5 Questions to Märt-Matis Lill (Artistic Director, World Music Days 2019 Tallinn)

Each year, the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM) selects a city from one of its member countries to host the annual World Music Days Festival, and 2019 takes the festival to Tallinn, Estonia. From May 2-10, World Music Days 2019 Tallinn will stage 101 works representing nearly 50 countries across nearly 30 venues, woven together by the theme, “Through the forest of songs.” With a strong emphasis on choral music, World Music Days 2019 Tallinn will also explore the intersection of new music with architecture, theatre, audio-visual art, and literature.

World Music Days 2019 Tallinn will be held alongside Estonian Music Days, featuring the world premiere of 22 new works by Estonian composers. In advance of this year’s festival, we asked 5 question to Märt-Matis Lill, Artistic Director of World Music Days Tallinn 2019 and chairman of the Estonian Composers Union.

World Music Days 2019 Tallinn coincides with the 40th anniversary of Estonian Music Days. What does Estonia bring to the international contemporary music scene?

Situated between east and west and constituting a territory with an abundance of pristine nature, Estonia is in a unique position in terms of our classical music scene as well as our cultural and mental landscape, in a wider sense. In the world of classical music, Estonia has solid reputation because of our many world-class collectives and composers, such as Paavo Järvi, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, the girls choir Ellerhein, Ensemble U:, and many others. Most of these artists and collectives are actively and regularly commissioning and playing new music, and most of them are also part of our festival program.

Of course, our program will include the well-known Estonian composers such as Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür, and Veljo Tormis, but it will also include a variety of our very talented composers from younger generations–such as Helena Tulve, Tõnu Kõrvits, and Liisa Hirsch. Many of these musicians and composers are known to the wider international audience, but having them together in such a compact way and in an international context of unprecedented scale is significant. I think, and hope, that this will bring out some of the core characteristics of our classical music culture–which even we are maybe not completely aware of.

Helena Tulve

Helena Tulve

Can you give us some highlights of World Music Days 2019 Tallinn?

Many of the highlights are connected to our festival theme, which includes our hugely popular and active choral music tradition. For instance, the concert by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir with Kaspars Putninš is always a treat for the music lovers. Our national male choir RAM will perform with the string quartet Yxus, which will bring our very unique voice to the world of contemporary choral music. I am also looking forward to the concert by our Grammy winning girls choir Ellerhein, who will perform with our legendary early music collective Hortus Musicus under the leadership of Andres Mustonen. Hortus Musicus was one of the pioneers of the Estonian early music movement in 70s, and their influence on Estonian composers such as Arvo Pärt has been enormous.

In the context of the ISCM, the orchestra concerts are always some of the most coveted by composers, and most anticipated by the audience. The call for scores by the Estonian National Orchestra hit a record number of applications to our festival, so the final selections have been extremely careful and versatile.

Finally, the concerts with our Grammy winning chamber orchestra Tallinn Philharmonic will definitely offer an exquisite and fine musical journey.



How is World Music Days 2019 Tallinn using non-traditional performance venues to make new and experimental music more accessible?

First, I would like to say, that in my opinion, non-traditional performance venues do not always necessarily make new and experimental music more accessible. It is the content which matters–both in terms of accessibility and freshness. You can have really unsurprising and mediocre events in non-traditional venues and very experimental events in well-known classical concert halls. We just had this experience recently–our leading new music group Ensemble U: did a VR project, and the organizers pushed for a non-traditional venue. The ensemble members insisted on doing it in our main symphonic hall precisely because of the contrast, and it worked in a really excellent way.

That said, we will surely have many experimental uses of space in our festival. One of the early events of the festival by composers Timo Steiner and Sander Mölder will take place in rush hour traffic next to the busiest crossing in Tallinn city centre. The audience will be given headphones, and the event will unfold a bit like a silent disco.

The opening concert will take place in the Seaplane Harbor museum, which is an extremely specific space in terms of its structure and acoustics. This performance will host the premiere of a stage work by Tatjana Kozlova-Johannes, which focuses on the poetry of decay.

I’m also looking forward to the event which will take place in our most popular experimental theatre venue called Kanuti Gildi. That performance brings together Ensemble U: and one of our most internationally successful theatre directors and choreographers Mart Kangro. The concert will combine contemporary conceptual theater with the contemporary music pieces selected and put together solely for this purpose.

Tatjana Kozlova-Johannes--Photo by Mari Arnover

Tatjana Kozlova-Johannes–Photo by Mari Arnover

Estonian Music Days seeks to provide a space where “composers can experiment and take risks without fear of failure.” Do you believe failure is a necessary in the creation and support of experimental music?

I believe very strongly that this is exactly the case. I find in our marketing-oriented world, it is crucial to give artists the possibility to experiment with very radical ideas and go really far with different challenges they set for themselves. But this freedom also means the possibility of not succeeding all the time. Otherwise, we would only have art based on formulas that artists have found to be effective, and they would not dare to start charting new territories. I consider Samuel Beckett’s phrase one of the most relevant thoughts on artistic ambition: “Fail again, fail better!”

What steps has the artistic leadership of World Music Days 2019 taken to ensure equitable programming practices as they apply to nationality, gender, and race?

In Estonian, we have a saying that “work is done from the material of the client.” This is very much the case here–the ISCM gives very strict limits on what we can pick and choose since we have the obligation to choose at least one piece from every member country or section. On one hand, this ensures an extremely wide scale of composers from different backgrounds, countries, and ethnicities, but on the other hand, it quite severely limits the scale of artistic choices. Most of the programmed works are selected from a pool of pieces that were given to us by ISCM member countries and sections. Our main goal has been to achieve a festival within those confines.