Adam Garrie

Adam Garrie writes passionately about topics ranging from politics and history to art and music. He is currently engaged in various artistic business ventures.

From Genesis to the Singing Revolution – Steve Hackett talks about his long relationship with Estonia

On 28 April, British singer-songwriter and guitarist Steve Hackett brings his Genesis Extended show to Tallinn’s Nokia Concert Hall. Since early 2013, Steve Hackett has been touring with his all-star band, playing the Genesis material that first brought his name to the global attention.

Steve Hackett joined Genesis – which would become one of the world’s most famous progressive rock bands – in 1971, shortly after the band’s formation. Hackett placed an advert in Britain’s Melody Maker Magazine, stating that he wanted to join a band “determined to strive beyond existing, stagnant music forms”. The ad immediately caught the eye of Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel and as a result, Hackett found himself playing lead guitar in the band. Hackett’s willingness to embrace new musical ideas and innovative performance techniques helped create the classic Genesis sound, one which fused the harmonic sophistication of European classical music with elements of northern European folk themes along with the electric virtuosity of modern rock. Hackett’s electric playing is often other-worldly, employing a vast sonic pallet which takes the sound of the electric guitar beyond normal expectations. His acoustic playing is deeply informed by the modern-classical traditions of Hackett’s childhood guitar hero, Andrés Segovia.

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After Genesis’s record-breaking 1977 world tour, Hackett left the band and embarked on a successful solo career, which took his music to places even more exotic than Genesis. Over the years Hackett has recorded electric progressive rock albums, music with R&B vocalists, Brazilian music, rock collaborations with Brian May of Queen and Steve Howe of Yes and Asia, traditional blues and pieces of nylon-string classical guitar and a symphony orchestra.

Hackett recently finished the initial recording for an album of eclectic music, but before putting the finishing touches on this, he will return to Estonia for a long evening of classical Genesis music. Steve Hackett played a special role in bringing Western European rock to Estonia when it was still occupied by the Soviet Union. He was one of a handful of international stars to play at Tallinn’s famed 1988 rock festival, Rock Summer. Because of the logistical troubles of putting together a large electric rock band, Hackett performed his entire set on his acoustic guitar. In recent conversations with Hackett he has said it was a challenging yet rewarding experience, taking a quiet acoustic guitar and using it to reach to the very back row of a 100,000-strong audience of Estonians hungry for musical, political and social revolution.

Hackett’s experiences in the Soviet-occupied Estonia help give one the sense of what it was like going to Tallinn as a foreigner on the verge of the Singing Revolution and restored independence. Hackett explained that all foreign musicians were housed on one level of the same hotel where each hallway was monitored by a grumpy looking official. Because of the erratic nature of travelling to Estonia in 1988, Hackett had little time to explore the country but recounts a very memorable departure. Upon leaving the hotel he had to exchange currency as it could not legally be brought outside of the Soviet borders. He approached the stern looking official in his hotel, took all of the money he had with him out of his pocket and handed it to her. She immediately burst into tears. Hackett was not aware of the specific value of the money but assumed that the stipend given to prominent foreign visitors was much more than a minor official in Estonia would have made in 1988.

After meeting with Hackett I asked him some further questions about his previous experiences in Estonia and what he hopes to deliver when he returns to Tallinn in April.

 

When you played at Rock Summer in 1988, on the verge of full Estonian independence, could you sense the historical magnitude at the time or did this only become apparent later?

I became increasingly aware of it when we were there as there was an excitement and nervousness in the air. The national flag had just been raised.

Compared to comparable events in the UK, Switzerland or North America, what was the organisation of the 1988 festival like?

The festival was very good. It was well organised and the crowd was really enthusiastic, even though I was playing an acoustic show at the time. It was shown live on national TV.

Apart from the festival, what did you see in Estonia during that visit?

I saw how beautiful the old part of the city was and people were really friendly in the streets.

You’ve performed once in Estonia since 1988. When was that and how had things changed?

About three or four years later I performed again there. Things were different and more relaxed. It was as if the 1960s had arrived suddenly!

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What does the current tour hold in store for Estonian audiences who never got the chance to see Genesis play live?

It’s a full show of classic Genesis tunes from the 1970s with a band that loves playing the material.

In spite of Soviet occupation, in the 1970s Estonia had one of the biggest progressive music scenes outside the UK. What message do you have for young Estonian musicians interested in reviving progressive music in Estonia?

I know there are lots of fine musicians in Estonia because I have seen them in Tallinn. I advise that you stay true to the music you love and show everyone how exciting and interesting progressive music can be.

If there’s anything else you’d like to tell the Estonian fans about what to expect on the new tour, please feel welcome.

The band gives a powerful performance and the lighting is equally exciting, so it’s a spectacle and we’re going for many of the most popular songs from the era. We look forward to joining you all in Estonia.

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Photos: Monika S. Jakubowska.

Independence away from home: Estonians in London celebrate

On 24 February 2014, hundreds of Estonians living in London packed Westminster Cathedral’s large event hall to celebrate the 96th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Estonia. The event consisted of a mixture of Estonian arts on display, but no Estonian event would be complete without vocal performance as the main attraction. Several Estonian choirs performed traditional songs by Pärt Uusberg and Kait Tamra. A group of actors then recited traditional Estonian poetry, which was followed by a group of dancers who performed a folk dance set to Ruja’s patriotic song, “Eesti muld ja Eesti süda”.

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The star of the evening was Estonian soprano Mirjam Mesak. She performed classical songs with a piano accompaniment by Estonian composers ranging from Eduard Tubin to Mart Saar, Riho Päts and Gustav Ernesaks. Mesak’s powerful voice silenced a crowd ready for the post-concert celebrations, captivating those familiar with the Estonian classical tradition while offering a stellar introduction to classical Estonian vocal music for the evening’s non-Estonian observers.

After Mesak concluded, the hurried dash for champagne and Estonian beer called Viru commenced. An evening filled with song, dance and poetry ended in a celebratory mood for one of Estonia’s largest and most active expat communities.

Rene Iqbal IV

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While the Estonian Independence Day is always a time for celebration, it is also a time for reflection. Estonia’s post-occupation independence period has eclipsed the time Estonia was independent between the end of the First World War and the Soviet occupation of 1940. Estonia’s independence is more secure now than it ever has been. But still Estonians and friends of Estonia must look to the future with the same enthusiasm that helped create a free independent republic in 1918 and helped restore that republic in 1991.

Estonia is renowned for having one of the most developed digital infrastructures and best education systems in the world. In Arvo Pärt Estonia has given the world its most listened to living classical composer while the Estonian choral tradition attracts more and more attention from cultural critics near and far.

But what must lie ahead? Where Soviet Estonia’s technological infrastructure lagged behind because of complacency, modern Estonia must likewise not be content to rest on her laurels. Continuing to develop new technological ideas and sell them abroad should be a priority for any Estonian government.

Estonia must also value its education system. It is often not till Estonians travel abroad that they appreciate just how good education is in Estonia even when compared with much larger and wealthier nations. One would hope that Estonia could help provide exciting opportunities for its educated population in Tallinn while simultaneously luring bright minds and investors to Estonia from abroad.

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The spirit of independence was one of optimism, cultural celebration and a longing to believe that Estonia’s best days lay in the future, not the past. This attitude ought to guide the leaders and the people of Estonia for decades to come so that the successes of independence, the Singing Revolution and the e-revolution can continue to make life better for Estonians for years to come.

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Cover photo: pianist Kristiina Rokachevitch and soprano Mirjam Mesak performing. All photos Rena Iqbal, courtesy of Estonian Guild in London.

You can find more photos from the celebration in London here.

Estonian fashion in London: more fashionable than ever

For the third year in a row, the Estonian fashion industry is represented at the International London Fashion Week from 14 – 18 February, as part of the International Fashion Showcase – a collaborative project launched by the British Council and the British Fashion Council in 2012. And for the second year in a row, it has won the International Showcase award.

Last year’s Estonian showcase was one of the first great successes for its fashion industry on an international stage – it won the 2013 International Fashion Showcase award, having competed against 27 countries and 110 designers. It is even more remarkable to achieve it for the second year in a row.

As part of the London Fashion Week, an exhibition of international designers was featured adjacent to London’s Somerset House. Where other participants were content to exhibit stylish clothes on otherwise unimaginative clothes racks, Estonia went for a conceptual approach, which made the country’s exhibition among the most popular of the week.

Four Estonian designers were represented: Kärt Põldmann (footwear), Jo Nurm (outerwear and accessories), Sille Sikmann (with her brand Scheckmann, footwear and leather accessories), and Marit Ilison (womenswear).

The theme of the exhibition was Kaamos. This concept came from the mind of designer Tanel Veenre who explained that “kaamos” is a word unique to Estonian and Finnish that speaks of the dark, solitary deathly nature of deepest winter. Based on this very Estonian phenomenon, Veenre created an exhibition that reflected the empty chill of an Estonian winter while combining it with dark folk tale fantasies that run through Estonian mythology.

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The exhibition was something of an art piece in its own right, featuring a beautiful lighting display and a custom built musical instrument which used a rotating piece of wood to strum piano, guitar and bass strings, creating an eerie yet surprisingly comforting underscore to the evening. Finally, the walls were decorated in a dark papier-mâché that was specially scented to smell like a wood burning fire.

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Kart Poldmann, photo by Hannah Laycock

In this land of Kaamos, several young Estonian designers displayed their tasteful and elegant couture. Marit Ilison presented her collection, “Longing for Sleep”, which featured long woollen coats in a variety of colours. Kärt Põldmann’s shoes and accessories seemed the perfect fit for an elegant night in London. Jo Nurm’s dark attire fit in well with Veenre’s Kaamos theme, while Sille Sikmann’s bespoke shoes proved popular among visitors who admired the sturdy craftsmanship of shoes perfect for a cold winter.

Hannah Laycock

The exhibition was a great success for Estonia – on 16 January it was announced that it has won the International Fashion Showcase award, for the second year in a row. The winning showcase was organised by the Estonian Design Centre and the Estonian Embassy in London, and supported by the Estonian Ministry of Culture.

The thematic approach combined with a multi-sensory experience left even the less fashion conscious visitors with something to talk about. A film shown in conjunction with the exhibition told the story of Estonia’s fashion designers’ rise to prominence within the confines of Soviet culture. As the USSR embraced the idea of fashion as art, Estonian designers were at the forefront of Soviet couture, so much so that by the culturally conservative Brezhnev period, many of the more exotic ideas coming out of Estonia were supressed.

Film presentation

Although this “history lesson” was part of the evening, the show was more about the present than the past. Estonia showed an international London audience that its designers are more original than ever and are not afraid to integrate fashion with multimedia-driven conceptual art.

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The Estonian exhibition will be open at 180 The Strand, London, UK until February 23.

Photos: Hannah Laycock for the Estonian Design Centre.

Estonia’s global poet: Doris Kareva

Doris Kareva has been writing poetry since the 1960s and her numerous books have won acclaim in Estonia and beyond. Kareva‘s poetry has been translated into over 18 languages, making her one of Estonia’s most internationally prominent poets. Her poetry is highly personal, yet speaks to universal themes connecting the human experience with nature and metaphysics. In addition to writing poetry, Kareva is an experienced translator, helping to bring more Estonian poetry to the attention of the wider world. Kareva regularly reads her poems at literary festivals throughout the globe. In January Doris appeared with Estonian poet Jürgen Rooste for a poetry reading at the Estonian Embassy in London. Kareva and Rooste have spent the last two years collaborating on the poetry project Dance of Life. Dance of Life’s poems have been set to music and the album, complete with the text of the poems, is released globally this month. I recently asked Kareva about her approach to poetry and she was good enough to answer some questions.

 

Would you consider your poetry idealistic or pessimistic?

Never thought in those terms. Traces of both can probably be found here or there in my writing – just like in passing moods of most people. Like every cloud has a silver lining, every idealist, in return, faces a moment of pessimism now and then, but never loses hope.

Elements of nature frequently occur as themes in your poems. Is interaction with nature an important part of your life? 

Just natural. I would not, however, consider myself a so-called nature poet; speaking about, say, the sea or sky or stone I usually refer to what is universal. Born in Tallinn, where I am still living, and not having even a summer house like most Estonians do, I don’t have any Rousseauian urges of getting back to nature, because I never have felt any division. But yes, interaction with nature is very important for being human.

How would you define the spiritual aspect of your poetry? 

Defining is something I would rather leave to others. For me, reading or writing poetry at its best is a somewhat mystical, transcending experience. Like Emily Dickinson said: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

Doris Kareva

If you didn’t write poetry how would you like to express yourself? 

Jewellery could be one opportunity; the art of bringing out the amazing beauty of natural stones, pearls, seashells etc. I am often enraptured by some word combination just as if I had found a glowing piece of amber from sand or the colourful feather of a rare bird. But maybe even more I would like to become a real storyteller. True, I have published a book of tales, not for children, but for all ages, yet I feel I am still at the beginning. There are hidden stories in everything, everywhere, whispering to those who are willing to hear – and who can recognise the eternal wisdom in them. But often life is too loud, too demanding and impatient to let one slip into this dreamlike state long enough for stories to appear.

Your poetry has been translated into several languages. Beyond this are there any other cultures that you would think might respond well to your poetry?

My Hindi, Kannada and Bengali translators have referred to some other Indian languages that may render my texts even better. This is what I can’t tell. But languages which have preserved their ancient roots are probably closer to understanding my texts and easier to be translated into. Usually I avoid contemporary words; they have no power. Being invented, not born, they carry only the information, not containing magic of their own.

Maybe this is rooted in my childhood, when I created my own mental universe with many gods and special rituals to turn to them – writing a letter on a small piece of paper, tearing it into even smaller pieces and letting go with the wind. To be heard, one had to be sparse with words and choose only those worthy of gods.

Do you enjoy having your poems set to music? 

Sometimes, yes, very much so. My father Hillar Kareva was a composer and he often complained that my original texts are so dense with inner music there is little room for adding any. However, I have written some texts specially for him as well as for some other Estonian composers. And quite a few British, Swedish, Flemish, Dutch, Greek, Thai etc composers have set music on translations of my poems. Some pieces of those are really awesome. For example, “Dance of Life” was written together with Jürgen Rooste, for Tallinn Mass composed by Roxanna Panufnik. I was deeply impressed by Roxanna’s inspirational way of melting together fragments of Estonian folk songs, sounds of Tallinn church bells and texts from “Dance of Life”, sung beautifully by Patricia Rosario and read by Jaak Johanson.

I also have much enjoyed the concerts together with Swedish or Dutch musicians, them playing and singing in their language, with me reading the original texts in Estonian. The recent concert tours with composer and jazz pianist Stefan Forssén and the vocal string quartet STRÅF have been a delightful experience.

I am quite pleased that my poems have been performed by very different musicians, from punk bands to a male choir at the funeral of the late President Lennart Meri. But I am not necessarily thrilled or flattered by the mere fact that someone has found a poem of mine usable. So it mostly depends on the music.

Do you think Estonians value poetry more than other European cultures?

Estonians are painfully aware of the possibility of losing their language and their identity. For this reason maybe poetry in Estonia is meaningful not only for a selected few, but for a larger audience. Some poetry books are selling tens thousands of copies. But basically, the amazing rule of thumb that became evident at the first European Poetry Forum in Helsinki is that no matter the population, the amount of poetry readers is tiny in all European countries. It is just the percentage of the whole population that gives Estonia special credits.

Is writing poetry a joyful process or a difficult process? 

There is no contradiction. Comparison with giving birth may be a cliché, but the elements of almost painful concentration and overwhelming ecstasy are certainly present. And sometimes, what turns out to be poetry, just happens; it is given to you like a dream. So, always keep your heart alert and your pencil at hand.

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* I dreamed about the world (by Doris Kareva)

That wild one,
it attempted to surround me, and to match
the shores of my imagination.
No,
I whispered, I’m in search of something else —
the unexpected,
endless as the universe —
a new,
refreshing, melted way of being.

Oh world, be bigger, please!
I asked.

And so it was;
the answer that was given
crushed me;
I was blinded by the light
and an explosion from the bottom of the world
broke up each layer of my hopes,
the hot transformed me
out of recognition.

Alone to soul and trembling, naked,
I woke up —
the stars were falling.

Reached out my hand, afraid and passionate.
And burst to laughter,
twigging to the dream
I had about the world —
the dream of love;
the dream.

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Cover photo: Doris Kareva presenting Dance of Life at the Estonian Embassy in London (Kaido Vainomaa).

* Copyright: Estonian Literature Centre.

In conversation with Estonian poets Doris Kareva and Jürgen Rooste in London: Dance of life and beyond

On 21 January, acclaimed Estonian poets Doris Kareva and Jürgen Rooste presented their recently completed collaborative work “Dance of Life” before an international audience at the Estonian Embassy in London.

The book, written over a two-year period, contains 24 dialogues or ‘dances’ between ordinary individuals and a personified ‘life’. The poets explained that this was a modern take on the medieval concept of a personified death – one could interact with it the way one would interact with a person. The dances are expressed as poetic dialogues, in which Kareva and Rooste each wrote one of the characters in each dialogue. The book does not credit the authors individually, leaving it up to the reader to decide which character’s dialogue is written by which poet. Rooste told the audience that whenever readers have ventured a guess as to the author of a particular dialogue, they almost always guess incorrectly. An added dimension to the project is a recent musical score in the style of an orchestral Latin Mass, written in conjunction with the poems.

After reading several “dances” in Estonian and English, Rooste and Kareva read some of their individually authored poems, giving the audience a glimpse at two very unique styles of contemporary Estonian poetry. Rooste’s poems are often charged with political and social commentary, which is rife with satire and often laugh-out-loud humour, evoking surreal yet unambiguous social messages. Rooste’s highly dramatic reading style evoked the charisma of a rock star on stage. There was no doubting the sincerity of his passion for poetry as he read.

Kareva’s poetry also concerned itself with world events, but where Rooste offered poems which commented on political and social developments, Kareva wrote about individual interactions with the world on a metaphysical and spiritual basis. Dreams, questions of being, internal development and emotional exploration are all thematic elements which sculpt Kareva’s poetry. In addition to employing psychological and emotional themes, her work reveals her as a great observer of individuals and the habits, hopes and dreams that shape their existence. Kareva’s reading style is thoughtful and contemplative and whether reading in Estonian or English there is a clear metre to her words, which add a rhythmic cohesion to her ideas.

“Rooste compared a spirit of malaise among the Estonian youth to Joe Strummer’s song (performed by ‘The Clash’) ‘Lost In The Supermarket’. He said that rather than meeting in clubs, galleries or music venues, kids hang around supermarkets and shops instead, something he found was culturally detrimental.”

After the reading, members of the audience asked questions to both poets. Rooste said that his initial inspiration to write poetry came from his lifelong love of music, in particular Estonian punk-rock, The Doors, Bob Dylan and also the American Beat poets. This led me to ask if he felt that rebellion was a necessary characteristic for a poet. In Rooste’s case the answer was “yes”. Rooste said that since the economic crisis of 2008, the youth of Estonia has become more placid, although he felt today’s social situations can be best addressed with poetry containing a punk-rock spirit of rebellion, rather than the calm of classical love poetry. Rooste compared a spirit of malaise among the Estonian youth to Joe Strummer’s song (performed by “The Clash”) “Lost In The Supermarket”. He said that rather than meeting in clubs, galleries or music venues, kids hang around supermarkets and shops instead, something he found was culturally detrimental.

Kareva said that one does not need to be a rebel in order to be a convincing poet but inversely, in certain circumstances penning a classical love poem can be an act of rebellion even though it is generally not understood as such. Kareva said that poets see what others see but they see these things as though for the first time. Thus in reading a poem one sees the known world through fresh eyes and this renewal of perspective is an act of rebellion.

“Kareva said that poets see what others see but they see these things as though for the first time. Thus in reading a poem one sees the known world through fresh eyes and this renewal of perspective is an act of rebellion.”

When asked why they write poetry, Kareva stated that writing poetry is like an addictive drug, but fortunately one that is healthier than most other drugs. For Kareva, poetry offers the highest sense of ecstasy in her life. Rooste said that writing poetry is like a kind of sickness but one which he believes produces art that is necessary for the world.

I later interviewed Jürgen Rooste to further explore some of the themes he raised during the Q and A session.

Describe the relationship between music and poetry?

For me the relationship comes from my youth, the first poets for me were rock ‘n’ roll heroes, starting with Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and John Lydon, but also Björk for instance… probably the first “real” poems I wrote were some of Björks lyrics translated to Estonian when I was about 14 or 15. But actually all poetry, from its roots, somehow comes from music and songs, chants, chorales, curses. Not that I don’t recognise the importance of some modern poetry which is really meant to be read from the paper. New mediums like Facebook also change a lot. But at its origin, for me, poetry is meant to be a song or recited out loud like a kind of prayer. Maybe that’s the reason I’ve been so fond of beat poetry also.

Do some styles of music complement poetry better than others?

I’m not sure. As I was growing up, it was a lot about punk for me – punk poets seemed to be the most honest, they really meant something with their words. Nowadays I tend to work with jazz and blues musicians, but basically I can’t really say. Are rap and hip-hop a type of poetry? Of course! Language wants to live, it evolves and it nests anywhere it can.

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When did you write your first poem?

I tried something in pre-school, it was kind of classical poetry. Later on, in high school, I started to write consciously, because I liked a girl who liked poetry. I liked her a lot! Then I got stuck with it, like an addiction, a sickness.

Is your poetry always a statement of your true feelings?

I hope so. It can also be a game, a play, a role and I might use other voices to tell important stories. But I believe poetry has a value, has a different position – I tend to tell stories and I tend to come out with statements which need some kind of special honesty. But it’s only one way to do it.

Is humour a crucial aspect to your poetry?

Laughter sets us free, but some of my humour is also very sad. It’s important to touch different places inside a human being. Places that other things or people don’t touch. Poetry is sometimes quite like making love.

You mentioned at the Embassy that you enjoyed having your poems translated into other languages as it gives birth to a new poem each time it is translated. How many languages have your poems been translated to?

I think it’s about ten languages, but books have been published only in Finnish, Swedish and Udmurtian. A collection is ready in German but publishing houses have not been too interested. I know they have almost a full book in Russian, Latvian and in Dutch, and some things in English, but these have not been published. There are several other translations, but it’s always a long way to go to get published in a manner that people can find and read. Which would be important, which would be great.

Are there certain cultures outside of Estonia you think would respond better to your work than others?

Of course, my second language is Finnish and second mental home is Finland. I sometimes feel like a Finnish poet because of my themes. And friends. And also, I felt at home in the southern American states, such as Louisiana and Tennessee and especially in New Orleans. But I don’t know whether they’d accept me as a poet.

Music has been said to be an international language. Is it ever possible for poetry to be a universal language in spite of translation barriers?

I think it is. On one hand, it always about language – some of the best poems are untranslatable. But still, I grew up reading Lord Byron in Estonian, and Pushkin and Mayakovski who was one of my favourites and my Russian is mediocre – rather lousy, in fact. Not really enough to “get” all the poetry. I have translated some Allen Ginsberg and some Kerouac, and I’m dreaming about William Blake but I’m not sure I’m good enough. Also Pentti Saarikoski from Finland, he’s one of the greatest from all of the 20th century for me. But he never reached a wider audience. So, poets as bards, as performers, should travel and change the world, bit by bit. Poems, for sure, will travel themselves.

When writing your parts of “Dance of Life”, did you ever consider Freud’s concept of a “death drive” and a “live drive”?

No, not really. It was altogether a pre-Freudian concept brought alive. Also, maybe I understood Freud wrong in university but to me he seems to set us free… from being good. All “kind-hearted” is a super-ego thing, a learned way to cope, as all the urges, all dirty and eager to feed on others come naturally from the depths of the mind. I don’t see it, I don’t believe in it. But in me you can’t really find an intellectual partner to discuss Freud. I’ve always been interested in other ways to describe the beautiful human mind. Although I have read him and found some parts of it genius. But, back to your question, our poem simply seeks answers and a cure to loneliness, a map of darkened paths on which we are afraid to walk otherwise. I don’t know if we managed to create such a map-system, but at least I was hoping we would, somewhere in the process. Maybe it means something also that Estonian readers voted it (the much longer version than the CD) the best poetry book of last year.

The CD version of Dance of Life will be available throughout the world from Amazon UK on 3 February.

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Cover photo: Doris Kareva and Jürgen Rooste presenting Dance of Life at the Estonian Embassy in London (Kaido Vainomaa).

Adam Garrie: A museum of Estonian music is needed for Estonia and the web

Estophile Adam Garrie argues that it’s time to establish a dedicated museum of Estonian music, with an emphasis not only on rich choral traditions and modern classical, but also on a contemporary period.

When mentioning Estonian culture to international audiences, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Estonia’s rich musical tradition. Estonia’s choral music has won global fame, so much so that the former Monty Python comedian and documentary maker, Michael Palin, remarked that it didn’t take a great deal of effort to persuade an Estonian to break into song. Over the last decades of the 20th century and well into the 21st, Arvo Pärt has become the world’s most listened to orchestral composer, something which has brought a great deal of attention to Estonia’s other great modern composers, not least Heino Eller and Eduard Tubin.

Yet one aspect of Estonian music that is not given enough attention neither in Estonia nor the wider world is Estonia’s contribution to progressive rock. Although the genre was particularly unfashionable in the 1990s throughout the world, under the media radar, prog has been experiencing an international revival led by neo-progressive bands like Porcupine Tree and Muse but also thanks to prog legends like Steve Hackett taking his Genesis Revisited performances across the world as well as bands like Yes who is currently on tour playing three of its classic 1970s albums. Because of this it seems high time for the Estonian music lovers to explore just how groundbreaking so many Estonian prog bands were. Just as Pärt’s music has won fans the world over, had Estonian progressive rock been granted the global exposure it deserved at the time, people would be amazed to see how a small country, at the time occupied by the Soviet Union, was producing music which was as good as any prog rock from outside of Estonia. Ruja, of course, is something of the jewel in the crown of Estonian prog. The virtuosity of multitalented musicians like Rein Rannap, combining with the voice of Urmas Alender, who was one of the best vocalists in any genre of rock music anywhere in the world, makes for unforgettable listening. At this same time artists like Sven Grünberg with his band Mess and, later, the short lived but highly musically complex Noor Eesti (a collaborative project between Tajo Kadajas and  Rein Rannap) were all bands who could have easily got a major international record contract, had this avant-garde music been something the Soviet authorities had embraced rather than scorned and at various times officially prohibited.

Estonian creativity in this broad genre continued through the 1980s where In Spe found success with their ethereal symphonic rock. Other bands more inclined towards a jazz-rock sound included the wonderful Kaseke, and Radar. Linnu Tee’s early work saw Indrek Patte take prog into a new decade while also recording and performing in a resurgent Ruja. But it wasn’t just in progressive rock that Estonian music excelled at this time – Gunnar Graps produced a hard edged rock which still wins admiration across the former Soviet Union and Europe. The punk band Propeller, which again featured Alender, demonstrated just how versatile a vocalist he was excelling equally well in the varied styles of symphonic rock, pop ballads, punk and hard rock. The 80s also saw great success by the new-wave band Apelsin who I’d almost describe as an Estonian Talking Heads.

Photo by Kaarel Mikkin V

There are of course many more Estonian bands of the 70s and 80s whose music would surely delight people from around the world in addition to younger generations of Estonians. And this is why a museum of Estonian music is needed. Many capital cities are dotted with monuments and museums to various musical icons and Tallinn deserves no less. This proposed museum ought to cover all genres of Estonian music from traditional choral music to the present day. No period should be neglected, but certainly one special focus ought to be put on the period of the 70s and 80s as far from producing government sanctioned throw away music, Estonian rock was rebellious, highly original, musically delightful and most of it withstands the test of time better than a lot of Western European bands from the same period.

Additionally because of the difficulty of rock bands working with Melodiya Records (the only Soviet record label), a lot of the recordings of Estonian rock are difficult to find, although many of them have been released on CD and MP3 in generally pristine quality since the 1990s. Still though, as Europe’s leader in e-services, digitising as much Estonian music as possible and making it available online would help people discover a lot of Estonian’s hidden treasures.

Although music isn’t as profitable a business as it once was (not that in the USSR it ever was a “business” as such) creating a museum of Estonian music both in Tallinn and online would help raise Estonia’s profile internationally. Music is after all the universal language and the arts are one of the best ways to promote a culture globally.

In April 2014 Steve Hackett of Genesis returns to Estonia. He was one of the foremost international stars to play at the famous 1988 Tallinn rock festival. Although planning any project of this scope takes time, wouldn’t it be nice for Hackett to lay some sort of symbolic stone preparing the way for the museum? Even if it’s a digital stone, which in Estonia would be highly appropriate? I would hope that even in a time of economic austerity the project could get some support. Music is one public investment that I believe is always one worth making.

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Cover photo: Ruja, courtesy of www.ruja.ee

Adam Garrie: There is no freedom without freedom of movement

British prime minister David Cameron recently caused a furore when suggesting that in future, the immigration from poorer EU countries to the UK should be restricted, thus undermining and ignoring one of the fundamental EU principles – the free movement of workers. David Cameron also described the immigration from A8 (including Estonia) countries to the UK since 2004 as “a big mistake”. Adam Garrie argues why the prime minister is wrong on this.

David Cameron’s coalition government begun its life trying to be all things to all people and in the process has managed to disappoint and dissatisfy those on the left and right simultaneously. Recently, Cameron has been offering rhetoric on immigration seemingly designed to appeal to the readers of xenophobic newspapers in Britain. Not content with the fact that clever Indian students and wealthy Chinese businessmen have a harder time coming to Britain than to virtually any other European country, he has turned his attention to the freedom of movement enshrined in European law and woven this phenomenon into his immigration dialectic.

EU citizen
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First of all, Cameron did everything he could to persuade his constituents he would limit the numbers of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens from exercising their right to freedom of movement throughout the EU in 2014, although no concrete proposals have been offered, not least because any such proposals would violate EU law. Now Cameron has said that freedom of movement should, in a British context, be limited to countries with a level of wealth similar to Britain. Such limits will almost certainly not happen. Proposals like these would violate the European law which is enshrined in the statute books of every EU member state. Secondly, businesses both big and small would never stand for such retrogressive practices in an age where business is digital and global. Finally, the logistical issues involved are enough to bring down even a popular British government let alone one as unpopular as Cameron’s.

 “It’s about Estonian start-up entrepreneurs like the founders of the highly popular Transferwise being able to easily do business in London just as much as it’s about venture capital firms run by UK citizens being able to easily set up shop in Tallinn. 

At root, freedom of movement, like free trade in a geographic region, is about cooperation. Over the last several years, for example, Estonian entrepreneurs have teamed up with the UK government in order to try to deliver to UK residents the e-services Estonia offers its residents. While Estonia is not nearly as wealthy as the UK, in e-services and education Estonia is currently leaps and bounds ahead of Britain. Likewise, in terms of international business contacts, London leads all of Europe as the city where above all others international business is conducted. If Estonia wants a more global outlook in terms of business and the UK would like better e-services in the public and private sectors as well as a more modern, technology-driven education sector, cooperation between the two countries is essential. But this cooperation is not only done at a governmental level. It’s about Estonian start-up entrepreneurs like the founders of the highly popular Transferwise being able to easily do business in London just as much as it’s about venture capital firms run by UK citizens being able to easily set up shop in Tallinn. If freedom of movement were limited, such things would simply not be practical and many of Europe’s best and brightest would turn elsewhere. Anglophiles would turn to the US and Canada. Russophiles would turn to Russia and others would look further afield to India, Japan and China.

“Does Cameron want the Europe of 1953 or is he prepared to accept the much more hopeful realities of 2013?

In terms of mutually enriching the UK and Estonian societies (let alone other European countries), Cameron’s proposals are a step back to a forgotten age of corrupt border guards, mountains of paperwork and a sense that both Britain and the rest of Europe are small players in a global economic game where America, Russia and Asian powers are the real players. Does Cameron want the Europe of 1953 or is he prepared to accept the much more hopeful realities of 2013?

Furthermore, Cameron’s stereotyping of European immigrants, and this is to say A8 (Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia – countries that joined the EU in 2004) European immigrants, as “benefit tourists” is not only deeply insulting but it is also deeply false. Most A8 immigrants (and I have a feeling I know more of these people than Mr Cameron does) come to work, not to scrounge. Many I have spoken too aren’t even aware of the benefits they are entitled to as they’re not entirely bothered with doing anything apart from working, socialising and getting on with the realities of life. And this is where a more radical proposal ought to come into force. In an ideal world the EU (as legally it is not up to any member state) would limit all state benefits other than emergency service to citizens. This would satisfy those who consider EU immigrants a strain on public services in Britain and perhaps more importantly it would expose many (although certainly not all) of those opposed to the EU freedom of movement as xenophobes rather than people simply counting the costs of state expenditure. Without wanting to demean many of the good services the NHS (National Health Service in the UK – Editor) provides, far from being benefit tourists, many EU immigrants prefer to return to their home countries for medical treatment as they believe medical services in their home countries to be better than the NHS. I have heard this from Estonians, Italians, French, Danes, Austrians and Poles. Perhaps they ought to be consulted as to why they feel this way if Cameron is seriously concerned with improving the NHS. If Europe would agree to remove the prospect of non-emergency benefits from workers exercising freedom of movement, it would help create clarity in a debate where genuine concerns are often found festering in a sea of racism and parochialism.

“Cameron’s stereotyping of European immigrants, and this is to say A8 European immigrants, as “benefit tourists” is not only deeply insulting but it is also deeply false.

What’s more is, I speak not as a europhile but an internationally minded eurosceptic. I am deeply alarmed at what I see as an attempt to put a pressure on Ukraine by the EU. I am also alarmed at an undemocratic single-minded European political agenda which doesn’t account for the desires of ordinary people. I think the EU’s restricting its member states from freely trading with non-EU members to be deeply myopic. Yet I feel that freedom of trade and freedom of movement within Europe has been an economic, cultural and social success story, one which indeed could have been accomplished without the Brussels bureaucracy. Norway, Iceland and Switzerland trade freely with the EU and EU citizens can live and work in Norway, Iceland and Switzerland with a greater ease than they can in Britain as the aforementioned countries are members of the Schengen area where Britain is not. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this simply means British airports have long and off-putting border queues for arrivals from European airports where Norway, Iceland and Switzerland do not.

So while the issue is directly connected with the EU it also transcends the EU. I believe that Britain under a leadership more enlightened than that of David Cameron could function harmoniously with Europe without being in the EU. That being said, free trade and freedom of movement are absolutely essential for any country in a small geographic region of the world with an overall declining population. Having a British referendum on EU membership is democratic and sensible but putting people who have been living in Britain for 10 years in some cases, in a position where they are fearful for their future is not only undemocratic but it is deeply inhumane and also economically foolish. Britain and Estonia bookend Europe in many ways. Britain has problems accepting the European aspect of its history just as Estonia has problems accepting the Russian aspect of its history. In this sense both countries ought to have a slightly less restful and more open-minded perspective on the possibilities which are only possible through cooperation.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

Review: From the ancient to the modern – Tõnu Kaljuste conducts London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall

As part of the London Philharmonic’s acclaimed “The Rest Is Noise” Festival, celebrating contemporary orchestral music, on 6 November Tõnu Kaljuste led a performance of pieces by Arvo Pärt and Sofia Gubaidulina.

Tõnu Kaljuste is one of the foremost choral directors in the world while he has also won acclaim for his non-choral orchestral leadership. The son of Heino Kaljuste who played an active role in keeping the Estonian choral tradition alive during the Soviet occupation, Tõnu Kaljuste has become a global ambassador of Estonian choral and orchestral music. Kaljuste’s performance at the Royal Festival Hall juxtaposed three works by Arvo Pärt with the Offertorium of contemporary post-romantic Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina.

London Philharmonic Orchestra

In purely musical terms, Pärt and Gubaidulina are very different composers. Gubaidulina is best known for heavily dissonant music with often dark and caustic overtones. Her music is evocative, impassioned and deeply intense. Pärt by contrast is a master of harmony and is particularly noted for integrating pre-classical and indeed pre-baroque harmonies with modern techniques. Pärt’s music is meditative, introspective and deeply personal. Yet the personal convictions with which Pärt and Gubaidulina compose are actually very similar.

Both Gubaidulina and Pärt were out of step with the materialist Marxist philosophy which underpinned the ethos of the Soviet society. Even today, the worldviews of Gubaidulina and Pärt are just as removed from contemporary trends in Russia and Estonia, respectively, as they were from that of the Soviet Union. Both Gubaidulina and Pärt recognise a deep spiritual motivation behind their art and, more specifically, both are devout Orthodox Christians. Russia’s contemporary religious settlement is of course varied and complex due to the substantial size and ethnic diversity of the Russian Federation. In this sense Pärt’s relationship with modern Estonia is even more intriguing as he is a devout convert to Orthodox Christianity in a small country which is noted for being among the most secular in the world.

When one understands the spiritual nature of the compositions of both composers, it becomes clearer why Kaljuste choose to juxtapose them in the programme. Adding to the intrigue, many if not most of the composers featured in “The Rest Is Noise” festival are thoroughly modern in their outlook. Previously the festival has featured compositions by the thoroughly modern Frank Zappa and indeed the futuristic Stockhausen.

The first piece of the evening was Gubaidulina’s Offertorium. The piece is supremely intricate and demands a supreme belief from all those performing it. Violin soloist Sergei Krylov played with a passion that rivalled the great violin soloists of the recent past. His heavy vibrato and highly intense intonation at times recalled that of David Oistrakh, this in spite of Krylov’s notably small physical presence. The audience responded with great enthusiasm to the piece and much to the delight of those in attendance, composer Sofia Gubaidulina walked frailly to the stage to take an ovation for her composition.

The second half of the programme was devoted entirely to the compositions of Arvo Pärt. Contrasting the full orchestra, complete with full percussion, piano and celesta employed during the first half, Kaljuste opened the second portion with Pärt’s Magnificat for choir. The London Philharmonic Choir performed the piece with all the celestial etherealness and devotion that Pärt’s composition requires. In spite of his stellar performance of Gubaidulina’s Offertorium, it was during the Magnificat that Kaljuste truly revealed the full extent of his artistry, bringing Pärt’s vision to life in the most sincere way imaginable. Without pausing between pieces, Kaljuste continued from the Magnificat into Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, an elegy for the English composer who celebrates his centenary this year. The full string section of the London Philharmonic responded with a warmth and depth creating a fitting tribute to one of Pärt’s most cherished musical heroes.

Finally, the string section and choir united to perform the finale of the evening – Pärt’s introspective yet deeply comforting Berlin Mass. Without replicating the forms of romantic sacred music, let alone the technical aloofness of many contemporary masses, Pärt’s piece struck the perfect balance between the ethos of the ancient and the aural pallet of the modern. The Berlin Mass is a piece which conjures the weight of a thousand years of devotion yet one whose tones are complimentary to the modern world. Kaljuste’s interpretation fulfilled both of these elements, this in spite of leading an orchestra and choir who do not perform the piece with regularity.

Tõnu Kaljuste demonstrated that he is not only one of the great global ambassadors for the unique music of Arvo Pärt, but also that he is a maestro capable of leading one of the world’s premier orchestras in pieces which are technically challenging but which are also deeply emotionally rewarding. As one of the final concerts of “The Rest Is Noise” festival, Kaljuste proved that musical clichés about contemporary music ought to give way to a more unified notion which combines technical intensity with emotional sincerity.

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EstonianWorld would like to thank Kristel Oitmaa, Cultural Counselor at the Estonian Embassy in London, and Estonian Embassy in London for their collaboration in preparation of this review.

Cover photo: Tõnu Kaljuste with Arvo Pärt

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Review: Paavo Järvi and Philharmonia Orchestra at London’s Royal Festival Hall

Last week, Paavo Järvi conducted at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Järvi brought London a wonderful night of music, which included works by a living composer, a composer of the high classical period, and a high romanticist – and yet the entire evening was a seamless musical statement delivered by one of Estonia’s finest musicians.

Originally the great Christoph von Dohnányi was to conduct an evening of music from Mozart and Dvořák, but at the last minute the Philharmonia of London asked Paavo Järvi to substitute. It was a decision no one in the audience seemed to regret.

Järvi chose to begin the programme with a previously unscheduled piece, the Fratres of Arvo Pärt. Järvi demonstrated his supreme command of dynamic control in the piece for full string orchestra and percussion. Pärt’s Fratres begins with a gentle pianissimo in the strings and slowly swells to the heights of modern romance in a style, which is a signature of the world’s most listened living composer. Pärt’s music represents a synthesis of pre-baroque-, romantic- and contemporary music, and Järvi emphasised this balance in a manner that remained true to Pärt’s unique compositional style. The primordial percussion was balanced by a warm string sound, infused with heavy vibrato, which swelled from a quite murmur to the heights of Pärt’s introspective, yet paradoxically involving spiritual modernity. The piece ends as quietly, as it begins – and as Järvi brought it to a close, the audience at the Royal Festival Hall were as quiet and as pensive, as is possible. It was a deeply moving performance from a maestro who has personally known and worked alongside the composer for many years.

CSO maestro Paavo Jarvi conducts a practice session with the CCM Philharmonic.

The next part saw a departure from Pärt’s unique modernism to a piece from the high classical period. Pianist Paul Lewis joined Järvi in a spirited, yet deeply refined rendition of Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto. Järvi precisely guided the orchestra through the piece, which allowed both soloist and ensemble to shine in their respective moments. Järvi and Lewis both took two additional ovations at the conclusion of the performance.

The featured part of the evening was Dvořák’s 9th symphony. Here the audience began to fully understand why Paavo Järvi is a supreme asset to contemporary orchestral performance. Sadly many contemporary conductors of the classical and romantic repertoire feel a need to limit tempos to the confines of a metronome. The age of the maestro who infused performance with a deeply personal tempo rubato, regrettably seems more and more a thing of the past. Yet on the night, Järvi demonstrated that a highly lyrical and simultaneously narrative style of conducting can unleash the true beauty of a much listened to, but still deeply energetic and emotive musical pick. In the tradition of the truly great conductors of the recent past, Järvi crafted a performance deeply infused with rubato, which helped to bring Dvořák’s final symphony to life. It was a profoundly human performance – one which emphasised both the bucolic serenity of the piece, as well as the soulfully charged passion of the greatest Bohemian composer.

Whereas his father (Neeme Järvi – Editor) tends to emphasise forgotten composers of the romantic era, and his younger brother (Kristjan Järvi – Editor) excels at more modern music, Paavo is frequently most comfortable with the late classical and high romantic canon. Tonight he demonstrated that a style of performance which emphasises emotion over dull precision, and humanity over academic interpretations, can warm the hearts of audiences more sincerely than any other style of conducting.

Järvi was given multiple ovations for an evening of music which covered vastly different styles of music, but one which was united by his supreme commitment to both dynamic perfection and spontaneity of tempi. The Philharmonic responded to Järvi’s direction better than they have done to many less involved conductors. A performance that from a technical sense was an accident, turned out to be one which will be remembered for its artistic cohesion and unbridled beauty. On the whole, it was a wonderful night of music which saw one of Estonia’s finest musicians conduct works by Estonia’s most prized composer, as well as works by two of the world’s most cherished composers. If only he took the same approach to Beethoven as he does to Dvořák.

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Photos: Paavo Järvi/Wikimedia Commons.

Adam Garrie: Is Eurovision a national obsession?

For anyone who has had even the most rudimentary training in the musical arts or who enjoys high-quality music, the Eurovision Song Contest is something to be avoided at all costs. But to others it’s something of a yearly Olympics – if forgettable pop music were an Olympic sport.

The Eurovision Song Contest began with the noblest intentions. It came about in 1956 – the year the Treaty of Rome was ratified – and was something of a musical equivalent of the European Economic Community. The idea was to use music to bind nations who just over a decade earlier were engaged in war. Originally there were only seven, all western European, nations involved in the contest whereas today the contest includes countries well outside the borders of Europe.

Occasionally the contest has either produced or been the showcase of internationally renowned stars. Britain’s Lulu won the contest in 1969 with “Boom Bang A Bang”, leading much of Europe to question whether she was singing about sex or nuclear war. Most famously, ABBA burst onto the world stage in the 1974 competition with “Waterloo”, becoming Sweden’s biggest export after Volvo.

Estonia takes the contest seriously

Estonia’s first year in the contest was shortly after re-independence in 1994 and for much of Estonia’s time in the contest, the country has finished in the top 10, winning the contest in 2001. It is unsurprising that many in Estonia take the contest more seriously than in other countries. Estonia has the richest folk and classical choral tradition in the world, so an international singing contest would seem the right place to show off Estonia’s most treasured art form – vocal music.

It’s something of a pity then that the contest is usually comprised of inexperienced pop star wannabes whose singing is often far-far below the standards of the Estonian choral tradition. That being said, some notable Estonian vocalists have done well in the contest, including Maarja Liis-Ilus and Eda-Ines Etti.

Of course, many acts whose style is rather different than vocal pop have entered the contest, some with success, including Finnish heavy metal band Lordi. In 2013, Estonian metal band Winny Puhh attempted to repeat Lordi’s success, although the established vocalist Birgit Õigemeel ended up beating the exotically dressed rockers in the selection process to pick the representative for Estonia.

Estonia’s love of the Eurovision contest, however, may be explained by something other than the famed choral and vocal tradition. Much like the UN General Assembly, all Eurovision countries are given equal time and there is no exclusive “singing security council” to veto any member state whose songs threaten global security. Estonia has one of the smallest populations among the participating members and thus, it would seem natural that Estonians are keen to display their vocal talents before a wide multinational audience.

Estonia takes the contest seriously and this is demonstrated by the fact that Estonia typically selects either established serious artists or serious up-and-coming artists to participate in the contest, where other countries might select comic or novelty acts, death metal bands whose style is consciously out of touch with the contest’s pop ethos or, as Britain recently did, dig out ageing millionaires – the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Engelbert Humperdinck (the English crooner, not the dead German composer).

Occasionally a subtly political song is allowed to slip through, as Israel’s 2007 entry “Push The Button” demonstrates, but for Estonia singing is far too important to be used to deliver a political message. Generally the songs are about love and other similar emotions. There is no sign that in next year’s contest Kerli Kõiv will burst on stage singing a song about the difficulties of having a grey passport, although there might always be a slight chance that Arvo Pärt will compose a three-minute oratorio on the advantages of Estonia’s flat tax for entrepreneurs in the IT industry.

Important to remember that art is not sport

But perhaps this is why Estonia’s Eurovision love seems somewhat strange to the outside world. Estonia takes the contest more seriously than the contest takes itself. To many Estonians, a singing contest of any kind conjures images of the deeply beautiful Laulupidu (Estonian Song Festival – editor) whereas in much of the world outside of Estonia the Eurovision conjures images of tight skirts on men who look like Demis Roussos and sing like a drunken tourist at a South Korean karaoke lounge.

It is important to remember that art is not sport. Sport necessarily breeds healthy competition, but in art there can never truly be competition. Art is all about cooperation and collaboration, a lesson which might do all countries more good than yet another flag-waving festival of “singoism”. Whether or not Estonia does well this year or not, it is an Estonian who is the world’s most listened contemporary composer and no other country in the world holds a song festival where over half the population of the country gathers to sing and does that well. These are things Estonia can rightly be proud of.

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Cover: Dave Benton and Tanel Padar singing the Estonian 2001 Eurovision winner, “Everybody” (YouTube).

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