Estonian culture in the world

Estonian literary classic Truth and Justice to be published in English

An Estonian literary classic, Anton Hansen Tammsaare’s “Truth and Justice” is going to be published in English for the first time.

While Estonia has in the last few years become internationally better known for its musical heritage, its literature is almost unheard of – simply because so little has been published in English, the most universally spoken language in the world. But the good news is that this is about to change.

The last few years have seen some books by Jaan Kross being published in the UK and the US. The Estonian folklore epic, “Kalevipoeg”, has been recently translated into English for the second time by Estonian-Australian Triinu Kartus. Novelists Mati Unt and Toomas Vint have been finally discovered by Anglo-American publisher Dalkey Archive Press. Young poet Kristiina Ehin – in recent times the most successful Estonian poet abroad – was recently touring Canada and the US, presenting her poetry and stories in English. Thanks to her translator, Ilmar Lehtpere, twelve of her books have been published in English. There’s also a mission underway to translate the work of Marie Under – Estonia’s most influential poet – into English. Now, the Stockholm-based Haute Culture Books is planning to put to print Anton Hansen Tammsaare’s “Truth and Justice”.


Haute Culture Books is a publishing start-up founded by French-Portuguese novelist Luis de Miranda, whose connection to Estonia goes back some time – a few years ago he finished his last novel in Estonia, published in France under the title “Qui a tué le poète?”. After completing his novel, de Miranda wanted to pay homage to the land that inspired him and thought that the best way to do it would be to translate an Estonian literary classic into English. “I first thought of translating Karl Ristikivi, but then Ilvi Liive of the Estonian Literature Centre told me about Tammsaare. I read the book in French and felt it was of universal importance. I also found it very strange that Tammsaare’s “Truth and Justice” had yet to be translated into English, hence my choice,” said de Miranda who despite now living in Stockholm claims to have retained a certain physical, as well as a spiritual closeness to Estonia.

De Miranda’s first goal is to publish “Andres and Pearu”, the first autonomous volume of “Truth and Justice”. “Some Tammsaare specialists told me he wrote it as an independent story, without thinking he would write further volumes. The first edition of “Truth and Justice”, volume 1, does not say “volume 1” on the cover. The subtitle we have chosen for it is “Andres and Pearu”. One only needs to call two men “Andres and Pearu” for any Estonian to understand the nature of their relationship,” de Miranda explained.

Although there are certainly a number of Estonians who think that “Truth and Justice” lacks universal appeal, de Miranda disagrees.

“Many Estonians think this is a book about Estonia and is of no interest to the rest of the world. I believe that to be an insult to the genius of Tammsaare. Any serious writer writes for what he believes to be the universal reader. For example, although it seems deeply rooted in Estonian peasant life, the first volume deals with timeless literary and philosophical issues, developing a vigorous, straightforward narrative that addresses the dual nature of the human psyche,” de Miranda elaborated.


“Volume 1 presents life in an Estonian village, as farmers battle against nature during the last quarter of the 19th century. The two main characters, both unique and powerful men, represent the essential conflicts of human nature: not only good vs evil, but also hope vs conservatism and conquest vs pettiness. The saga explores how human impulses compete with each other and complete the characters. Although the first volume seems entirely dedicated to peasant life in rural Estonia at the threshold of modernity, the book deals with fundamental issues that are quite relevant today. “Truth and Justice” is a story of simple people who work the land endlessly, striving to build a world were truth and justice prevail, where good is fostered and protected, not killed by conformity or lack of courage. Beautiful things grow slowly like plants. Perhaps this is a lesson for all the speedy capitalists of the world and to people who no longer believe in patient hard work for the sake of truth and beauty.”

Despite the scepticism of some, Haute Culture Books’ mission has also already found plenty of approval from Estonia and beyond – the Tammsaare Museum, Estonian Ministry of Culture, National Library of Estonia, Tartu University Library and Stanford University Library in the US have all thrown their support behind the project.

De Miranda’s plan is to publish limited exclusive editions of up to 500 hardcopies of the book, and in turn these would finance the distribution of thousands of e-books for free.

But De Miranda needs more support to accomplish this mission. “Despite the moral support of many, we also need extra financial support to publish it, which is why we have turned for Hooandja and Kickstarter to raise funds. In our model, people subscribe to the book by pre-ordering it. These benefactors or ‘Book Angels’ sponsor the limited art edition for three reasons: they’ll receive one copy for themselves, they’ll have their name acknowledged in the book and finally they’ll allow the digital edition to be distributed for free. We need Book Angels to allow Tammsaare to receive the editorial justice I believe he deserves,” de Miranda explained. is proud to support such a great initiative of presenting Estonian cultural heritage and is encouraging our readers and followers to help take “Truth and Justice” to the world stage. You can support this project on Hooandja (in Estonian).


Truth and Justice

Truth and Justice I-V, written in 1926–1933, is a pentalogy by Anton Hansen Tammsaare (1878-1940), considered to be his most famous work, and one of the foundational works in Estonian literature. Tammsaare’s social epic captured the evolution of Estonia from Tsarist province to independent state. It was based partly on the author’s own life and centered on the contrast between the urban middle class and hard-working peasantry.

The book series can be seen as a thorough overview of developments of Estonian society from about 1870 to about 1930; it presents an epic panorama of both the rural and urban societies of that era. Tammsaare’s primary conception was that under the then-applicable conditions, reaching a harmony of both truth and justice is impossible, and thus, while many characters will seek it, none will reach this destination.


Cover photo: Anton Hansen Tammsaare’s former farm house, now a museum, in Järvamaa, Estonia.

From Syria to Saaremaa – Estonian artist Igor Ziko in search of the “Force”

Igor Ziko is a freelance interior designer and artist from Tallinn, Estonia. His work has been shown in numerous galleries in Tallinn, and most recently in the Toompea castle where Estonia’s parliament assembles. His current solo exhibition, “Waiting for Borea”, at the New York Estonian House will be on display through the first week of January 2014.

The series of pastel drawings offer a unique look at the Estonian nature, which seems to magically pop out of a dark Nordic night. Kris Lillemets visited the exhibition in New York and reached out to Ziko with a few questions on his art, choice of places and technique.

Could you tell us about the technique you are using in the “Waiting for Borea” series?

I chose pastel drawing as the medium for the series depicting Estonia because it’s the fastest and most convenient way of painting in nature as much as possible. I wanted to avoid messing around with paint and brushes in the cold wind. Black art paper as a surface adds a certain effect I have always loved.

During the process, I have realised that the best way of describing the Nordic nature is to lay the colours out in tonal order from dark to light. Such way of creating light from darkness is also a characteristic way of picturing every living being in the canon of orthodox icon painting. Pastel also adds a texture which allows for a more precise feel of the exact metaphysics of light vibrations. It is as if the light is using its last bit of strength to gain ground from the darkness.

Why did you choose these particular places to depict?

In recent years, I have tried to use every opportunity to be in locations I define to myself as “Places with Force”. The origin of my landscape painting dates back a few years to my being in the Middle East. While creating the “Syria. Lebanon” series, I realised I had captured an extremely important and paradoxical analogy between the vast gravel desert plains of Syria and Estonia’s pebbly coastlines – neither of them invites you to enjoy yourself and relax, but rather to get to the nature of things. I saw these landscapes as true philosophers’ paradise, where there is no casual lingering but plenty of majestic peace.


The series “Waiting for Borea” is part of an expanding cycle. Waiting are some Estonian islands, Nordkapp (the northernmost tip of Norway), Karjala, Spitzbergen. The series began two years ago with twelve pieces named “Rough draft of Saaremaa”.

Does Saaremaa have a lot of “Force” for you?

Saaremaa is probably one of the few places where the Being (Heidegger’s “Dasein”) shows itself – junipers growing on the rocks, the cool sun, the horizon on the sea reminding us that the way to the end of the Earth begins right here.

It is there where I realised that nature can choose me, instead of me choosing it. My part would only be to register the encounter. I used to drive around the island for hours before understanding to simply stop and bring my attention to a detail in the landscape or watch the shadows play on a seemingly unrevealing field.


I never set out to draw beautiful views, and none of these places bear geographical significance nor is a tourist magnet. My goal was rather to find the Logos, which would remind me (and the audience) the true meaning of being – a presence, as part of nature, not as a bit of civilisation’s garbage.

How would you place your art in today’s context?

We are living through a phase of a post-post society obsessed by overabundance of news and information. People are no longer capable of objectively making sense of not only secondary, but also critical information. The news are packaged and distributed wholesale. A new form of experiencing reality emerges.

In many cases, strange things are also happening to contemporary art. Art is like a fancy designer product which reception and sales are the better the more it represents the author’s thoughts than is a result of an act of creation. This brings on a war between thoughts and pseudo thoughts and the piece itself tends to remain in the background.

In that context, my searching would rather fall under the classical genres.

My pieces are hard to interpret – one cannot plant subcontexts in them, therefore they are also hard to misunderstand. They contain little conjunctural reflections and are easily acceptable. Rather than plunging into himself, the author investigates by looking around. And what he is seeing is simple and beautiful.


Igor Ziko’s solo exhibition “Waiting for Borea” at the New York Estonian House will be on display through the first week of January 2014.

An ode to verivorstid

Sappho gave us Ode to Aphrodite. Beethoven composed the musical setting for Ode to Joy. John Keats praised a songbird in Ode to a Nightingale. But seemingly nobody has paid poetic homage to those odd little Estonian verivorstid (blood sausages). And frankly, that’s a tragedy.*

Traditionally the centrepiece of the Estonian Christmas Eve meal, verivorstid are a mixture of pork, barley, animal blood, and spices. The filling is stuffed in casings and the links are boiled until firm and then roasted to a crispy crimson black. A rather unique treat, they deserve a bookmark in poetic lore. So with all apologies to the masters, let’s recognise these Estonian oddities with an Ode to Verivorstid.


Verivorstid, verivorstid you are so very

Dear to me on each Christmas Eve

Such a treat next to the lingonberry

Without you a Yule I could not conceive

Best washed down with a Saku brew

‘Cause suds so complement your spices

To verivorstid I pledge my love anew

Truly, you are one of my vices


And so I ask, what Christmas fool would eat plain ol’ ham

Instead of barley, cow blood, and marjoram


My verivorstid epiphany, when I realised what those freakish little links were truly about, occurred one early December morning in my childhood. Leaving my toys behind to fetch a drink, innocent and unaware, I wandered into the kitchen. And there they were: my mother, godmother and grandmother had gathered around the table. Three ladies, with blood-coated hands and blood-splattered aprons, mixing some unknown concoction in a small tub. Kitchen utensils, gleaming on one end and dripping gore from another, lay scattered like a surgeon’s tools in an operating room. The witches of wurst carefully added ingredients and stirred their mysterious stock.

My first reaction – there had been a murder. No, an accident. No, definitely a murder. How else to explain all the blood everywhere coupled with the blatant lack of concern. Why wasn’t anyone calling an ambulance?

Stifling a scream, I watched. One lady would stretch a flat hog casing over the small end of a funnel. Another would hold the funnel steady against the slip of a bloody hand. The third accomplice would pack the other end of the funnel with the sausage filling, slowly stuffing the intestinal wrapper. An assembly line most macabre, like some sort of low-budget Henry Ford inspired horror movie.

For many years, I was ruined. No verivorstid on my Christmas Eve plate. I would pass over the serving platter with a suspicious eye. Potatoes, yes. Sliced pork, sure. Pirukad (pies), bring them on. Bovine hemoglobinwurst, no thank you. And so it went – me with a conspicuously empty spot on my plate, and my parents assuredly wondering if their Estonian child had been switched at birth with some southern European.

But years later, after much soul searching and a convenient mental block of that dreadful December day in my childhood kitchen, I came around. It probably started with a nibble. Maybe a small forkful followed by a long drink from my glass, later progressing to timid helpings. Enthusiastic mouthfuls and requests for seconds followed later still.

Blood saugages with sauerkraut and lingonberry jam
Verivorstid with sauerkraut and lingonberry jam.

Today, I look forward to verivorstid. I typically get at least two helpings, one at our local Estonian clubhouse Christmas party and another on a cold and dark Christmas Eve. I feel a connection to the old country when the oven opens and the sausages appear, bursting and charred, under a layer of crispy bacon. In an instant I can imagine peasants of yore, culinarily efficient and creative, not wanting to waste any part of the animal. I am transported back in time, to a farmhouse in Elva, and I embrace the scene, grab my fork, and acknowledge both my appetite and my ancestry.

It’s always fun to explain this tradition to my friends with roots in other parts of the world. They typically ask a few questions about taste and texture. Some ask about the source of the blood. Others ask for more information about the sausages’ history. None ever ask to be invited over for a sample.

And then there are my vegetarian and vegan friends. When exchanging stories of Christmas traditions the reaction to verivorstid is not quite revulsion, but something pretty close. What’s one to do though? I suppose a vegetarian recipe for blood sausages could be concocted. But as I’m sure true verivorstid enthusiasts would agree, soy sausages infused with a beet juice reduction and served under a layer of tofu bacon just wouldn’t cut it.

So this Christmas Eve, sing the “Ode to Verivorstid” before enjoying a plate full of Estonian blood sausage links. They are as much a part of the holiday as Christmas Eve mass, jolly fat guys in fuzzy red suits and decorated felled trees.

But be forewarned – as the old saying goes, sausages are like laws, you should never watch either being made.

Häid jõule kõigile! (Merry Christmas to all!)


Photos: Visit Estonia and Wikimedia Commons. * Please note that this article was originally published on 23 December 2013.

A song written by Estonian artist Kerli becomes UK’s Christmas number one single (video)

“Skyscraper“, a song originally written by the Estonian recording artist Kerli Kõiv with Toby Gad and Lindy Robbins in 2011, and in 2013 re-recorded and sung by British singer Sam Bailey, has become the Christmas No. 1 in the United Kingdom.

Photo by Vespertine aka Brian Ziff

The battle for Christmas number one is traditionally fiercely fought in Britain and the media anticipation in the weeks leading to Christmas is high.

“Skyscraper” was originally co-written and recorded by Kerli, before her songwriting partner Toby Gad offered it to American recording artist Demi Lovato in 2011. It debuted at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in July that year. In December 2013, Sam Bailey, the “X Factor series 10” winner in the UK, released her cover version of “Skyscraper” after she won. On 22 December 2013 it became the UK’s Christmas No. 1 single, with 149,000 copies sold.

According to Kerli, the song was inspired by a picture of the apocalypse, in which the world was in ruins and among collapsed buildings, one skyscraper was still standing.

The song is a ballad and the lyrics speak of staying strong and believing in oneself. Kerli has previously revealed that the song is also personal to her, stating, “I come from a very small place in Eastern Europe, so my whole life has kind of been one big fight to live my dream against all odds. But I think it’s hard to be a human in general – we all have our own struggles and things to overcome. You can hit the lowest low and face the darkest dark, but you can always get back up and get in the light.”

See the official UK Top 40 single chart here.


Featured video: Kerli talks about writing “Skyscraper”.

Cover photo courtesy of Kerli.

Pärt, Kaljuste, Järvi among the nominees of the Grammy Awards 2014 (video)

Composer Arvo Pärt and conductors Neeme Järvi and Tõnu Kaljuste are among the nominees of the Grammy Awards 2014.

Arvo Pärt cycling

Composer Arvo Pärt’s album “Adam’s Lament” has been nominated in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category. Recorded with Pärt’s active participation in the resonant 13th-century church of St. Nicholas in Tallinn, that surrounds the singing with a hazy echo, the album conveys a feeling of partaking of ancient religious rites in a sacred space. At the beginning of the year, the BBC chose Adam’s Lament as its recording of the month for January 2013.

Conductor Tõnu Kaljuste has been nominated in the Best Choral Performance category for his work on Arvo Pärt’s “Adam’s Lament”, which was recorded with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Sinfonietta Riga, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the Latvian Radio Choir and the Vox Clamantis ensemble.

Conductor Neeme Järvi has been nominated in the Best Orchestral Performance category for “Atterberg: Orchestral Works Vol. 1”, recorded with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and in the Best Choral Performance category for “Parry: Works For Chorus & Orchestra” – recorded with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Chorus Of Wales.

The 56th annual Grammy Awards will be held on 26 January 2014, in Los Angeles, USA.


Book review: Caught between Scylla and Charybdis – “Forest Brothers” by Geraint Roberts

The year is 1944. During the last half-decade, Estonia has been ravaged by the Soviets and the Nazis in almost equal measure. 10,000 people have been deported to a likely death in Siberia by the Soviets and another 10,000 have been killed in Nazi concentration camps. Now the Nazis are fleeing and the Soviets are returning. During World War II, Estonia was, as during its War of Independence, the battleground for these two rival powers – to the west, the Germans, and to the east, the Soviets.


That earlier War of Independence concluded in Estonia’s favour. Britain, having cast itself as protector-in-chief of the Baltic, had, along with White Russians, Latvians, Finns and others, provided much needed support to the Estonians, enabling them to forge 22 years of self-government, if not always democratic government.

It is in Geraint Roberts’ new book, “Forest Brothers”, that this British link is thrust to the fore – it is through British eyes (or, more specifically, Welsh ones) that the story is told. The central protagonist, Huw Williams, scratching out a living as a docker in Wales during the bombing of World War II, finds his past catches up with him – a visit from “a man from the government” reminds him of how he absconded from the Royal Navy in 1918 while serving in Estonia and recruits him for a special job. Williams, speaking good Estonian – “the word is ‘metsavennad’”, he corrects – and knowing the country, semi-reluctantly goes along with the scheme and finds himself kayaking treacherously towards the Estonian coast on a covert mission. He links up with the forest brothers, a band of partisan resistance fighters, and his dangerous journey through a re-remembered Estonia begins to unfold.

The author skilfully runs two stories in parallel, that of Huw and his present day predicament and that of his original introduction to Estonia over twenty years prior, helpfully printed in italic. For the Estonian dialogue, Roberts drops the definite articles (“the” and “a”) as an Estonian, of course, doesn’t use them. “You fight in Russian army now?” asks one, for example. “I thought that an idea would be to drop the definite articles, in order to emphasise the difference between English and Estonian speech. Some people really like it and some people really hate it – it’s rather a marmite issue,” Roberts says. Some people, Estonians perhaps, might find this technique jarring, but, speaking personally, I found it lent a rather realistic accent to the speech of the Estonian characters.

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Geraint Roberts

Roberts’ descriptions of Estonia are spot on and pleasingly match the actualité. This is unsurprising, as he’s visited the country many times and his wife is Estonian. Roberts admits he isn’t a historian but the level of realism in the book is impressive. But what I found most striking about “Forest Brothers” was its characterisation – Roberts manages to bring the characters to life without losing the taciturn and reserved nature of the average Estonian, which is no mean feat. It is the credibility that the main characters possess, especially the Estonians, that is the real strength of the novel. “Forest Brothers” is not only a compelling story of human survival, but an accurate historical narrative depicting the conditions, missions and role of the forest brothers themselves.

“Forest Brothers” is now in its second edition – impressive, considering its niche appeal – and Roberts has a prequel partially completed. It is available via Circaidy Gregory Press, priced at £7.49 + P&P and as an eBook via

Jazz vibes on canvas – Arvo Wichmann’s solo exhibition opens in Berlin

The Estonian Embassy in Berlin is housing an exhibition of paintings by the Berlin-based Estonian jazz photographer and painter Arvo Wichmann.

Born in 1976 in Tallinn, Wichmann’s artistic talent was discovered in his childhood and he went to an art school for children in Tallinn. However, life took a different path for him and he didn’t continue with his art studies to adulthood, although he kept cultivating his talents in art and photography. Wichmann moved to Berlin in 1989 and worked for years as a professional carpenter. In 2002, due to an illness, he was forced to forsake this profession and devoted himself once again to painting and photographing.

By now, he has succeeded at his chosen field and mostly works in Berlin and Zurich at big jazz festivals as an accredited photographer. He has taken pictures of well-known contemporary jazz performers – Al Jarreau, Roy Hargrove, Ingrid Lukas etc. In recent years, Wichmann has been drawn to hyperrealist painting and for the current exhibition, he has created an array of portrait paintings of various jazz musicians.

Wichmann has proven himself as an excellent photo portraitist who depicts the instant emotion of the performer. On his hyperrealistic paintings, the artist uses reflections and glancing surfaces. Jazz icons, like Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Nils Landgren, are pictured.


According to Wichmann, a painting can indicate what a photo cannot. Although showing such qualities of photo medium like concentrated form and momentary, his portraits are not merely accurate images of reality. As a jazz festival photographer, Wichmann wants to capture the spiritual highlight of the musician or the singer. Live performance energy is translated into picture language. Therefore, his portraits are bright-coloured and extremely lively. But they also show the fascinating concentration of musicians, who usually let the music speak for themselves.


These exhibited pictures could actually be decorating the walls of some smoky and dark underground jazz-bar. Saxophone melodies and bass chords would make the images virtually alive. Luckily the opening of Arvo Wichmanns exhibition, “Jazz in Berlin”, at the Estonian Embassy was accompanied by the delicate and joyful performance of Ingrid Lukas – an Estonian jazz singer who also features on one of the portraits. With another vernissage from Wichmann in “JazzCafe Berlin”, this exhibition is a part of the Berlin Jazz Festival official programme.


Arvo Wichmann’s exhibition “Jazz in Berlin” will be open until 15 January 2014, at the Estonian Embassy in Berlin.

Estonian-Georgian film Mandariinid (Tangerines) wins prizes in Germany (video)

The Estonian-Georgian film, Mandariinid (Tangerines), won two prizes at the 62nd International Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival.

The film took home the Special Award of the Jury and the Audience Award; in addition it was named a potential German cinema distribution favourite, the Estonian Film Institute said. The jury was headed by the Hungarian movie director and Academy Award winner, Istvan Szabo.

In October the movie also won two prizes at the 29th Warsaw Film Festival – the Best Director Award and the Audience Award.

Tangerines has been chosen to screen at the International Palm Springs Film Festival in 2014, and it has gathered over 40,000 viewers in Georgia and over 10,000 in Estonia.


The film tells a story that takes place in 1992 during the war in Abkhazia in an Estonian village situated there. In the village, whose residents have fled from war, injured fighters from two opposite sides of the battle front happen to all be staying in the same house of an Estonian. The leading roles are played by Estonian actors Lembit Ulfsak and Elmo Nüganen, and Georgian actors Giorgi Nakhashidze and Mihhail Meskhi.

The film was produced by Estonian film production company Allfilm and Georgian production company Cinema 24.

According to the EstonianWorld film expert, Birgit Drenkhan, Mandariinid has a potential to take Estonian filmmaking to a completely new level. “For me, this film opens a new chapter in the Estonian cinematic history. Mandariinid, although war is always around, is not a war film. War just helps bring out the most important message (as white looks brighter in front of black). The story is about being human and, no matter what, believing in the human kind. The story is balanced, without being too dramatic or brutally funny. A serious subject is dealt with through subtle humour. The director knows psychology and how to manipulate with the viewer, so he takes us to an emotional rollercoaster by making us both laugh and cry. It is also an artistically beautiful movie with nice nature scenes, impressionistic sunsets and close-ups of an old man’s hands making woodwork,” commented Drenkhan.


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

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

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

London Philharmonic Orchestra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cover photo: Tõnu Kaljuste with Arvo Pärt

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

EstDocs 2013: showcasing new filmmaking talent and binding diaspora Estonians (video)

EstDocs 2013, the annual Estonian documentary film festival and competition in Toronto, has come to its conclusion. Already in its 9th year, the festival drew in over 1,500 audience members to witness Estonian filmmaking talent, old and new, on the big screen in venues across the city.

The Jury Award went to Heilika Pikkov’s “Flowers From The Mount Of Olives”, a film about an 82-year-old Estonian nun living a contemplative existence inside a Russian Orthodox convent on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. But the hearts of the audience were won over by “To Breathe As One”, a follow-up to the critically acclaimed documentary “The Singing Revolution” (which won the top prize at EstDocs 2007). “To Breathe As One” depicts Estonia’s most important cultural event, the Song Festival, as seen through the eyes of a children’s choir from Oakland, California, who was invited to perform among 30,000 singers.

EstDocs as a binding link among diaspora Estonians

Film experts in attendance couldn’t stress enough the importance of holding such a festival abroad. “I’m very pleased that EstDocs exists,” said one of the jury members, Kaarel Kuurma from the Estonian Film Institute. “The organisers behind the festival screened ten very diverse documentaries which all represent modern Estonia in some ways. It was great to see a warm audience reception at the festival – I did realise that apart from presenting Estonian filmmaking to foreigners, these kinds of events also unite and build bridges within the local Estonian community.”

The festival’s moderator, Marek Tamm, also emphasised the film festival’s role for connecting Estonians abroad. “One of the challenges that we are currently facing is how to keep the identity alive among the Estonians who have left the country in recent years – the number of which is increasing. How to link and bind them again? I believe that the arts play a very important role in achieving that –and especially film-making. EstDocs is a good example because the documentaries, unlike full movies, are a relatively non-expensive and flexible form of exposing Estonia’s past and present life, and help audiences to be part of it regardless of their physical location.”

Exciting times in Estonian documentary making

According to Kuurma, there are exciting times in Estonian documentary making. “Some of our great old masters in this genre are still active – Andres Sööt, Mark Soosaar, Mati Põldre, Rein Maran. These are the filmmakers who studied their art in Moscow in the 1960s. But they are passing the baton to a younger generation, people who already grew up in independent Estonia. So it is worth mentioning that this year’s EstDocs had five films from debuting Estonian film directors, all born after 1980: Flowers From The Mount Of Olives by Heilika Pikkov, Occupy Your Wall by Peeter Vihma, Pigeons by Kadriann Kibus, Bloodtype by Leeni Linna and Cosmos by Heli Tetlov.”

Kuurma also claims that Estonian documentaries are becoming more global in their approach and this is reflected in the fact that they are increasingly included in programs by international film festivals. “This indicates a quality which will hopefully be firmly cemented by young film-makers. Estonian film directors have a unique position in a sense that we have been living on a cultural crossroad for a long time. We have had many different influences and a complex history, which should give us an opportunity and ability to create strong narratives in our film-making. The best documentary is the one which surprises and moves people and I’m glad that EstDocs offered such films. There’s nothing worse than a documentary that leaves the audience indifferent,” commented Kuurma.

Each year, EstDocs also features a short film competition. These films are usually made by film enthusiasts, but sometimes also include professionals. The winning film this year was Aleksandr Kheyfets’ “Raising Iti“, for its charming and honest portrayal of a couple raising a child in Estonia.



Video: Trailer of “Flowers From The Mount Of Olives” (Heilika Pikkov), the jury prize winner.

Cover photo by C. Nicholas Jones, Bokeh Photography,

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