Estonian modern culture
Situated between Eastern and Western Europe on the map, Estonia is also a border area, or more accurately a crossing point, in terms of culture. In the traditions of these parts, one can find elements originating from the East as well as the West, but the Estonians mostly consider themselves a northern people and conceptually bound to Scandinavia. Marginal and border cultures are where one can find the most interesting phenomena and combinations. In this regard, Estonia is a country of dozens of possibilities.
One of Estonia's calling cards is undoubtedly modern classical music. Composers Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tüür need not be introduced to the fans of more serious music. The same applies to conductors Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Eri Klas, and Tõnu Kaljuste, who work with different orchestras and choirs all over the world, as well as Anu Tali, who is attracting more and more attention.
The role of music and singing has throughout the centuries been of utmost importance for the preservation of the Estonian nation. The tradition of great Song Festivals, which was born during the swell of the national movement in the 19th century, has remained a distinctive cultural event to the present day. The highlight of every festival is when nearly 25 000 Estonians congregate under the Song Festival Arch and all sing together. The 11th Youth Song and Dance Celebration, entitled "The Wide World Begins in a Small Land", will take place during the summer of 2011.
In recent years the Viljandi Folk Music Festival has become a popular event for all ages, as it keeps alive and interprets the traditional music of different peoples. Audiences are also drawn in by the jazz music festival Jazzkaar , the distinctive Birgitta Festival, which unites music and theatre, and the Leigo Lake Music Festival that takes place amid the beautiful nature of Southern Estonia. A newcomer on the festival scene is the Nargen Festival curated by conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, which has brought summer concerts to Estonia's small islands.
Estonia's talented musicians have been highlighted every spring since 2009 during the annual Tallinn Music Week, which aims to introduce Estonian music to the world at large. The band Svjata Vatra and young singer Iiris have both gained wider fame thanks to this festival.
Although visual arts know no language barriers, the path to international success for Estonians in this field has been a little bumpier than in music. Since 1997, an important role in introducing Estonian modern art has been played by the Venice Biennial, at which Estonia has been represented by the most internationally well-known Estonian artists Jaan Toomik and Ene-Liis Semper, as well as by Marco Laimre, Kaido Ole, and Marko Mäetamm, among others.
The world of Estonian visual arts received a boost from the opening of the new main building of the Art Museum of Estonia – KUMU Art Museum – at the beginning of 2006 in Kadriorg. For the first time in its nearly 90-year history, the Art Museum can display the entire permanent exhibition of Estonian art from the beginning of the 18th century up to the 1990s. Alongside the permanent exposition in KUMU there is a gallery of modern art and a big exhibition hall, where Estonian as well as international art is exhibited. KUMU was awarded the European Museum of the Year Award in 2008.
Due to the Protestant tradition, Estonian culture has been regarded as centred on words rather than images. As a result, literature has been seen in a preferred position to the other arts. In the present kaleidoscopic scene of literature, one can find several different trends. The works of Jaan Kross, who addressed the history and the fate of the Estonian people, are still popular and well-known. Jaan Kaplinski, a versatile prose writer, poet, essayist, and translator, is also influential in his works. In the past decade, the fiction works of Tõnu Õnnepalu have evoked resonance. In Estonia, Andrus Kivirähk has become one of the most popular writers, writing his own style of Estonian mythology. The poetry of the young female poet Kristiina Ehin has been translated into several languages. Active young Estonian writers and poets have come together in various different groups. In addition to Estonian literature, translating has had a key role in the interpretation of classics of fiction, as well as on the history of culture. The problems of the preservation, development and modification of the Estonian language, spoken by less than a million people, as well as the creation of a proper vocabulary in all spheres of life, are becoming increasingly relevant in a modern and ever more open society. The cultural media fills the same role, since its readership is quite large considering the size of the population.
Estonian theatre, which has been influenced by both Russian and German schools of theatre, has strong traditions and is treasured by the public. The oldest Estonian theatre, the Vanemuine in Tartu, has retained its universality by staging drama and music, as well as dance performances. In addition to the opera and ballet house Estonia and the Estonian Drama Theatre, which are traditionally considered the leading Estonian theatres, the Tallinn City Theatre has also become an elite theatre praised for its creative endeavours. Over the last few years we have seen the dynamic rise of the new theatre NO99, which embraces new directions in theatre. Its major productions have elicited a wide variety of responses from Estonian society.
Many theatres and troupes that provide alternative types of performances have also joined the theatre landscape. One phenomenon and audience magnet is summer theatre, which each year discovers new performance spaces and opportunities for creating both light-hearted and dramatic productions outside of a conventional theatre space.
Estonian film production has also gained momentum over the past few years. The films of both Veiko Õunpuu and Ilmar Raag have picked up awards from various film festivals. The year 2010 saw success for Estonian cinema in the United States, where young director Tanel Toom earned the Student Academy Award for his short film "The Confession".
Those aspiring to the film industry are educated at the Baltic Film and Media School in Tallinn, which is the only school in Northern Europe to offer English-language film instruction.
The annual highlight of film scene is undoubtedly the international Black Nights Film Festival, which has developed into a meeting place for Estonian film lovers as well as for film buffs from neighbouring countries. In 2010 the annual European Film Awards ceremony took place in Tallinn just prior to the start of the film festival.
The trademark of the Estonian film industry has for decades been animation, and its calling card Priit Pärn's animated cartoons are considered among the best in the world.
During the last decade the Estonian living environment has undergone as many changes as the spiritual space. Architecture and urban renewal have been the topics of a lively discussion primarily in Tallinn, where the old town, included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage, and a new city space with mirror-glassed offices and bank buildings, hotels and malls stand side by side. In addition to the spiritual and physical environment, the role of the third space, virtual reality, is becoming more and more important in everyday life as well as in the cultural life of Estonians.