A day in Tallinn, 26 April 2015
Tallinn skyline, viewed from the Baltic Sea
I haven’t mentioned this on Arcana before, but my day job is as Classical Repertoire Specialist with PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd), working to ensure performers and record companies get properly paid for the public performance and broadcast of their recordings.
This job – which I am incredibly fortunate to have – leads me to different European destinations once a year as part of the IAMA Conference (the International Artist Managers’ Association). Here I meet classical artist managers, orchestra representatives and more in a chance to ensure their performers are registered with PPL and are receiving their monies.
This year the IAMA Conference was in Helsinki (see the previous entries on Lahti and the Sibelius house at Ainola) but as a considerable bonus we had a day in Tallinn, hosted by the Pille Lill Music Fund
Here we had an insight into Estonia’s extraordinary concentration of talented classical performers – both new and established – as well as a fascinating tour of medieval Tallinn, which comes highly recommended!
The Estonia National Symphony Orchestra and their artistic director and principal conductor Neeme Järvi are based at the Estonia Concert Hall in Tallinn, where our visit began. The hall, a really attractive expanse suitable both for orchestral and chamber concerts, was the venue for a showcase of five up and coming Estonian classical acts the Music Fund looks after.
While all were impressive the standout performer, by a whisker, was Irina Zahharenkova, the unassuming but extremely musical pianist. I use ‘musical’ as a term because whether in solo Chopin or accompanying trumpeter Neeme Ots in a tango by Piazzolla, she had a great instinct for knowing when to hold back slightly or when to push on. Her Chopin – the second half of the Piano Sonata no.3 – was technically assured and deeply felt. Ots himself was also very convincing in the swing applied to Shchedrin’s Imitating Albeniz and Piazzolla’s Oblivion.
Cellist Andreas Lend lived up to his billing as one of Estonia’s rising classical music stars, leading a confident and convincing performance of the little known Suite for Solo Cello by Gaspar Cassadó, a piece from the mid-1920s taking its lead from the Debussy sonata. Lend, a member of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra until recently, played with a most attractive sound.
We also heard two singers. Soprano Arete Teemets lent wonderful clarity to an aria from Rameau’s Dardanus and a fulsome tone in a Rossini aria, where her accompanist, Ralf Taal, provided subtle humour and excellent definition to a crowded piano part. He also accompanied baritone Atlan Karp, whose rounded tones gave Aleko’s Cavatina from Rachmaninov’s Aleko great depth, before a bracing aria from Verdi’s Otello. Karp has a subtle but commanding stage presence lending authority to a formidable baritone voice.
First – and by a shade the most entertaining – were Hortus Musicus, Tallinn’s medieval past played out on stage in costume in front of us. I swear I could hear early house music at times in their set, but there was so much character, enthusiasm and technical accomplishment the group were a wonder to behold.
Tallinn Town Hall
Yet even this did not come close to our next musical experience, at the Tallinn Town Hall, where we were wowed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. It is no exaggeration to say I have never heard singing quite like it – and am unlikely to hear a better choir anywhere soon! Dressed in the Estonian colours of black and blue they put every fibre of their collective being into the music, singing the music of their countryman Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962). His Psalm 104 was so beautifully sung, resolving into a chord of complete purity. We then had the considerable bonus of two short choral pieces from Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis, again sung with complete affinity with both text and music.
It was a day, then, to wonder at the sights of medieval Tallinn, but also to appreciate the raw talent within Estonian classical music at this time – and the just enthusiasm with which it is promoted. They have a lot of talent at their disposal!
-Ben Hogwood, with many thanks to the Pille Lill Music Fund for their hospitality and generosity