ROUND-UP REPORT: Tallinn Music Week 2016 (Estonia)

Runorun: Mari Kalkun and Maija Kauhanen

Tallinn Music Week 2016 (Estonia) 
(Tallinn, March 28 – April 3, 2016. Report and all photos by Henning Bolte)

Tallinn Music Week (TMW) is an international multidisciplinary cross-genre festival in its eighth year. It presented almost 250 acts from 30 countries spread across 34 genres at 70 indoor but also outdoor venues in the Estonian capital. Estonia supplied half of the acts (123) itself, Finland (26), Denmark and Russia each (15), Poland (9), and the UK (6). Fairly well represented was the Near East (Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Morocco). Notable absentees were Africa (south of Maghreb) and the Far East, which might change in coming years. The biggest portion were acts in Electronics (103) followed by Alternative (65), Experimental (49), Rock and Pop (both 43), Hip Hop (35), Psychedelic (28) and Jazz (27). The event TMW received 620 international delegates and 130 international journalists and drew almost 35,000 concert visitors.

Serious role of arts, music, creativity

Its multidisciplinary character was not only a claim but manifested itself in an abundance of events and activities in the field of food/cuisine, of arts and design, through a cinema programme entitled Social Sounds, in a series of public talks and finally two parallel conferences, the regular International Music Industry Conference and an newly added second conference line entitled Creativity For Change Forum. Enormous efforts had been made to get such a mega-event organized. It was done brilliantly, always giving the impression that the organizers and people responsible were very aware of what they were doing and what it was all for. As a delegate and visitor it could clearly be sensed that it was based on a solid fundament and was really meant especially the emphasis on the crucial role of the arts and music in gaining and strengthen a clear identity and awake mind and consciousness in order to face and solve societal problems.

Which way in Tallinn / at Tallinn Music Week?

The way the president of the Republic Toomas Hendrik Ilves was around during the three days and personally engaged in the work place was rare and unique. Taking the bond with arts and music that serious as during TMW is quite encouraging not only internal but far beyond Estonia.

The speech of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves: 

The full text of President Ilves’remarkable, wide-ranging and impressive speech about politics, music, culture and counter-culture is here

Cultural wealth and big leap

Maybe it is not so astonishing for a country that gained its independence and self-consciousness to a considerable degree by the singing voices of its valiant inhabitants. Estonia with its less than one and half million inhabitants has brought forth a considerable amount of influential musical talent of highest degree like the composers Arvo Pärt (as the world’s most performed living contemporary composer), Veljo Tormis, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Helena Tulve, Tõnu Kõrvits and Mirjam Tally, conductors as Tonu Kaljuste, Anu Tali, Ants Sööt, the 3 Järvis (Neeme, Paavo, Kristjan), Jaan-Eik Tulve, Olari Elts, Eri Klas, pop-stars as Maria Minerva aka Maria Juur, Kerli (Kōiv), Ingrid Lukas, dj and producer Mord Fustang and internationally renowned jazz musicians as Kristjan Randalu, Robert Jürjendal, Jaak Sooäär, Maria Faust, Kadri Voorand. They could rest on their laurels but the opposite is true. It seems that it just incites and motivates to further pursue this path.

This year’s edition meant a big leap with an ambitious extension including special food and restaurants programming, art and design, cinema and a double conference trace at two locations in town, one of it the usual conference of the festival at the Nordic Hotel Forum, the other one the general spearheading Creativity For Change Forum at N099 building nearby. The programmatic Creativity For Change motto emphatically pointed at the necessity to embrace, exploit and develop creativity and creational potentials in facing, approaching and solving societal, economic and political problems we are confronted with as citizens.


The opening took place in the newly opened black box hall of Kultuurikatel, a new arts site in old power plant, with two crossover pieces. First “Reminiscences of Youth“, a piece of Estonian composer Peeter Vähi performed by accomplished violinist Mari Samuelsen and cellist Håkon Samuelsen from Norway and Estonian chamber orchestra Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta. It was followed by “Turntable Concerto” of London-based crossover composer Gabriel Prokofiev performed by the same orchestra in collaboration with British world champion turntablist DJ Mr Switch aka Anthony Culverwell. Both pieces were conducted by renowned Estonian conductor Kristjan Järvi. Kristjan Järvi is one of the conducting Järvi brothers and known for his genre-defying projects. He is the principal conductor of Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as the founder and artistic director of New York classic hip-hop-jazz group Absolute Ensemble.

The rousing showy turntable piece functioned as an inescapable wake-up call triggering a thunderous reaction and an encore. In the encore Järvi definitely stirred the orchestra up by means of a riff-like repetitive rhythmic pattern. The orchestra came off completely and fell into a never-ending uplifting groove. Järvi is the classical conductor who can accomplish this audience pleasing effect with verve. It was an example of good showmanship fulfilling the demanded programmatic function in the TMW-context.

LINK: Programme Summary

Showcases Telleskivi Loomelinnak

On Friday and Saturday night TMW presented a series of 30 minutes Jazz and Folk Music showcases at the Vaba Laba Building of the Telliskivi Loomelinnak (Creative City) complex. It is an old Soviet industrial site of 25 000 m2 and 10 buildings. It is an independent business hub, completely based on private ownership. Here the tenants are fully responsible for the design of their spaces. Such co-creation practice shapes the territory into a diverse and original community. Currently there are 200 businesses, companies and NGOs operating on the premises. 

The jazz showcases Friday night were organized by the Jazzkaar Festival and the Estonian Jazz Union, the folk music showcases Saturday night by the Viljandi Folk Music Festival. The Jazzkaar festival is a yearly festival taking place in the second half of April. The Viljandi Folk Music Festival is a yearly festival held during the last weekend of july in small town of Viljandi in the south of Estonia. It is one of the largest festivals in Estonia and one of the largest folk music festivals in Europe.

Showcases: Jazzkaar Festival and  Viljandi Folk Music Festival

Both series were of extraordinarily high quality as showcases. The groups were quickly on fire and an instant hit but above all most of the groups operated on a high level in terms of re-integrative and reconciling transformational potentials and power. As a whole it worked smoothly with immediate transitions from one group to the next one.

Friday, jazz

The jazz showcase presented jazz in the broadest sense, manifold and intersecting various areas. It opened with post-soviet, post-industrial, post-rock, post-jazz work of Heavy Beauty, a brand-new quartet comprising guitarist Jaak Sooäär and Lithuanian heavy weight saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas, playing bass saxophone and sopranino (sometimes simultaneously), plus bass guitarist Henno Kelp and drummer Andrus Lillepea, both well-known Estonian rock musicians. The Estonian musicians have already been collaborating in Amsambel Juhan but Heavy Beauty is still a different story. It appeared to be a highly pleasurable light-hearted heavy tone affair. Dragging all registers, no irony but clearly on the edge, a kind of Happy Metal. It was a beautiful musical playground and a great opening. The group has just released its first album entitled Propganda (Muusika).

MiaMee is the group of upcoming Estonian vocalist Liina Saar. She is from the youngest generation and has teamed up with a couple of already experienced musicians like Anni Elif Egecioglu on violoncello, vocal and keyboard (a member of Elifantree too), older generation guitar ace Maart Soo (he is part of the Weekend Guitar Trio), keyboarder Taavi Kerikmäe and drummer Ahto Abner. Miamee’s music, spherical and heavily rock inflected, brought beautifully floating songs with notable expansions by guitar veteran Soo and great merging of his guitar with Egecioglu’s cello. The group’s debut-album Some Other Me has just been released.

Ingrid Lukas

The inimitable Ingrid Lukas 

Vocalist Ingrid Lukas is already an established name. She is of Estonian origin but since her youth based in Switzerland. With her firm and vigorous voice she has created her very own merging of Estonian singing tradition, the Regilaul, into wide, mystical ambient spheres with a strong rhythmical base and clear pop music sensitivities. Her latest album, Demimonde, conjuring up the interzone of demons and other spiritual creatures was released on Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin Rhythm Records. She performed on keyboard together with drummer Patrik Zosso and dancers of the Twisted Dance Company aided by a great light design as an essential part of the show. She leaned on smooth melodies but with her strong voice and splendid articulation she gained a high degree of expressive power and delivered a dynamic and captivating performance full of tension and hefty swipes in the higher register.

The Weekend Guitar Trio is a real mystery. Formed in 1993 by the three Estonian guitar players Robert Jürjendal, Tōnis Leemets and Mart Soo and operating on a high musical and artistic level in jazz, contemporary music and pop/rock context it is unique in its kind in Europe. The trio plays a very own sophisticated form of ambient music that has been deepened and expanded impressively over the years and still sounds fresh as its concert convincingly testified. Already a household name in Europe they deserve to be programmed more by music/jazz festival just because it is one of the rare configurations where the focus is for 100% on the music. It is a real musical collective not a sensational star guitarist line-up. They played some great spacy things and highly matured things with Frippertonics in combi with Ry Cooder-like, Bop–Til’-You-Drop stuff.

Right wing Sacrum Facere (Maria Faust)

Maria Faust is an energetic woman with humour and lots of other sensibilities and talents. She is a dedicated instrumentalist, a skilful composer and arranger and determined conductor (like other women she has been trained as a classical conductor at Tallinn Conservatory). As a succession of her large ensemble Maria Faust Jazz Catastrophe she inaugurated the eight-piece Sacrum Facere ensemble with four woodwinds (Anders Banke, Francesco Bigoni, Ned Ferm and she herself), trumpet (Thomas Dabrowski), tuba (Jonatan Ahlbom), piano (Emanuele Maniscalco) and kannel (Kirsti Mühling), no bass or drums involved in this ensemble of Danish, Estonian, Polish, Italian and Northern American musicians.

The music of the song cycle Sacrum Facere (sacrificing human souls), written by Faust after careful research on location, is inspired by Estonian folk music and runo singing from the Setu region in the South East of Estonia at the present Russian border. The indigenous people of the ancient Setomaa region, now split up between Estonia and Russia, are a religious minority as orthodox Christians. According to Faust it is music about females, their sacrificing during history up to now, their own stories.

It is a bold undertaking. The music is pure and powerful, spiritual and joyful, exuberant and subtle. It has been improved and refined amazingly in two years. The tone colours, the mutual fine-tuning of the instruments and the dynamics are all extra-ordinary and it continues to fascinate. There are momentarily more of these (younger generation) large ensembles. Faust’s Sacrum Facere. Together with for example Eve Risser’s White Desert Orchestra, The Jakob Bro Tentet, the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble, Joachim Badenhorst Urio Carate Orchestra, Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit etc.. Faust’s Sacrum Facere belongs to the premier league in its category. The TMW performances have approved that strongly.

Bad Habits Trio, a formation of acclaimed Estonian musicians namely bassist Peedu Kass, guitarist Andree Maaker and drummer Ahto Abner joint forces to ride the edges of jazz and rock. They took a heavily electrified, bouncing ride on guitar and bass guitar and went into lively high drive with tough drumming and sophisticated balanced interplay.

Kadri Voorand

Her Full Explosiveness Kadri Voorand

Kadri Voorand is a first class joyfully rousing entertainer with a great voice, great timing with a group of first class musicians closely tied together and flexibly underpinning her spontaneous asides and excursions. She was the only one that evening to be demanded urgently for an encore. Voorand is a hi-fly as well as earthy type of artist who is able to sing on top level in different contexts (witness her contribution to the recent recording of Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits’ album Mirror (ECM New Series). In her performance, “directed” from the piano chair, élan, tempo, spirit and soul went hand in hand. She sang in her native language and when she shifted to wordless singing it by far transcended old school scatting. At times it recalled Portuguese singer Maria João. With her performance she proved to be a unique thoroughbred entertainer on a high musical level who hits people’s body and soul. In that capacity she clearly deserves still more international exposure.

Her versatility manifested in one of the next combinations of the program, Voorand/Koikson/ Sooäär/Daniel. It is a two electric guitar, two vocalists line-up that performed material of world-renowned Estonian choral/vocal composer Veljo Tormis. The hall was even more crowded and buzzing with curiosity/expectation. Veljo Tormis is a central link between Estonia’s ancient song tradition and all its current up-to-date adaptation. He re-worked the ancient sources as a contemporary composer in his very own careful way. The quartet is an offshoot of last year’s celebration of Tormis’ 85th birthday. The quartet’s rendition was very sober with some special turn at time evoking many smiles in the audience. It appeared to be quite familiar with the (ancient) songs, regilaul as it is called in Estonian.

Sheep Got Waxed is a young uncompromising saxophone, guitar, drums trio from Lithuania consisting of Simonas Šipavičius (saxophone), Adas Gecevičius (drums) and Paulius Vaškas (guitar). Is it enough jazz? Its music rocked dirtily and slid regularly into otherworldly dream islands in between. Speedy, frayed, odd and bizarre at moments but always with some surprising exits and transition within the song structure, the group is still in search of some higher kind of visceral equilibrium. A conventional rock group would continue hammering and pumping up, Sheep Got Waxed switched squirrel like, freaked out and went into surrealistic pillows.

Elifantree is a well known, charming crossover trio based in Helsinki. It is Swedish-Kurdish multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Anni Elif Egecioglu, Finnish saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and Finland’s well-known jazz drummer Olavi Louhivuori. It was a joyful affair with smooth groove and a weird edge from the first moment: three still young enough cool musicians inviting people to their colourfully toyshop. There was more and richer variation than in usual pop music and there was not more jazz than necessary and useful here. With lots of attractive melody, captivating rhythm and beats and total absence of pretension the trio was shining brightly.

Arvo Pärt

As entr’acte on Saturday morning an excursion to Laulasmaa, Harju County, where Arvo Pärt’s archive is situated in the Aliina House in the wonderful pinewoods at the seaside, 45 minutes southwest of Tallinn. Pärt has returned to his native homeland and is now residing in this area. He is working in the office of the Aliina House with some archivists and musicologists on a daily basis. As a semi-institutional thing it is a special case of a “living archive”. In some respect it is comparable to Kurtag’s permanent residence in the Budapest Music Center. The office is named after the short key piece, Für Alina, Arvo Pärt wrote on a day in 1976, 40 years ago. That piece was the beginning of his Tintinnabulli music.

Pärt’s (strong) anachronistic actuality is functioning like a burning glass synchronically and diachronically for Estonian culture in general and work of Estonian musicians in particular. It could be sensed intensely especially on that sunny Saturday morning at this informal, non-museum site in the quiet pinewoods. It was just fascinating to get a glimpse into the archiving of the past in the making, as an on-going transitional thing such that it resist omnipresent medial subsumption.

LINKS: Joana Gama – Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina
Arvo Pärt: Short interview

Saturday, folk music

Marja Nuut 

There is so much to see and to discover at Tallinn Music Week that you inevitably miss a lot too. I was glad I did not miss the extraordinary, deeply touching performance of Maarja Nuut. What she put on stage was a highlight of the festival beyond genre or category with a deeply moving effect on many in the audience.

Her performance departed with an intriguing calmness, a kind of calmness that quite immediate transferred to the spectator – seamlessly as well as captivating. It happened as wondrous as her narratives are. These narratives have logic of their own not evident at once. Nuut has an extraordinary talent to open things up to the spectator and altering spectator’s wondering into deeper emotional understanding of these narratives. This happens due to the flow of a carefully composed, shaped and fine tuned ensemble of means of expression. It is a strongly integrated artistic whole of greatly shifting visuals, her own narrating and singing, her live-sampling, (step) dancing and violin playing, simultaneously and in a sequence. With this multi-angled approach she opened up deeper layers and introduced her audience to a different zone of perception of our being.

As she notes herself she strives for a lively and relaxed state like a cat poised to leap. According to herself that “gives rise to music and makes me want to prolong being in the moment while altering ways of seeing, hearing and perceiving. It is always “now” and old tunes are as fresh as improvisations which were born a second ago”.

Nuut’s narrative took its course from the poor left girl roaming the land via the silken feathered bird story of the earth coming into being to the game of killing horses and finishing in the lullaby inviting for deep and lucent dreams. She conveyed this in a whispering mode together with wonderful violin sounds. A high point of her performance was the spinning dance she did holding and playing her violin and stamping rhythmical accents on an amplifying wooden plateau. The dance was a stylized form of an Estonian rural rotation dance. Also due to her dress it had a strong resemblance to a whirling dervish.

What she is doing is much more than ‘translating’ ancient and archaic sources into a present day expressive idiom. She evidently has strong imaginational capacities to reach deeply into magical mystical realms and invoke those by her magnificent choice of expressive means and extraordinary dynamics to get it work concomitantly in her performance. She is not only unique in the way accomplishing this. She is a rare example of a young artist making all senses work together with a deep impact on audience’s perception and emotion as indicated above. Herein she follows in the footsteps of older generation “integrative narrative totality” artists as Laurie Anderson or Iva Bittova. It is interesting and perhaps not coincidental that all three women are fiddlers.

On her second album Une Meeles (In the Hold of a Dream) that will be released internationally in June Maarja Nuut explores the transition between reality and dreams. “For me, music and the images and stories hidden in it offer an opportunity to travel from one reality to another, visit a place where everything is possible,” she explains. “I clearly remember the times when I’ve had lucid dreams. It is an experience where the reality and imagination get mixed up and you can choose where, how and in which direction you move. You are away but very much present at the same time.”

Trad Attack

The most popular Estonian unit on the path of transforming old folk sources is the trio Trad Attack comprising Sandra Sillama playing Estonian bagpipes, Jalmar Vabarna playing electric guitar and Tõnu Tubli on drums. These three young musicians of the thirty-something generation found each other in a unique strong and hard hitting musical concept and a splendid combination of instruments. As a central element the threesome generally works from field recordings of old days Estonian folk music. Its music is punchy, rousing, soaring and disarmingly infectiouos. It revealed that they are flying high at every performance and can hold the vivacious dynamics brilliantly all through. Due to its immense popularity its concerts during TMW were hopelessly overcrowded. There are plenty indications that the trio will conquer the rest of the world soon.

The folk music showcase program revealed that Trad Attack is not a singular phenomenon or an exception. It is part of a strongly developed connection of musicians of different ages and genres with ancient sources and traditions in the present (global) urban context. That entails that musicians from other genres than folk music are based on these lively sources and that folk musicians are open for developments and tools of other genres. As a consequence (demarcation) lines are blurred, pigeonholing of the artistic outcome becomes less relevant. In first place it is the artistic quality in general and differing preferences in the treatment of sources and tools as can be seen with other groups like Mari Kalkun & Runorun, Lepaseree. or Puuluup. The group Runorun for instance uses a “lighter” custom-made drum set and uses the double bass regularly as percussion instrument like the (ütör)gardon, the Hungarian percussive cello. The trio Lepaseree uses guitar, accordion and fiddle whereas the duo Puuluup makes use of the talharpa, a four-stringed bowed lyre.

Runorun is the Helsinki-based international group which Estonian vocalist Mari Kalkun started in 2012. Kalkun has her roots in the southern edge of Estonia. Runorun’s particular sound is shaped by two female voices Mari Kalkun and Finnish vocalist Maija Kauhanen, both playing variants of regional cithers, namely a 12 string Estonian table cither (kannel) and a 19 string Finnish table cither (Saarijärvi kantele), double bass played by Nathan Riki Thomson and percussion played by Tatu Viitala.  Runorun is a highly agile unit on stage too. Both vocalists move freely (with their cithers) on stage, challenge each other and act in different positions during their vocal duetting. It is a reflection of the group’s free run through, in and out different songs (laulud). The group’s action is witness of the coolness and power of ancient sources. Whereas Maarja Nuut’s narratives conjure various interzones in our mind, Mari Kalkun goes into opposite direction with her narratives that trigger and connect various songs. In stupefying ways she connects the wisdom of her ancient sources with troubles of everyday life nowadays. That also means that the group improvises its way from one song into the next. Especially the two singers switch easily between rune singings, beat boxing, narrating and vocal battles. Runorun’s newest album has been released on well-known Finnish label Rockadillo Records and German Nordic Notes.

Lepaseree is a folk-trio of fiddler and vocalist Meelika Hainsoo, guitarist Paul Daniel and accordionist Kulno Malva. Lepaseree, literally it means “going smoothly,” built and spun its music with a more contemplative approach. With appropriate musical finesse the group achieved a degree of transparency that facilitated the unhampered unfolding of some old stories and allowed the audience to openly relate and get closer connected to it. The trio accomplished this with great integrity.

The duo Puuluup (Marko Veisson, Ramo Teder) with its talharpa and special electronics was definitely the screwiest formation of the entire run of the folk showcase. The talharpa is a four-stringed bowed lyre from northern Europe, similar to the Finnish jouhikko and the Welsh crwth. Formerly widespread in Scandinavia nowadays it is still quite actively used in Estonia. The duo played a cranky melange of old time skiffle, Comedian Harmonists and Mungo Jerry drowned in dub-effects. It was a charming, entertaining affair, but a bit predictable in the long run.


It was not my first visit to Tallinn but the first visit to Tallinn Music Week. It was a visit full of strong impressions. Two experiences were of special importance having a strong impact. One was experiencing ‘jazz’ in a much broader, highly concentrated context as this as a variant of many ways of present day’s music making. The other one was meeting such a strong and omnipresent incentive spirit, a spirit that is rooted, open and moving forward confidently.

Categories: miscellaneous

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