Estonia as reflected by foreign media
Purge is a universal story about humanity says Sofi Oksanen
The statistics from Estonian bookshops for the year 2009 tell a simple story: Estonians read Oksanen, bustle about in their gardens and love fairy tales. Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge sold 16 982 copies in Estonia, enough to sweep the novel to bestseller status in Estonia. Print-runs of books in Estonia rarely exceed 10,000 copies. (Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, 28.01)
A novel about the Soviet occupation of Estonia has taken the tiny Baltic nation by storm, threatening to bring into the open secrets that have been undisturbed for half a century. At 33, Oksanen is a literary phenomenon; she has won every main literary award in Finland, has been translated into 28 languages and was named Estonian “Person of the Year” in 2009. In her novel, Oksanen has merged the themes of Soviet occupation and contemporary history. Ideologies come and go but Oksanen sees them as excuses, political cover for material greed that inflicts terrible wounds on human beings.
Oksanen’s chief characters leave behind troubling questions about the long-term impact of occupation, torture and deliberate cruelty. Purge is a flawed, brilliant piece of work that does not easily relinquish its grip on the reader’s imagination. (Times, 26.06)
Sofi Oksanen is a different type of author, and in Purge she writes about the atrocities Estonian women had to endure during the Soviet occupation. Oksanen, whose mother is Estonian and father is Finnish, was only 32 years old when she was awarded Finland’s top three literary prizes for the novel in 2008. Purge covers the period 1940 to 1992. During the story old wounds are torn open through deception, romance and resistance. No other author has had the courage to write in such a way about the psychological and physical sufferings of women in an occupied country.
The story of the characters in the novel reflects the Soviet past and the story deals with difficult questions: how do you live in an occupied country without having to betray yourself? How should you forgive betrayal and cooperation with the authorities at a time when people were repressed? This is a novel that captures every reader and offers answers to quite a few questions. (AFP, Le Monde, 08.07)
Even when the last page of Sofi Oksanen’s novel has been turned, the emotion of the story stays deep in the reader.
Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge tells the story of two women: old Aliide, who lives in Estonia in her father’s farm, which she has tried to keep using all possible means, and young Zara, whose dream of wealth and a better future has taken her from Belarus to the brothels of Berlin.
This may sound like another standard novel about human trafficking, but Oksanen’s use of language and the intuition of the character’s souls raise the story above entertainment and give it resonance. The descriptions of the brothel are so deeply disgusting that no film could present the scenes better, and when you close your eyes, they are still in front of you. There is grief and sadness, which rasp in silence; humiliation and shattered dreams, which stick to your skin like wet rags; and only very few fragments of happiness. There are characters whose behaviour is totally repulsive, but whom the reader still understands, as they do what they can in order to glue these fragments together into a whole.
You read with cramped fingers and holding your breath; it even becomes unbearable to read on, but you still turn the pages to find out what happens next, making yourself read slowly enough to enjoy the language, which has the effect of a tattoo needle on the brain cortex. Purge is influential, unforgettable and maddeningly good. But getting over it takes time. If it is at all possible. (Berlingske Tidende, 28.01)
Having read Purge, I can now at least claim to know considerably more about Estonia than I did. It is, on the whole, depressing knowledge. Estonia seems to have spent much of the 20th century caught between a rock and a hard place: passing from Soviet to German hands, and back again, and buried in a pit of violence and repression so dark that a brief occupation by Nazis is actually a bright spark in its history. Sofi Oksanen's novel charts this grim chronology through the lives of two women: Aliide, who has survived the worst excesses of Soviet rule, and Zara, who has to confront the consequences of the communist regime's collapse.
Detail is Oksanen’s great talent. The novel begins for example, with the description of a blowfly lying in wait to get to the meat in the kitchen and assumes a metaphorical force by the novel's end, epitomising Aliide’s instinct for survival — and the disgust that this must inevitably arouse. (The Times of India, 17.07)
The title of this bestseller from Sofi Oksanen alludes to the mass deportation to Stalin's gulags of those Estonians deemed to have collaborated during the 1941-44 German occupation. The purge is pivotal for the family at the centre of her story, but Oksanen also moves beyond the bitter dilemmas of collusion and resistance to deal with the more private horror of sexual violence during both peace and war. The story spans 60 years. Shot through with sibling jealousy, the plot has a gothic power and implausibility, with people stifled in sealed chambers and corpses left under floorboards.
Oksanen, a writer of Finnish-Estonian parentage, is brave enough to depict earlier generations as clearly culpable and regime change becomes a pretext for settling personal scores.
Yet resistance also survives. The first and last words are given to Hans's diaries and the novel is dotted with lines from the poet Paul-Eerik Rummo, a protester against Russification. Aliide fears her daughter has been cut off from Estonian tradition, but Zara's Estonian grandmother has doggedly kept her archaic mother tongue. Their secret language, writes Oksanen, "sprouted word by word and started to blossom mistily, yellowish, the way dead languages blossom, rustling sweetly like the needle of a gramophone”. (The Guardian, 21.08)
Little Estonia, the northernmost of the Baltic states on the border with Russia, is a terra incognita to most Central Europeans. Estonia, whose territory is not even the size of Lower Saxony, has constantly been under the power of the great states throughout its constantly changing history.
Sofi Oksanen, Estonian on her mother’s side and Finnish on her father’s, looks in her unusual novel Purge over everything that a suppressed people can do and that they have to endure in so doing.
The novel tells the story of two women and two generations. It is unthinkable that anyone could be left indifferent after reading this novel. The author, who lives in Helsinki, paints a vivid picture of what the Soviet occupation meant for Estonia and Estonians: the fear of betrayal, deportation, torture and death were part of everyday life. Fear for your own life overshadowed even compassion for the people closest to you. Thirty-three-year-old Sofi Oksanen has a message: no matter what the regime, violence always affects women first.
Foreign media, especially in Scandinavia, have praised the novel extremely highly. The American Kirkus Reviews compares Purge with Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Swedish newspapers have even spoken of Oksanen as a possible Nobel laureate. (DPA, Focus, 24.08)
Power and loss are the themes of Sofi Oksanen's new gripping novel. It brings to life two eras: one all but forgotten, and the other conveniently overlooked.
The all but forgotten time is the communist seizure of power in Eastern Europe, and the accompanying effects: rape, torture, murder, deportation, betrayal, and the like. The book happens to be set in Estonia, but it could be anywhere between the Baltic and the Black sea. The protagonists – humble country peasants, minor officials, school children and pensioners, not movers and shakers – get moved and shaken by the totalitarian superpowers to east and west.
The other era is the time just after the collapse of communism, when the dictatorship of money took over from the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is not a book to read last thing at night. It reminds us of things that we would rather forget. It is the story of millions of people forced to make impossible choices, who had their lives and happiness stolen, and then survived only to find new bullies and cheats taking the place of the old ones.
Purge has been a huge success in Ms Oksanen’s native Finland and has won prizes across continental Europe. It deserves an equal success now that it is available for an English-speaking audience. (The Economist, 03.07)
The Prix Femina prize for a translated work, one of the series of prestigious French literary prizes, went to Sofi Oksanen’s Purge, translated from Finnish. This is the author’s third novel, telling the (hi)story of Estonia when it had newly regained its independence. In August the novel also won the French Fnac prize. Since its publication in France on August 25, Purge has continued to grow in popularity. More than 60,000 copies have been sold, a record for a novel translated from Finnish. Le Monde, 02.11 ja 04.11)
The Nordic Council annual literary prize was awarded for the novel Purge to Sofi Oksanen, a Finnish writer with Estonian roots. Oksanen is a literary genius at only 33 years old. Few authors have reached such acclaim after writing only three novels. Oksanen’s language is rich and full of detail, and she is not afraid to write about the most unpleasant and ugliest things.
The Baltic states and their post-war fate have been somewhat left in the shadows. Sofi Oksanen’s novels serve to raise interest in countries that are only a ferry-trip away from Sweden.
The way Oksanen writes is very popular, even though she touches upon profound and difficult topics. Purge is an important work, as it explains the relationships between Sweden, Finland and the Baltic countries and helps disperse prejudice.
Sofi Oksanen was inspired by Slavenka Draculic and Fredrika Runeberg. At the moment she is collecting material for her new book, which she is finding more difficult to write under the watchful eye of the media. (Dagens Nyheter, 30.03)
The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat asked people what makes Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge unique. “That such a young woman has understood soviet Estonia so profoundly.” Harri Haanpää, head of the publishing company WSOY, says that it is the structure of the novel that makes it so good. Sofi depicts small things beautifully and in depth, though her text remains very clear. Jaana Kauppinen, executive director of the Pro Centre for support, says that Oksanen brilliantly depicts how difficult it is to assess the different choices people make. Pekka Tarkka, literary researcher, says “The novel tells of the destruction executed upon a small nation, but puts alongside the history the reality of modern times, with surging international crime whose victims are mostly women.” “ Personally for me it is difficult to see the uniqueness of the novel,” says Oksanen. “Perhaps it is enough of a universal story of humanity and so it touches those who do not have a connection with Estonia.” (Helsingin Sanomat, 31.03)
An American debut is no easy thing, even for an award-winning European writer, as the share of translated literature in the United States is barely three per cent. Sofi Oksanen is the first Finnish writer to take part in the festival PEN World Voices, where she stood alongside Salman Rushdie and Patti Smith. After the event in New York, Oksanen said that she was surprised at the eagerness of Americans to purchase the work of an unknown author. The first print-run of Purge in the USA was 10,000, which Szilvia Molnar, Oksanen’s agent, considers a great achievement for a translated work in the USA. (Kauppalehti, 10.05)
Sofi Oksanen’s Purge is one of the few books that looks better than its author. Purge enchanted thousands of readers in Germany immediately during its first weeks of sale, and the novel deserves to attain the status of a great work, but unfortunately at the official presentation of the novel in Berlin, Oksanen left the audience with the impression of a cold and grumpy woman. Despite that, Purge may be considered a well-written and translated book, which deserves a place on every bookshelf. (Frankfurter Rundschau 18.10; Der Tagesspiegel 21.10; Freitag, 08.11)
Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge is on its way to the opera stage. The novel describes the fate of two strong Estonian women and has been translated into 36 languages. The opera, which will première in April 2012 in Helsinki is being composed by Jüri Reinvere, a composer of Estonian origin who lives in Berlin. Both Reinvere’s and Oksanen’s grandparents originate from the same village, from where the writer’s trick for fighting a cold comes: dip pure lambswool socks in hot wine, put them on and wear through the night. (Der Spiegel, 06.12)
Two films will be made of Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge, one in Finnish and the other in English. Producer Markus Selin from Solar Films says that work on the Finnish film has already started, and the script will be completed over the next few weeks. It is too early for any decisions about the director and actors, but Selin believes that as the material is so good, it will be easy to attract cast and crew. (Aamulehti, 16.05)
The Estonian-origin characters of Sofi Oksanen’s Purge speak Estonian for the first time ever on the stage in Tartu! The director of the play, Liisa Smith, a young Estonian living in London, says that at first she refused to produce the play, as did two other producers, as it seemed too naive to her. Smith made several changes in the plot of the play, all of which were approved by Sofi, she says.
The interlinking of different time periods is one of the strengths of Oksanen’s novel and the play that preceded it, and the same is true of Liisa Smith’s production. Smith has complemented Oksanen’s original script of the play with excerpts from the novel. These entwinements indicate how broadly and from how different an angle the novel has been interpreted in Estonia.
Unlike Oksanen, Smith’s parents are both Estonian. Life has taken her to London for the past ten years, where she studied drama and stage directing at the University of East Anglia and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. This is the second time that Smith has produced a play in Vanemuine Theatre, and she would like to work more in her home country.
While directing Purge, Smith has become newly reacquainted with the history of her own family, because only now has she talked to her close relatives about the issues that were not discussed. Other cast members have experienced the same.
In February 2011 Purge will première at the La MaMa Theatre in New York. The rights have also been sold to the Nordic countries. (Turun Sanomat, 21.09; Helsingin Sanomat, 21.09)
Who is going to become the grand old man of Estonian literature after the departure of Jaan Kross? Seen from Finland, the most suitable candidate is Jaan Kaplinski.
The circumstances during the last decades of the Soviet Union were so twisted that as a dissident Kaplinski became one of the leading figures of resistance. In Finland Kaplinski has been valued for his perseverance and is considered more Estonian than he considers himself. He is known in Finland for public discussions as well as for his books, essays and poems.
Now Kaplinski’s autobiographical novel The Same River (Jaan Kaplinski Seesama jõgi. Finnish translation Sama joki by Kaisu Lahikainen, poems translated by Anja Salokannel and Kaisu Lahikainen, published by Otava) has been translated into Finnish, providing a marvellous overview of Estonian cultural history behind the scenes.
Together with the novel, a collection of poems by Kaplinski from his foreign travels has been published in Finnish, translated by Arto Lappi. (Helsingin Sanomat, 03.12)
Thanks to the publishing-house Gaïa, Nordic literature is becoming more available to French readers. Another volume of the novel Truth and Justice by Anton Hansen Tammsaare has been published in French in a new translation directly from Estonian. The fame and place of Tammsaare in Estonian literature is similar to that of Victor Hugo in France. The five-volume saga draws on material from the writer’s childhood home. Tammsaare’s style is very realistic and precise, and at times impressionistic. (Marie-France, 02.2010)
The second part of Jaan Kross’ autobiography Kallid kaasteelised II (Dear Co-Travellers II) has been published in Finnish to mark the 90th anniversary of the writer’s birth. From the first part of the memoirs the reader will particularly remember the fate of Estonia as it ends up caught between the spheres of interest of two totalitarian monsters in World War II, the disappearance of Kross’ school and university peers, who were only in their twenties, into Soviet prison camps or the ranks of the Red Army, or in the best cases into exile in Finland or Sweden. Part two of the autobiography seems to have been left unfinished and the final part of the book feels disrupted. Despite that it is wonderful that the entire autobiography is all in one integral piece, no major cutbacks have been made and no unnecessary bits added. (Helsingin Sanomat, 20.02)
Jaan Kross was the best-known and most international Estonian writer. The first part of his autobiography covered not only his personal experiences but also the history of the Estonian people from the beginning of the 1920s to the beginning of the 1960s. In his memoirs Kross turns out to be a warm writer, who understands life, even though the daily life of the Kross family was completely filled with the monotonous tapping of the typewriter. In the first part of the autobiography Kross talks openly of the difficult experiences he gained in Siberia. After his return to Estonia in 1954, Kross became a leading figure in Estonian poetry, slightly surprisingly given his degree was in law. Step by step he grew into a novelist. Kross criticised the Western countries for letting Estonia slip into the hands of the Soviet Union so easily, but he himself never emigrated from Estonia despite the chances he had. For a long time Kross refused to put his memoirs down on paper. Later in his life he changed his mind and with the second part, which feels slightly unfinished, the entire autobiography spans almost 1,000 pages. In the European world of cultural history the Gulf of Finland is a psychological border. Kross was free from the chauvinism characteristic of many Finnish male writers: he did not have to prove anything, because life had already been so difficult. In the second part of the autobiography the writer lets the major and minor events of his life flow alongside each other in a jolly disarray, in a style reminiscent of renaissance-era geniuses. Such a choice of style makes the memoirs a pleasant flowing read. The human style, where he understands his readers, charms everyone. Closeness to family, which is such an Estonian feature, and his expression of feelings touch the reader. The life of Kross was so entwined with Estonian history that the author’s connections to the nodal points of Estonian history alone offer an emotional experience. Kross remained an important opinion leader later in his life, during the times when Estonia regained its independence and afterwards. (Kaleva, 20.03)
Un Roman Estonien by Katrin Kalda has just been published. This book offers a way to link the different literary scenes of Western and Eastern Europe and enlighten those in Western Europe who are oblivious to what is happening in the Eastern regions. The book is set in Estonia in the 1990s, in an era when communism was being swept away by a powerful new regime – capitalism and a belief in the almightiness of money. The work is a witness to socially complicated times and it also looks at the way we interpret history and how stereotypes are born. (Libération, 26.08)
Erkki Tuomioja, doctor of governance and docent of political sciences, has written a fluent biography of the Estonian politician and statesman, Jaan Tõnisson, Jaan Tõnisson ja Viron itsenäisyys (Jaan Tõnisson and Estonian Independence). The work focuses on the life and activities of Tõnisson and also touches upon the cooperation and confrontation between Tõnisson and Konstantin Päts.
As an experienced researcher Toumioja resists the temptation to depict the relationship between the two top politicians as a fight between “good” Tõnisson and “bad” authoritarian Päts. Of course there were tensions and competition between the two men, but at the same time Tuomioja does not make Tõnisson out to be a saint either. There is plentiful criticism and Tõnisson’s authoritarian methods and difficult character are also shown.
The otherwise excellent text is disrupted by mistakes in the Estonian spelling of some names, and also by a few factual errors. Correct referencing is not the author’s greatest strength either and he could also have dipped into more archive material. Despite the flaws the work as a whole paints a very good picture. (Helsingin Sanomat, 24.10)
Estonian poetess Elo Viiding and guitarist Tiit Peterson performed in Turku’s main library at a literary evening under the title In Our Better World. This is the title of Viiding’s eighth poetry collection, which was published last year.
“I am not the type of poet, who is easily read by everyone, as my texts are not pleasant and can often be emotionally difficult to handle,” Viiding said. She says she is a difficult poet, who does not think that a poet should try to be liked by or make things easier for the reader. But she is satisfied with her audience and she is especially glad that young people like her work and that it has been performed in school theatres. Viiding’s poetry collection Paljastuksia has been published in Finnish by Nihil Interit in 2000. (Turun Sanomat, 21.09)
Finn Mika Keränen was awarded the prize for best Estonian language children’s book. The book Peidetud hõbedane aardelaegas (The Hidden Silver Treasure Trove) is a sequel to the book Varastatud oranž jalgratas (The Stolen Orange Bicycle). The award-winning book has many Estonian flavours to it. The scenes for the action include the Tartu Botanical Gardens and the nearby Supilinn district with its roads full of potholes and old wooden houses. Keränen lives in Tartu and works at the ministry of education, and is also a parent. “In Tartu we have a tradition that though you may be an ordinary dry person during the day, in the evening you transform into a part-time artist, who translates or organises cultural events. Few people in Estonia cope with just one job,” says Keränen. (Helsingin Sanomat, 30.03)
Modern classical music
It has taken Estonian composer Arvo Pärt the best part of forty years to pen a new symphony, his fourth, called Los Angeles. And at 75 next month, the composer was on hand to receive an exceptionally warm welcome at the UK premiere of the new work.
This reception is a long way, both musically and personally, for Pärt since his abrasive Third Symphony was less than welcomed by the then Soviet authorities.
It also perhaps goes some way to explaining why the new piece has been dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch with political ambitions, currently in prison in Siberia. Pärt’s work is often considered out of this world but interestingly enough they are still political.
The work feels like it completes a circle for Pärt, as he has found a structure to tie together the harmonic loose-ends derived from serialism from his last symphony. And by setting the music to a text, he has a derived a rhythmic bedrock for the work, which contains patterns, but at the same time doesn’t feel formulaic. A rare achievement. (Wall Street Journal, 21.08)
Arvo Pärt dominated the Proms last month and turns 75 this weekend. “Who?” you may ask. For those unfortunates, who are not familiar with the world of modern classical music, the name would be unfamiliar. His music, however, would not. Its stunning, moving simplicity makes it a favourite for film and documentary makers world-wide. The chances are you will almost certainly have heard Spiegel im Spiegel, Tabula Rasa or Für Alina even if you have never heard their names.
Beautiful music abounds the world over. Why focus on Pärt?
His music and his life are a testimony to the power of the Christian vision. Arvo Pärt was born in Estonia. When he was nine, his country was occupied by Soviet forces and would remain so for the next half century. His initial compositions were harsh-sounding serialist works, which frustrated the authorities.
More worrying to them was the fact that Pärt was (and remains) a deeply-committed Christian and composed works like Credo (1968). His conflict with the ruling power and art and religion hostile environment made him emigrate in 1980 to the West, where he has become immensely popular.
The man himself is notoriously shy and reserved, and unwilling to talk about his compositions. What there is, is the presence of Christ, to whom Pärt, although as reticent about his faith as about his music, has made clear his devotion. The humility and simplicity, the power and authority of Christ shine through. No wonder the atheist authorities banned it in 1968.
Today, Credo is performed in the huge Estonian Song Festival, which attracts 100,000 people and is broadcast live on TV. (Inspire Magazine, 07.09)
One of South Wales most renowned and longest-running festivals of classical music Vale of Glamorgan opens this weekend. This year the festival, now into its 40th year, overwhelms with a rare visit by the legendary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in the week of his 75th birthday. And the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, one of the world’s greatest choirs and leading performers of Pärt’s music deliver their vision of his music in Wales.
The centrepiece of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is the a cappella performance of Arvo Pärt’s massive choral masterpiece, Kanon Pokajanen, in the neo-Gothic St Augustines Church.
The Vale of Glamorgan festival started out in 1969 and has celebrated bringing together the living classical music composers and staging their music in less conventional premises throughout its history.
The festival making a statement with newness also includes Pärt’s UK premieres given by the dynamic Cello Octet Amsterdam and the Vanbrugh String Quartet. Pärt’s Stabat Mater will be performed in the candlelit church of Ewenny Priory.
Pärt is also the starting point for other Estonian connections in conjunction with Walestonia. Walestonia is the annual celebration of the connection and cooperation between Wales and Estonia.
The Vale of Glamorgan festival opened on Sunday, September 5, with a welcome from the Estonian ambassador and a special event combining music by the Resonabilis and Estonian cuisine and also with a reading from the 2009 TS Eliot prize-winner, Philip Gross a poet of Estonian descent and a resident of the Vale of Glamorgan. (Wales Online, 06.09)
The 75th birthday of Arvo Pärt was celebrated with concerts and a new recital of his breakthrough work. Tabula Rasa was first performed in 1984 and introduced the Western world to a composer noone had ever heard of before. His music seemed almost to be from the distant past, but at the same time, in a way which is difficult to define, it was strongly connected to his time. The recording quickly became a classic of modern music.
That was a quarter of a century ago. The composer himself just turned 75. (Suomen Kuvalehti, 01.10)
In the summer we enjoy ourselves at music festivals
In July the island of Saaremaa was turned into a Mecca of music as the international opera days were held in the medieval castle. Tourists generally visit the island to get a little break from the clamour of big cities and Saaremaa has traditionally been a destination for quiet family holidays. But for three years in a row, those whose who are looking for something other than a quiet vacation have been making their way here in the middle of summer. These people are dozens of famous performers of masterpieces of opera from around the world and hundreds of opera music lovers. Aleskandr Titel, the artistic director of the Moscow Stanislavsky Music Theatre says that the castle courtyard really has a unique atmosphere. Hibla Gerzmava, the Traviata singer accompanying Titel, also says that energy streams from the castle and you get a positive boost here. Here you sing differently from usual. (ТВ Центр-Москва, 23.07)
For the sixth consecutive year the Birgitta Festival is being organised in the ruins of St. Birgitta’s Convent in Tallinn. This event also marks the end of the Estonian high cultural summer. The Birgitta Festival is one of the major events staged by the Tallinn Philharmonic Society and this year it is partially linked to the Capital of Culture year. Jüri Leiten, the director of the Tallinn Philharmonic Society says that they always look for a new angle for the festival performances. “We may lose a share of the audience by doing this, but we have to be different from other events,” Leiten says. This year the Birgitta Festival celebrates the 80th birthday of composer Eino Tamberg. (Aamulehti, 13.08)
Solidifying friendships between Turkey and Estonia, Estonia’s Ellerhein Girls Choir is set to perform in Istanbul at Hagia Irene church. Estonia and Turkey have excellent ties dating back to the 1920s, according to Ambassador to Turkey Aivo Orav. The Ellerhein Girls Choir has also performed in Turkey before and won awards in Ankara in a 2005 competition. The Grammy winning choir, respected for its disciplined training and amateur origins, will sing Estonian classics along with Turkish songs at the Haghia Irene church.
Ambassador Orav highlighted the importance of good cultural ties between Turkey and Estonia, emphasising that historic events have brought the nations closer together. Estonia recognized the newly formed Republic of Turkey, while Turkey never recognized Estonia as a part of the Soviet Union. The ambassador added that Estonia and Turkey are very good friends and that the economic relations between the two countries are also strong. Turkey is the first tourist destination for Estonians, since there are no visas.
Choir music holds a special place in the history of Estonia, Orav said. Discussing the 1988 ‘Singing Revolution’, Orav said that people gathered spontaneously to sing about Estonian freedom. In one day there were 300,000 people, over a quarter of the Estonian population. This tradition, started in 1869, still takes place every five years.
The Ellerhein Girl’s Choir was founded in 1951. The group is well-known and respected in Estonia, and represents the country in festivals and performances worldwide. (Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, 15.07)
The Viljandi Folk Music Festival showed that folk music really is the music of the people for the Estonians. More that 20,000 tickets were sold for the four-day concert event this year, and some events were even free. The organisers say that almost 50,000 people enjoyed the folk festival over the weekend, and musicians and instrumentalists from all over the world playing in parks and around the concert sites until late at night added colour to the celebration. Antti and Esko Järvelä, who performed at the festival, praised it, saying: “There is a wonderful atmosphere in Viljandi. Compared to Finnish folk music festivals there are many young people in Viljandi who are automatically captivated by what you do. The location of the festival is also unique, with the old castle ruins and the blue Lake Viljandi below the ruins.” Folk music in Estonia is not as tightly defined as in Finland. The Viljandi Folk Music Festival at least suggests that folk music covers traditional music, music on acoustic instruments, choral singing and sailors’ songs, runic songs, and neo-folk with heavy metal motifs. According to Terje Trochynskyi, the marketing director of the Estonian Traditional Music Centre, folk music is currently gaining popularity in Estonia. “Young people are ecstatic about folk music. For them it is a window to their personal and neighbouring folklore, but it also offers a way of being engaged in world music.” Zetod and Svjata Vatra are mentioned as popular folk music groups. (Karjalainen, 28.07)
There are 42.6 million singers in American choirs alone and choral music is popular among singers, composers and listeners.
A lot of inspiring music can also be found on the CD Baltic Runes, made in a collaboration between Paul Hillier and the masterly Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. This is the eleventh album with a touch of rock music from this collaboration. The music is inspired by strong Scandinavian singing traditions and there are songs from Nordic and Estonian composers.
Of the Estonian composers Veljo Tormis is represented by the works The Bishop and The Pagan and Bridge of Song. (The Washington Post, 08.06)
The Estonian composer Eduard Tubin spent most of his life in Sweden. Appreciated only after his death, he could not have imagined that his birthday would be commemorated in a country for away from his native one or that of his exile.
Yet, as his son lives in Kaş, a seaside Turkish town near Antalya, for the second time his birthday has been commemorated with a concert.
Tubin’s family in Kaş hosted the musicians, who voluntarily came together for the occasion from various part of the world, in their house. The Estonian Ambassador Aivo Orav was also in Kaş for taking over Tubin’s belongings, which were donated by the family to the Eduard Tubin Museum, which will be opened in Tallinn in 2011. (Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Reviewy, 29.06)
International conductor’s baton
Paavo Järvi, an Estonian with an American citizenship, recently celebrated his 47th birthday. For years, he has been travelling between the US and Europe, continuously working with three orchestras in Cincinnati, Frankfurt and Bremen. In the fall, Järvi will become the Music Director of the Orchestre de Pari. Paavo Järvi gained the heart of the Polish audience as early as with his first concert with the musicians of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. It is no wonder that Paavo Järvi became a conductor. His father Neeme Järvi is a world renowned conductor, his younger brother Kristjan as well as his uncle also serve as conductors. (Rzeczpospolita, 01.04)
The Järvi family most certainly calls for the term “dynasty”. This dynasty of musicians was founded by Neeme Järvi who has two sons that are conductors as well as a daughter who plays the flute; all of them, in their turn, have their heirs to the throne. Neeme Järvi left Estonia in 1980 and has built his career mostly in the US; however, he has never burned his bridges with Europe. Absolute Ensemble, founded by Kristjan Järvi, has enjoyed great success. Four years ago, Paavo Järvi, who is ten years older than Kristjan, took over the position of the Head Conductor with the symphony orchestra of Hessen Radio. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24.04)
The Estonian talent, guest conductor of the USA National Symphony Orchestra, Kristjan Järvi was on full display when leading a concert anchored on the complex fourth symphony of Erkki-Sven Tüür, who also hails from Estonia. With a showman’s flair, Järvi preferred playful gestures, broad body movements and humorous looks. Järvi seemed most in his element when performing the work of American composer Bernstein. The concert took place in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.(The Washington Post, 11.06)
Paavo Järvi, an Estonian-American conductor, will head Orchestre de Pari starting from September. Järvi claims his program will not pursue a “great revolution” but will rather follow “new directions” in musical co operations. Artistic Director Didier de Cottignies of Orchestre de Pari says: “Paavo Järvi will steer a new course. He has a novel approach to the music director’s role. We’re lucky that he’s a man with an extremely versatile repertoire.” Paavo Järvi, who originates from Tallinn, will most likely include in his repertoire Scandinavian, Finnish or Baltic music, at the same time, not forgetting his specialty - French music. (L’Express, 05.08)
The orchestra Baltic Youth Philharmonic unites musicians from countries around the Baltic Sea. For the first time ever the orchestra will perform at the festival Young Euro Classic, where young musicians and orchestras featuring young people from all around Europe participate.
The conductor of the orchestra is Kristjan Järvi, who comes from the Järvi dynasty of conductors. His father Neeme Järvi emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States, where he conducted several major orchestras, and Kristjan’s brother Paavo Järvi is the conductor of the German Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra Bremen.
Until 2009 Kristjan Järvi was the principal conductor of the Tonkünstler Orchestra. Three years ago the new orchestra the Baltic Youth Philharmonic became a new interesting challenge, and its founding was led by the Usedom music festival and Järvi. One of the goals of the new orchestra is to strengthen the identity of the Baltic countries. The hundred members of the Baltic Youth Philharmonic have to be registered as students in a music academy in their home country and every year they have to re-audition for the orchestra. (Der Tagesspigel, 10.08)
On 1 September the 47-year-old Paavo Järvi of Estonian origin will step in front of the Orchestre de Paris. The son of a famous conductor, Paavo Järvi will take the Orchestre de Paris over from the German Christoph Eschenbach, who is going to conduct the Washington National Symphony Orchestra. The new conductor will most probably focus on the repertoire of Nordic, Russian and German composers.
Järvi, who has conducted the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra (since 2006) and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (since 2001) is not declaring a revolution at the Orchestre de Paris, but is promising new trends in the work and programme of the orchestra. “My style cannot be compared to the bandmasters of old times, I am not the principal and director, but more of a participant,” Järvi said. (AFP, France 2, 02.09)
The Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi has always been a musician whose concerts and records are characterised by versatility, and during his first season as the principal conductor of the Orchestre de Paris he has remained entirely faithful to this.
Paavo Järvi has a military bearing, his blue eyes shine with a sharp look, and you cannot help thinking of the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Here the comparison ends. Järvi, who takes over as the principal conductor of the Orchestre de Paris in September is a true artist with a capital A. Paavo Järvi was born into the family of the famous maestro Neeme Järvi in 1962 during the Soviet era in Estonia. His environment meant that Paavo Järvi did not have to content himself with the standard diet of soviet education of the era, but he was able to share the sheet music, orchestrations and recordings from all over the world that his father brought back from his numerous travels. Piano lessons and visits to the opera also greatly influenced him as a musician.
Paavo Järvi has played in a rock band and has been trained in both percussion and orchestral conducting. Young Järvi left home already at the age of 17 and complemented his training at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute. He became one of Leonard Bernstein’s favourite students and the latter has had a major influence on Paavo Järvi’s further style as a conductor.
Nowadays the concerts conducted by Paavo Järvi cover an impressive and striking range, with Nordic composers, well-known Russian composers, and the most famous composers in Europe. As the director of Orchestre de Paris, Järvi is hoping to work with several projects close to his heart, like the cycle of Haydn’s symphonies and the works of the French composers Roussel and Honegger, who deserve a wider presentation than they have had before on the international stage.
The first project of the Orchestre de Paris under the conductor’s baton of Paavo Järvi will be the symphonic poem Kullervo by the Finnish composer Sibelius, inspired by the Finnish national epic Kalevala . (qobuz.com, 07.09)
The Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi will debut with the Orchestre de Paris on September 15th and 16th. Paavo Järvi was born in Tallinn in 1962, educated in the US and since 2001 he has been the conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra and Frankfurt Orchestra. He does not come with the desire to stage a revolution, but the repertoire will be expanded. We can trust that the son of maestro Neeme Järvi will help the Orchestra to discover new approaches and step outside the conventional programme. (Les Echos, 14.09)
An interview with Neeme Järvi who, in a few years, will become the head of a French speaking Swiss orchestra. The 73 year-old charismatic and cheerful Estonian Järvi is the extreme opposite of the current head of the orchestra Marek Janowski. Järvi, who has more than 50 years of experience and has conducted countless orchestras, will sign a three year contract with the Suisse Romande Orchestra in the fall of 2012. Speaking of his ambitions in relation to the Orchestra, Järvi says that as competition is tough, it demands active participation. He would like to bring the Swiss orchestra to the international arena alongside French and, also, Russian music. (Le Temps, 26.10)
An article bestowing lavish praise on Neeme Järvi, who led the Berlin Philharmonics Orchestra in December. The author considers Neeme Järvi to be one of the most influential contemporary conductors. Unfortunately he seldom visits Russia. The previous time the conductor visited St Petersburg was in 2006. (Музыкальный центр, 13.12)
A place where you can sing yourself (free)
Try to picture a country so clean that you wouldn't dare trample on the lawns, a country so green that it looks, feels and smells like an Alpine valley after an autumn rain. A country so deeply rooted in modernity that its internet cafes have long given way to a WiFi network. Well, this is Estonia. One might have thought Estonia was crippled by the Soviet era but it now vibrates with dynamism. Every five years, a gigantic musical event draws more than 100,000 Estonians to the song festival grounds in Tallinn, with more than 18,000 choir singers from around the country performing live. Recent history, in particular the Soviet occupation, has left scars all around Tallinn’s suburbs: derelict warehouses, ruined buildings and other testimonies of the dark years were preserved purposefully as reminders. Tallinn’s identity, now more than ever, is rooted in its medieval past and its symbol, the massive city walls which circle the old city. (The Journal Pioneer, Halifax News Net, 29.01)
Where should concerts be organised? This problem may exist in St. Petersburg but it is not found in Estonia. 1928. Since 1928 the Song Festival Grounds have been the ideal such place as the stage accommodates 30 000 and the whole arena as many as 300 000 people. Minister of Culture, Laine Jänes, who trained as a conductor says that if you connect with every single singer, you can even manage those with whom you don’t have eye contact. The acoustics on the grounds are perfect and the sound is heard evenly all over the arena and can be heard as far as six kilometres away. That is why the arena is never empty, and world-famous rock stars give concerts here, among other events. As historian Jüri Kuuskemaa says, every tradition develops and changes, but the most valuable part of its individual character remains. Even stadiums with roofs could envy the safety requirements of the Song Festival Grounds. Drugs patrols, a security service and entrance controls, and good regulation of traffic and crowds make this arena an ideal concert venue.
In St. Petersburg concerts by world-famous pop stars are organised on the square in front of the Winter Palace. Maybe in future only military parades will be held here. A song festival arena in St. Petersburg perhaps?! ( TB100, 29.07)
The theatre is the demesne of old men and their fantasies as long evenings at the Vienna theatre festival Wiener Festwochen prove. Fortunately there are two plays that show how festivals and also the theatre could move forward. One of these is the production How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare by Tiit Ojasoo and Ene-Liis Semper, which illustrates possible conditions for creating art, doing it at very high speed and using the entire registry of good and well-done bad theatre. The 1965 Performance by Joseph Beuys only creates a frame for the Estonians’ production, the NO99 ensemble take on more the role of jesters who have to do the whole job for only half of the pay. (Die Tageszeitung, 14.06)
The whole of Estonia was turned upside down when Theatre NO99 announced that they were founding a new political party. Unified Estonia was such a cunningly influential project that many people truly believed it was the birth of a new political power. More than 7,000 people bought a ticket to the event that was advertised as a party congress. 2010. May 7, 2010 will be recorded in the history books. But will it be recorded in the history of theatre or the history of the country? The audience at the Saku Hall did not know what to believe: was a new political party really going to be established here? The attention the Unified Estonia project attracted indicated that Estonians are hoping for changes. The puzzlement and confusion can be explained by Estonia’s recent history where political parties have been born, faded away, dissolved and merged. But in the end no political party was created, which for many was a disappointment. Tiit Ojasoo, the director of the theatre announced that Theatre NO99 would not abandon politics, but that its politics would not be pursued within any political party, even the one that they themselves had founded. This week Theatre NO99 will be performing at the Tampere Theatre Festival their production How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare. (Aamulehti, 01.08)
Leading theatre NO99 led by Tiit Ojasoo has played a provocative role in Estonia. In May the theatre caused a political scandal by organising the party congress of “Unified Estonia” for 6500 spectators in the Saku Hall in Tallinn. NO99 will be participating in the Tampere Theatre Festival Teatterikesä again. Two years ago the audience was taken aback by their philosophical comedy GEP (Hot Estonian Guys). This time they will perform in Tampere a similarly sharp political play How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare. This is a wild combination of improvisation, documentation related to cultural policy and speeches by the minister of culture. Is it better to go into sports or put on a play? When handing out money the state prefers the first option. The performance uses parody and its performance does rock you, even from the Finnish perspective. Why is art needed and who needs it, if the economic recession takes even the last piece of bread from the people’s table? (Helsingin Sanomat, 03.08)
The Finnish television channel YLE is going to broadcast the Estonian drama series Tuulepealne maa - Windward Land. The director of the series is Ain Prosa and the series was made to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Estonia’s first independence, which was cut short. Gerda Kordemets, head of the Estonian Public Broadcasting drama department, has to count the money. “There is only one television series in Estonia that has run for almost 20 years. Every year we try to put on something new, but if it is the year of the Olympic games, sports could get our financing,” says Kordemets. She says that one of the most interesting projects is the TV-series Klass - The Class, which is a sequel to the film by Ilmar Raag. Ain Prosa acknowledges that domestic series are generally popular in Estonia. “They speak in our own language of the things we care about.” (Helsingin Sanomat 16.03)
Paradise for theatre-lovers – this is how the director of Volkstheater of Vienna, Michael Schottenberg, described Estonia. For the seventh year already, Estonia was hailed in Hundsturm as the best from the East. A literary mix of Andrus Kivirähk’s monolog “Aabitsa kukk“ (ABC Book) and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin“ by NO99 was in the limelight. The production by Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo proved to be much more exciting than anticipated. This is a work of art to be received with laughter, tears and a standing ovation. (Der Standard, 28.11)
Mr Raag, the shocker
The Estonian motion picture about the brutalities of youth, The Class will be given limited release in Russia. The socio-cultural context around the film by Ilmar Raag is quite broad and it is a tough and bloody drama, filmed with minimalist measures. The fact that the film is based on true life stories does not shock anyone. The Estonian Ministry of Education recommends showing the film in schools. This is a rare case when the wishes of the officials meet those of the audiences. Six days of action, like the creation of the world. To start with: “Are you a bastard or something?” and “Forgive me, grandma!” to end with. Cool shots of demonstrations of power, indifference, vileness and herd instincts. But the main theme is Kaspar’s bravery and the values of a man of honour. Values that nowadays slip from our hands so easily. Audience feedback suggests that what is depicted on the screen is very realistic. Such stories repeat one after another in every country, every city, every school, and that makes this story universal. There are no adult freaks in the film, all are regular normal people, who do not hear or see anything. It can be honestly said that Ilmar Raag has made an unforgettable story which it should be an obligation to show in our schools and our conscript army instead of patriotic messages. (Новые Известия, 25.03)
The Estonian film The Class is impressive. Not because of the acting which is of an average standard. Not because of the bewitching shots which are as boring as they always are in Estonian films. Nor because of the budget which is small change even from the point of view of independent films. The film impresses with the humdrum tone that Ilmar Raag uses to speak about bullying in school. The Class is being released in Russia, in the original language with subtitles. The film ought to have been dubbed as the Finno-Ugric intonation is not as persuasive to the Russian ear as the Romance or Germanic languages. The aesthetic and action of the entire film are painfully familiar. Only the names of the characters and the language spoken signal the fact that the plot is set in Estonia and not somewhere in the Leningrad region. Although Raag used schoolkids as consultants when making the film, it is evident that it is a deeply personal film. The Class is not only sharply social, but also shocking. Not just shocking to housewives or members of parliament, but to anyone. And it is not because of the bloodiness of the picture, but because of the awful humdrum nature of what is going on. (Взгляд, 25.03)
Ilmar Raag’s film The Class is being released in cinemas across Russia. This film proves that the Baltic film industry is the leader in analysing the current situation. Although Raag’s film has inherited the best traditions of the genre, it still has to be viewed in the flow of classic Baltic documentaries, which were already differentiated from Russian and Soviet films during the Soviet era with their naturalism and Germanic traits.
The same is true of The Class – it is a good European film. Raag made a motion picture, but he worked as a documentary film maker. He does not say anything strikingly new, these are the same old truths about the cruelty of the world of young people. But there is something fresh to it that others do not have. You remember the sincerity and openness of the kids, and the introduction of these traits into the genre is a small revolution of its own. (Независимая газета, 31.03)
Raag’s film, compared to others of the same kind, is mature motion picture art. The Baltic film always developed along its own path, even in the days of the empire. Although the Baltic nations leaned more towards detectives and adventures, Estonians made films for young people that made you think. Russian Grigori Kromanov was responsible for adventures in the Tallinnfilm studio such as Viimne reliikvia – The Last Relic, Briljandid proletariaadi diktatuurile – Diamonds for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Hukkunud Alpinisti hotell – The Hotel of the Perished Alpinist. Film making in Estonia fell silent together with the slide of the Soviet film industry, and it only awakened in this century. Now they have a patriotic masterpiece Nimed marmortahvlil – Names in the Marble, a biographical retro-melodrama Georg and first-class film festival material, where besides Ilmar Raag, Veiko Õunpuu has also stood out.
Despite the impressive achievements of the Estonians in restoring order in their country, film makers also like to look for hidden corners that hark back to Soviet times. There is plenty of this in Raag’s film. (Cinematheque, 01.04)
Something for Everyone
The documentary Disco and Atomic War by Jaak Kilmi is being presented in Washington. The film talks about the influence on the locals of the pop culture that reached us during the Soviet era through the iron curtain via Finnish television. It speaks about the former mega-hit Dallas, only seen by Estonians who had access to Finnish television and then retold to relatives and acquaintances. Disco and Atomic War persuades the viewer that the filtering of Western culture through radio and television towards the people here was one of the preliminary reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The documentary also speaks of the influence of Knight Rider and the French erotic film Emmanuelle on locals. The documentary depicts the war of propaganda between the Soviet Union and the West and provides a non-official overview of the changing bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and Estonia under Gorbachev. (The New York Times, 12.11)
A dark and surreal journey through a middle manager’s mid-life crisis, The Temptation of St. Tony, directed by Veiko Õunpuu, is Estonia’s choice for the best foreign Oscar race.
With striking photography by Mart Taniel the 114-minute film has been compared to the work of David Lynch in its capacity to provoke and challenge audiences. (Variety.com, 10.09)
One of the film industry’s leading magazines, Screen International, published a very positive review of the film The Temptation of St. Tony (Püha Tõnu kiusamine) by Veiko Õunpuu in its special edition Screen Daily dedicated to the Sundance Film Festival. The article by Howard Feinstein calls it a bold, contemporary update that more than lives up to the promise of his previous work, Autumn Ball. Õunpuu’s abilities to play with magical realism and surrealism is praised, the film is said to be “a delicious black-and-white prestige product”. The role performed by Taavi Eelmaa, Taniel’s stunning cinematography and Krigul’s diverse original music is highlighted. (Screen International, 04.02)
Interview with Veiko Õunpuu. The young director, the country bumpkin as it were, became famous overnight in Europe with his film Sügisball – Autumn Ball. Now Püha Tõnu kiusamine – The Temptation of St. Tony is next on the list. Õunpuu says that it is rather nice to sit on the jury of the Venice Film Festival. It is nicer to be the judge than the one who is judged. But at the same time if you have to watch the films and express your opinion as part of your job, the whole joy seems to go. Being on the jury is of course cool, but at the same time it is hard work.
In Estonia culture and sport are financed by the same body. And athletes in Estonia are more famous than cultural people. When Autumn Ball won in Venice, it was the victory of Estonian culture over Estonian sport. A gold medal is a gold medal, and Estonians are proud of it. “I’m sort of a cultural athlete,” notes Veiko Õunpuu . (Частный Корреспондент, 15.07)
The annual Nordic film festival in Vienna is expanding, and for the first time the Baltic countries are also taking part in addition to the Nordic countries. The festival will open on April 15 with the Estonian film The Temptation of St. Tony. Ilmar Raag’s film The Class is also on the programme. (Der Standard, 31.03)
Over the past few years Finland has rediscovered its interest in Estonian history, thanks to Imbi Paju as well as Sofi Oksanen. Documentary film maker and author Paju has studied hushed-up and stored Estonian history. She also does this in her film Soome lahe õed – Sisters Across the Gulf of Finland, which talks about the Finnish Lotta Svärd movement, a voluntary auxiliary paramilitary organisation for women, and its sister organisation in Estonia, Naiskodukaitse.
Paju says that there are several negative prejudices about the topic. “I was also told that these women were fascists, but when I got to know them I did not meet any extremists.” When studying the history of the organisations, Paju did not find any struggle for power, as has sometimes been fought between Finland and Estonia. The film stresses sisterhood, friendship and sharing between nations. “I tell the stories via women, which creates a different atmosphere compared to traditional historical story-telling. Daily experiences and empathy, even towards the enemy, arise in the history of women,” says Paju.
Imbi Paju stresses that we have to talk about history. “If we don’t share, the burden of the war is carried onto the next generations and it takes on new forms.” Paju wants to be the creator of links. There are encouraging examples of this: Paju’s novel Tõrjutud Mälestused – Memories Denied was recently published in Russian and has received positive feedback from young Russian readers. (Kaleva, 21.04)
In Tornio author and director Imbi Paju met an audience interested in history and Estonia, and she introduced her work to them and showed her film Soome lahe õed – Sisters Across the Gulf of Finland. “Difficult topics have to be talked about, otherwise humanity suffers,” Paju said. Mostly through the experiences of her family Paju writes and makes documentaries of recent Estonian history, of the experiences during the Soviet times that were painful and hushed-up, like deportations and torment. (Pohjolan Sanomat, 27.05)
European Oscars were presented in Estonia
The cream of the European film industry are gathering in Tallinn for the gala event of the presentation of the European Film Awards, sometimes referred to as the European Oscars. This year the venue for the event is the Nokia concert hall and the hosts for the evening will be Anke Engelke and the Estonian star Märt Avandi. Estonia has also now become a European film country. Nominations for the best film are: Lebanon from Israel, Honey from Turkey, Of Gods and Men and Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. (Der Tagesspiegel 02.12)
The award ceremony for the 23rd European Film Awards took place in the Nokia Concert Hall in Tallinn. The gala ceremony of the European Film Awards takes place every other year in Berlin, and in other cities in the alternate years. This year Tallinn had the honour of hosting the 23rd grand event of the film industry. Marion Döring, the director of the European Film Academy, believes the award gala ceremony draws attention to Tallinn as the European Capital of Culture in 2011. (Ria Novosti, 04.12)
With the European Film Awards ceremony and the events of Tallinn 2011, Estonia is standing in the cultural limelight twice. Sibeli Kekili standing in front of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Anke Engelke walking in Tallinn old town are pictures that can be seen this weekend in Tallinn, where the European Film Awards ceremony is taking place. This is a perfect event to introduce the year as the Capital of Culture, a title held in parallel by Tallinn and Turku. Despite the economic difficulties, Estonia, known as a hi-tech country, can overcome the crisis and as the calendar year changes, the country will transfer to the euro. The city of 400 000 cannot afford major reconstruction work of the sort that previous capitals of culture have done. Soft summer nights and Nordic hospitality will have to suffice. Guests must remember that until 1991 Tallinn was closed off behind the iron curtain but now you can walk along the seaside promenade, taking you to seaplane hangars, which are currently being restored and will be the new maritime museum. Most visitors to Tallinn come during the summer months, and that’s when you can meet student maidens in medieval costumes. Budget airlines from Riga have also brought party-lovers to Tallinn. For those interested in history the Medieval Days will certainly be worth catching in the summer of 2011 in Tallinn. Tallinn, the city famous for inventing Skype, also has things to see outside the old town, for example Kumu Art Museum, voted the European Museum of the Year in 2008. Tallinn is celebrating the Capital of Culture year together with the town of Turku in Finland. (Merian, 2010)
Tallinn Maritime Days 2010 are a kind of preparation for the year 2011, when the city will be the European Capital of Culture. The idea should remind people that the sea lies right by the side of the town. Many people are so used to it that they don’t even notice it any more. Among other things the unique seaplane hangars listed as a part of world cultural heritage at the Port of Lennusadam will serve as a venue for different events, and by next year the new displays of the Maritime Museum will be located there. The submarine Lembit, which is already open to the public, will also be part of it. Vice mayor Taavi Aas will speak in more detail about what is different this year, what is new that is being offered to city residents at the Maritime Days. The waltz of the tugs and the shadow theatre of sails are something quite unique. (ТВ Центр-Москва, 18.07)
The author says that Tallinn has to be one of the prettiest places ever designated European Capital of Culture. The best view is from Patkuli viewing platform, where the Old Town spreads out below like a toy fort. He describes the medieval life inside the high city walls in a few sentences and finds it difficult to imagine that the originally Danish built Toompea was half-empty and dangerous place to visit in the last days of Soviet Estonia. After regaining independence, however, several buildings in the Old Town have received a bright new coat. The author considers it understandable, why the city’s walls were built so high and why there were so many invasions – many nations thought it would be a good idea to own Tallinn. The city led the Baltic economic recovery after regaining independence, something you can tell just by looking at all the splendid restaurants and cafes. (Daily Mail 20.10)
Tallinn and Turku take over as Europe’s cultural capitals for 2011. For 26 years, the cultural crown has passed from city to city and this year the chosen two share a piece of the Baltic Sea. Tallinn is a popular cruise-ship port, best known for the walled medieval town at its heart, while Turku, Finland’s oldest city contains a formidable medieval castle of its own. Both cities are briefly introduced. (Chicago Tribune, 28.12)
Tallinnast saab kultuuripealinn 2011.
Tallinn will be the Capital of Culture in 2011.
The fact that Tallinn is located on the shores of the Baltic Sea is barely noticeable. Mikko Fritze, who is a part of Tallinn’s capital of culture project, says that this can be explained simply: “During the Soviet era access to the sea was more or less limited, this was the area of the port or industry. That is why no infrastructure developed there for people to enjoy themselves.”
Stone defensive towers with red gable roofs stand indomitably around the old town of Tallinn. Once these were the best defensive structures in Northern Europe, and many of them have been preserved. In contrast to medieval times, guests to the former Hanseatic town are now welcomed and so tourists arrive in their masses in the summer. Over the years Tallinn has become a favourite destination for cruise ships. If you travel to Tallinn in the spring, it is possible to discover this unique medieval and modern city without the crowds of tourists and meet large numbers of locals who have not yet left the town for the summer. After a remarkably rough winter the Tallinners use every opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, either on the Town Hall Square or in the courtyards of the old town. The closer the summer solstice gets, the lighter the evenings become and if the weather is favourable, outdoor concerts are staged in the old town. The best guide around the old town is your own curiosity: the façades are enriched with abundant architectonic details, on Pikk Street a black cat looks down on the street from a rooftop. It is worth climbing up Pikk Jalg Street to Toompea upper town, from where good views open over the old town if the weather is favourable and on the horizon you can see ferries that swing like pendulums between Tallinn and Helsinki. Opposite the parliament Riigikogu building towers the awesome Nevsky Cathedral. If you are looking for recreation, different ethnic restaurants can be found in Tallinn. The new café Komeet is well worth visiting, where the young chef Anni Arro interprets modern Estonian cuisine. If you are looking for a complete vacation, you should follow the example of the Finns, who let themselves get pampered in the numerous spas.
Tallinn gained fame by letting its visitors surf on the wireless internet anywhere around the old town. But best leave your computer at home during your holiday – there is plenty to see around the old town, no point in spending your vacation surfing the internet. (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29.04)
Well ahead of the schedule of the Tallinn 2011 Capital of Culture projects, the 300-seat open air cinema has started work. The expectations of the organisers have been exceeded within the first month. “As the economic situation is as it is, we have invested our efforts into associations and surprising projects,” says Jaanus Rohumaa, project manager for the capital of culture foundation. Residents, artists and societies could come up with ideas for the programme of the capital of culture. Out of 600 ideas 250 were picked out, and the underlying idea of the programme is ‘Stories of the Seashore’. During the Soviet era people had no business near the seaside. Now millions of ferry passengers have taken over the area. “Tallinn has never accepted the sea in the way that Oslo and Copenhagen have. In the old town you barely feel the presence of the sea. We want to open the town to the sea and expand the cultural space into the port,” says Rohumaa. The planning for the year of culture has not passed without debate. The initial budget has shrunk. A battle of strength between the national government and the city of Tallinn has overshadowed the project. There are fears that because of the elections taking place in March, the Centre Party will partially harness the Tallinn 2011 project as part of their election campaign. But Jaanus Rohumaa has an ambitious vision: “In the 1990s young artists went to London and in the 2000s to Berlin. Our objective is that in the 2020s they will come to Tallinn for a couple of years. And not only for the inexpensive beer, but because there is a vibrant cultural life here, including outside the institutions.” (Helsingin Sanomat 31.07)
Ülevaatlik artikkel Tallinnast kui Balti tõusvast tähest. Autor kirjeldab ilusat vanalinna, suurepärast hotelli ja restorani. Lisab lõigu Eesti lähiajaloost Venemaaga ning kiidab Saaremaa ilusat loodust ja spaasid. Kokkuvõtvalt usub autor, et Euroopa kultuuripealinn 2011 Tallinn ei ole enam pelgalt poissmeestepidude koht. (London Evening Standard, 15.12)
In 2011 Tallinn will be the European Capital of Culture. Tallinn and the whole of Estonia offer visitors many interesting and surprising things in both summer and winter.
Muhu, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa are three tempting islands in Estonian waters that are waiting for visitors. Tallinn is the capital of Nordic Estonia, where a total of barely 1.5 million people reside. There are almost as many spruces and birches growing in the country, with some bears and elk living here.
Hiiu women, whose husbands used to catch fish at sea but nowadays make their living in Tallinn or Finland, are independent women because of this and still manage to look young. Even place names in Hiiumaa have feminine names, like Emmaste. As unusual as the brave women is the Kõpu Lighthouse, used by many artists and film-makers in their works.
Saaremaa is Estonia’s biggest island. A restored castle surrounded by a moat filled with water stands in Kuressaare. In the summer months medieval markets and open air concerts are held there. The Vilsandi National Park is also unique, and a pleasant guesthouse is located there. Traditional food of the region is served in the Kusti farm run by the Kullapere family. You can see numerous birds and unforgettable flora in the national park.
In order to get back to Tallinn, you have to drive across the island of Muhu, where the Heltermaa orthodox church and restored first-class Pädaste manor are to be found.
In 1997 Tallinn medieval old town was entered onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. Touring the old town with a guide, every visitor notices the love of Tallinners for their home town. Tallinn old town is nowadays filled with happy people and it is one of the most pleasant destinations in Northern Europe. In the winter visitors can enjoy the snowy old town and the Christmas market on the Town Hall Square with traditional hot wintry drinks. (Weltexpress 03.12)
The programme of Tallinn Capital of Culture 2011 is still going to be flexible in content and of high quality despite the budget cuts, says Jaanus Rohumaa, programme manager of Foundation Tallinn 2011. “We will show that you don’t need tens of millions when making the right choices.” Building the Cultural Cauldron and the Culture Kilometre are examples of single fixed construction projects, that are already being executed in the town because of the capital of culture status, as the infrastructure for culture is already there in Tallinn. That is why Jaanus Mutli, board member of the Foundation Tallinn 2011 and Jaanus Rohumaa are expecting the capital of culture year to ignite a spiritual change in Estonians. “There are many culture-related skills in Estonia, but we do not have the courage. We wish to inject the people engaged in culture with belief in themselves and in the fact that they could also be successful abroad,” said Rohumaa.
Tallinn is sharing eight joint projects together with Turku, the other capital of culture, and the best theatrical performances are also being made together with Turku. (Turun Sanomat, 15.12.)
Tallinn is preparing for the capital of culture year. Preparations are still ongoing and the work will probably never be finished. Pounding can be heard around the Maritime Museum. Although the museum will not be finished by the middle of 2011, Urmas Dresen views the site with a contented look. From the middle of the 20th century until 1991 the ports of Tallinn were closed. In 2011 Tallinn has the title of the Capital of Culture together with Turku in Finland. The event ‘Histories at sea’ is being organised jointly by the two cities. The ice breaker Suur Tõll and the only Estonian submarine will be displayed in the new museum. According to Foundation Tallinn 2011 the idea is to attract more people to the deserted seaside area. Unfortunately not all the building will be completed by 2011, but they are not being built just for the sake of the year of capital of culture. The city of Tallinn has one of the lowest capital of culture budgets ever. This is also the reason for carrying out only the least expensive project of the capital of culture year. The historical Tallinn old town has already been open to visitors for a long time. Many of the walls of the old town were restored for the 1980 Olympic games. Tallinn, formerly called Reval, was founded by German merchants in the Hanseatic times. Since then the flags of different rulers have flown from the Pikk Hermann Tower, but the old town of Tallinn will never be completed. This is a good thing because according to a legend the little grey man from Ülemiste Lake will flood the town when it is completed. Already now, however, Tallinn is flooded with tourists in the summer months. (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 07.12)
The Estonian painting exhibition The Colours of Estonia – 150 Years of Estonian Art from the Enn Kunila Collection (Viron värit. 150 vuotta virolaista maalaustaidetta Enn Kunilan kokoelmasta) can be enjoyed at the Helsinki Kunsthalle (Taidehalli).
Blue, black and white are the colours of Estonia – that is what the Finns learned in the 1980s and 1990s when their hearts were with the Estonians who were trying painfully to achieve independence. During Soviet times it took courage for an artist to hide something blue, black and white in a work, but now, several decades later, this colour combination does not seem to be very popular among Estonian contemporary artists. Businessman Enn Kunila, assisted by artist Olev Subbi, has stressed the classical and international scope when collecting Estonian art, and at the same time he has avoided political connotations. (Kaleva, 14.11)
Estonian art from the 1850s is on display at the Helsinki Kunsthalle in the exhibition The Colours of Estonia.
The paintings come from entrepreneur Enn Kunila’s private collection, which has been put together over a couple of decades. Curator Harry Liivrand says that the classics of Estonian painting are of a high standard, but Estonians have never been able to achieve an international breakthrough of the sort the Finns have. But it is still not too late. Last spring Enn Kunila’s private collection set a visitor’s record in Tallinn Art Hall as 13,000 people went to see the exhibition. (Helsingin Sanomat, 18.10)
A retrospective Ülo Sooster exhibition is currently on at the Russian State Literary Museum. The exhibition is not large, with only two halls of works that have been collected from relatives, private collections and the Memorial organisation. But given the role played by Ülo Sooster in the development of unofficial domestic art, it is a grand event. The artist himself spent long years in prison camps and he had no illusions about the regime. In 1956 he tried to return to Estonia, but it was a totally different country. That is why he stayed in Moscow, where his wife was from. Soon Sooster became the authority of authorities. Those whom Moscow had been carefully listening to, now listened carefully to this Estonian speaking Russian in a broken accent. The underground had a compassionate and respectful attitude towards this uprooted plant. Because while the local nonconformist art movement only received injections of modern Western art in small doses, he was a pupil of a totally different culture and would have withered without support and care. Although he had been torn away from Western tradition, he miraculously managed to continue working in its stream. The works exhibited are a real rarity for Russia, because after the artist’s death his wife gave most of the works to museums in Tartu and Tallinn . (Коммерсантъ, 12.02)
An exhibition of paintings, graphic art and book illustrations by Ülo Sooster is on at the Russian State Literary Museum in Moscow from 10 February. Lidia Sooster’s book I Am From Krasina Street – Я с улицы Красина is also presented in the exhibition. The personal exhibition is part of the series of exhibitions dedicated to traditional nonconformist artists. Forty years after the death of this man who was worshipped by the Soviet underground, the residents of Moscow are being presented with a grand retrospective of the work of the renowned master. Sooster was involved in the scandal of 1962 when Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, berated the avantgardists at the Manezh Gallery exhibition. Sooster was the one who dared to argue back to the first secretary. The greats of the Russian nonconformist movement warmly remember the colourful Estonian, an artist to whom they were at the time very close. For a long time Sooster remained a mysterious figure to those interested in art in Moscow, and his work was only widely presented in Moscow in 1979. Documentaries that Ülo Sooster participated in making are also being shown within the framework of the exhibition. The films made in 1968 were banned by the censors at the time and left on the shelves for twenty years. (Музеи России, 09.02)
In Pskov the Estonian handicraft exhibition Handicraft. Traditional and Modern was opened. More than 70 exhibits are on display. (Pskovskaja Lenta Novostei, 29.10)
The idea of the exhibition of Estonian book illustrators in Pskov comes from Eve, the wife of Carl Eerik Laantee Reintamm, the Estonian consul. Art historian Juri Seliverstov said at the opening of the exhibition that Estonia is a good friend to the Pskov district, being a historic neighbour and the closest European country to it. Reintamm says that it is important that the people of Pskov do not see Estonians only in the consulate where they register for visas, but also see that Estonians make culture. The exhibition contains a photo reportage of Estonian children’s book illustrations. (Новости культуры, 19.02)
The video and sculpture installation After-War by the Estonian artist Kristina Norman, which was exhibited at the Venice Biennal in 2009 and bought by Kiasma for its collection, is now on display in Kiasma in Helsinki. The artist got the initial idea for the work from the Bronze Soldier monument in Tallinn, which was relocated in the spring of 2007.
“My work reflects the changing meaning of the monument in time,” says Norman. The artist has made a golden copy of the bronze soldier, and alongside it she shows videos of the ceremonies held near the monument at different times, the unrest caused by its removal and her own performance, where she erects the golden soldier on the former location of the bronze soldier . (Helsingin Sanomat, 07.10)
Estonia is a familiar country for the Finns. But you can never say that you know enough about your neighbour country. The Estonian House that has been created in Suvilahti brings together the most important organisations that promote relations between Estonia and Finland. The Tuglas Society, the Estonian Institute in Finland, the Union of Finnish-Estonian Associations and the Tourism Board are all involved. A representation from Tartu University also has its premises in the centre.
The centre offers information and activities for Finns interested in Estonia and also for Estonians living in Finland. The Estonian Institute, currently celebrating 15 years of activities, organises literary evenings for children and adults. The Baltia Library of the Tuglas Society also operates in the building, and is the biggest library of Estonian literature in the world outside Estonia. The educational project Estonia goes to school is currently on, in which Finnish schoolchildren learn about Estonia. (Turun Sanomat, 18.09)
The mosquito population of Estonia is a little smaller after the first mosquito-catching championship. A total of 37 participants gathered in the city of Tartu and were given 10 minutes to catch as many mosquitoes as possible in a designated area. The collected mosquitoes could be dead or alive and competitors could work alone or in teams. There are many mosquitoes and we must fight them somehow, said the event’s organiser, Triinu Akkermann. The winner of the first prize – a sailing trip on the Lake Peipus – was Rauno Luksepp who caught 38 mosquitoes. The idea of the contest came from Finland where there have been mosquito-catching championships in the past. (The Telegraph, The Times of India, 17.06)
The unusual traditions of the Old Believers live on in the villages near Lake Peipus thanks to the tough women. Over the past decade the villages of the Old Believers have also opened themselves up to strangers: museums have been opened in Varnja and Kolkja, there is an exhibition in Kasepää of the everyday life of the Old Believers, and the fish restaurant in Kolkja advertises itself as a restaurant of the Old Believers. In Varnja strangers are also welcome to witness the holiest of activities, the religious service. The 2½-hour long service is exactly the same as it was 400 years ago. Except there are no men. There are only a few hundred residents in Varnja. The village street is quiet. The young people who have left the village no longer know the traditions of the Old Believers, but they still come back to their home churches for christenings, funerals or other church holy days. (Helsingin Sanomat, 14.05)
In cooperation between China Radio International and Radio86, Estonian and Lithuanian language radio programmes have been launched in Beijing. The first congratulatory messages thanked the authorities related to the project and praised the efforts in promoting mutual understanding. The new websites, ee.radio86.com and lt.radio86.com will provide radio programs, videos, photos and information that focus on Chinese business, culture and travel. With the launch of the new websites, CRI expanded the number of the foreign language channels to 61. (ChinaTechNews, 22.02)