Ending just this Tuesday, Estonian Music Week had a very successful six day run from May 24th to May 29th. Excellent Estonian talent and musicianship was at the forefront and was showcased throughout the many unique events presented during the festival. From Gregorian chant and early polyphony to alternative or indie rock and shoegaze, there was something present for all music tastes and age groups during Estonian Music Week (EMW).
EMW began with a classy bang at the opening reception at none other than the famous Yorkville haunt Sassafraz on May 24th. The presenting sponsor for the reception was the Estonian-Canadian Women’s Alumni Association. Tiina Kiik’s virtuosity on the accordion in combination with Roosi Lindau’s sultry vocals made for a great café and mingling atmosphere for the beginning of the festival. The pair has been working together for quite a few years and shares a love for French cabaret music and chansons. Present at the reception were various Estonian musicians such as Erki Pärnoja, Sander Mölder and some of the members from the group Pia Fraus among others. Kerli Kõiv, who has made a very substantial name for herself in the North American and international music scene, was also present with her ethereal and captivating aura, graciously speaking with many of the guests. For those who aren’t aware, Kerli was the designated ambassador of the entire EMW festival and attended many of the events. An added bonus to the joyous mood was the rare chance to see Jazz.FM91 host Jaymz Bee breaking into dance with one of EMW’s publicists Linda Litwack to the tune of an uplifting and fast-paced polka. Both the festival director Piret Noorhani and Canadian artistic director Toomas Treumuth offered their respective warm greetings and well wishes for the festival. I can say with confidence that the opening reception at Sassafraz was the perfect way to start off the festival.
Following the reception, the first concert of the week was a walking distance away from Sassafraz, at the Church of the Redeemer. A beautiful and unique venue, it served as an excellent space, acoustically, for the Avarus ensemble featuring Martin Kuuskmann and Kara-Lis Coverdale, as well as Sander Mölder. Estonian artistic director for the festival, Virgo Sillamaa, had the chance to offer his well wishes and greetings for EMW and partially introduce the Avarus ensemble. Candian artistic director Toomas Treumuth acted as the emcee for the night. Avarus ensemble offered a fantastical and highly talented musical experience and soundscape, the addition of internationally-acclaimed bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann was a very welcome and excellent addition to the ensemble’s lineup. Sander Mölder added to the ethereality and modernity of the night through the use of his DJ-ing and programming skills. Many new pieces were showcased during the night, among them works by the ensemble’s bassist Mingo Rajandi, the group’s clarinetist and bass clarinetist Meelis Vind, and by Estonian-Canadian young composer and musician Kara-Lis Coverdale. The second act of the night, Justin Gray & Synthesis, offered a captivating and unique world music atmosphere to close off the night. An impromptu collaboration between Meelis Vind and the group was also very warmly received and showcased the improvisational skills of both Vind and members of the ensemble. The concert was presented by the Estonian Arts Centre.
The next day, May 25th, featured a music industry seminar at Tartu College where various industry professionals and Canadian and Estonian musicians could communicate and build bridges in a casual atmosphere. Among the acclaimed panelists were Gary Furniss, President of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada, Kerli, Estonian singer, songwriter, record producer and visual artist, Dominique Zgarka, president of Koch Entertainment Canada and Senior Vice President of Product Development for North America atC Entertainment One Music, and Cyrus Saidi, writer, director, and producer. The moderator for the seminar was Marcus Tamm, a fellow Estonian-Canadian who spent two decades working at Universal Music Canada and more recently deals with freelance writing on a variety of topics and lecturing on his knowledge and experience of music publicity.
The same night, EMW offered a chance for the younger crowd , and for all who wanted to have a good time, at Lee’s Palace. The presenting sponsor for the event was the Estonian Credit Union, who offered many chances to win great prizes throughout the duration of the social occasion.The night was filled with a star-studded lineup of popular and well-known Estonian talent. The lineup consisted of six bands including: Canadian act Diana, Canadian-Estonian acts The Leslie Spits and Kaili Kinnon, and Estonian acts Erki Pärnoja and Pia Fraus. On his second of two nights performing at the EMW, DJ Sander Mölder provided an energetic and fitting atmosphere between sets with his excellent choice of music and jockeying skills. Kaili Kinnon began the night with her sultry and velvet-like voice, accompanied by a full band which made for a fully wholesome and captivating experience. Both Erki Pärnoja and Pia Fraus created a dream-like and transcendent experience with their respective musical styles, indie/instrumental and dream pop/shoegaze. Diana kept up the energy of the crowd with their quirky and unique synthpop flavour and The Leslie Spits brought the night to a close on a great and high-energy note with their indie rock infused music. Kerli was, again, seen mingling and taking pictures with various attendees and taking the time to write personalized notes to adoring fans. Acting as partial emcee for the night was the President of the Board of Directors for the Estonian Credit Union, Ellen Valter, who also periodically announced the prize winners.
Saturday, May 26th served as the gala night for EMW starting off with a reception for the Estonian Prime Minister Mr. Jüri Ratas, presented by the Estonian Ambassador to Canada Gita Kalmet. Many of the participants of the festival were in attendance at the reception. A fascinating and informative pre-concert talk was also offered, where three of the highly-talented musicians taking part in the concert, Maarja Nuut, HH, or Hendrik Kaljujärv, and Jaan-Eik Tulve, director of Vox Clamantis, were featured and said a few words about their music. It was also possible to view the informative Arvo Pärt exhibition before the concert, which has now moved to Tartu College for further display. The Executive Director of Performing Arts for the Conservatory, Mervon Mehta, praised the collaboration between EMW and the 21C Music Festival and offered warm well wishes for both festivals.The concert itself was incredible, with Maarja Nuut and HH taking the audience into a dream-like state with their hypnotizing and unique collaboration. Vox Clamantis, under the direction of Jaan-Eik Tulve, showed extraordinary command and grasp of Gregorian chant and early polyphony. Many of Arvo Pärt’s works were featured in the program, as well as pieces by Helena Tulve, Cyrillus Kreek, Pérotin, and David Lang. It was an honour to have Mr. Ratas and Ms. Kalmet grace the concert with their presence.This night would not have been possible without the excellent partnership with the Royal Conservatory of Music and in collaboration with the Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival. Post-concert, attendees flocked to Tartu College for a casual afterparty at which young piano virtuoso and composer Erik Kreem performed some of his excellent personal works.
The fourth night of the festival, on May 27th, took place at Hugh’s Room Live and showcased incredible Canadian, Canadian-Estonian, and Estonian jazz and contemporary musicians. Artistic directors Toomas Treumuth and Virgo Sillamaa, as well as Linda Turu on behalf of the venue, acted as emcees for the night. The event was completely sold out and the atmosphere was buzzing with absolutely tangible energy and excitement. Kaili Kinnon performed for a second night with a more acoustic set featuring guitarist Alex Purcell. Again, her silky and sultry voice captivated and drew in the listeners. Well-known jazz vocalist Elizabeth Shepherd injected the audience with infectious energy and groove, and had many heads bopping along enthusiastically with her music. The stellar Estonian vocalist Kadri Voorand had the chance to show her truly incredible vocal talent and technique during an energetic and catchy set of music. Accompanying her were Marek Talts on electric guitar, Taavo Remmel on double bass, and Ahto Abner on drums. Upon leaving the venue at the end of the night, many people were heard exclaiming and raving about the massive amount of talent showcased during the night. The presenting sponsor for the night was the Estonian Foundation of Canada.
On May 28th, a select few vocal enthusiasts had the chance to work on their jazz vocal stylings with Kadri Voorand at the Jazz Singing Workshop that took place at Tartu College. The workshop had several areas of focus, among them: creating original ideas, voice as a physical movement, and lyrics used as a tool to work with original sound. Participants gleaned a wealth of information and techniques from the stunning Kadri and her musical experience and talents.
Later on that day, EMW offered the opportunity to see two jazz and contemporary greats from Estonia and Canada in action; Kristjan Randalu and his trio, and Genevieve Marentette with acclaimed jazz guitarist Ted Quinlan. The presenting sponsors for the night were the Estonian Relief Committee in Canada, the Estonian Central Council in Canada, and the Estonian Scouts & Guides in Canada. An added special bonus was the guest host for the event, none other than Jazz.FM91 host and man of many talents, Jaymz Bee. The pair of Marentette and Quinlan had a visible and tangible chemistry and Genevieve’s resonant and magical voice created a n atmosphere tinged with romance and sultriness. Kristjan Randalu’s flighty fingers and cool, calm nature made his complex and marvellously syncopated melodies seem effortless. Mats Eilertsen on the double bass and Markku Ounaskari on the drums were a perfect accompaniment to Kristjan’s playing.
And then the final night of the festival arrived, May 29th. To close off EMW with a righteous bang, two incredible acts, Quartetto Gelato and Estonian Voices performed at the well-known and suitable venue Lula Lounge. The closing event’s presenting sponsor was the Estonian Foundation of Canada. Estonian Voices lulled the audience into a state of amazement with their precise, harmonious and genre-spanning style. Quartetto Gelato certainly lived up to everyone’s expectations with their multi-talented and incredibly skilled musicians who created a casual, yet captivating atmosphere. Festival director Piret Noorhani offered her words of thanks and gratitude to EMW’s partners, sponsors, collaborators, and patrons. Canadian artistic director Toomas Treumuth and Estonian artistic director Virgo Sillamaa both shared words of thanks and acted as emcees for Quartetto Gelato and Estonian Voices respectively. Festival administrator Marika Mayfield said words of thanks to Piret Noorhani for her perseverance and incredible work ethic.
This festival would not have been possible without the incredible partners, collaborators, sponsors, and patrons that aided in the festival coming to fruition. EMW would like to thank major partners Avarus, The Royal Conservatory, Bloor Street Culture Corridor, Now Magazine, The WholeNote, Jazz .FM91, Estonian Life, Sassafraz, Lyft, and Go Travel. A huge thanks also goes out to our generous sponsors: Estonia 100 (main sponsor), Estonian Studies Centre/VEMU (main sponsor), Estonian Foundation of Canada, Estonian Credit Union, Estonian government, Estonian Arts Centre, Tartu College, Toronto Arts Council, Estonian Canadian Women’s Alumni Association, Estonian Central Council, Estonian Relief Committee/Ehatare, Estonian Scouts and Guides in Canada, and Estonian Embassy in Ottawa. More thanks go out to the Royal Conservatory of Music’s 21C Music Festival for working in collaboration with EMW to help bring Vox Clamantis, Maarja Nuut and HH to Koerner Hall. Thanks also go out to the various donors and patrons that contributed to EMW: Vaike Külvet, Estonian Ecumenical Relief Organization, Estonian National Culture Foundation, Estonian Authors’ Society, Ellen & Peeter Kaju, Vello Ehvert, Tõnu Altosaar, Anita Genua, Toomas Heinsoo, Enn Kuuskne, Lisa Lindström, Talvi Maimets, Elle and Tõnu Orav, Karin Rannala, Estonian Centre, Holmberg/Watson Business & Estate Lawyers, VII Designs + Gifts. EMW would like to say a huge thank you to all of the volunteers who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the festival and participants proceeded smoothly and without a hitch.
Of course, organizing this festival and bringing it to fruition would not have been possible without the fabulous and hard-working festival committee who put in long hours over a few years for this festival to see the light. The biggest thank you of all to: Festival Director Piret Noorhani, Estonian Artistic Director Virgo Sillamaa, Canadian Artistic Director Toomas Treumuth, Linda Litwack and Marcus Tamm dealing with media, Reet-Lindau Voksepp and Hendrik Riik who took care of logistics, administrator Marika Mayfield, Toomas Kütti for handling sponsorships, program editor Anne Remmel, social media expert Peter G. Goral, committee assistants Kati Kiilaspea and Kaili Kinnon, graphic designer Jaan Kittask, Anne Tõnisson, Linda Turu and Derek Andrews who helped with booking Canadian acts for the festival. Thank you to every single member of the team for aiding EMW in becoming the successful festival it was. Stay tuned for the next festival dates-the next one will be even bigger and better!
Kati Kiilaspea, Toronto