Peter G. Goral - Social Media Strategist - ArtEnvy Inc.
In conversation with Virgo Sillamaa, Estonian Artistic Director, Estonian Music Week
I recently sat down with Virgo Sillamaa, the Estonian Artistic Director for The Estonian Music Week, which is bringing together what promises to be one the most exciting musical festivals of it's kind. The festival, which will take place in key Toronto entertainment venues throughout the entire week of May 24th to 29th is in celebration of Estonia's 100th Anniversary of Independence. Musicians and Singers from Estonia will be joining a roster of Canadian artists to bring together a magnificent collaboration of music and culture.
Peter: Virgo, thank you so much first of all for taking the time to speak with us. I know how busy you've been with all the festivities in Tallinn. I was wondering what this 100 year anniversary of the independence of Estonia means to you on a personal level?
Virgo: Well, it's a tricky question to give a clearly articulated answer to. I was 12 in 1991, so I remember the end of the Soviet Union pretty well. A surreal dreamlike set of memories by now, I remember instinctively sensing the tremendous significance of the events that led to Estonia regaining its independence. As probably many Estonians of my age I consider myself cosmopolitan and feel very connected to the world and Estonia is a very open, young and vibrant society. At the same time I cherish our language and the unique cultural identity that springs from it (as from any language). So perhaps it's best to say it thus: I am very proud in the way that a tiny culture in a complicated geo-political position and difficult past dares to be open to the world, not close into itself in the fear of disappearing. I think we're brave in that way and I also believe that's the only way forward. We can only grow and develop if we're in an open mutual contact with the rest of the world. Our first President Lennart Meri has said something like "in the ever changing world, those who go with the world and perhaps a bit faster than the world, are on the winning side. Those who get ahead, can anticipate the problems and solutions that life will sets on their path", I believe that. So for me the 100 year anniversary is an affirmation of a culture and society that remembers its past, cherishes its identity, embraces the changing wider world and perhaps even runs a bit ahead of it.
Peter: Thank you Virgo for that terrific insight, it's truly great to hear from you first-hand on how everything played out for you. There are celebrations going on all over the world this year as this is a very significant milestone to make note of for Estonians globally. How did the music week come about here in Toronto?
Virgo: I probably don't know the very beginnings of what became EMW, but I was approached by Piret Noorhani through our mutual friend Derek Andrews with an idea of bringing Estonian contemporary musical culture to Toronto. I instantly liked the idea as through my work at Music Estonia I see so much diverse potential that ripens ever more for an international presence. Of course Estonia is well known for our composers, most notably Arvo Pärt, also the Järvi family of conductors and the pervasive choir culture that culminates with jewels like Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Vox Clamantis. But I see a gradual rise to the international forum of more and more artists from other scenes, the Estonian traditional music scene having probably been the fastest to international stages. Maarja Nuut, Trad.Attack!, Mari Kalkun, Svjata Vatra and now recently aslo Curly Strings have toured the world. The richness of Estonian contemporary music in the broadest sense needs to be accessible also to Estonians living abroad, so Estonian Music Week in Toronto was a no-brainer at least in concept. And then we got to work. We managed to secure a grant from EV100 fund that has helped to bring Estonian culture to many places in the world and this really served as the kick-start to the whole process.