After the disappointment of the 28th Viljandi Folk Music Festival being postponed from 2020 to 2021, it was a relief for festivalgoers to hear that, as of June 28th, the festival would be going ahead, albeit with some reduction in size. With increased vaccination and the falling of infection rates, it was deemed possible to hold an event where up to 5,000 people could visit each day.
From Thursday July 22nd until Sunday July 25th, 41 acts will perform on stages among the town and old castle ruins of Viljandi. Concert access is given through the purchase of four day passes and one day passes.
Several names on the roster will be familiar to followers of Estonian Music Week, like Puuluup and Naised Köögis. Duo Ruut, who were spoken about within the pages of Eesti Elu last year, will be making an appearance. NOËP will even be sharing his own take on the songs of Estonian folk artists.
Some new faces are appearing, however, like Ansambel Pärlin. These four musicians come from different regions of Estonia (Tartu County, Lääne-Viru County, and Harju County) but are united wherever shows and recording sessions take them, by an appreciation of folk from all over the world.
In the group, Sofia-Liis Kose plays fiddle, Kert Krüsban plays squeezebox and accordion, Alex Verlin plays guitar, and Felix Verlin plays double bass. Plus, they all sing at various points.
I believe it when Ansambel Pärlin say they are, most of all, a group of friends. You can see it in the way they gather around, writing and arranging songs together in a cozy living room setting. One can tell very quickly when artists are taking an organic approach to what they do. Information is relayed by mere eye contact. Smiles are genuine. There's a looseness to their playing, where each musician trusts their fellows to catch them and interact in the undulations of a song.
Though Ansambel Pärlin have been together for just two years, they have been perfecting their craft in different configurations leading up to now. For instance, Kert Krüsban has been in a duo with violinist Maria Mänd, performing together on ETV.
There is a fantastic video online, produced by Backstage Records Estonia, that shows Ansambel Pärlin playing in front of the wooden beams of St. Catherine's Church in Tallinn. Among the setlist's pieces is a traditional song from Kuusalu, two Siberian Estonian songs, a traditional Irish piece, and also a tune by Danish folk trio Dreamer's Circus. They create vigorous bouts of music that will make you want to shimmy and stomp your feet to the bass and accordion rhythms and jubilant melodies bounced between the fiddle and guitar. But then they also bring out soft pieces, like “Tere õhtust, armas tütarlaps,” that you could sway to like a swing on a porch at the end of summer.
Something is flowing when this quartet plays, and for that reason, I look forward to hearing the original songs that will make their way onto Ansambel Pärlin's debut album.
Up until June 2021, the band have been recording the album in Tallinn, and have used crowdfunding (shorturl.at/glBT0) so that they can get physical albums out to listeners. Like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, it's a system where advanced contributions are rewarded with things like premium seats, credit on the record itself, band merch, or even a private concert.
On the hooandja.ee page they set up for this crowdfunding push, they've written about their sound very descriptively, as if their approach comes from a cookbook: “1 teaspoon of violin”, “1 tablespoon of guitar”, a “ripe accordion”, and “3/4 double bass.” The last “ingredient” is as much a measurement of the tonal balance of their band as it is a little joke about the 3/4 scale of bassist Felix Verlin's instrument. They're specialists in their field after all! “Thyme or Scandinavian music” can be sprinkled on top of their songs and “Crispy Irish or Balkan melodies” eaten on the side.
Estonia's folk scene is an ever-growing, interconnected network of artists who are reflecting their ideas around. So it's appropriate that the theme of Viljandi Folk Music Festival in 2021 is “Kokkumäng” (with an English language version being shared as “In Harmony”). Ansambel Pärlin are in harmony with this network, swept up by an irresistible genre that speaks to the core of our beings.
Written by Vincent Teetsov, Toronto