Early Music Festival plays on tradition

  • 2010-07-08
  • By Ella Karapetyan

TALLINN - Warm sea water, curative mud and fresh air have made Haapsalu well-known for centuries. Only one hundred kilometers from the capital, it has always been a much-loved summer resort in Estonia. The oldest part of Haapsalu is built on a strip of land that was formed of many islets only a few hundred years ago. Narrow streets with wooden houses which have not changed much from the beginning of the 20th century are bringing you to the sea again and again. Haapsalu has been called the Nordic Venice for that plentitude of water.

Above all, Haapsalu is a town for people. A bit self-contained, peace and silence are not the only values to find in this over 700 year old town: an eventful summer season has become Haapsalu’s trademark.
Haapsalu will not only appeal to lovers of mud baths, history or different festivals but also to those people who enjoy sandy beaches, parks and peaceful surroundings. It’s an ideal location for families and romantic couples who enjoy having picnics, walking, visiting spas and taking mud baths, sailing and swimming.

It is well known for its different festivals, ranging from its White Lady Days, Old Music Festival, Violin Festival, August Blues Festival to Early Music Festival. Throughout the summer the streets and the open-air stages of Episcopal Castle are filled with folk music, opera and rock.

Founded in the most beautiful West-Estonian resort town, in 1994, the Early Music Days is one of the most appreciated festivals in its own genre in Estonia and has caught the attention of several outstanding foreign artists.
The term “early music” sometimes causes confusion. As a very casual indication, it’s music from the 1400s .The context is European classical music, which had its best-known pieces written in the 1700s and 1800s, and so the “early” in early music means earlier than that. In this way, early music usually designates the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods of Western music.

Precise date-based definitions of the stylistic periods of Western music and, by implication of “early music” in sum, are a rather illusory goal. The most common ending date given for the Baroque period is 1750, with the death of J. S. Bach. This is a convenient and acceptable date, frequently used in definitions of early music, but it is also a simplification of the various stylistic events of the period.

If one views the Baroque as a style with specific traits, then those traits were being overturned in favor of the “Classical” style by some composers before this date, and persisted in the work of some other composers after this date. Stylistic periods are designated only later, by historians who necessarily prioritize certain features over others.

The ‘early music movement’ is particularly concerned with performing practice and the revival and use of period instruments as well as period techniques and understandings of such matters as notation, rhythm, tempo and articulation, along with the establishment of texts that conform with the composer’s intentions. The movement may be seen as going back to the musical antiquarianism of the 18th century and the critical scholarship that arose from it during the 19th. Its true father figure is Arnold Dolmetsch, who did much in the early 20th century to revive interest in early techniques and instruments; his students and followers continued the tradition.

This year the festival takes place for the 17th time. The aim of Haapsalu Early Music Festival is to bring Estonian professional musicians as well as the audience closer to the early music era through high-level performances. The most suitable venue for this is the 13th century Dome Church. The Festival also offers free courses for young musicians.
During the Festival the audience can once again listen to the Haapsalu Festival Choir, the Tallinn Baroque Orchestra, which is at present the only orchestra in Estonia which plays on period instruments, being one of the few continuously active baroque orchestras in Eastern Europe. The Tallinn Baroque Orchestra has developed into an independent and prominent orchestra; its musicians represent the best performers of baroque music in Estonia. The extensive repertoire, ranging from early baroque to classicism (plus modern Estonian music), requires excellent qualities from the musicians. The artistic leader and the initiator or the orchestra is its manager and leading cellist Egmont Valja.

The Tallinn Baroque Orchestra has taken part in all Haapsalu Early Music Festivals, both in the cast of grand vocal works and with separate programs. The most memorable moments of the festival have been Handel’s “Messiah,” performed with Haapsalu Festival Choir and soloists in 1995, and the concert performance of Purcell’s “Dido” and “Aeneas” in 1996.
The list of participants also includes Studio Vocale, offering masterfully polished programs. Through the years the festival has also hosted Concerto Copenhagen, Baroque Fever, Il Gardellino, Phantasm, Kontrabande Ensemble, Grazer Choralschola, the Paris Gregorian Choir, and soloists, such as Marcel Ponseele, Per-Olov Lindeke, Wieland Kuijken, Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, Andrew Lawrence-King, singers Maryseult Wieczorek, William Missin, Charles Humphries, James Gilchrist and Paul Hillier, conductors Stephen Layton, as well as Howard Arman, Franz Karl Parssl, and Andre Cats.

The organizers of the festival claim that they are more than sure that this year’s festival will be even more successful than before, since the festival always has something new to offer to its audience. For those who have a passion for the early music style, or those who are just music lovers, Haapsalu Early Music Festival will be a good and unique chance to enjoy music as well as to see one of the most beautiful cities in Estonia.