Estonian Music Days: a history

When exactly the idea of organising the Estonian Music Days was born, cannot be traced down. But we know how the general idea of the festival was formed in the beginning of 1970-ies.

In Soviet Estonia, the Congress of the Composers’ Union of Estonian Soviet Socialist Republics took place in every four years. The congress always presented a number of concerts in addition to the concert season programmes where music of Estonian classics and contemporary composers were performed on concert stage. But this was not sufficient; numerous new works never reached the concert performances. So, the Composers’ Union with the then chairman Jaan Rääts decided to organise a festival of Estonian contemporary music.

The main inspirer of that period was Warsaw Autumn Festival, which presented new music from Poland and around the world. The festivals connected to the plenums of Composers’ Unions held in different Soviet Republics also were taken as an example. There was a plenum of Young Soviet Composers in Georgia with the concerts including music by composers of other Soviet Republics, and festivals in Moscow, Latvia and Lithuania. But the festival, which included only the music of one Soviet Republic, did not exist in the USSR.

The conception of the new festival was an issue for discussion at the board of Estonian Composers’ Union. There was an idea to perform both contemporary and classical music and the alternative plan to perform only contemporary works. The discussions concerned also the choice of the pieces and composers. The conclusion was to perform the contemporary works of active composers of the period in Estonia.

The very first Soviet Estonia Music Days in 1979 was organised in connection with the XI Congress of the Composers’ Union of Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. And the grand festival it was! In ten days 18 concerts, 8 theatrical performances, press conference and two workshops with taped recording performances were organised. The very special event, the Night Concert (the predecessor of present Mammoth Concert) was inspired by the new music concerts organised in the House of Brotherhood of Blackheads’ in Tallinn and scandal concerts held in the rooms of Estonian Writers’ Union with the participation of the “hardest artillery” of musicians of the period: composers Kuldar Sink, Jaan Rääts and Arvo Pärt, pianist Arbo Valdma, cellist Toomas Velmet, pianist Kalle Randalu and many others.
The Night Concert in the rooms of “Estonia” Theatre started at 10 pm with the concerts all over the building – in the grand hall, basement and foyers.

Also the period of break between festivals had several proposals on the subject. At first, the festival was organised every two years, in the 1980-ies, the musical-political life of Soviet Estonia altered that plan. In 1981, the festival was organised as the Tallinn Music Days, presenting the music of Estonian origin plus Mozart, Purcell, Rossini, Grieg, Mahler, Britten and many others.  Besides the Estonian musicians The New Prague Trio and musicians from Russia performed on the concert stages. (The very first festival presented only the Latvian piano duo Nora Novik & Raffi Haradzhanyan performing work by Peteris Vasks and work by Bronius Kutavičius). In two years, in 1983, the All-Soviet Union Music Festival took place in Estonia, so the already traditional Soviet Estonian Music Festival had to be moved to the next year. In 1986, the “Three night with Estonian music in the eve of VII Congress of Composers’ Union of USSR” was organised. The poster of the Estonian Music Festival in 1988 was designed already in the national colours of blue, black and white…
Since 1991, the festival bears the name of Estonian Music Days and is organised annually in springs since 1993.

There was no artistic director on the very first and following decades of the festival. The festival programmes were the result of discussions at Composers’ Union; the main organiser of the festival was the former Philharmonic Society of the Estonian SSR and Estonian music theatres. In the second half on 1980-ies, the Estonian Composers’ Union began to overtake the organising part of the festival, so for today, the Composers’ Union takes care both of the programme composing and organising the festival in collaboration with Estonian Music Information Centre and many other institutions in Estonia (NYYD Ensemble, Estonian Academy of Music, Tallinn Philharmonic Society, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Estonian Theatre and Music Museum, State Concert Institute Eesti Kontsert etc).

The artistic directors of the festivals of the recent years have been Raimo Kangro, Mare Põldmäe and Timo Steiner (since 2002). Starting from 2004, the team Timo Steiner and Ülo Krigul are the initiators of Estonian Music Days.

© EMIC 2005

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