anni Jürgenson
Anni Jürgenson is a young model from Tartu, Estonia’s southern university town. She started blogging about fashion, including posting pictures of herself, a few years ago. Anni was “discovered” through her blog and started modeling professionally. Her career has taken her to Paris and presently Tokyo. She continues to blog, design jewelry and is an avid photographer. Tallinn Arts caught up with Anni to find out about her multitasking life and how the real world of a professional model differs from the clichés.
Name: Anni Jürgenson
Place of Birth: Tartu
Occupation(s): student, model (MJ-models)
TA: Hi Anni. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. How is life for you? Are you modeling full-time or are you balancing it with school?
AJ: Everything’s good! Summer was treating me well and I am always very excited about autumn which means new beginnings and projects. At the moment I’m trying to balance school and modeling and take the best of both. This year will be my last year in high school so after that I might go full-time.
TA: When and how did you get discovered?
AJ: I got discovered about 2 years ago. I was already blogging back then and my photos of myself as a fashion blogger were often published in magazines and newspapers. Then one day my agent Margit Jõgger approached me and took me into modeling world.
TA: What does a typical day look like for you at the moment?
AJ: I’m in Tokyo for what I call Model Boot Camp. Every day I go to the agency and all the girls are taken to castings in cars. The Tokyo streets are bit too complicated to go castings by ourselves so all the models have to spend the day in the car together. It can be fun but also very nerve-racking at times. Some days castings can go until 10pm so after that there’s nothing to do but eat, shower and go to bed. Unless you’re working, weekends are off and I use my every free moment to walk around, visit museums, parks and cafes. It would be so much easier to sit in my air-conditioned room than go outside but I can’t miss the chance to explore this extraordinary hectic city.
TA: What do your friends back home think about what you’re doing and how do their lives differ from yours?
AJ: My friends are all very supportive and excited about how am I doing. When I’m back in school I feel like every other student. The biggest difference is probably that I’ve already experienced being independent and getting by on my own as they’re still living with their parents.
TA: What’s been your proudest moment modeling so far?
AJ: I enjoy when I can mix modeling with my other interests and show more of myself. Because for example when you are shot for a magazine editorial, you are just a tool to present someone else’s vision and ideas.
One of the most exciting projects was blogging for Vogue Italia in collaboration with Italian brand Pinko. I took a lot of photos and showed people my life in Paris during fashion week.
I’m also very happy that besides modeling here in Tokyo, I can also show my ear cuff designs to editors and stylists. The Japanese are crazy about the ear cuffs and two of them already landed in ELLE Japan’s September issue.
TA: Model’s live a mobile lifestyle. Hotels, flights and never being in the same city for too long. What would you say were the highs and lows of that kind of life?
Living in suitcase can get quite annoying but then you’ll see you actually don’t need many things
to get by. Traveling is exhausting but you rarely get bored or fall into routine.
TA: How close is the stereotypical view of a model’s life to the real deal?
It’s definitely not true that we get flown around in 1st class and earn billions of dollars for doing basically nothing. Usually people don’t take modeling as a serious job, they don’t see that it’s physically and mentally very exhausting and difficult. There’s a long way until earning some real money, before that young girls spend months away from home, often living in rather poor conditions and sharing bunk beds with other models, in order to get some jobs and hopefully have a big “breakthrough”.The stories about crazy partying and unhealthy lifestyle can be true but it doesn’t mean that every model is living this kind of life.
TA: Away from modeling, how do you spend your time?
AJ: School takes most of the time but most of my free moments are filled with making jewelry, reading, taking photos, seeing exhibitions and having coffee with my friends.
TA: If someone said you have to stop modeling right now, what job would you do?
AJ: I would like to collaborate in fashion shoots – do the art direction and maybe even styling.
TA: What projects do you have coming up in the near future? You’re a real multi-tasker – can you tell us a little about your many projects?
AJ: I would like to evolve my jewelry line and I’m already in the process of getting more retailers all over the world. I hope to continue with my little fashion column in Postimees and start taking my blog more seriously.
TA: Where do you hope to be in five years time?
I hope I’ll be speaking perfect French and living in Paris! This is just a dream but yes, most likely I will be aboard to have more opportunities in modeling and whatever else I’ll be doing. I haven’t decided about my future career yet, but I’m sure it will be something I can link with fashion and modeling.
TA: If you had to spend $50,000 in one day, what would you do?
AJ: I would go to Saint-Ouen flea market in Paris and buy all the amazing 1920′s mirrors, lamps and furniture for my future apartment.
Anni Jürgenson’s blog: http://www.stylehurricane.blogspot.com
Photos: Courtesy of www.annijyrgenson.bigcartel.com/
Review: Arabella, Birgitta Festival
Arabella, the story of a pirate girl who sees too much of a rough and tumble world at a tender age, is an apt addition to Estonian musical theatre. That it took until this year’s Birgitta Festival in Tallinn to come to the stage is something of a surprise. Not to be confused with Richard Strauss’ opera of the same name, it is a tale dear to the hearts of Estonians from Aino Pervik’s novel for young people, Arabella, the Pirate’s Daughter from 1982 and a popular film. The number of parents with wee ones in tow at the musical’s premiere shows the story’s appeal is built to last.
Act I found our eponymous heroine aboard her father’s pirate ship Scorpio moving through treacherous seas. The pirates rescue a fellow called Hasso, who in his sort of hippy getup and disheveled state bears a strong resemblance to Charles Manson. He is much nicer, however, and plays an important role in teaching the ship’s crew about empathy. Hasso is that rarest of people, a seafaring acupuncturist, who heals a few of his new mates with a bag of needles. He also gives Arabella a meaningful lesson on values, as she shows him her private horde of treasures. For Hasso life is about freedom, not stuff. Hasso (Rain Simmul) and Arabella (Maria Soomets) shared a fine duet near the end Act I.
In the second act the pirates find themselves in an exotic Mediterranean port which brings colorful costumes and enjoyable ensemble singing and dancing with a bevy of gypsy girls. Arabella’s father Taaniel Tina, played with gruff charm by Teater Vanemuine’s Hannes Kaljujarv gives a pleasing turn at a soft shoe with a vampish gypsy. Director Margus Kasterpalu brought out considerable fun and camp in a work which has a strong undertow of serious themes. The villain Raudpats played by Priit Volmer, the outstanding bass of the Estonian National Opera, was a case in point. Decked out like an 80’s rocker, he was gleefully malignant.
Leelo Tungal’s Estonian libretto lightened the narrative of Aino Pervik’s novel, which is considered to have very strong content for its genre, to meet the demands of family oriented musical theatre. But the balance is well struck. The themes of greed and its consequences and the separation of children from parents comes through and is particularly poignant in Estonia where the economic crisis has seen mothers and fathers cross the gulf to Finland seeking better wages.
Musically Arabella shines. Composer Olav Ehala’s score is a fine mix of pathos and entertainment with big moments throughout brought forth with skill by the Estonian National Youth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Elmo Tiisvald. The singing of Soomets and Andero Ermel as Hallelujah was especially superb.
The Birgitta Festival is the brainchild of longtime Estonian composer Eri Klas. In its ninth year, the festival brings largely international collaborations to the Birgitta nunnery, a medieval ruin near the sea in Tallinn, a truly inspired choice of venue. Arabella was an all Estonian affair; a co- production of the Ugala Teater and Birgitta Festival. However, if an English language production of Arabella came to be it could find legs abroad. Its appeal to boys, girls and adults and both timeless and timely themes are a potent brew.
The Conversation: Xenia Joost
Xenia Joost has taken her fashion sense from the schoolyards of her childhood, where girlfriends eagerly ordered her creations, to design work for some of Estonia’s finest labels to her eponymous fashion house whose reach stretches far and wide. Not content to market her work only in Estonia, Xenia has branched out to Moscow, the USA and beyond. Tallinn Arts had a chat with Xenia to find out what it takes to make it in the rough and tumble of world of international fashion and where her sartorial vision will take her next.
Name: Xenia Joost
Place of Birth: Tartu, Estonia
Occupation: Fashion designer
TA: What were the first steps you took in the world of fashion?
XJ: In my final year of middle school I went to a trip to Sweden with my class. We had a neighbour/friendship class there and I remember looking at the Swedish kids who were all very fashion forward and wearing platform shoes and flared jeans.There were not any possibilities to buy any trendy clothes in Estonia at that time, so as I couldn’t get their style out of my head, I also felt a need to be just as trendy as them. I skipped a few canteen lunches and with that money I went to the fabric store and bought myself a thick white polyester fabric from the 5 EEK/kg pile which was really a horrific purchase when thinking back. It was a snow white smooth fabric which was furry on one side and extremely hot to be in. I made my own cut and sowed it together and afterwards put my new pants on and went to school. These pants gathered a lot of attention and that’s when I got my first orders from my girlfriends and later on from their friends in advance. A year after this happening, I entered my first fashion contest called Moeke and after that came Supernoova. By the end high school it was fairly clear that I wanted to study fashion.
TA: You launched your own fashion label in 2009. Where did you set up your label and why those places?
XJ: I have been working in the fashion industry from the year 2006. My journey began with my internship in London working for Vivienne Westwood. Later I worked as an assistant designer for Monton and in 2007 I started my career in the Ivo Nikkolo brand. At the same time I did private orders for clients and also took part in fashion shows in Estonia and Riga presenting small collections. By 2009 I felt a need to formulate a smaller studio where I could take in orders. A few years ago I created both my own brand as well as leading the production of Ivo Nikkolo’s collection as the Head of Design. During the day I was in Ivo Nikkolo and by night I was working in my studio.This year I made a big decision for myself and decided to only go on with my own brand Xenia Joost and opened my first shop at Pärnu mnt 12.
I am currently selling my collections in Tallinn, Moscow, Riga, Finland and the USA. Negotiations are still going on with South-Korea. I see the world as a globalizing environment and the clients are divided according to lifestyle rather than continent, thus my clients could be found from all over the world.
TA: Can you name five steps an independent Estonian fashion designer typically takes to make it in the business? What are the pros and cons of being an Estonian fashion designer and making it?
Clothing studios are very common in Estonia, where the client could communicate directly to the designer and from there order a proper item of clothing. I’ve always been fascinated by commerce production and product design. I have a feeling that many studio-based designers are trying out commercialization by different size numbers, but most are still studio-designers.
There is rather good ground for making fashion in Estonia. We have good history and popularity in the Eastern-European market. In the earlier days, during Soviet Socialist Republic, there was a federation magazine called Siluett which was immensely know and popular.
Tallinna Moemaja was very famous for its designs and the local designers went all over the SSR showing their collections and there was quite a demand for their designs.
The other side for why it is good to make fashion in Estonia are low rental costs and operating charges. At the same time it is difficult to evolve due to the lack of clients as our population is small. Therefore it is easy to survive in Estonia, but growing into something bigger is complicated. In that case it is essential to export. Surely that is good from the country’s perspective, because it brings money in and creates jobs.
TA:What should the world know about Estonian fashion and how would you define it? How do your designs reflect Estonian style?
Territorial-wise, Estonia is at an interesting location. We are situated between Scandinavian minimalism and Slavic temperament, which could also be seen in the local design.
There can be seen a lot of play with forms and Scandinavian-like clean lines, but at the same time there is a hint of feminine silhouettes and decorative design. I believe that this the soul of Estonian design.
I personally prefer a more minimalistic line as well as an architectural play of forms, but I always think about the person wearing the clothes. A woman wants to feel beautiful and that is important to me. I design clothes for women not the other way around.
TA: When you design clothes, what are you aiming for?
In my designs I am interested in harmony as a whole and not only on one dress. I see an entire collection as a wholeness where you cannot take anything away nor add. The same goes for the photo series of the collection, displays and so forth. Everything must be in accordance and it is important to know when to stop, because overdesigning could endanger the whole.
TA: What is the mood of your Autumn/Winter collection for the 2013/14 season and what inspired you?
The new autumn-winter collection 2013-2014 is a modern visualized story of one of the biggest icons of the 20th century – Charlie Chaplin. A person who gave people the hope and the reason to smile during the bitterest times when the world was torn to pieces by the Great Depression and devastating wars. A person who used clothing to create a distinctive character who, in his own way, bestowed comedy, laughter and a glimpse of hope to a shattered world.
Charlie Chaplin was a “funny man” whose clothes transformed him into an unforgettable icon of the century: a pair of baggy trousers, the tight jacket, large shoes and a small bowler hat. The famous small mustache showed people his maturity regardless of his young age, but never overshadowed his emotions and rich mimicry.
I believe that clothes play a central role in expressing and communicating our inner selves. Fashion is a visual language, but as with any other language, the affluence of our vocabulary depends on ourselves. Yet, we should never forget the fun and the laughter, even during the most difficult times, and, of course, staying true to ourselves.
The silhouettes of the collection form a modernized visual story of the utterly true and authentic character of Charlie Chaplin as well as the women of his era.
TA: Do you typically draw inspiration from history?
XJ:I am inspired by life itself. At times, it is also history, just as Charlie’s collection this winter. Sometimes I get inspired by the future and the current on-going days and if anything, I am inspired by everything I see and hear every day. The more difficult part is making decisions and staying on track with your thoughts when there is so much going on in the world every single day and second.
TA: Does fashion qualify as an art? Do you consider yourself an artist?
I draw a clear line between art and design. My everyday work consists of design, where I take under consideration the client and work with my team in order to achieve a collective goal, but there is a big artist in me which needs to be let out. In order to do that, I take part in different projects where I can live out my inner artist and create individual items based only on my artist ego.
TA: Who is your role model?
XJ: I feel that at the current stage I am at, there is no singular role model, but rather a certain view of life where I am learning something from different people. I am trying to achieve a harmony in my everyday life, find balance and enjoy each moment.
Pet Shop Boys Play Tallinn
80′s Brit techno duo Pet Shop Boys played the Ollesummer, or Summer Beer Festival, at Tallinn’s Song Festival Grounds on Friday night. Though arriving on stage nearly an hour late “Pet Heads”, as their fans are known, weren’t disappointed. Pet Shop Boys, who are Neil Tennant on vocals and Chris Lowe on keyboards, brought out all of their international hits including “West End Girls”, “It’s a Sin”, “Always on my Mind” and heaps of others. Never mind that Mr. Tennant looks a bank manager closing in on retirement. Les Boys Pet Shop pulled off the techno madness, visual effects and strange headwear that one would expect from the pop icons.
The Conversation: Maestro Neeme Jarvi
Tallinn Arts was given a special treat this week when Estonian National Symphony Orchestra Conductor Neeme Jarvi joined us for a sit-down chat at the Estonia Concert Hall. The maestro has had a long and illustrious career gracing stages across the globe and working with some of the finest orchestras. He splits time between his duties as director of the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, his home in Manhattan and Tallinn doing what he loves best; conducting ERSO. We discussed his professional music debut at aged four, his appreciation of jazz and why Detroit isn’t so bad after all.
TA: How did your life in music begin?
NJ: I was raised in the Nomme neighborhood of Tallinn. We were a musical family. My parents were amateur musicians and encouraged us. My brother Vallo was a big influence in my musical development; I learned a lot from him. He was also a conductor, especially of theatre and opera productions. My professional debut was at aged four! I played a Khachaturian piece on the xylophone on the radio.
TA: And after studying in Tallinn you went to Leningrad?
NJ: Yes, to the Leningrad Conservatory. Leningrad, or St. Petersburg, it’s a miraculous place. Created from a swamp by Peter the Great as a window to the west. A world capital of culture. Fantastic architecture and music. Petersburg is a cultural center for the whole region and certainly helped to broaden the vision of Estonia, to lessen its provincialism. I started out in music as a percussionist but moved into choral and orchestral conducting.
TA: As someone not from this part of the world, I have been very impressed by Estonia’s strength in the arts.
NJ: Yes, but we need to value culture more. We had to struggle to bring back our own language in the 19th century. Have you seen the Estonian Song Festival? Amazing. There is nothing like it in the world. Money is constantly an issue. Musicians in Helsinki make four times what their Estonian counterparts earn. We make fantastic music. The government needs to value our cultural heritage. It is very important. This is what the future generations will remember; music, architecture. It’s a matter of thinking, of priorities. The Linnehall (a massive Soviet era auditorium-TA) just sits empty. It’s narrow minded thinking. We must remember that we’re part of Europe. I could conduct anywhere, but I love this country.
TA: So in 1980 you immigrated to the US?
NJ: Yes, Arvo Part and I left for the West in 1980. I premiered his work Credo, which as the name implies is a profession of faith. This was in 1968. The authorities were in an uproar. They fired the symphony’s music director the next day. The country was completely locked up. It was a total KGB system. But the year we left was about the same time the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and they were trying to show the world they weren’t so awful. If they let a few artists immigrate this could help their image. Also my son was ill, so there was a medical reason. We couldn’t get the right medicine in the Soviet Union. We went to New Jersey. When we got to America, my son took two tablets and was fine.
TA: You have an astonishing number of recorded works. How did you develop into such a prolific recording artist?
NJ: Well, I have over 500 recordings. I have, of course, made a point of recording our great Estonian composers–Arvo Part, Eduard Tubin and many others. I was the conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony for 22 years and transformed it into the national orchestra. We recorded all of the Scandinavians–the complete Sibelius and Nielsen. When I was at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra we turned to Russian music and recorded for Chandos. And I have also worked frequently with Deutsche Grammophon. I record for the same reason a painter paints; to leave an artistic record, a legacy. And I loved promoting Estonian music to the world.
TA: Aside from the classical genre, are there other sorts of music you appreciate?
NJ: It’s not so much about genre. There are two kinds of music: good and bad. Jazz is the real American music. Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis–this is great music. There are good melodies and a good atmosphere of music. My son Kristjan is the director of the Absolute Ensemble, a group he started in New York. It is very avant-garde with a strong influence from jazz.
TA: You worked in Detroit for some time, a city that doesn’t have the best reputation. How was that?
NJ: I was the music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1990-2005. Detroit was wonderful, a great community orchestra with great musicians. In America it’s a different system. Private donations support the symphony. When this source of money dries up, it is very difficult. The city has, sadly, seen better days.
TA: You are an energetic conductor and involve the audience quite a bit. Is this something you consciously strive for?
NJ: It’s not about this (he waves his arms around frantically). It’s more about body language; a flick of the wrist. There are no bad orchestras, only bad conductors. Bad conducting is like a violinist who just can’t make the instrument work. At the conclusion of a show, I have always done encores. This involves the audience, but it’s really for the musicians. The success goes to the orchestra.
TA: How long do you feel you will stay on with ERSO?
NJ: I’ll leave when I die! I enjoy every day here. It’s wonderful to work with an orchestra with which I only have to speak Estonian. I am enjoying it all; every single minute.
Nargenfestival Opening Night
Bass Ain Anger and conductor and Nargenfestival director Tonu Kaljuste give an applause for composer Tonu Korvits
Nargenfestival 2013 kicked off on Friday evening in Tallinn with a performance by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra led by conductor and Nargenfestival director Tonu Kaljuste. The featured soloist for the concert was Estonian international bass Ain Anger. Anger performs with the Vienna State Opera and has seen many roles in productions of Wagner on stages the world over. He began with three lieder from Hayden which were superb, but what followed was truly spellbinding. Two works by Estonian composer Tonu Korvits brought out all of the power Anger’s voice; Aeg and Viimane laev were absolutely amazing. The two works displayed Korvits’ fascination with the mythology of northern lands and were akin to epic poems. Anger is an emotive and gifted singer of great technical skill. Korvits’ songs were grave and beautiful and interpreted with Anger’s consummate singing prowess.
The Nargenfestival continues through the summer at unique locales around Estonia. The festival is named for the small island of Nargen (Naissaar) off the coast of Tallinn. Some events will be held on Nargen as well as in Haapsalu for “Greek Days”. A world premiere opera about the life of Bernhard Schmidt, an inventor from Nargen, will be performed at the Noblessner Foundry in Tallinn’s Kalamaja neighborhood in August and the Nargenfestival concludes, as always, with Arvo Part Days in September. See the Nargenfestival homepage for the complete program.
Estonian National Opera: La Traviata
La Traviata is one of the most oft performed operas in the world for a reason–it’s delightful entertainment. With songs that the most casual fans instantly recognize and a story that everyone can relate to, La Traviata is crowd pleasing operatic melodrama at its best. The Estonian National Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s mid-19th century classic on Friday May 24 brought out all of the work’s fine qualities and then some.
As many Italian operas do, La Traviata tells the story of requited, yet doomed love. Set in 19th century Parisian bourgeois society, the opera’s heroine, Violetta, played with coquettish charm by Finn Anna-Kristiina Kaappola, is confronted with romantic choices. Merunas Vitualskis’ Alfredo starts to win her heart at a party in Act I in which he begins one of the most famous pieces of ensemble singing in opera Libiamo ne’ lieti calici (Let’s drink from the joyful cup). Act I is very short, coming in at around forty minutes, but alone it’s reason enough to enjoy La Traviata, especially this one. Sets and costumes were absolutely stunning for the production. Finnish designer Anna Kontek’s vision created a gilded world, with beautiful objects and beautiful people, beautifully dressed. The party scene is memorable and thoroughly visually pleasing.
Estonian National Opera stalwart Jassi Zahharov is Alfredo’s father Georges and for reasons of familial propriety, the foil to Alfredo and Violetta’s romance. Zahharov is a bright light in Estonian opera circles, always a crowd favorite and a powerful performer. Here the baritone is less a sinister figure, than a man overly concerned with bourgeois values, who tramples on something he doesn’t understand. The meeting of Georges and Violetta in Act II adds much to the emotional depth of the opera.
Alas, as one might expect in an Italian opera of this vintage, Act III finds Violetta on her death bed. But the formulaic melodrama does nothing to dampen the emotional dénouement. Kaappola’s performance was the night’s shining star and her aria Addio del passato on meeting Alfredo for the last time, absolutely beautiful. The soprano sung with passion and superb clarity all evening. For some reason the curtain call at the conclusion of La Traviata was the shortest I have seen for any musical theatre performance in Estonia. Was someone in a hurry for a dinner party? Anyway, it was a great show and Kaappola, especially, deserved to soak up some well earned glory.
ERSO Season Finale: Gloria
The final concert of ERSO’s 2012/2013 season was a night of religiously inspired music beautiful enough to melt the heart of Richard Dawkins. ERSO’s choice of spiritual, choral driven music had the proper effect of an occasion for a season ending performance. And it was glorious indeed.
The night started with Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore, a sublime work of sacred music. Following was a very different take on the sacred theme from Frenchman Francis Poulenc. It is said that Poulenc embarked on his series of liturgical pieces after a profound and life altering religious experience. This work, Gloria (1961), is as intriguing a piece of church music as you are likely to hear. Gloria has the artistry and aesthetic of modern composition coupled with the timeless and ethereal quality of its genre. Remarkable indeed.
After intermission, the concluding piece was Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor, opus 48. The work is scored for two soloists, chorus and orchestra and is solemn, as one would expect for a requiem. As she did the whole evening, soprano Kaia Urb stole the proverbial show. An unlikely diva, modest in stage presence and middle aged, Urb was nothing short of amazing in her role as principle soloist in all three works for the evening. Her effort for the aria, Pie Jesu, the most famous part of Fauré’s work, was the night’s highlight.
The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir deserves special recognition for setting the mood and course for the evening’s program as the driving force in each of the pieces featured.
The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra was led by principle conductor and artistic director Neeme Järvi. Järvi is a charismatic conductor, leading the audience through a rousing celebration at the concert’s conclusion and a pleasing encore. A full five minute standing ovation followed. As artistic director, let’s hope the maestro’s selection of a requiem as the last piece for the year isn’t an indication that he’s pondering retirement and that Järvi can at least stick around for a few more fine seasons. A wave of the conductor’s baton as he exited the stage seemed more ‘see you next year” than farewell.
Tallinn International Festival Jazzkaar, the biggest jazz festival in the Baltics, is in its 24th year. This year’s ten day festival brings in acts from throughout the world of jazz to play at venues around Tallinn. Jazzkaar 2013 is headlined by the USA’s Charles Lloyd New Quartet, Gregory Porter and Japan’s Hiromi. See the Jazzkaar homepage for complete listings. For sure one of the cultural highlights of the year in Tallinn.
Jaana Varkki’s fashion vision is making its presence felt on the streets of Tallinn. Since founding her own lable VARKKI in 2010, she has been making clothes that combine style and wearabilty in equal measure. Varkki has an MA from the Estonian Academy of Art in fashion design, where she has also been a lecturer since 2009. She cut her teeth in the industry as Baltika AS’ head menswear designer for their highly regarded Monton lable. Tallinn Arts caught up with Jaana to find out what it takes to make it as an independent brand and how the world of imaginative design and the requirements of the everyday intersect.
Name: Jaana Varkki
Place of Birth: Narva, Estonia
Occupation: Fashion designer & Entrepreneur
TA: What were the first steps you took in the world of fashion?
JV: I was quite young, about 7 years old, when I already decided to become a fashion designer. Probably I was influenced by my older sister and brother, they were also big art enthusiasts. They are also artists now – my sister is involved with silk painting and my brother is a jewerly designer. I have graduated from Tartu Art School and Estonian Academy of Arts Fashion Design department. During my time at the Academy I got a job in Baltika – the biggest fashion retail company in Estonia. I worked there for almost 9 years as a designer of the fashion brand Monton, the last 6 years as a menswear head designer.
TA: You launched your fashion label in 2010. Was it difficult to set up your own label?
JV: I was very optimistic and 110% ready for that. So it wasn´t too difficult. I had very good experience already in the fashion indrusty and this gave me a lot of courage. Believing in yourself is also very important.
TA: When you design clothes, what are you aiming for?
JV: My aim is to create something which makes a woman feel that she can not live without this specific garment. Desirable, feminine and modern clothes. I create everyday clothes but with a little twist. A little vanity in our everyday lives… Something between wearable fashion and ambitious design ideas.
TA: What is the mood of your latest collection for S/S 2013?
JV: My latest collection “Dies Solis” (Day of sun in Latin) is genuinely fun and playful in terms of colors, patterns, as well as forms, and is suited perfectly and positively to greet spring. Midnight blue demands to be in the center of attention while pushing the black color – known to go well with dark nights – into the background. Accent colors are bright blue and red.
This season women wear dots and stripes. Additionally, the VARKKI collection is adorned by a ceramic-like ornament and by a mysterious fauna motive designed by an young artist named Ra. It can be found on clothes in secret places in print. Characteristically this feminine collection drew inspiration from 1950’s silhouettes – accentuated waist and playfully wide skirts. Dresses, skirts and pants come in lengths from mini to maxi. Fun embroidered messages can be found inside many collection items.
This season’s collection is complemented by a miniseries of jewelry, handmade specially for VARKKI by jewelry designer Krista Lehari. Minimalistic earrings, rings and necklaces, made from silver and semi precious stones, can be worn every day as well as during festive events because these perfectly complement the fun patterns of the VARKKI collection.
TA: Fun patterns play a role in your design. How do you spot trends and draw inspiration?
JV: I collect inspiration from everywhere- architecture, people, music, fabrics, travelling, dreams etc. It depends of my mood and feelings. I like drawing, so sometimes I get ideas by just drawing something.
TA: Who are some of your favorite designers?
JV: My favourites change constantly, so I can not name any names whom I’ve liked all the time. But I admire the exciting creation of Maison Margiela, and also Burberry.
TA: What should the world know about Estonian fashion and how would you define it? How does your design reflect Estonian style?
JV: I believe Estonian fashion is quite tolerant and understandable, but with its small twists as with Estonians themselves. My clothes are very wearable and are reflected on the streets. They are calm with a small dose of passion and spice.
TA: Does fashion qualify as an art? Do you consider yourself an artist?
JV: Fashion art is created not for a specific target group, but as something unique and extraordinary. It doesn’t even need to be wearable, but it can be the source of inspiration for the ready-to-wear collection. And of course haute couture, which is made to order for a specific customer, and it is made from high-quality and expensive fabric with extreme attention to all detail. Fashion design is the other side of fashion–it has to be wearable and it is created for a certain target group. So I believe I am rather a fashion designer.
TA: So finally, with a slightly off the cuff question. If you got into the business of manufacturing musical instruments, which would you choose to make?
JV: At first, it is a very interesting question… I thought about it quite a long time and I think it would be the saxophone, because this instrument has really good sound and powerful tone, it’s sophisticated and moderately challenging.
Jewerly: VARKKI by Krista Lehari.
In perhaps the media event of the year in Estonia, the operatic piece based upon the so called Ilves/Krugman Twitter War, Nostra Culpa, had its long awaited premiere at Tallinn’s House of the Blackheads last Sunday. Its creators Eugene Birman and Scott Diel were kind enough to provide the libretto and an exclusive MP3 of their cantata to Tallinn Arts. Mezzo Soprano Iris Oja is the soloist. It’s a haunting piece. You’ll never look at economic policy and its consequences the same again.
Mezzo Soprano Iris Oja. Photo by Kaupo Kikkas
A natural experiment
Wonders of austerity
Fiscal stimulus trumps
Increased public debt
Austerity in the wasteland
Dumb & silly East Europeans
Someday will understand
Smug, overbearing & patronizing
Sh*t on East Europeans
Libretto: Scott Diel
Music: Eugene Birman
The Conversation: Eugene Birman
Eugene Birman is a young Latvian born composer making significant waves in the classical music world. He has written diverse pieces for vocal performance, ensemble and orchestra which have been performed around the world. Birman holds a BA in economics from Columbia University and an MM from Julliard School. He is currently studying for a doctorate of philosophy in music at Oxford. Birman has teamed with librettist Scott Diel to create the “mini opera” “Nostra Culpa”, a cantata for string orchestra and dramatic soprano. “Nostra Culpa” premieres April 7 at the House of the Blackheads in Tallinn’s Old Town. Tallinn Arts had a chat with Eugene about silence, Bach and why AD/DC beats Radiohead hands down.
Photo by Anna-Maria Kalmus.
TA: It has been noted that silence plays a big role in your works. What is the “sound of silence” to you as a composer?
EB: Silence can be deafening. But more importantly, there is not enough silence – particularly in music being composed during the past century, let’s say. There is an academic notion, perhaps some pressure, to fill the page with notes, to use classical music to prove something. Silence and simplicity get left at the wayside a little too often. There is tremendous beauty in that balance between sound and silence. Some of the most dramatic moments in music come from that. Surely for me, silence is somehow a place of great tension, or perhaps – where I can really let the listener go to find some peace. I find peace in that silence myself very much.
TA: Your CV is impressively steeped in academia. How does your scholastic background inform your creative work?
EB: My “academic” background has actually had a much more profound effect on my music than any music theory or such thing. Though it is a bit cliché for a Columbia University alum to cite the Core Curriculum, I honestly do find it a powerful influence in everything I do as a composer. Literature, the poetry and paintings of both local and foreign cultures, landscapes: those are the kinds of things that inspire me most. But I never think about music in a scholastic way – certainly not my own, and rarely that of others anyway. If the idea behind the piece doesn’t somehow get elucidated even a little bit through the performance, then there’s something wrong with the piece, no matter how clever or scholastic the idea is. You could call me an anti-intellectual in music, in that sense. I care about the audience most, although I never compromise my own ideas for it.
TA: We can assume that the likes of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were less formally schooled than Eugene Birman and many contemporary composers. Is it possible to over think or over intellectualize the process of creating music?
EB: They were schooled in other ways! Certainly their upbringing gave them a strong foundation in music, far stronger than most composers these days get from conservatories. Somebody like Mozart knew everything about what was happening in music during his day, and was endlessly curious in music history. These composers were aware. And they weren’t limited in their knowledge only to music. Their minds were more open, somehow less specialized, and that made an effect on the music, too. You can see in Beethoven, in Bach, in Mozart, not simply incredible talent and originality, but also a commanding understanding of the world. I wish music schools emphasized that more, because, really, it is very possible to over-intellectualize the process of making music. It is a crutch to writing a piece; it makes it easier because it takes the responsibility of the composer out, and gives it to chance, or to systems, or to whatever else. I don’t think audiences are captivated by these kinds of things, or, at least, the ones that are, are considerably smaller.
TA: Aside from admiration, any thoughts on the greats of modern composition like Glass, Reich and Pärt?
EB: Arvo Pärt is a genius in so many ways; his music inspired me tremendously when I was younger. With few other composers is silence more golden than with Arvo Pärt’s music. And looking at it from the point of view of an Estonian, he has put this country on the map. I’m happy to report that these days, there is a lot of interesting music being written, by composers young and old. I’m less interested in the “greats” than those whose music might not have so much commercial appeal but says something really powerful and is beautiful in its own way. That’s the kind of music that will be remembered in history, too. Popularity today isn’t actually a great barometer of lasting greatness.
TA: Finally, AC/DC or Radiohead?
EB: AC/DC. Two reasons, first because I tend to find overt politicization of pop music less than convincing, and second, because I do enjoy AC/DC a lot more. My best friend’s cousin was a roadie for them, so there’s some bias too!
Tallinn Music Week: April 4, 5, 6 2013
Mika at Tallinn’s Summer Beer Festiva
Mika at Tallinn’s Summer Beer Festiva
Mika at Tallinn’s Summer Beer Festiva
The Conversation: Martin Kuuskmann
Estonian born bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann is considered one of the true virtuosos of his instrument, working with both its traditional cannon and the avant-garde trends he his helping to forge. His recent visit to Tallinn electrified the Estonia Concert Hall. His playing has been lauded on stages around the world and in 2007 he received a Grammy nomination for his recording of David Chesky’s bassoon concerto. Tallinn Arts caught up with Martin for a conversation on how his musical career took off in Estonia and where it’s headed.
TA: So, why the bassoon? What drew you to the instrument?
MK: What drew me? Nothing, quite frankly, the bassoon had never even crossed my mind — I was coaxed, kind of tricked into playing it. As for most young musicians bassoon is this instrument they have heard of, but rarely does it get considered as an actual option, unless someone suggests or “sells” it very well. In my case it was the solo tuba player of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, a professor of tuba at the Estonian Academy of Music (back in 1986, Tallinn Conservatory of Music), Riho Mägi — a legendary figure in Estonian brass. I was a pretty good clarinet player, or I appeared so, and was auditioning for the Tallinn Music High School as fresh graduate of the Nõmme Music School’s clarinet studio of Villu Musting. Just before the audition Riho Mägi approached me and my mother (our families had a longstanding friendship) and pretty much tore apart everything I had worked for the last couple of years, by suggesting for me to study the bassoon, saying that I was tall enough, a talented clarinetist, and that Estonia needed bassoonists! He pointed at this short, very shy looking man literally dweedling his thumbs in the corridor, just a few steps away, and told me it was Ilmar Aasmets, a former solo bassoonist of ERSO and a teacher at the music high school. I remember thinking he seemed so lonely, and that I couldn’t hurt this nice, shy man’s feelings by not studying the bassoon. Of course, the fact that “Estonia needed bassoonists” wasn’t a bad sell either. After the school had started up again in the fall I played both the clarinet and the bassoon as a double major for 3 months, after which bassoon had clearly won me over. The rest is history.
TA: To what extent did your musical education in Estonia shape the musician you became? What was musical education like in Soviet Estonia?
MK: Well, to the extent that after graduating from the Tallinn Music High School I was able to pass out of all of the required music theory and solfege (solfege is a method of teaching musical pitch-TA) courses at San Jose State University (California) all the way to Manhattan and Yale Schools of Music. Also, I was able to sing from age 9 to 19 (with a voice change break in between, of course) at the Philharmonic Boy’s Choir under Venno Laul. I traveled quite extensively with them all through the Soviet Union, sang a season in the Estonian Opera Company’s production of “Carmen” in the children’s chorus and travelled to the US and Canada where I ultimately met my beautiful wife. So, it was exciting and very rewarding. Ultimately, there are very few countries that have such music schools. I was in a regular secondary school and attended the Nõmme Music School several times a week in the afternoon. On top of all that there was choir twice a week and either track training or tennis. The graduates of the Nõmme Music School often go on to the Music High School and on to a professional career. Some of Nõmme’s graduates are (conductor) Anu and (music director) Kadri Tali, composer Tõnu Kõrvits and pianist Siim Poll (my mother’s student), to name just a few. It’s impossible to compare music studies from age 7 at the Nõmme Music School followed by the Music High School, to four or seven years at the university anywhere else in the world. Most countries simply lack this kind of government supported educational system. I admit I was merely an average student in music theory — I got by with what I needed to do. But, I pretty much coasted through theory and harmony in all of the schools all the way to the Manhattan School of Music. That is not to say that what they teach there is by any means inferior — one simply can’t compare something that has been taught since age 7 to something that is in a way crammed into one from age 18 onwards–all this theory and harmony, and solfege. My studies in Estonia were slowly but surely being aged in my brain like good wine. So in America, apart from studying a lot of English I was able to spend much more time practicing the bassoon…and playing basketball, swimming in the outdoor pool and just hanging out and getting to know the American ways. Back then I was in San Jose, California — not a bad place to start the American experience for a young fellow from Estonia.
TA: For a small nation Estonia produces a great number of fine musicians, but alas many choose to live abroad. What do you feel the future holds for “high art” music in Estonia?
MK: Frankly, I get asked this question often. Indeed, it is quite remarkable that for a small nation like Estonia we do have a lot of very fine musicians, if not very famous musicians. I don’t think it’s much different in other countries, whether big or small — musicians often travel away from their native country to live somewhere else. It is very evident Estonian orchestral musicians are grossly underpaid. They do get by, but it is not like the life of their well paid and supported colleagues across the bay in Finland or in Germany for example. We still have a ways to go in Estonia. However, most of the talent still stays in Estonia and we are not as “doomed” as it seems. “High art” music in Estonia or anywhere else in the world — it will stay, and I’m sure of it. Nothing can replace the experience of going to hear a live concert — whether it is classical or rock. It’s a deeply personal experience. And those talents that have chosen to live outside of Estonia’s borders — we’ll always be Estonian musicians and will always proudly rally for our little country. I think we can do a lot of good for our country’s music while not being physically in Estonia.
TA: What is jazz bassoon music like? Does the instrument lend itself to improvising a la the saxophone?
MK: Jazz bassoon — not so common for sure, but it can sound great. Take a listen to Paul Hanson for example, he’s fantastic! It is no saxophone, but the bassoon has its own special character that can definitely stand on its own in jazz. It’ll always remain one of the non-mainstream jazz instruments, though, in my belief.
TA: What do you feel your musical emphasis will be going forward–jazz, electronica, classical?
MK: Without any doubt I’ll always remain a classical artist, with emphasis on the classical or contemporary classical music. But, with contemporary classical in mind who tells me I can’t mix in jazz and electronica or work with composers that are influenced by jazz, rock, electronica, you name it. I play music that I like, and I’m lucky to be working with some of the greatest composers whose music I admire. I often improvise live on stage, even in classical concertos such as the cadenzas of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, at least in part. Some audiences and conductors are a bit keener to new things, and with them I can experiment more — some are more traditional, and I keep it “in the classical style.” That’s the great thing about music — it’s very flexible. Erkki-Sven Tüür (the Estonian Composer) has been influenced by progressive rock, so his bassoon concerto is for amplified bassoon and full orchestra. It’s an incredible, yet such a simple effect–and this concerto really rocks. Also, I have worked with new concertos from composers like Miguel Kertsman, a former member of the Hermeto Pascoal Quartet and a collaborator with Peter Gabriel among many other rock artists; Gene Pritsker, a New York based rapper and classically trained composer. He has worked closely with the likes of Joe Zawinul and is the resident composer of Absolute Ensemble. Last but not least, Daniel Schnyder, whose works I have played a lot — his concerto will actually have improvised sections on changes for the bassoon. With all that being said it doesn’t mean I won’t be doing shows of bossa novas and other Brazilian or Latin-American influenced musical forms — I did couple like that last year, I mean full two hour concerts with strings, jazz trio, guitar, percussion. It was what I expected it to be — a huge rush for me, and a great show, all fully amplified. I just love playing the music I like to listen to. Not every work, tune or ballad can be actualized close to its original form, but there are ways to bring them to life by using some other means like arrangers, etc. If there is a will there is a way. I’m a musician — I love to play music, all music. It doesn’t matter what style or what influence. I just have to be able to relate to it.
TA: Lastly, what do you miss most about Estonia? What don’t you miss (please don’t say the weather!)
MK: I miss my family and friends, of course. Thankfully there is Skype! I miss a good sauna with a good Estonian beer. Every time I visit there seems to be few more choices of some fine Estonian brew. Last time I visited I was on antibiotics — such a pity. I miss cross country skiing any time I wanted to do it!! America is still in the stone age with that great sport for the most part. What I don’t miss…as lovely and beautiful as Estonia is, it is still a very small county where everyone knows everyone, pretty much. The latter has its charms but its curses I can live without.
Estonian National Opera Premiere: Tannhauser – March 14
It’s a big year for Wagner aficionados. The bicentenary of the birth of the “genius of Bayreuth” means a plethora of productions worldwide, featuring Teutonic troubles in misty realms. Wagner’s music is undeniably sublime, but are the moral sentiments of his works relevant to contemporary life? The Estonian National Opera and English stage director Daniel Slater took up this question with the premier of “Tannhauser” on March 14.
For Slater, this meant ditching period costumes and medieval backdrops and presenting the problems of modern romantic love. Slater’s conception of “Tannhauser” required soprano Heli Veskus to perform the roles of both Venus and Elisabeth, the dual love interests for the opera’s eponymous hero performed with the right measure of insolence and indifferent fatalism by Mati Turi. The opera’s dramatic tension arises from Tannhauser’s confused needs, his lust expressed for Venus while in her lair at Venusberg and his failed romance with Elisabeth, the landgrave’s daughter at the castle of Wartburg, who loves him despite himself. Wartberg is home of the minnesingers, romantic bards who sing songs of love.
The staging for this production is intriguing because neither the world of Venusberg or Wartburg are particularly appealing options for Tannhauser. One is a ceaseless parade of erotic illusions, skillfully and humorously evoked as tropes of the modern male’s pornographic fantasies. The other is a realm of cruel Philistines who have clearly never encountered fun. All things being equal, Venusberg seemed the better option, which I doubt was Wagner’s intended message.
To emphasize the monotony of life at Wartburg all, men and women, are dressed in black business suits and the settings are sterile white and silver backdrops which rotate between scenes. The drabness highlights the static milieu of the place, a Nietzschean “eternal return” of narrowly lived virtue.
“Tannhauser” has probably seen more different interpretations than any of Wagner’s operas. The composer himself produced four and was contemplating a fifth at the time of his death. The one constant is the music which is beautiful, and some of which is famous. The overture would be recognized by fans of the classical genre as a standalone piece in programs of symphonic music.
There were some wonderful musical moments in this production. Choral and ensemble singing, both on and off stage, was haunting and majestic and reinforced the story’s spiritual message. In Act III baritone Rauno Elp, as Wolfram von Eschenbach, sung the aria “Song to the evening star” with transcendent emotion and beautiful timbre. It was a good night too for bass Pavlo Balakin, who has tended to have smaller roles in Estonian National Opera productions. His turn as Herman was strong, and Balakin has the commanding stage presence and singing prowess for leading roles.
The music for this “Tannhauser” was the night’s champion. The Estonian National Opera Orchestra led by conductor Vello Pahn, performed magnificently, bringing out all of the magic of Wagner’s score. By all means, beautifully done for a first try.
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra “Queen” March 6 – Estonia Concert Hall
The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra’s special Wednesday evening concert packed a lot into one evening. Two whole symphonies and a concerto left the audience with a warm glow to head into the darkness of another snowy Estonian deep freeze.
The program centered on the performance of bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann for Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K 191. The piece is the signature work for bassoonists, as the most important concerto featuring the instrument. Kuuskmann was raised in Estonia but has played everywhere and has developed an international reputation for his versatility with the instrument. His performances range from venerable interpretations of Mozart and Bach, to performances of the works of his countryman Erkki-Sven Tüür, Eino Tamberg and Arvo Pärt to avant garde electronica. Kuuskmann attacked the Mozart concerto with brio and bought out the charm of this seldom featured instrument. The bassoon has a vocal quality, and the soloist’s phrasing was striking for its virtuosity. Kuuskmann clearly had concertgoers enthralled with his performance.
The program continued with Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 in A major, Op 90 (Italy). Conductor Jonas Alber clearly enjoyed Mendelssohn’s famous work, bounding around the podium, pressing his orchestra to heights of beautiful intensity. The opening Allegro Vivace was especially joyous and pleasing. Brining in a bit of the Mediterranean with the so called Italian symphony is just the thing on a Baltic winter night.
The night began with Hayden’s Symphony No 85 in B flat major. It is a beautiful piece from the height of the classical period and was said to be a favorite of Marie Antoinette, hence its nickname “the Queen” from which the evening’s program took its name. For ERSO concertgoers the Queen was a harbinger of a splendid night’s musical journey, which all told, certainly turned out better than poor Marie’s.
Repin: A Russian Master’s Life and Work in Finland, Kadriorg Art Museum, Estonia
By Michael Amundsen
When Ilya Repin died in 1930, The New York Times proclaimed him the “soul of Russia” and “the greatest genre and portrait painter” the country had ever produced. The writer was referring to the works Repin painted as a young man, mostly before his 40th birthday, the ones that made him famous. By contrast, this exhibition at the Kadriorg Art Museum in Tallinn, Estonia, concentrates on the intimate and domestic work Repin produced in the second half of his life – and it provides a few shocks for those who only know his “big” paintings.
Repin began his artistic life in his teens, as a painter of icons; by the age of 19, he had been awarded a place at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg. “Barge Haulers on the Volga” (1873), a powerful depiction of the drudgery of labour in the lowest classes, brought him acclaim as a new interpreter of Russian life. Courtesy of a scholarship, he travelled to Italy, Switzerland and France, absorbing a rich marinade of European influences. A stay in Paris brought him into contact with Impressionism, an influence that persisted in his use of light and colour. He remained, however, closer in style to the Old Masters, especially Rembrandt and Velázquez, whose portraits of everyday life and historical or Biblical scenes are echoed in his works.
The subjects of Repin’s works over his long life ranged from Russia’s cultural elite – Tolstoy, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin among them – to the commonplace and oppressed in his much-lauded genre paintings. It was the latter that led to Repin’s veneration in the Soviet Union. Party intellectuals judged Repin’s depictions of the struggles of Russia’s workers in pictures such as “Barge Haulers” or of society’s strata in “Religious Procession in Kursk” (1883) to be perfect examples of socialist realism. And this notion of Repin as an “ethical painter” and as the standard-bearer of 19th-century Russian realism has largely stuck.
The Kadriorg show, a collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum of the Finnish National Gallery, displays a quieter artist, apolitical and concerned with the personal. The focus is on his life in Finland. In 1903 Repin moved to Kuokkala, Karelia, then part of the Russian Empire, with his partner, Natalia Nordmann. There he established the residence he called Penaty, after the Roman gods of the household, and the paintings at this show were either created at Penaty
or were kept there.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, Repin found himself stateless, as his home fell within the borders of a newly independent Finland. (The territory was ceded to Russia after the second world war; Kuokkala is now called Repino in the artist’s honour.) But in spite of pleas from Soviet officials and arts organisations, Repin never returned to Russia. His most famous works remained in the Soviet Union and his property and wealth were nationalised.
Portraiture, always important for Repin, is the mainstay of this show, and his quest for the essence of his subjects animates these works. They are marked by empathy and the same attention to detail that embodies his great works of critical realism.
His pictures of loved ones are particularly important. “Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter Nadezhda Repina” (1898) shows a bright face that gazes forth with dark, sensitive eyes, and clothes that merge into an almost black background. Above her head is a splash of colour, an illumination of the kind seen in paintings of saints. Nadezhda is a source of light in darkness – the fact that she later succumbed to menal illness makes the picture all the more poignant.
A candid glimpse of domesticity is seen in “Double Portrait of Natalia Nordmann and Ilya Repin” (1903), the couple seated outside with ubiquitous Finnish conifers forming the backdrop. This picture displays the skill in en plein air painting that Repin acquired during his stay in France. He was fascinated by the effect of sunlight on colour and would spend days in the Normandy countryside working on its representation. Here he appears still very much the young man, with his dark beard and hair, staring at an object he is drawing in his sketchbook. He sits in the shade of his wife, who is brightly lit; his drab clothes, by contrast, emphasise his craftsman status.
Repin’s Parisian stay is reflected in “Nobility’s Summer Festivity” (1894), for all the world a work of Impressionism. The use of light and colour is redolent of Manet’s “Un bar aux Folies-Bergère”, but the subject of the painting, a fancy-dress ball for wealthy Russians, shows attention to elite themes, as much a part of his work as his portrayals of the everyday.
But perhaps the most revealing picture in the exhibition is its most modest. The French critic Louis Réau once noted: “For Repin, more than for any other Russian artist, painting existed on its own, not only as a means of depicting ideas and narrating history.” “Self Portrait”, a small watercolour from the 1920s, shows the artist gazing up from his always-present sketchbook above a pince-nez, his hair and beard turned white. He is sketching with his left hand. In old age Repin’s right hand became feeble and could not hold a paintbrush or pencil. As ever, he is the working artist renewing his craft.
Until August 18, www.kadriorumuuseum.ee
Borodin’s Beautiful Orientalism
The great Oleg Melinkov as Konchak
The Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus brought a special treat to Tallinn’s opera lovers on February 10. The great 19th century composer Aleksander Borodin’s take on Medieval Russian history, “Prince Igor”, was a featured event of Belorussian Culture Days in Estonia and provided, after a few fits and starts, a very satisfying evening of entertainment.
A longish opera at a bit over three hours, “Prince Igor” was slow to hit its stride. Sets were, to be generous, commonplace in Act I. The prologue and first act set the stage for later adventures when the eponymous hero, played by Stanislav Trifonov, and his comrades make an expedition against Polovstian tribes making raids on the Kievan Rus circa 1185. The libretto is based on the chronicle “The Lay of Igor’s Host”. This means the many tropes of Medieval Russia are on display: period garb, processions with icons, solemn oaths of bravery against the foe, mead hall tomfoolery and all the rest of it. This is the stuff of the opera’s first half which was long, and despite some fine ensemble singing in the mead hall, on the listless side of the ledger. A welcome intermission provided a chance for refreshment and rejuvenation.
Ah, but Act II was superb. Prince Igor and his son Vladimir (Alexei Mikutel) are captive in the land of the Polovtsians and the opera’s exotic qualities come to the fore. Khan Konchak, played by Oleg Melinkov, is the leader of the tribe and their gracious host. Melinkov is a bass/baritone and must be one of the biggest men in opera. His appearance on stage had audience members gasping and murmuring. A decadent and friendly fellow, the khan has his gorgeous slave girls dance for the pleasure of his guests. And beautiful dancing it was in extravagant and sexy outfits in an orientalist setting straight from the 19th century Russian imagination. Melinkov sang “Fly away on the wings of the wind” accompanied by the chorus of dancers. A great moment in “Prince Igor”.
Eventually the prince finds his way back to his wife Yaroslavna, played by Yekaterina Golovleva, as she sings the touching aria “Oh, I weep”. A bittersweet end to the opera’s wonderful second half. Emotional arias, and enchanting ensemble dancing in Act II sent everyone home happy.
By Michael Amundsen
A Night at the Opera… and the Symphony
The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra hit on a good thing Friday night, as ERR News’ concert reviewer Mike Amundsen reports.
In celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, a program of bits of the opera legends’ works were performed. Avoiding the grueling crucible of a five-hour Wagner opera for some wonderful highlights from the great theatrical innovator’s works meant getting home at a reasonable hour. Likewise the show’s second half saw some fantastic arias from that most esteemed Italian Romantic.
Things began in Apollonian fashion with the formal, majestic and imposing overture to Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg”. The singing that followed was the Genius of Bayreuth’s art at its most emotive. International Estonian mezzo-soprano Annely Peebo sung three sublime lieder from Wagner’s “Funf Gedichte fur eine Frauenstimme.” Currently employed by the Vienna Volksoper, Peebo has a remarkable resume in the Italian and German repertoire, having sung in some of the world’s great opera houses. Her exquisite tone, vocal sustain and wistful far off stare gave these songs beautiful poignancy (See Annely Peebo sing in this clip: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgdYNa0meNw ).
The Latvian National Opera’s Krisjanis Norvelis brought an intense stage presence to the “Flying Dutchman” aria “Mogst du, mein Kind.” Norvelis is a powerful bass, whose singing carries theatricality and gravitas in equal measure.
With visions of Robert Duvall dancing in the collective consciousness, the Wagner set ended with a stirring (what else could it be?) “Ride of the Valkyries” from the “Die Walkure” opera of the massive “Der Ring des Nibelungen” cycle.
After a rest from all the Wagner, the program continued with some beloved works of Verdi. Verdi, no purveyor of lightweight fare either, brought Romantic melodrama Italian style.
The Estonian National Opera’s own Heli Veskus – a crowd favorite – sung “Tacea la notte placida” from “Il Trovetore” and brought the proverbial house down. Finnish National Opera’s Jurki Antilla gave us the aria “Ah, sib en mio, coll’ essere” from the same opera. Antilla, well tanned for January, is suave and clearly has the right stuff as a leading man tenor. Concertgoers dug this piece with equal fervor.
At the end things turned festive with the famous duet and chorus “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (Let’s drink from the joyous chalices) from “La Traviata”, featuring Veskus and Antilla. This rousing piece really got the audience going, and longtime conductor and Estonian musical theater maven Eri Klass, being a good sport, turned it into an encore as well. A night of superb art ended on a high note and with plenty of time left over to head to the bars for a highball.