Estonia’s first baroque pipe organ will be heard in Tartu

As Tartu campaigns to become the European Capital of Culture in 2024, the medieval St John’s Church – the town’s oldest concert site – plans to build an authentic baroque pipe organ featuring the traditional sound of its time; this will be the first of its kind in Estonia.

St John’s Church is an important tourist destination and concert venue in Tartu, according to Paul Mägi, the conductor of the Vanemuine Symphony Orchestra (the oldest orchestra in Tartu – editor) and a supporter of the project. “A new baroque organ will enliven the international music scene in Tartu, and bring in world-renowned organists, early music festivals and master classes. Along with the romantic-symphonic organ of St Paul’s Church, this will put Tartu on the map of Europe’s quality pipe organs,” he says.

Mägi adds that the construction of a baroque organ is a great opportunity for today’s generation to be a part of history and to add to the significance of the Gothic brick church, already known for its terracotta sculptures.

A historic opportunity opens a door

On a dark November night in 2015, the organist at St John’s Church, Elke Unt, received a phone call from Germany. The caller was a gentleman who wished to donate €100,000 towards the building of a new organ. This generous gift re-energised the project, stalled in 2005 due to lack of funds.

“The renewed spirit of hope brought together organ experts from Poland, Finland and Germany, and the decision was made to build a baroque organ in our church,” Unt recalls.

“Because of the gentleman’s initial involvement and private donation, a historic opportunity will be realised as fundraising doesn’t have to start from the beginning,” Unt says, and adds that along with the symphonic organ in St Paul’s Church, Tartu will be, for the first time since the Second World War, a city proud of its special pipe organs.

The total cost of the organ is €700,000 and fundraising will rely on patience and goodwill.

A baroque cake to honour the organ

Some local companies have already manifested their goodwill. One of them is Gustav Gastro, a bakery with cafes in Tartu and Tallinn. Gustav Gastro’s head confectioner, Õie Pritson, created a one-of-a-kind cake for Tartu’s citizens to enjoy. It’s not known whether any master baker has ever dedicated their artistry to an organ before, but it is happening now in this town – the handcrafted baroque-organ cake can be enjoyed at the popular Werner and Gustav cafes.

The confectioner has added musical touches to the entire recipe. She has promised a harmonious blend of chocolate, pistachio and raspberries, along with a tone of herbal liqueur from a Normandy monastery. A sprinkling of gold and silver decorate the cake.

Pritson believes the way to the heart is through the stomach. In building the organ and listening to its sounds, good taste and style are also important. “We hope the pleasurable experience of eating this cake will inspire Tartu’s dessert-lovers and visitors to support the creation of this unique, culturally significant organ,” Pritson says.

The wheels are in motion 

In Estonia, the saying goes that what’s hard to get moving is later unstoppable. Activities in support of the organ project are slowly getting underway, and the goal is to complete the construction by 2024.

The baroque instrument’s traditional sound will be modelled after a restored 18th century organ in Gdansk, Poland, built by renowned organ builder Andreas Hildebrandt.

The Tartu St John’s Church Foundation has begun an enormous task. A fund has been established for the organ project which will accept donations. Musicians are organising benefit concerts and donors can also “adopt a pipe” – a gift which will resound beautifully for centuries.

Plans have been drawn for the 32-register, over 1,500-pipe organ.


Cover: A sketch of the proposed baroque pipe organ in the St John’s Church.

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