Life in Estonia

Life in Estonia is a quarterly magazine, which covers all Estonian walks of life - from business and economy to tourism and culture. It focuses on in-depth coverage rather than short news value. The magazine is published by Estonian Investment Agency / Enterprise Estonia, a state organisation that ensures competitive business environment for foreign investments in Estonia and develops international business relations. Find out more on www.investinestonia.com

Conductor Kristiina Poska turns disadvantages into advantages

Over a decade ago, Kristiina Poska, hailing from the small Estonian town of Türi, went to study in Berlin. Today she has risen to the position of kapellmeister (director of music) of the Komische Oper Berlin – the first woman to do so in the history of the opera house. In 2013, she won the most reputable conducting prize in Germany – also the first woman to ever do so. In 2015, Poska was the busiest female conductor in the world, based on performances in all genres.

The longer interview by Külli-Riin Tigasson was first published in the print version of Life in Estonia magazine.

Poska was born in a small town of Türi, the “spring capital” of Estonia, known for its flower festival. Her musical career began when she was eight years old, when she started to play the piano. After piano studies at the Türi Music School, she studied choral conducting at the Georg Ots Tallinn Music College and the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, before moving to Berlin, where she studied at the Berlin University of the Arts and at the Music Academy Hanns Eisler as well as attending classes with conductors Peter Gülke, Reinhard Goebel and Eri Klas.

A decade ago, Poska became a principal conductor of the Cappella Academica, the symphony orchestra of the Humboldt University Berlin, which gave her the opportunity of regular performances at the Konzerthaus Berlin. The 2008/09 season saw her at the Neuköllner Oper Berlin with the highly acclaimed production Ihre Bohème, which soon led to engagements at the Koblenz Theatre, the Brandenburg Theatre and, in 2010/11, to the Komische Oper Berlin for La Traviata. Poska was enthusiastically received there by both the orchestra and the audience and was immediately re-invited for a series of performances of Jacques Offenbach’s La Périchole. She was then appointed as the first kapellmeister of the Komische Oper Berlin.

In 2013, Poska won a reputable conducting award in Germany, the Deutscher Dirigentenpreis. The daily newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, named her “one of the 25 most interesting people in Berlin in 2013”.

“Kristiina Poska has conquered the fortress which until now has belonged to men” is how the German media put it at the time.

The lush greenery, birdsong and water bodies of the Tiergarten area in Berlin, where Kristiina Poska lives, resemble Estonian nature. She loves to take long walks there and cycles to work through the park in the summer.

Poska’s eyes sparkle and she gesticulates excitedly with her hands when she speaks.

“It is definitely not an advantage to be a female conductor in the cultural landscape of Germany,” she says, and adds, “but it is important to know how to turn disadvantages into advantages.”

Why did you choose to become a conductor?

My grandpa played the piano, but there were no professional musicians in my home; there was no Beethoven playing in the background. My interest in music was abstract. I wanted to play the piano just like grandpa. I went to a music school for children. At one point, I understood that I would not become a pianist because I did not have the patience to spend five to six hours every day playing on my own. My voice was not strong enough to become a singer. But I really wanted to study music and thought I would give choir conducting a try. I must have been about 17 years old when I first saw a rehearsal of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and I was so enchanted by the sound that from then on my biggest dream was to conduct an orchestra.

What is the most complicated thing about conducting? Or do challenges change depending on your own development?

I feel things depend on where I am at a particular moment. The challenges are always changing. In the early days, I felt as if I had a guardian angel who only sent me orchestras that wished me well and guarded me from big problems that more experienced conductors often face.

What kind of big problems exist in this field of work?

There may be differences of opinion with the orchestra or there may be vocalists who are difficult to work with because they are in a world of their own and don’t pay attention to the conductor. My tasks have grown in parallel with my own growth as a conductor. I think this applies generally in life, not just in my field of work. We cannot say that a 50-60-year-old person has no more problems or challenges. There are always new ones.

Few years ago you said your challenge was to understand how various orchestras function. What was the most difficult issue for you when you got started? 

The main problem back then was me. I was blocking my own way. I had destructive thoughts and a lot of fears.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas

At first, I was overly humbled by standing in front of people who had worked for years as musicians, who were more experienced than me. It took me a long time to understand there were other factors up there as a conductor that matter more. I also had the feeling that music was so much bigger than me, that whatever I did I was not worthy of it.

But regardless of those fears it attracted you…

I have always had the desire to make music. And at the end of the day, it is this will that counts. There are many difficulties along the way. It is also important that you want to keep at it, no matter what. The music itself is the biggest reward and I am willing to put up with any difficulties along the way for the music.

Is such determination more important than talent?

I believe so. It is necessary to have some talent, because if you don’t have a musical bone in your body, you cannot work in this field. But how far you are able to develop your talent depends on your will and your determination.

And perhaps also on courage and the ability to forgive yourself for your mistakes?

I used to constantly feel that what I did was not good enough. At one point, I decided to start thinking constructively in order to be able to develop as a human being and as a musician.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas I

Artistic people are always full of doubt; it is an important and useful force. But when those doubts take away most of your creative energy, it is the art which suffers. The largest force is the force of your mind. Whereas earlier I had too many insecurities, these days I tend towards the other end of the scale, being too courageous. Some people say one cannot help it when one is shy. But this is not true. Behind the shyness, there is courage.

Disadvantages can be turned into advantages?

Precisely. Each and every one of us has courage; we just need to locate it. I am also convinced that each of us has opposite forces inside us: good and bad, joy and sadness, introvert and extrovert. We are the ones who decide what dominates. I am proof of that.

The conductor of an opera is the only person with his/her back to the audience. Do you think about the audience while conducting?

This may sound strange but the answer is no. I only think about the music when I conduct. It is my job, to conduct the music, to control the evening, to bring the vocalists and the orchestra together. If I fail to give this a hundred per cent of my concentration, something is wrong. There is no time for other thoughts, such as how I look or what the audience is thinking. At the opera, there is a slightly different set-up each evening, for example stand-in musicians from other orchestras who require special attention. The vocalist may be ill and replaced with someone unfamiliar with the production or someone who sings in another language. Such a vocalist may not have had the time to study the production, in which case they sing from the edge of the stage and the director’s assistant plays the role. Or if the vocalist performs, other singers have to be prepared to improvise constantly. In other words, there is always too much excitement at the opera for my thoughts to wander.

So experiences of a conductor would be useful in a textbook on organisational management?

Psychological issues always strongly influence a process. But no matter what the environment or the mood, a conductor needs to stay true to him/herself. It’s great when everything runs smoothly. But this cannot be taken for granted. Even in critical situations, the conductor must remain calm and true to herself, to do the work and to proceed from the music.

You have said in an interview that you have to become the embodiment of an emotion as a conductor.

I have to use my body to show people what I want expressed. I have to radiate those emotions out of my body. Many young conductors make the mistake of emulating someone physically, putting a mask on.

Kristiina Poska I

Everything is possible when you change into the thing you want to be. When you are determined enough, you can be who you really want to be. This is the task that we all have as human beings. Many people make excuses and say, “This is who I am, I cannot change.” Everyone can change if they want to! Many characteristics that people consider inherent are not. They are habits or patterns that have nothing to do with someone’s nature.

How much do you pay attention to critics and audience feedback in your work?

There are a couple of opera critics whose opinions I care about. But of course there are as many opinions as there are people. If you aim to please everyone, you end up losing yourself. For an artist, the only real foundation is himself. You need to proceed from your own intuition and feelings.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas II

I have always searched for truth in music, and in most things. But I have come to realise that truth in itself does not exist. For me, truth can only exist in a moment. In music it is not possible to do something convincingly in order to please someone else. The only person I try to please is the composer.

A considerable amount of pop music is made to please somebody.

I would not compare pop music with classical music, as the former mainly has entertainment value. The function of classical music is something else. Art that is made for someone else cannot be totally sincere and this is why I do not believe in it.

You have lived in Berlin for ten years. How quickly did you adjust?

I liked Berlin from day one. There is a certain sense of freedom here. I have always liked big cities and anonymity. However, the connection to Estonia is very important to me and I may one day return to Estonia. Happiness is very much related to what we do. And creative people often go where they have a chance to make the most of their creativity.

What does a normal day look like for you?

It depends on whether I have rehearsals or a performance at the opera, whether I am travelling somewhere as a guest conductor or working from home. At the opera, the rehearsals start at 10 am. On other days, I prepare. I get up around 8, sit at my desk and work with sheet music. Sometimes I sit at the piano, analyse, do background research and read relevant literature. If possible, I go for a little walk around lunchtime.

Arvo Pärt, the Järvi family… even the main conducting prize of Germany has been awarded twice to an Estonian in the last seven years, to Mihkel Kütson in 2006. Why is it music that makes the Estonian culture famous in the world?

Estonian music is definitely something special. Sometimes it seems that it looks even more special from the outside. It is definitely closely linked to our tradition of song celebrations. Just think about how many choir singers we have, how we have sung our way to freedom twice. It is part of our identity. This not only applies to music but to all fields or art and literature. Many of my German acquaintances who like to read have expressed surprise at how many new books and poetry collections are published in the Estonian language. There are a lot for a tiny nation. Estonian people are very creative.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas III

Regardless of the fact that it is not a financially easy choice, many people have dedicated themselves to a risky profession – to art. Perhaps it is our long and dark winters. It is also possible that Estonians who tend to be more inward-looking, look for expression in other fields.

Long winters and an endless longing that are woven into the culture? 

Yes, I think it is some Ugric yearning for something that people are not often even able to verbalise. Art, literature and music help us to cope with it.

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Photos by Kaupo Kikkas and Bjørn Bertheussen, courtesy of Nordic Artists Management. Cover by Bjørn Bertheussen.

Fashion designer Reet Aus – the woman who sets snowballs rolling

It is typical of everything the Estonian fashion designer and entrepreneur Reet Aus undertakes to develop a snowball effect. Her activities, which are born out of creative impulses, soon begin to take on a global dimension – such as her upcycling project.

By Anneliis Aunapuu

When you meet the direct and confident Aus, and look into her clear eyes, you immediately see that she is not one of those artists brimming over with unexpressed thoughts or desperately seeking a stage. This girlish woman (who is a mother of three!) works at a fast and steady pace on a wide scale: fashion designer, theatre and film artist, entrepreneur and advocate of recycling who moves beyond the level of pretty slogans.

For someone who has a large international upcycling project on her hands, with many setbacks and surprises, she looks admirably calm, convinced that one person can indeed make a difference and stop the world from galloping over a cliff. The success of one project leads to success in other projects. One product today, an entire branch of the industry tomorrow. Dripping water can break down a rock.

Unused opportunities in local production and bold visions of the future

Aus holds a doctorate in art and design. At first it may seem that fashion and research are worlds apart, but in the last few years the activities of the textile and fashion departments at the Estonian University of Art have taken a huge leap forward from decorative arts and crafts, developing in depth and becoming serious players in the field. Of course, the effective and decorative nature of art is still important, as the annual high-flying fashion show of the university, approaching performance art in its execution, demonstrates (Aus was the main organiser of this event from 1995-2002).

Reet Aus 8

Together the students and tutors of the Estonian Academy of Art seek unused opportunities in local production and create bold visions of the future. They learn to orientate themselves in contemporary technologies and new trends in research, and they have a bold approach to trying out options, as the “sky is the limit”. Students successfully compete with students of industrial design. They have reached an understanding of “the global” through the concepts of design – mass production – energy use – resources – waste… It seems that the process is taking on momentum.

Snowball starts to roll

It was Aus’s master’s project that started to live its own life and set a new path for her. The Hula Collection, created in collaboration with fashion designers Anu Lensment, Marit Ahven and Eve Hanson as their final master’s project, presented the idea of local production and quickly found popularity, becoming a recognised brand created by fashion students.

Aus’s principles started to find an outlet and her collections received more and more attention. But collections and small output did not seem like a sufficient solution to Aus, and this led to her commencing her doctorate studies by exploring the upcycling possibilities of the waste of the textile industry.

Reet Aus

After successfully defending her PhD thesis, “Trash to Trend – Upcycling in Fashion Design”, at the Estonian Academy of Art, Aus received her doctorate in 2011. As a direct outcome of her research, she travelled to Bangladesh in order to participate in the creation of a documentary, together with Estonian filmmakers Jaak Kilmi and Lennart Laberenzi, about the environmental problems related to the textile industry. Quite unexpectedly, an even bigger snowball started to roll.

In observing the inner workings of the textile industry in Bangladesh, Aus became painfully aware of huge environmental problems related to the mass production of textiles, which are not always the result of carelessness or greedy grasping at profits. In talking to the management of Beximco, a large Bangaldeshi corporation, common ground was quickly found. This laid the foundation for a collaboration that led to grow two plants with one seed.

Reet Aus with Dada - the head of the production line

Textiles are the main exports of Bangladesh, but more and more we hear about the dire working conditions within the industry. One of the most ethical examples is a company called Beximco, which employs 32,000 workers and produces clothes for such world-famous brands as Tommy Hilfiger, Bershka, Calvin Klein and Zara – the company guarantees human rights and decent salaries. Aus was able to analyse the production at the factory, which helped assess the extent of waste and create opportunities to direct it back into production within the factory.

Upcycling and production

In seeking solutions to the problems, Aus felt the need for more specific environmental know-how and this brought her together with the Estonian environmental specialist, Markus Vihma. Their collaboration led to the creation of the “T-shirt with the smallest environmental footprint in the world” (the T-shirt was chosen as a test product because it is one of the most pointless textile products: about four billion T-shirts with logos are produced each year for various events and most of them become direct waste).

Reet Aus 11The new shirt – the “upshirt” – was assembled from production waste of quality rib knit fabric, and it looked great. The creators then turned to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and found an unexpectedly large number of supporters (among them British actor Jeremy Irons) who ensured half of the necessary starting capital. This helped start the production of the shirts.

The design of the first product with the label Ausdesign (thanks to Reet’s surname Aus, it translates as “honest design” in Estonian) presented the logo of the company, an arrow pointing upwards, which is an ingenious way of visualising the concept of upcycling. The label of the shirt states that its production created 82% less CO2 and used 90% less water. It is the first known attempt in the world to mass produce the producer’s own production waste through upcycling.

The next project was creating the T-shirts for the biggest national celebration in Estonia: the Song and Dance Celebration 2014. This made the eco-shirt into a mass product.

Reet Aus T-shirts for the Song Festival IV

The fact that Aus’s doctoral work and activities in upcycling also have a local impact was demonstrated at the exhibition of student work at the gallery of the Estonian Academy of Art. The works were created in the framework of the international innovation project “Trash to trend”. For two weeks, students attended lectures and master classes, resulting in clothes lines which were created out of the waste and defective products of the textile industry. Many of those could become industrial prototypes in the future.

Theatre and cinema

Reet Aus VIAlong with her activities in upcycling, Aus, who also serves as a member of the board of the Union of Estonian Designers, still finds time to design theatre and film costumes. Like the fashion runway, the world of theatre and film is radically different from global industrial problems. Stage productions allow for creative fantasy and different themes help her maintain a flexible frame of mind.

Aus has also participated as a costume designer in at least seven feature films and has helped create the stage look for numerous theatre productions. “This is where I find creative freedom, making costumes which are larger than life,” she says.

Activities on the horizon

The roots of Aus’s current activities go back in years and she is unique in the Estonian culture industry. Many designers have tried to organise their own production, but their volumes remain very limited. Others have found their niche in tailor-made costumes.

Reet Aus 14

Aus has found a way to incorporate powerful mass production, change routines and make use of production waste and over-production. This helps future consumers save money (which would be spent on products made of new fabric), reduces the costs of material and fabric producers (lowering production-processing costs) and reducing overhead in the sewing factory (lowering the costs of waste management). In addition, this helps alleviate over-production, which is created by the unpredictable demands of the market. At the same time, environmental risks are reduced.

Reet Aus 7

This kind of environmentally sustainable thinking is becoming increasingly popular, but the ideas are seldom put into practice. Aus, who also heads the sustainable textiles study group at the Estonian Academy of Art, has managed to achieve real tangible solutions with her activities: there is a product, there is mass production based on ideals and the products have also reached shops.

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This article was originally published in Life in Estonia magazine. Pictures courtesy of Reet Aus

There’s a new motorcycle on the road – and it’s Estonian

In 2008, a group of Estonian entrepreneurs, designers and racing engineers joined forces to build a motorcycle that would make an art gallery proud, but would ride like the best grand tourers out there. This is the story of Estonian-made Renard motorcycles which have finally hit the road.

By Lauri Põldre & Silver Tambur

In 1938, the Estonian entrepreneur, Jaan Laan, founded a motorised bicycle manufacturer in Tallinn, and called it Renard Cycles. Renard is French for “fox”, and a fox’s head formed the original Renard logo. But, in March 1944, the factory was hit by a bomb and was completely destroyed. The emerging Estonian motorcycle industry became nothing more than a memory.

But in 2008, a group of Estonian entrepreneurs, designers and racing engineers joined forces to revive the Renard brand. In April 2010, the first “modern” prototype was unveiled at the Hanover Technology Fair the Renard Grand Tourer. At the beginning of September this year, the first Renard GT was presented to the buyer.

Kaarel Kivikangur (left) and Andres Uibomäe, engineers behind Renard. Photo by Jarek Jõepera.

The entrepreneurs behind this ambitious project, Andres Uibomäe and his business partner Kaarel Kivikangur, had a dream a dream to build a motorcycle that would make an art gallery proud but would ride like the best grand tourers out there. Life in Estonia magazine caught up with Uibomäe to find out more.

What is your background?

I was educated as an industrial designer, but motorcycles have been my big passion for as long as I can remember. In my teens, all I did was ride and repair motorcycles. I have owned about 15 different motorcycles and modifications. I can’t even remember all my motorcycles, although most of them were of Russian origin. Every time, it was the same story: rebuilding, modifying and tuning.

Renard - photo by Kalle Veesaar

So the background behind Renard is one of passion and a designer with creative ambition, but no outlet. Somebody once said that four wheels move your body but two wheels move your soul.

When did you start on the Renard project?

I stumbled on the Renard trail accidentally, in 2005, when talking to a motorcycle restorer who had been investigating Renard’s history. Renard is a beautiful name, and I am happy that such an old motorcycle industry legacy is available for us to continue. Due to the Soviet occupation, most historical ties have been broken. If we had not restored the legacy, then most probably the next generation would not remember Renard. I hope that we are worthy of the name, and that the new company can last for longer than the old company lasted before WWII. The modern company, Renard Ltd, was established in June 2008.

Did you just want to design an awesome bike, or did you have any other goals?

For me, it was essential – in addition to a great design – to produce a good ride. Lots of our partners and collaborators have expressed the opinion that it makes no difference what engine or suspension you use, and that people will buy a motorcycle just for its design. I absolutely understand them, but that is not the right viewpoint, in my opinion.

Renard VII

For me, it is important how the motorcycle rides: the sense of control, dynamics, endurance, performance and other characteristics. Building moto-sculptures is not exactly my cup of tea. But our major underlying goal was to restore the Renard brand. Renard Motorcycles is a brand whose products are distinguished by their strong individuality, intelligent design and immaculate craftsmanship. Our intention was to create something more than a bike. Our goal was to create the ultimate motorcycle.

How different is the result from your original vision?

Since our initial idea was to build monocoque motorcycles, it has remained practically the same. Possibly it has changed in small details, but those are marginal.

Renard Grand Tourer GT

How does the production model differ from the concept?

We’ve developed both technical capabilities and user friendliness for the motorcycle. The serial model is 15 kilograms (33 lbs) lighter than the prototype. In some parts, steel has been replaced with titanium; the CNC milled parts are lighter than in the prototype. In important hubs, we have improved technical solutions and durability. Everything that contributes to the identity and shape of Renard, we try to keep as clean as possible. New models must carry the same Renard visual characteristics and concepts as are exhibited by the current GT model.

What has been the response from the world?

In terms of the design and shape of the motorcycle, it has been surprisingly positive. When it comes to brand and product, it is too early to say; we still have to prove we are a sustainable company. Everything else will follow.

Is the design original or did you look at other brands and models for inspiration?

I can’t say that motorcycles with outstanding designs haven’t played an important part in the birth of Renard, but engineering solutions are no less important for inspiration.

Renard - photo by Kalle Veesaar IThe design is inspired by motorcycles from the middle of last century: for example, the 1949 Majorca Moto Major 350, the 1953 Killinger and Freund, the 1934 BMW R7 and the 1949 IZH 350 – which is, incidentally, the motorcycle of my childhood. The Renard GT has been compared with the Confederate Wraith, but mainly in terms of the similar design of the first wheel suspension, which also originated in the 1930s, when a similar solution was used by a large proportion of manufacturers.

The Renard identity lies in its supporting body monocoque, which makes our motorcycle’s design unique and distinctive. The Renard GT combines classical with somewhat retro lines, and presents a modern, simple and clear logical form through its ultramodern use of materials. The engineering was done by Ando Paapstel and myself; freehand forms were done by Siim West and Mait Mahlapuu.

What is it that makes Renard so special?

In technological terms, the most special aspect is the supporting body; there’s nothing else like it in the whole world. This is confirmed by the fact that when we started searching for partners who would produce the body for serial production, we could not find any companies that were willing to do it. We received only three replies to fifteen inquiries!

Renard VI

What was the biggest challenge in designing and building Renard?

To maintain the desired production and sale price. Even if you make an exclusive product, such as a carbon-fibre monocoque motorcycle, you have to remain within a reasonable price range. The biggest challenge was to achieve the desired price level without having to compromise the quality.

What is the future of Renard? How many units do you plan to manufacture?

Our hope is to make 50 units per year over five years. If we manage to achieve this, based on one GT model, then we will be very, very satisfied. In five years’ time, we want the Renard brand to be known within its market segment, and to be in a position where customers trust us based on the quality of our products and how they endure over time.

Where will Renard be positioned in the world?

The Renard GT is positioned in the small production series, high-priced motorcycle class. We have acquired a small series VIN code, which will be issued to manufacturers that make up to 200 units per year. So, it is exclusive enough if you look at the production capacity, and ultra-exclusive if you look at the country it comes from. Our competitors are chopper builders, but in particular we want to share market with Vyrus, Confederate, NCR and Wakan.

Renard III

Renard GT specifications

Engine type: V2 90° Moto Guzzi “Quattrovalvole”

Displacement: 1326 cc

Engine management system: Magnetti Marelli

Carbon fibre/kevlar monocoque chassis
Wheelbase: 1450 mm
Trail: 98 mm
Steering angle: 23.5°
Front suspension: 2-way adjustable Öhlins S36DR1L
Rear suspension: 3-way adjustable Öhlins TTX 36
Front/rear brakes: Twin semifloating discs Ø 320 mm; six piston monoblock calipers/single semifloating disc Ø 220 mm; four piston monoblock caliper
Front/rear rims: Carbon fibre 3.50 x 17″ / 5.50 x 17″
Front/rear tires: 120/70 ZR17 / 190/55 ZR17

Length: 2100 mm
Width: 840mm
Height: 990 mm
Seat height: 830 mm
Dry weight: 170 kg
Fuel tank capacity: 16 l

Top speed: 230 km/h (144 mph)

Price: €49,000

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This article was first published by Life in Estonia magazine. Update by Estonian World. Photos: Renard Motorcycles and Life in Estonia.

Sounds emanating love – the story of Arvo Pärt

Estonians are proud of Pärt because he is a world-famous Estonian. Fame creates respect. But when we look more closely, his compositions address everyone, attempting to appeal to that shared aspect of human kind which rises above nationality, skin colour and culture. It is as if the music wishes to say that we are all in it together. Pärt commands respect and admiration from classical music fans from around the world.

By Immo Mihkelson and Silver Tambur 

_AN48349_edit_resizeRecent years have been especially successful for the maestro. Pärt has been given the title of the world’s most performed living composer by the classical music event database, backtrack.com, for third year in a row. Conductor Tõnu Kaljuste won a Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category for his work on Pärt’s album “Adam’s Lament” at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

In addition to multiple performances around the world, Pärt’s music was performed at four sold-out concerts in the United States – two in Washington, DC, and two in New York City, including one at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall, which was also honoured by the maestro’s own attendance. In October, the Japan Art Association presented Pärt with the prestigious Praemium Imperiale cultural award. The award is considered equal to the Nobel Prize in the field of culture, and was presented to the Maestro by the patron of the association, Prince Hitachi of Japan.

A new theatrical production, premiered at the Tallinn’s Noblessner Foundry in 2015. For “Adam’s Passion”, Pärt and American theatre visionary Robert Wilson came together to create a mesmerising symbiosis, combining Pärt’s music and Wilson’s stage choreography with stunning visuals. The stage production also gave a material for no less than two documentaries that premiered this week: “The Lost Paradise” and “Adam’s Passion”.

Pärt’s name has become very influential. It stands for music which many people love. Tranquillity, sadness and selfless love emanate from the sounds of that music. It consoles and gives strength.

The road to music

Arvo Pärt was born in 1935, in the Estonian provincial town of Paide, but his parents separated and, before the onset of the war, the mother and son moved to Rakvere. The childhood and early youth of the future composer were spent in the tranquil milieu of that small town. When he started school, the Germans were still in charge in Estonia, but when he commenced his piano lessons at the age of nine, life was lived according to the directions set by the Soviet occupation regime.

Those were restless and anxious times, and left a stamp on many people. When, on Stalin’s command, tens of thousands of people were deported from Estonia to Siberia, Pärt’s close relatives were among them. This left a thorn in his soul and a strong sense of revulsion towards the foreign powers.

The young lad attended school, fooled around with his friends and became fixated on films screened in the local cinema. Music entered his life bit by bit, but from a certain point onwards it overshadowed everything else.

The radio became the focal point of his life: after all it played classical music. On Fridays, live concerts were transmitted and the young Pärt biked to the central square of the town, which had a loudspeaker attached to a post. He used to circle around that post until the end of the concerts. Today the sculpture of a boy with a bicycle on the central square in Rakvere is reminiscent of those occasions.

Arvo Pärt in Rakvere

In fact, this tale is of a person who merged with music from the word go. It is a story of the kind of love and yearning for what’s beyond the horizon, which is often much more emotionally expressed by music than by other arts. And it is also the story of Arvo Pärt’s music, music that many people all over the world feel an affinity with.

The patterns of those melodies call people back into themselves, announce a sense of inexplicable harmony and enable them to be part of or to hope for contact with something much larger. People need it. And this is what Arvo Pärt needed as he followed the call of music throughout his life.

This path was, from the start, full of joy but also twists and obstacles, temptations and suffering. The composer has said in interviews that he does not think his life has differed much from the lives of many others. We share so much with each other: our main needs and our goals are the same. In one way or another, this is what his music is about.

In the draughts of power and spirit

After graduating from school, Pärt went to Tallinn, where the best Estonian musicians and teachers worked. His wish was to become a composer. By then the city had been cleaned up of war ruins, Stalin was dead and a whiff of new-born hope was floating in the air.

In the late 1950s, Pärt’s early works first attracted attention in Tallinn, where they were approved of by older colleagues in the Union of Composers, and subsequently in Moscow. The times favoured young energy and the socialist society tried to guide it in the “right” direction. Culture also played a role in the bloodless battles of the Cold War, where competing ideologies tried to prove their supremacy to the masses on the other side. Sometimes it worked.

“Pärt’s compositions address everyone, attempting to appeal to that shared aspect of human kind which rises above nationality, skin colour and culture. It is as if the music wishes to say that we are all in it together.”

In this confrontation, every talent was seen as a future warrior and Pärt was favoured. But in Estonia, on the border of the huge red empire, the Iron Curtain was weaker and thus the echoes of modern Western composition techniques could be heard. Pärt became fascinated by them, the more so as they provided the opportunity to express his defiance of the regime. Problems soon developed, as the environment in which Pärt lived considered Western influences to be enemies. Defiance was unacceptable.

Ever since his student-time orchestral work, “Nekrolog” (1960), strong pro and contra draughts had been blowing across his path as a Soviet composer. He was praised, only to be criticised later, persecuted and favoured. Audiences were keen on his music, but the officials had their doubts.

Working as the recording director at the Estonian Radio in the 1960s taught him to listen to the fine nuances of sounds. This job probably also gave him a crash course in the psychology of musicians, which later helped him significantly in making his own special world of sound audible. Years later, Pärt said that his crooked road of searching for beauty, purity and truth – of seeking God – began in the 1960s. It was the course he chose. Even as a young man, he had high ideals and the intuitive sense that making compromises could lead to losing everything.

A new breath of life

Picture 006Around 1968, when there was anxiety throughout the world, Pärt lost faith in the contrasts and oppositions of his music. He began to look for a new shape and expression for sounds. This was a situation in which he had a general sense of what he wanted to say, but he had not yet found the right words, the shapes of sentences and rhythms of speech to express it. Pärt turned to music from earlier centuries and tried to find a way to translate the tranquillity and clarity of that old music into his own language.

This was the great turn that changed his life, both internally and externally. He got married for the second time and moved, living a modest life in a dismal housing estate on the outskirts of Tallinn. The searching years were difficult and those solitary attempts often brought only disappointments. His wife, Nora Pärt, has recalled witnessing her husband almost losing faith and seemingly considering the idea of giving up trying to be a composer.

Then came the spark that changed it all. Born one February morning in 1976, the piano piece “Für Alina” opened a new door and light poured in. Discovering tintinnabuli was a new start for Pärt in music, but the direction of his search remained the same. Tintinnabuli is often mentioned when talking about Pärt’s music. It has been called a method of composing, a unique style and a way of thinking.

There is no simple and clear definition, but many explanations have been offered. Interest in those explanations has grown in parallel with the interest in Pärt’s music all around the world. We do not know if this interest has reached its peak, but we do know for a fact that the music of this Estonian composer has been the most performed contemporary music in the world for several years running.

The call in his music has been slow to reach people, just as the music itself has a slow tempo. When Pärt left the Soviet Union in 1980 and moved to Vienna with his family, there was nothing positive waiting for him there. The foreign environment made him withdraw ever more into himself and the spiritual world of his music was just as ill-suited for that environment as for the one he had left behind. He wasn’t aware of the fact that a particular German had listened to his music on a car radio and become so excited by it that he wanted to release an album.

When Manfred Eicher and ECM released “Tabula Rasa” in the autumn of 1984, it was a real statement and marked another significant turning point. Eicher later said he believed the main piece on the album changed the awareness of music throughout the world in the late 1980s. This may sound a bit pretentious, but many people agree.

The story released by the American press, which has been cited on many occasions, tells of a journalist seeing young men with AIDS, waiting for death in a refugee centre, who listened to Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” again and again. The sounds must have incorporated something very significant for people dealing with such a serious situation.

All is one

_AN48340_2Later many articles asked what it was that pulled people from different parts of the world, people with different skin colours, who spoke different languages and had diverse world-views, towards Pärt’s music. Many answers have been proposed and, at the same time, his music has been criticised for being light and flirting with listeners. Such comments have come from representatives of modernist music. Such reactions may have been caused by the composer’s clear desire to be on the same wavelength as his listeners, not to tire their perception with sound tangles and structures pushing their limits.

On the cover notes of the album “Tabula Rasa”, there is a beautiful comment by the composer in which he compares his music to white light, which after piercing the prism of the listener acquires different shades. From this angle, all of the elements in this music meet each other: the composer, the musicians and the audience. “Me” and “they” become “us” and things find their natural place. There is balance and order. At least in the ideal world.

Arvo Pärt has said very little to explain his clear and simple music, which aims for unity. The fewer the words, the larger the space to interpret the music. “All is one” and “one and one makes one” are two of the most typical descriptions. The first sums up his world-view generally, and the second describes the unity of the polarities of tintinnabuli.

Music crossing borders

The universe of this music is spiritual and the sounds can be seen as “religious” in a way. People often wonder why Pärt’s music communicates with people regardless of their religious confession or the lack of it, regardless of age or ethnicity. Perhaps he has been able to translate something very human into sound that crosses the borders normally separating people. We do not know; we can only accept this explanation or offer our own answers.

St Vladimir’s Seminary in the US has founded a research field called the Arvo Pärt Project and, on its website, the seminary claims to attempt to uncover the part of Pärt’s compositions which have been most in the shadow: everything linked to the Orthodox tradition. The seminary was also the organiser of the concerts of Arvo Pärt’s music that took place in Washington and New York in 2014.

Pärt’s newest piece, “Adam’s Lament”, has drawn inspiration from the Orthodox spiritual tradition. Written for choir and orchestra, the piece received acclaim at the Grammy Awards, and the BBC Music Magazine nominated the album containing this piece for its own award ceremony.

Having been kicked out of Paradise, because of sin, the story of Adam is the story of humankind, according to the composer. Pärt uses his music to tell a story that was once written down by Saint Silouan the Athonite. Actually it was made public by one of his disciples, Archimandrite Sophrony, who Arvo Pärt met in the 1980s in Essex, the UK, and who became an important guide for Pärt, perhaps even the most important source of support at that time in his life.

“I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.” – Arvo Pärt

The words of encouragement and teachings of Sophrony helped the composer who had relocated to the West to keep up his spirits in the foreign environment and this resulted in a lot of wonderful music. Pärt started to write the music for “Adam’s Lament” in the early 1990s and Sophrony managed to share his thoughts with the composer before his passing. But then the rough drafts remained in a drawer until a few years ago, when Pärt finalised the work and made it public. He had matured and become wiser by twenty years; he was more experienced as a composer and his sense for life was much deeper.

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Whoever listens to the music and tries to touch the sounds and words with his heart, may find a hopeful message in “Adam’s Lament”. This message says that, although many things have turned out badly, each person and humankind as a whole may find their way with the help of love.

This is not the end of the road but just a signpost. A signpost to Arvo Pärt’s music.

Timeline

1935
– Born on 11 September in Paide, Estonia.

1938
– Moved with his mother to Rakvere, Estonia.

1945–53
– Rakvere Music School, piano studies with Ille Martin; first attempts at composition.

1950–54
– Rakvere High School.

1954
– Tallinn Music School, composition studies with Harri Otsa.

1954–56
– Military service at Soviet Army, playing oboe, percussion and piano in the Military Band.

1956
– Continuation of studies at music school, now with Veljo Tormis.

1957–63
-Tallinn Conservatory, composition studies with Heino Eller.

1958–67
– Sound Engineer at Estonian Radio.

Since 1967
– Freelance composer.

1958-68
– First creative period starting with neo-classicist piano music; experiments with serial techniques, aleatoricism, collage and sonic fields. Works like Nekrolog (1960), Perpetuum mobile (1963), Collage sur B-A-C-H (1964), two symphonies (1963 and 1966), Pro et contra (1966).

1968
– Credo, conclusion of his first creative period. In this work the confrontation between two musical worlds – Bach’s Prelude in C Major (WTC 1) and Pärt’s own dodecaphonic music attains its most dramatic expression. An open affirmation of Christian faith caused a scandal in the Soviet Estonia and the piece was immediately banned.

1968-76
– New artistic reorientation. In search of a new musical language, he studied Gregorian chant, the Notre Dame School and renaissance polyphony. Pärt’s long silence was broken only by the Symphony No. 3 (1971), his sole authorised transitional work from this period.

1976
– Für Alina is the first composition in tintinnabuli-technique (tintinnabulum – Latin for ‘little bell’), which inspires his ouvre to this day. The musical material of Pärt’s works is extremely concentrated, reduced to the essential.

1976–77
– 15 tintinnabuli-compositions, including Tabula rasaCantus in Memory of Benjamin BrittenFratresSumma.
– Première of Tabula rasa in Tallinn, September 30, 1977 by Gidon Kremer (violin), Tatiana Grindenko (violin), Alfred Schnittke (piano), Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and conductor Eri Klas.

1980
– Emigration to Vienna; contract with the publisher Universal Edition.

1981
– Grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), moving to Berlin.

1982
– Passio, commissioned by Bavarian Radio and premiered in Munich by the Bavarian Radio Choir, soloists, instrumental ensemble and organ, conductor Gordon Kember.

1984
– Beginning of the creative collaboration with the CD label ECM and producer Manfred Eicher. Release of the CD Tabula rasa, which launched a whole new series of recordings under the title ECM New Series. Since then all authorised first recordings of major works with ECM.

1985
– Stabat Mater, commissioned by Alban Berg Foundation and premiered in Vienna by the Hilliard Ensemble, Gidon Kremer (violin), Nabuko Imai (viola) and David Geringas (violoncello).
– Te Deum, premiered in Cologne by the Kölner Rundfunkchor, Kölner RSO and conductor Dennis Russell Davies.

1989
– Miserere, commissioned by and premiered at Festival d’Eté de Seine-Maritime, Rouen, by Hilliard Ensemble, The Western Wind Chamber Choir and Instrumental Ensemble, conductor Paul Hillier.

1989-2011
– Eight Grammy nominations, mostly for the best contemporary composition.

1990
– Berliner Messe, commissioned by 90. Deutschen Katolikentages Berlin and premiered in Berlin by Theatre of Voices and conductor Paul Hillier.

1991
– Honorary membership of Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Stockholm.
– Silouans Song, commissioned by Svenska Rikskonserter and premiered in Rättvik, Sweden by Chamber Orchestra of the festival Music at Lake Siljan and conductor Karl-Ove Mannberg.

1994
– Litany, premiered in Eugene, USA, by the Hilliard Ensemble, Oregon Bach Festival Chorus and Orchestra, conductor Helmut Rilling.

1996
– Honorary membership of American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York.
– Dopo la vittoria, commissioned by the City of Milan in commemoration of the 1600th anniversary of the death of Saint Ambrose and premiered in Milano in 1997 by Swedish Radio Choir and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.

1997
– Kanon Pokajanen, composed for Cologne Cathedral’s 750-year anniversary, premiered in 1998 in Cologne Cathedral by Tõnu Kaljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

1998
– Como cierva sedienta, commissioned by and premiered at the Festival de Música de Canarias in 1999, by Patricia Rozario, Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Okko Kamu.

1999
– Cantique des degrés, commissioned by the Princess of Hanover for the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco; premiered in Monaco Cathedral by Monte Carlo Opera Choir, Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.

2000
– Cecilia, vergine romana, commissioned by Agenzia Romana for the events of Holy Year 2000; premiered in Auditorium Roma by the Choir and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, conductor Myung-Whun Chung.
– Receives the Herder Prize, Germany.

2002
– Lamentate, for piano and orchestra, subtitled Homage to Anish Kapoor and his sculpture ‘Marsyas’, premiered in 2003 in London, in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall by Hélène Grimaud, London Sinfonietta and conductor Alexander Briger.

2003
– Classic Brit Award – Contemporary Music Award for Orient & Occident
– In principio, commissioned by Diocese Graz-Seckau for the program “Graz 2003 – Culture Capital of Europe” and premiered by choir pro musica graz and Capella Istropolitana, conductor Michael Fendre.

2004
– Da pacem Domine, a cappella work commissioned by Jordi Savall. In 2007 a recording of the piece (in collaboration with Estonian Philharmonic Choir and conductor Paul Hillier; Harmonia Mundi) wins Grammy Award as best choral recording.
– L’abbé Agathon, commissioned by l’Association l’Octuor de Violoncelles / Rencontres d’Ensembles de Violoncelles de Beauvais and premiered in Beauvais by Barbara Hendricks and Beauvais Cello Octet.

2005
– La Sindone, commissioned by Festival Torino Settembre Musica for the Olympic Winter Games 2006 in Turin and premiered in Turin Cathedral by Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Olari Elts.
– Composer of the Year, Musical America, USA.

2008
– Receives the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, Denmark, and composes These words…, commissioned by Léonie Sonning Music Fond and premiered by Danish National Radio SO and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste in Copenhagen.
– Symphony No. 4, ‘Los Angeles’, premiered in 2009 by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, USA. The work receives its UK premiere at the BBC Proms in 2010.
– Stabat Mater, new version for mixed choir and string orchestra, commissioned by Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich; premiered in Musikverein, Vienna, by Tonkünstler Orchester and Wiener Singverein, concuctor Kristjan Järvi.

2010
– Adam’s Lament, commissioned by Cultural Capital Istanbul 2010 and Cultural Capital Tallinn 2011, premiered in Hagia Irene, Istanbul by Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Vox Clamantis, Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.
– The Arvo Pärt Centre is established in Laulasmaa, Estonia, which holds composer’s personal archive.
– Celebrations of Pärt’s 75th birthday include three international conferences: „Arvo Pärt and Contemporary Spirituality Conference” at Boston University, „Arvo Pärt: Soundtrack of an Age” at London’s Southbank Centre and „The Cultural Roots of Arvo Pärt’s Music” in The Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Tallinn.

2011
– Returns to Estonia where he resides today.
– Classic Brit Award – Composer of the Year for Symphony No. 4.
– Honorary Doctorate of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, Vatican.
– Is elected first ever Academician for Music by the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
– Member of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vatican.

2012
– BBC’s one-day festival “Total Immersion” in London, dedicated to the music of Arvo Pärt.
– Estonian Music Council Composition Award.
– Prize of the International Festival Cervantino, Mexico.
– Honorary Doctorate of University of Lugano, Faculty of Theology, Switzerland.

2013
Special program of concerts dedicated to the music of Arvo Pärt held in Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, 9 – 11 August. Kanon pokajanenTe DeumAdam’s LamentTabula rasa and Symphony No. 3 were performed among others.
During the 2013/2014 academic year, Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Tartu. Lectures on Arvo Pärt are given by Professor Toomas Siitan (Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre).

2014
Swan-Song, new version of Littlemore Tractus for orchestra, commissioned by and to be premiered in Mozart Woche 2014, 29 January, Salzburg, by Wiener Philharmoniker and conductor Marc Minkowski.

Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category for CD Adam’s Lament (ECM).

Arvo Pärt is the most performed living composer in the world.

–  Praemium Imperiale cultural award, Japan Art Association.

2015
– A new production „Adam’s Passion“ based on the music of Arvo Pärt, by Robert Wilson, one of the most well-known American theatre directors and playwrights of avant garde theatre, conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste, premiered in Tallinn, Noblessner Foundry. This spectacle is based on Pärt’s most influential music: Adam’s LamentTabula rasa and Miserere, entwined with Sequentia composed specifically for the production.

– Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Cross of Merit First Class.

– Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.

2016
– ECM released a new album of Arvo Pärt’s music – “The Deer’s Cry” features the composer’s vocal pieces performed by Estonian vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis and conducted by Jaan-Eik Tulve.

– Arvo Pärt received an honorary degree in music from the world-renowned Oxford University in the UK.

2017
– Pope Francis awards Arvo Pärt with the Ratzinger Prize.

– Arvo Pärt honoured by the Romanian president for the special contribution in the arts with the Cultural Merit Order.

– The US northwestern city of Portland, Oregon, held a music festival dedicated to the works of Arvo Pärt.

2018
– Arvo Pärt awarded the Golden Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis – the highest cultural prize in Poland; in addition, the maestro was given an honorary doctorate by the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music.

– A new, Spanish-designed centre, introducing Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s creative heritage to both domestic and international visitors, opens its doors in Laulasmaa.

– ECM Records released a new album, “Arvo Pärt: The Symphonies”, featuring all four symphonies by the Estonian maestro.

– “Adam’s Passion” – a unique cooperation by Arvo Pärt and Robert Wilson premieres in Berlin.

2019
– For the eighth year in a row. Arvo Pärt is given the title of the “world’s most performed living composer” by the classical music event database, Bachtrack.

Cover photo: Maestro Arvo Pärt after a long, long applause at the Carnegie Hall concert in New York, May 31, 2014. Credit: Eleri EverThis article was originally published in partnership with Life In Estonia magazine.

Estonia’s international friends gather for high-profile summer meeting

In 2015, the Estonia’s Friends International Meeting will be held for the sixth time. The idea was born in 2010 in a meeting between President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, entrepreneur Margus Reinsalu and the management of Enterprise Estonia. The aim of the event is to recognise investors, politicians and artists, whose activities and advice have helped Estonia develop into a European country with a dynamic economy and vibrant culture.

This article is published in collaboration with Life in Estonia magazine.

Another goal is to spread the message that Estonia is successful, interesting and open to investment. When introducing Estonia, Reinsalu has found that when someone simply talks about Estonia to foreigners they will politely listen but will soon forget: “However, if these same people can visit Estonia and see for themselves how successful Estonia is, what great opportunities are here for investment and how beautiful the environment is, then they will remember a lot more and will be likely to return.”

Every year a slightly different selection of friends is invited to Estonia, since the organisers would like Estonia to have a variety of good and influential friends all over the world.

The meeting gives those who have an interest in Estonia the possibility to meet and exchange ideas. This year’s symposiums main theme is “Identity: Online and Offline.

Raigo Pajula

Traditionally, one of the keynote speakers of the symposium will be President Ilves, who is widely recognised for his championing of e-governance, cyber security and cloud computing. The other keynote speaker will be Balaji Srinivasan – co-founder of Teleport, Inc, and a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Teleport, Inc, has built software for start-up people on the move and has released Teleport for Startup Cities, Bay Area Teleport and Teleport Flock to date. Andreessen Horowitz is a Silicon Valley-based world-known venture capital firm. They invest from seed to growth.

This year, the symposium will be held for the first time in the premises of the parliament.

On the same day the friends of Estonia will meet the Prime Minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas. In addition, Enterprise Estonia will organise a seminar on the topic “Estonia Where Stuff Happens First”, which centres on Estonian innovation.

Besides discussions about Estonia’s development, innovation and investment opportunities, the guests of the meeting will enjoy a wonderful cultural program. It has become a tradition that on the first night of the meeting there will be a concert by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestraconducted by renowned maestro, Neeme Järvi. This concert has become a popular cultural event in its own right. Next evening there will be a concert by the beloved Estonian singer, Tõnis Mägi, at the Oandu watermill in Lahemaa, surrounded by beautiful Estonian nature.

Estonia’s Friends International Meeting is jointly organised by the office of the president, Enterprise Estonia and entrepreneur Margus Reinsalu. Feedback from previous events has been very positive and surely this year’s event will be memorable for all who will attend and will instigate many new friendships and interesting discussions on the future of Estonia.

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Work in Estonia ‒ attracting talent from around the world

Estonia, a tech-savvy and ever-globalising country, has lately been busy developing many initiatives to help and encourage foreign talent to relocate here. Work in Estonia, launched on 28 April by Enterprise Estonia, a government agency, is the most ambitious welcoming program yet.

This article is published in collaboration with Life in Estonia magazine.

The goal of Work in Estonia is to simplify the process for local companies to employ overseas experts and to introduce Estonia as the perfect destination for fulfilling one’s potential.

Estonia is often referred to as a pioneer and innovator in ICT. It therefore comes as no surprise that this is the sector which is doing the most hiring.

Companies like TransferWise, Skype and Kuehne+Nagel are just a few examples of employers who are already actively recruiting globally. The demand for top specialists is expected to grow in the future as well, in line with the growth of “e-Estonia” and its ICT sector.

Work in Estonia’s raison d’être is to make international recruitment easier not just for ICT companies, but also for companies hiring in other sectors such as mechanics and electronics industry, finance etc.

Competing for talent

In late April 2015, the web page www.workinestonia.com is due to go live. This website will advertise international jobs available in Estonia and also gather relevant information necessary about relocation from another country.

Frequently asked questions, such as “where to live”, “how to cope the necessary paperwork”, “where to find a doctor”, “where to go out and how to get by in general”, will be listed and answered on the site.

“At first glance, it may raise a few eyebrows that one small Nordic country could compete for talent alongside places like London, Berlin or Silicon Valley,” says Kristel Kask, the project manager of Work in Estonia. “But in reality, Estonia has several advantages that make it an attractive place for many future-orientated, high-achieving talents from all over the world.”

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Kask gives some examples of these, including the possibility of rapid professional growth. Because of the low hierarchies in Estonian companies and the over-all working mentality and business culture, it is highly likely that a young professional with enough ambition might climb up the corporate ladder quite quickly and be part of the strategic decision-making processes at a young age.

“Compared with the ‘old Europe’, where the professional career after graduating is often slow to progress, Estonia can be described as a place that believes in the capabilities of motivated youth, and age on its own is not understood to be the measure of skills,” Kask adds.

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Executive positions for people under 30 are not uncommon in Estonia. Furthermore, the scope of effect that one can implement on a national (and sometimes even global) level, due to the fast reactions and easy access to decision-makers, is rather impressive compared with many other, larger countries.

Not only for employees

One of the reasons behind this phenomenon is likely to be the fact that Estonia itself is relatively both small and young. Therefore the nation is prone to adapting to fresh ideas and change much faster than other, more-established countries, as proven by the extensive use of e-services, internet voting and the recently launched e-residency program.

“The web page will also provide relevant information about international recruitment for employers, in order to help the hiring process go smoothly,” Kask says, adding that Work in Estonia is also a good channel for companies in Estonia to promote themselves and make it easier to be seen by the international talent pool ‒ through the web site, online marketing as well as campaigning and special events that Work in Estonia will organise overseas.

Finland is the first country where Work in Estonia will focus its marketing efforts – one of the many good examples Finnish-Estonian cooperation.

The transition for talent coming from Finland is obviously much easier than it is in the case of those relocating from more distant destinations.

It is also good for the region in general not to lose the local talent to further afield.

In the recent Global Talent Competitiveness Index, compiled by INSEAD, which measures a country’s ability to attract and incubate talent, Estonia placed 19th out of 93 countries. European countries still continue to dominate this year’s list, with 16 of them in the top 25. This alone shows Estonia is in good and respectable company and is a viable alternative to more well-known competitiveness leaders like Switzerland, Luxembourg or Singapore.

Why come to Estonia?

Research conducted for Work in Estonia among highly skilled expats in autumn 2014 provided some interesting insight about what individuals who have moved to Estonia have found positively surprising about local life. In short, Estonia is easy and affordable, open-minded and straightforward.

Self-realisation

People moving to Estonia from western countries consider the main motivator and attraction of Estonia to be its compact organisational hierarchy, which enables people to climb up the career ladder more rapidly than in other countries.

Whereas in the US, Germany, Spain and Scandinavia, employees typically reach a certain career level in their forties, this is possible significantly earlier in Estonia.

Teams are smaller and everyone has the chance to have their say in decision-making. Young employees have opportunities to lead. Staff members and their contributions are noticed and rewarded.

Language level

The high level of English language skills is considered a very positive thing. Non-Estonian speakers do not generally feel helpless in Estonia. Whether at the doctor’s, on the street, at the shops or official institutions, it is usually possible to at least get by in English.

Living environment

TheEstonian living environment is considered to be notably safe. Life is not over-regulated. The streets are safe. The pace of life is not as hectic or stressful as in larger cities. In just half an hour one can be out of the city and surrounded by unspoilt nature, and even in the towns, the level of pollution is very low.

There is plenty of both fresh air and fresh food. People from a variety of different cultural backgrounds admit that they feel comfortable living here.

Although recognisably ethnically different people may stand out or be noticed happily they generally do not report experiencing significant prejudice, and indeed sometimes attain positions within the public sphere.

Effectiveness in dealings with both the state and with business

Dealings with both the state and with business are regarded as efficient. As public services are digitalised, everything in Estonia takes place quickly and painlessly.

Expats reported they particularly appreciated the opportunity to directly interact with officials ‒ you always knows who is dealing with your case and what is the status of the case is (since officials pro-actively contact you via telephone or email). The tax system is transparent and simple.

Cultural opportunities

Last, but not least – the cultural opportunities are endless. Despite the small size of the country, it is possible to attend great concerts and other cultural events non-stop.

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Cover: Kristel Kask, the Work in Estonia project manager

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Andrus Ansip: Building a digital single market for Europe

My aim is to make sure that Europe, its citizens and businesses, get the best of the online world in the safest and most open environment possible. Openness and opportunity: not obstacles.

By Andrus Ansip, VP of the European Commission for the digital single market. Published in collaboration with Life in Estonia magazine.

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Estonia is no stranger to the digital world. As long ago as 2005, it became the first country to hold an election where people could vote online. I was one of the first people to try out the new system. Now, in 2015, the number of Estonians to cast an e-vote in parliamentary elections rose to a record number – 31% of those who voted.

I am immensely proud to have been at the forefront of the digital transformation of my country, which today has probably the most joined-up digital government anywhere. Estonia has managed to create a true e-society that has improved peoples’ lives in many different ways.

Take digital signatures, where we have more than a decade of experience. They allow people to vote electronically, do their banking, declare taxes, sign contracts – all without leaving either home or the office.

When Estonians started to use digital signatures, it was like a social and commercial explosion. Since the system became available, more than 100 million digital signatures have been made in Estonia.

I would like to see digital signatures mutually recognised across the EU’s 28 countries.

Every Estonian citizen now has an ID card, which contains biometric information about them as well as digital signing capabilities. Again, I was one of the first people to start using these.

That said, I don’t always want to point to my own country as a shining example. However, what is now normal for Estonians in their daily lives is not yet the same for people in much of the rest of Europe.

During my nine years as prime minister, I supported the goal of creating a digital single market for the European Union that really works. Digital issues are close to my heart, which is why I was pleased to be nominated as vice president for the digital single market at the European Commission in Brussels.

Digital activity is everywhere. Every economic pursuit, every sector of society uses digital tools and online networks. With the power of cloud computing, the growing reach of social networking, the rise of big data, all manner of mobile devices available, technology is developing at lightning speed.

Europeans want the best that the internet can offer; they want safe, accessible and fast online services; they want more choice and competitive prices that the world’s largest marketplace should be able to provide. They want to be able to enjoy online films, music, books  ̶ bought anywhere in the EU. No price discrimination, website blocking or re-routing because of where they happen to live.

Unjustified geo-blocking is unfortunately still a reality, with messages like, “This service is not available in your country” that can appear on screen. For me, this is a form of discrimination – and something we fought hard to remove in the physical world. People do not understand why they cannot access content they have paid for when they travel abroad. In the same way, they cannot understand why they cannot access content they are willing to pay for in the first place. This should all be possible in the 21st century, the digital age. But it is not yet a reality across Europe.

There is still a lot of work to do to achieve a truly connected digital single market. A market where every consumer can enjoy digital content and services – wherever they are in Europe, including government services. It means every company should be able to share and sell its wares online to a market of 500 million consumers, with ease.

Today, a small business trying to spread across the EU faces no less than 28 regulations concerning consumer protection, data protection, contract law and tax rates. People trying to buy online in Europe today face endless barriers. It also costs too much, both for consumers and businesses.

Take the cost of getting delivery of a parcel of goods that you have bought online, but from a retail website based in another EU country. The charge for delivering across an EU border can be five times – even more, sometimes  ̶  the national equivalent.

We are working hard to remove the obstacles to create a connected digital single market for Europe.

Bringing down barriers is what Europe is about, to give all Europeans more opportunities so that they can enjoy competition, convenience and choice online.

At the same time, we have to set about building, improving and connecting digital Europe.

Building trust and confidence, for example, so that people are confident about using the Internet and online services. Or improving areas like technical interoperability and standards across the EU, which will also help to improve access to networks between countries.

Connecting everyone, everywhere, by investing in modern and joined-up broadband infrastructure, so that people in the remotest areas can also enjoy high-speed internet access. Fast, reliable, secure connectivity – everywhere.

These main principles will form the basis of a long-term digital strategy that the European Commission will present in May. It will contain proposals for new legislation and the updating of existing laws so that we have better regulation – rules that are “fit for purpose” – in the digital age.

For people, the digital single market will be a digital space where users’ electronic data can easily be carried or transferred across platforms and systems in all EU countries, without discrimination based on nationality or unjustified geo-blocking.

For businesses, it will allow them to reach new EU markets easily, backed by a clear set of rules. Companies, particularly small and/or online businesses, should be able to start operating across the EU with just one click of the mouse, without burdens or restrictions. This will allow them to grow, scale up quickly and transform their business and industrial models to include digital technologies.

This means moving further on consumer rights, and simplifying and modernising rules for online purchases and digital products, for both buyers and sellers. It will mean concluding negotiations on data protection and cyber-security. It will also involve reforming and modernising EU copyright rules.

We have a great opportunity and should make the best of it. My aim is to make sure that Europe, its citizens and businesses, get the best of the online world in the safest and most open environment possible. Openness and opportunity: not obstacles.

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Andrus Ansip

Andrus Ansip was appointed vice president of the European Commission with responsibility for the digital single market in November 2014. Before moving to Brussels, he was a member of both the Estonian and European Parliaments. This followed almost nine years in Tallinn spent as Estonia’s longest-serving prime minister, when Ansip worked with both centre-right and centre-left parties to lead three different coalition governments. During his time as prime minister, he also acted as chairman of Estonia’s Reform Party.

Andrus Ansip

Ansip first entered national politics in September 2004 when he became minister of the economy. Up to this point, his career was spent in Estonia’s second largest city of Tartu where he was born in 1956.

Ansip was mayor of Tartu for six years after working in banking and business. A chemistry graduate from the city’s university, Ansip is married with three children.

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Cover photo by Kaupo Kikkas.

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Estonia’s e-residency goes global

Perhaps you have heard the success story that is e-Estonia? That you can start a company in Estonia in just a few minutes, while sipping a cappuccino in a café; that it takes just a few minutes at worst ‒ and sometimes just a few seconds, to submit online tax declarations; that contracts are mostly signed with digital signatures and you can be thousands of miles away from the co-signatory to the contract?

This article is published in collaboration with Life in Estonia magazine. By Holger Roonemaa.

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Well, if you didn’t know all that before, you do now. And there’s even more great news ‒ from now on, anybody, anywhere in the world, can benefit from many of the services e-Estonia offers, whether it be simplifying one’s business-related activities, starting a new company or just trying out something innovative and cool which is not available anywhere else.

eResidentKaspar Korjus is the Estonian e-residency program director, which means he is the person in charge of the first ever Estonian government startup, which has the aim of promoting Estonian e-residency overseas.

But what is e-residency and why should people need it? In very simple terms, it is a digital identity issued by the Estonian state.

To put it even more simply, it is a plastic card with a micro-chip. This card provides two options: the ultra-secure authentication option and the opportunity to digitally sign all manner of documents.

In other words, this card opens the doors to the Estonian e-services to everybody who is not an Estonian resident, and perhaps has never had any contact with Estonia before. The purpose of e-residency is to make life easier by using secure e-services that have been accessible to Estonians themselves for quite a few years already.

By providing e-residency, we are moving towards the idea of a nation without borders. The e-residency project, which started in its beta-version during the last months of last year, is now ready to take the next giant leap. “What we aim to do is to create a worldwide virtual business environment, where people from both the developed and developing countries can easily become entrepreneurs and start doing business anywhere in the world. Physical national borders and restrictions will no longer present an obstacle.  You can start a business, open bank accounts, make transactions, sign contracts and even declare taxes, all on your computer,” Korjus says.

More than that, the opportunity to use mobile-ID for e-residents to sign and get authentication for their documents is also in the pipeline.

Four big goals

“When we went live with the e-estonia.com/e-residents page some months ago, we received over 4,000 applications in 24 hours from people who wished to be kept informed about the e-residency launch. Those contacts came from 140 different countries,” Korjus notes.

So far, over 1,500 people from 73 countries have become e-residents. Over half of them are from Estonia’s neighbouring countries: Finland (34 percent), Russia (15 percent), Ukraine (6 percent), Latvia (6 percent), closely followed by the US, Germany, the UK, Lithuania and Italy. Over 18,000 prospective e-residents worldwide have subscribed to the programme’s newsletter.

Many prominent foreigners have also become e-residents, among them the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and a senior editor of The Economist Edward Lucas.

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“Until now, e-residency has been able to sell its own concept without us pushing it, rather the opposite – in the beta phase, it has been a struggle sometimes to meet the excessive demand,” Korjus explains.

Actually it seems the whole e-residency project had been without a team until recently: “Everything we have done up to this point has been at a beta-level. Now we are gradually beginning to develop the service in order to make it into a finished product,” he adds.

Korjus had the task of putting together a seven-member team, which will concentrate on developing, marketing and packaging e-residency to the world. From this moment the clock will be ticking for a year and a half, during which his team will need to demonstrate real results.

“Within this period, e-residency must become a finished, saleable product. It must be totally user-friendly and offer enough important and comfortable services and it has to attract mass users,” Korjus says, summing up the challenge ahead.

Apply at home, receive without needing to travel to Estonia

Korjus is confident that things will start happening fast. Whereas until now it has only been possible to apply for and receive e-residency in person in Estonia, the whole procedure will be available online from May onwards.

“Applicants can fill out an online application form and select a location where they wish to receive the card,” he explains.

The list of places issuing e-residency cards comprises currently 38 Estonian embassies and consulates all around the world. For example, you can choose the Estonian embassy in Beijing, Washington or Moscow to receive your card. Upon going to collect the card, the applicant needs to present a valid passport and be prepared to give some biometric data (ie fingerprints);once this data have been processed, the card is ready for immediate use.

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The second task for Korjus’s team is to push through some legislative changes in order to make more e-services available for easy use by e-residents. For example, until now it has not been possible to open a bank account in Estonia without turning up at a bank in person.

“Our research shows that 65% of people wishing to apply for e-residency wish to do so for business reasons. The e-residency will give them the opportunity to digitally sign payment documents via online banks, but in order to open an account they would have to travel to Estonia,” Korjus explains.

LHV, Stripe and PayPal enter the game

LHV Bank is one Estonian bank willing to offer the option to open a bank account on the basis of a digital application.

“I really hope that this opportunity will be given to us by law, because at the moment we are unable to offer non-residents a comfortable way of communicating with our bank,” Andres Kitter, the head of retail banking at LHV, says.

It is technically possible to open a bank account from a distance, but this option is only available to Estonian residents, and even then quite complicated limits apply. “For example, transactions can only be made within Estonia, and one cannot even pay one’s monthly Spotify bill,” Kitter notes.

He explains that a lot of preparatory work, including technical and legal analyses, has gone into opening bank accounts for e-residents at LHV. “We are really waiting for legislation to catch up with this great application,” he says.

Kaspar Korjus explains further that e-residency services will not only be limited to services offered by the Estonian state. “On the contrary, it is our wish and expectation that the private sector will start to develop new services. We can create great conditions for it,” he states.

The first steps in this direction have already been taken. For example, the influential Stripe ‒ that also offers an online payment environment to Kickstarter, Twitter and Facebook ‒ is developing a solution to offer authentication with the extremely secure Estonian ID-card.

This development should reach the testing phase by the summer. Similar ideas have been discussed with the secure credit card payment service PayPal.

Japanese entrepreneur: a world-changing idea

The task of Korjus’s team is to give a push to creating an e-residency community.

“It is clear that once e-residency takes off into the masses, we will be physically unable to deal with all questions, requests, concerns. We wish to create a separate e-residency community, which would help each other and also support our marketing efforts,” Korjus says.

One person, who could be a potential voluntary leader of the e-residency community, is the Japanese IT entrepreneur Tsutomu Komori.

Just a year ago, Komori knew little about Estonia, when he accidentally stumbled upon the e-residency topic online and started to follow the developments of the project with great interest. Of course he already has an e-residency card in his pocket.

“It is a globally totally new idea, it is cheap and ultra-comfortable to use,” Komori, who sees both business and private opportunities in being an e-resident, notes. “I just received my card, so I have only used it on a few occasions,” he adds.

He explains how he wanted to test the card and so took a look at the Estonian business registry and drowned in the possibilities on offer. “It took me a while to sort out which are the most important services, which I can use. You should quickly develop a user manual for beginners,” he says and adds that the Japanese are very strong at creating manuals.

Until such a time as a manual exists, however, Komori is relying on Estonian friends who have been helping him to orientate himself to the number of services on offer.

The idea of having Komori as a leader of the e-residency community is not arbitrary. He fulfils all prerequisites you could imagine for an e-residency booster in Japan. He is the first Japanese person to receive the e-residency card and he is hugely interested in the project, too.

He even promises to make a note of all his thoughts, comments, recommendations and ideas and to submit them to Korjus’s team.

In March, he organised a conference in Japan introducing Estonia and its local business opportunities to Japanese entrepreneurs. The proponents of e-residency had their own designated area at the conference. The Estonian ambassador to Japan, Jaak Lensment, and by far the most famous Estonian in Japan ‒ the retired sumo wrestler Baruto (Kaido Höövelson) assisted Komari in this undertaking.

Komari has already created a Japanese-language Facebook page introducing the concept of Estonian e-residency, and will soon be developing another one for Asia on the whole.

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Until now most people who have applied for the beta-level e-residency card have come from Estonia’s neighbouring countries of Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Russia.

This is understandable, as up to now an applicant has had to come to Estonia, not once, but twice, in order to get a card, and most benefits of the card have been felt by people who have had some connections to Estonia already ‒ for example they either work or study here or have business relations with Estonians.

Once applying for e-residency becomes simpler from May and more and more comfortable services and user options will be created, potential users will grow more diverse.

Korjus says that he is sure that the largest interest in the service will be where the level of pain is the highest.

Signs show this is the case in countries outside the European Union such as Ukraine, but also Asian countries where business regulations, bureaucracy and relations with European countries have been very complex up to now.

Global cities where you can obtain your eresidency card at an Estonian representation

New York City and Washington, DC, USA

Sydney, Australia

Cairo, Egypt

Tbilisi, Georgia

Beijing and Shanghai, China

Dublin, Ireland

New Delhi, India

Tel Aviv, Israel

Tokyo, Japan

Ottawa, Canada

Astana, Kazakhstan

London, UK

Ankara, Turkey

Kiev, Ukraine

Minsk, Belarus

Moscow, Pskov and

St Petersburg, Russian Federation

Riga, Latvia

Helsinki, Finland

Stockholm, Sweden

Paris, France

Athens, Greece

Berlin, Germany

The Hague, Netherlands

Copenhagen, Denmark

Lisbon, Portugal

Madrid, Spain

Oslo, Norway

Prague, Czech Republic

Rome, Italy

Warsaw, Poland

Vienna, Austria

Vilnius, Lithuania

Brasilia, Brazil

Cover: Tsutomu Komori holding his e-residency card.

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The Estonian tech event of the year – the ICT Week

The Estonian ICT Week takes place on 8–15 May 2015 and strives to be the most eventful week in the centre of the sizzling Nordic-Baltic ICT powerhouse.

The ICT Week brings opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, foreign top officials and representatives of international organisations to Tallinn and combines several conferences and special events with keynotes you wouldn’t want to miss.

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Last year, over 1,000 foreign guests flew in to hear the latest. This year, the Estonian ICT Week has even bigger ambitions. The main topics in 2015 will include e-governance and e-residency, green IT, smart industry, fintech (financial technology) and the hardware evolution.

Main events

8-10 May at Tehnopol: Garage48 GreenTech Tallinn 2015

This spring’s Garage48 GreenTech event gives everybody an opportunity to bring their environment-improving ideas into reality, starting with water, soil and waste management and ending with alternative energy possibilities. The aim is to gather together people from different fields and skill sets and unite them into well-working teams. For example, people from the environmental field with experiences and knowledge about what is missing in the sector, unite with IT experts who have the skills to develop the ideas into working prototypes.

11 May at the Innovation and Business Centre Mektory: The Estonian Internet Day 2015 – the future narrative?

The topics: Internet and Estonia. Privacy and control. Skills and awareness. The internet of things. The internet as the lubricant of the economy.

Where should you start a tech startup in 2015? The answer is Estonia.

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What are the most burning topics of the Estonian internet in the spring 2015? What could be the country’s next Skype or TransferWise? The internet has become a “lubricant” of the economy and is always in need for something new and innovative. Do you know where the internet is heading? The main idea of the Estonian Internet Day is to bring together the internet and community enthusiasts for further discussion and contribute to the development of the Estonian internet.

11 May at the Swissôtel Tallinn: Norway-Estonia ICT cooperation seminar by Innovation Norway

Trustworthy cooperation – the key in developing innovative solutions and conquering international markets.

Over the last few years the cooperation between Norwegian and Estonian companies has increased, especially when it comes to developing new and innovative solutions within IT sector. The Norwegian Green Industry Innovation Programme with focus on green IT has played an important part in this development.

The seminar will present best cases, competences and experiences found in Estonia and Norway to inspire new solutions and partnerships. Subcategories the seminar will cover are green IT solutions within energy, transport and logistics, and trade. In addition, the seminar also covers public-private partnership when it comes to e-government solutions.

12-13 May at the Radisson BLU Hotel Olümpia: Industry 4.0 Conference by the Association of ICT Companies

The concept also known as third or fourth industrial revolution goes around with many names: Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet, the Internet of Things. It boosts the efficiency of manufacturing further by connecting the machines, enabling advanced analytics and empowering the people. But taking new concepts into practice is often time-consuming and costly.

The organisers of the conference believe co-operation between advanced industries and Estonian ICT and manufacturing companies can give the implementation of the Industry 4.0 principles a vital boost. After all, Estonia has been known as a tech-advanced and agile society that gets things done fast.

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The event raises awareness about Industry 4.0 in creating higher industrial efficiency. Collaboration possibilities and benefits will be outlined together with practical case studies from ICT and manufacturing. Senior decisionmakers from German and Nordic manufacturing companies and top experts and decisionmakers of Estonian ICT and manufacturing companies are expected to benefit from the event.

12-13 May at the Nordic Hotel Forum: Tallinn e-Governance Conference 2015 by the e-Governance Academy

The world’s leading e-governance experts from governments, business, academia, international organisations and civil society groups will meet in Tallinn to discuss designing e-governance strategies, 15 years of e-governance experience in the EU Eastern Partnership countries, coordination and communication in central e-governance implementation and cyber security and e-governance.

e-Governance Academy

The conference aims to serve the following interrelated communities: government decision makers and strategists from countries implementing national e-governance strategies, focusing on the EU Eastern Partnership and Open Government Partnership countries, donor organisations supporting the development of open, transparent and efficient governance practices via IT solutions and companies developing e-governance applications and assisting governments with their implementation.

13 May at the Swissôtel: Nordic Digital Day

Last year some 300 e-government experts and CIOs from all over the world gathered for the Nordic Digital Agendas Day where Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Estonia shared their vision and major action lines of their digital agendas. In addition, each country introduced some crazy, yet necessary ideas which are a challenge to accomplish today, but could provide valuable inspiration for future cutting-edge innovation.

Scandinavian flags

This year’s Nordic Digital Day promises to be even more inspiring and is dedicated to the Nordic ICT innovations and reforms that every country is particularly proud of. The aim is to show the revolutionary projects that have had a big impact on the daily lives of people and businesses in the Nordic countries. They are something that every country should implement to make a new leap forward in overall information society development.

13 May at the National Library of Estonia: FinanceEstonia International Forum 2015

This year’s forum, jointly organised by FinanceEstonia, the Estonian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association and the Estonian Business Angels Network,focuses on the development of European capital markets and increasing digital possibilities.

13 May at Tehnopol: LEAP by AIESEC

LEAP prepares startups for a big jump in their journey by providing a learning space tailor-made for their own needs and the interaction with international VCs. Unlike others, LEAP is a fresh idea validated by the Estonian startup ecosystem. At LEAP, one can expect mentoring spaces, skill workshops and speeches tailored for startups, delivered by both international and local experts.

14-15 May at Creative Hub Kultuurikatel: Latitude59 networking conference

The go-to place for the Nordic and Baltic startup scene in the spring.

In 2015, Latitude59 is celebrating the eighth year of networking conference – the continuation of an annual conference organised by Enterprise Estonia and the International Technology Law Association in Tallinn between 2008 and 2011.

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Latitude59 brings together innovators and entrepreneurs from all over the Baltics and the Nordics, also some special guests from different parts of Europe, the US and Asia. This time, up to 700 participants are expected, including startups, tech students, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and business angels.

The Latitude59 conference will have three special topics: fintech, e-residency and hardware evolution.

15 May at Rock Café: Estonian ICT Week closing party “Rock IT”

Come see and enjoy the most innovative rock party of the week. Rock IT is a festival for ICT companies’ bands, where 10 different groups will be playing their favourite songs.

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Cover: Participant at last year’s ICT Week.

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Aldo Järvsoo: Estonian ambassador of fashion

“A good mood makes me get busy and start creating,” announces Aldo Järvsoo, one of the most distinctive and celebrated Estonian fashion designers and cofounder of the Embassy of Fashion brand. It really is as simple as that!

Having known Aldo for years, I have never seen him either upset or indeed posing as a tortured genius searching for inspiration. But that doesn’t mean the creative spark doesn’t burn brighter with Aldo than most…

Life in Estonia asked Aldo about his career and life.

By Kristi Pärn-Valdoja, Mood magazine.

Many male fashion designers recall how they used to sew dresses for their sisters’ dolls during childhood. You also come from a large family. Did you also discover your passion for fashion in this way?

I think I did sew something for dolls when I was very young (my sister’s, not mine). When I went to art school, I did not have any particular artistic talent and my interests were all over the place in fact. I liked sculpture the most, then drawing, with architecture in third place.

So up until the final year in high school, I was sure that I would go to study either architecture or interior design. But there were several fashion contests held that year and I took part just for fun and won. I was just doing my thing, never thinking that someone might actually want to wear my designs or like them. It was my tutor who prompted me to pursue fashion design in fact.

Did studying fashion at the Estonian Academy of Arts meet up to your expectations?

I believe I got a world-level general arts education there.The Estonian Academy of Arts is a really special school – no other Estonian university has graduates who exhibit all over the world whilst being professors of the school at the same time. The concentration of excellent tutors was and still is amazing.That said, I found studying to be fairly automatic and did not fret about it too much.

How did you find your very first customers?

I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I was totally surprised when two women came by after a fashion show and asked to buy a dress of mine ‘or vest or whatever it is …’

Actually my designs were a bit ambiguous back then. It never ceases to surprise me how new, young designers will constrain themselves in designing, say a top or a blouse, rather than just letting their imagination run riot.

So would you prefer clothes made of paper or plastic bags?

Actually, yes, because that also gives you freedom. No major designer has started out by making a standard item with his or her own ready-made label. Not ones who I find interesting anyway.

Many designers in Estonia dream about making it to Paris. Do you have any similar ambitions?

I have always said to people, I am doing well here, so why are you prompting me to go? If you are good at what you do, your work will find its way to different countries through the Internet anyway. You don’t need to participate in trade fairs – it is so yesterday! What matters today are contacts and whether you are any good.

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That said, I don’t fear I wouldn’t get work if I relocated to, say, Milan. But I’m doing well here and would only move if my partner Tanel Veenre, an internationallyacclaimed jewellery designer, were to get an offer elsewhere.

There are many overseas designers who have created great collections which were then promptly bought up by the big houses, so they never really developed their own brand. Where do you stand on this?

I would never sell my soul to a big company! For example when the ‘Supernoova’ fashion competition took place in Estonia, there were many talent scouts representing big labels looking for young designers. I got some good offers. But that would have meant moving away from Estonia, which I didn’t want.

Selling out on the things I really value in life, all of which are free (for instance love and good friends) is not for me – I realised this when I was very young!

But if you got an offer from Yves Saint Laurent, for example?

I would of course at least consider it. But working as a designer for YSL is much tougher than my own working life right now. OK, I would be able to buy myself a summer house in Capri and go there…. like, once a year. Today I can rent a villa there for a week once a year as it is! That situation doesn’t improve with retirement, either.

Rifat Ozbek, one of Turkey’s top designers, quit just like that when he realised that he would rather enjoy life with his partner instead of going to fashion meetings every morning to discuss what colour is going to be ‘in’ next season.

So you don’t attend those types of meetings?

Sometimes I have to, but I also have those conversations with myself. I design collections and private orders – I don’t have my own fashion line as such. And f even if I were to work abroad, I would still do private orders rather than large collections several times a year.

I recently interviewed the supermodel and actress Laetitia Casta, who said that fashion is no longer what it used to be − there are too many trends and collections, too much commerce.

Yes, the frantic pace and the money have really infiltrated the world of fashion and each collection is expected to create a ‘wow’ effect and really sell.

But it is still a fact that there has been nothing really new in the last three years. With the exception of Miuccia Prada, everyone keeps repeating what has been already successful in my opinion. Alexander McQueen was the last true artist – after his death there has been nothing new in my opinion.

What about 3D printing and new technologies? Does fashion really have to be so high tech as well?

Well, if high tech improves some practical quality of clothes, then it is a good thing. But the main trend in the fashion world mirrors that of the food industry – moving towards using natural, organic materials.

3D printing hardly measures up to this criterion, though in future there may be ‘smart’ materials which do fit the bill.

Do you sometimes catch yourself thinking that there are so many problems in the world: wars, starvation etc. and here am I working on something not perhaps so essential…

Of course! But I have also seen a woman overcome some form of depression when she gets a beautiful dress. I think that in our society today, beauty really plays a helping role. But I never liked large statement collections.

In the past when designers created some war-theme collections, it even seemed quite exciting. But now the threat of war seems somewhat closer to home, it is no longer a topic to play with. But even in Ukraine, life goes on in some sense – there has been a fashion week there recently!

So you wouldn’t send models on to the catwalk in provocative political T-shirts á la Vivienne Westwood?

No, because those are two totally different things. If I wanted to make a difference in the world or do something personally to help, say, Ukraine, I would become a volunteer and not create a fashion collection which has no real input. This is the ‘Facebook’ phenomenon – it does no real help to like or share a photo of a starving child. But money transfers and real action are what really helps.

To that end, Vivienne Westwood’s charity campaigns and work as a spokesperson definitely help more than statements limited to the catwalk.

Karl Lagerfeld has said, “Criticism? If someone says something negative about my work, I either learn something or think that the person has a double chin and fat legs … it is natural that someone ugly would criticize someone successful.”  What do you think about his comments?

Yes I totally agree! I have been doing this job for over 20 years now and if I read comments as I did in the past, I would probably notice that it is the same envious and bitter people now who were writing the negative comments back then. Of course I think what I do is good, because I would not knowingly create something which I thought was bad and then put it on the catwalk!

At the end of the day the only opinions I care about are those of my friends.

How do fashion designers in Estonia get on with each other? After all, you are each other’s competition!

I don’t think of it as competition. We all have our unique signature, our own customers, so we really do get along in fact. There are those customers who want variety, so they do order from all the different Estonian designers.

So I see no reason to be jealous of someone else. Jealousy gets you nowhere.

After all, if someone is doing well, they are probably working from early morning till late, they have created jobs and hired good people, put in all their savings to the project and so on.

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You emphasize the importance of being from Estonia quite a lot. What do you like most about this country?

Home, family, friends. The nature and the people. I find it appealing that Estonia is so compact. It has helped me create my own cosy world here which I love.

Of course that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to travel and meet people as well!

Do these trips also influence your designs?

Very much so. At the very least I’ll get inspiration for materials when I discover interesting fabric shops.

Lately I have really found inspiration in Istanbul, it is just such a cacophony of cultures there! I always take my notebook with when I travel, with the aim of making sketches like ‘real’ fashion designers, but I never do!

Do you like to watch what people are wearing?

I do when I’m abroad, where people are often more relaxed about what they wear than they are at home in Estonia. For instance in Northern Italy, where people are surrounded by fashion of course, bright colours are the thing. Even the old people wear strident clothes like green trousers and pink sweaters – things which older people in Estonia wouldn’t wear in a million years!

So what do you think about the fashion world’s seeming love affair with the colour black?

Some people do just look really good in black. Theoretically I am one of them, but besides two suits, I don’t actually have anything black in my wardrobe!

[Vogue International Editor] Suzy Menkes wrote a couple of years ago that fashion journalists seemed then to have an unwritten pact to wear black, giving the impression that they were going to a funeral, but nowadays it’s quite normal to see fashion journalists who almost preen and parade themselves at a show rather than covering the collection. Have you noticed this?

Yes that is true! On the one hand it is fun to have young, fresh blood on the scene, but on the other if it means people are wearing a uniform of über-trendy clothes just as much as black used to be.

Personally I can’t stand uniforms, which destroy any personality the person might have!

The coolest dressers it has to be said are models, perhaps unsurprisingly as they are surrounded by style on their day job, though they tend to relax and where more casual stuff when they’re not working – but they still look great!

Do you ever get fed up with the fashion world?

No I don’t! Really!! But at the same time I am not totally consumed by it; for example I don’t follow style.com. I do buy the Italian Vogue, but I generally like what I do and I am afraid that it would spoil my taste if I saw other people’s collections too much and even subconsciously let them influence my designs.

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But of course trends are still in the air even if you don’t visit fairs or shows – colours are either in or they aren’t and tend to predominate in everyone’s collections anyway.

Jean Paul Gaultier has said that there is nothing more interesting than bad taste. Do you agree with him?

No, not really. People tuned into good taste are very interesting. The role of the designer is to make a person look and feel fabulous – this is something more based on emotions than anything else.

Thanks to my partner Tanel (Veenre), I am heavily involved in the world of jewellery which is ironically where I see the most interesting fashion designs.

People at these shows see their clothes as a backdrop to either their personality or the jewellery being modelled – pretty much the inverse of the fashion world, and I don’t really like the latter approach.

Yves Saint Laurent put ladies into tuxedos, Coco Chanel freed them from the corset. Are there any more fashion revolutions on the horizon?

Nothing new has been invented for a long time. That said, I think that the development of materials mimics that of smartphones. If this trend continues we may reach a situation where winter jackets vary their thickness with the temperature, things like that.

But will these garments then transform into an evening gown, for instance?

No, probably not! But an evening gown which changes colour − that may be feasible in future.

What motivates you at work?

A good mood. Really  ̶  don’t laugh! I have not always been such a jolly person, but due to one chronic inherited illness, which manifests itself in depression, I know what pain it is, and so I have learned to avoid depression. I just block it out altogether.

What about life beyond the fashion world?

I like interior design. I also used to love gardening but we never really get the chance to make it to our summer house. And spending time with my friends, of course. That is one of the most important things, I trust and confide in my friends and they return the favour.

Can you name one star of stage and screen who you would love to design a Red Carpet outfit for?

I have always really liked the British actress Tilda Swinton – making something for her would be awesome. But here in Estonia … I have already designed for most celebrities actually.

And whenever there are new cool musicians, actors etc. breaking on to the scene and who you want to meet, you end up meeting them the week after in any case! Just another advantage to Estonia’s compact size!

Finally, is there anything in fashion history which you would like to have invented yourself?

No, really not. As I implied, I don’t have the jealousy gene at all.

OK let’s put it this way, has anything already been invented by someone else which you couldn’t live without?

Pins! Honestly! Without them the world would be a much less convenient place…

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Aldo Järvsoo

Born on 5 December, 1976 in Tallinn.

Studied fashion design at the Estonian Academy of Arts.

In 2009, founded the Embassy of Fashion together with Estonian fashion designers Ketlin Bachmann and Riina Põldroos.

Founder and board member of Estonian Union of Fashion Design.

Creative director at Tallinn Fashion Week.

Has participated in about 50 fashion shows and exhibitions in Estonia, Finland, Sweden Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, Portugal, Russia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Most significant awards: Annual award of the Estonian Union of Folk Arts and Handicrafts (2010), Kuldnõel award for Best Estonian Fashion Designer 2008 (2009), Grand Prix at fashion design competition ‘Supernoova’ (2005 and 2006), 1st place at Smirnoff Fashion Awards 98 Estonian pre-round (1998), best young fashion designer – Väike Nõel (1998), 1st place at competitions for young fashion designers in 1994-1995.

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Cover: Aldo Järvsoo. Photos by Tanel Veenre.

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