Five acts to catch at Estonian Music Week


ESTONIAN MUSIC WEEK at various venues, May 24-29. $20-$90.

Before there was the independent Republic of Estonia, there was a song festival. It began in 1869 in Tartu, now the country’s second biggest city, as a gathering of voices – over 800, in fact. Since then, the festival has recurred every five years, and in 2014, the voices of more than 30,000 Estonians joined in song at the gathering. They’re serious about their music. 

This year marks 100 years of independence for the northeastern European country, and Toronto will partake in the celebration with Estonian Music Week. Following in the footsteps of similar successful cross-cultural events like the Estonian Documentary Film Festival (aka EstDocs), it’s aimed at strengthening ties between Canadian and Estonian artists and audiences.

Organizers have curated a lineup of 21 musicians from Estonia and Canada, but the festival’s sound isn’t singular or even traditionally “Estonian.” Rather, it showcases a broad spread of musicians with varying degrees of connection to the country, working in jazz, dream pop, indie rock, classical and other genres. 

We’ve picked five acts to check out at the festival.

Martin Kuuskmann

Martin Kuuskmann has two Grammy nominations and a nod from the New York Times. Those accolades are thanks to his utter dedication to the bassoon, and his belief in it as a versatile solo instrument. Kuuskmann is dogmatic in terms of instrument but not genre, as he ducks between experimental and classical, improvising all over to create unique and boundary-pushing performances.

At Church of the Redeemer (162 Bloor West), Thursday, May 24, 7:30 pm.

Pia Fraus

Though Pia Fraus formed in 1998, the prolific dream pop quintet has put out just five full-length records, with a nine-year gap between 2008’s After Summer and last year’s Field Ceremony. The band is a sort of Estonian analogue to Ride or Slowdive in their longevity and veteran status in the arena of pillowy-vocals-and-soft-guitar pop. While they toy with the spaciousness and gauzy guitars of shoegaze, songs like That’s Not All and Moon Like A Pearl lean more towards the upbeat jangle-bops of Alvvays or The Vaccines. Post-punk punchiness and new wave electronics round out a sound that captures the best of poppy shoegaze. Bonus: local art pop band DIANA are also on the bill.

At Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday, May 25, 7 pm.

Vox Clamantis

This is your chance to hear what a Grammy Award-winning Estonian choir sounds like. Vox Clamantis was founded in 1996 by Jaan-Eik Tulve and, with a rotating cast of vocalists, has become one of the world’s premiere vocal ensembles. Practicing Gregorian chants alongside early and contemporary selections, the group netted a shared Grammy for their work on legendary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament before contributing to Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza. 

At Koerner Hall (273 Bloor West), Saturday, May 26, 8 pm

Kadri Voorand Quartet

Kadri Voorand is riding high. The jazz singer and composer netted wins for Best Female Artist and Best Jazz Album at the 2017 Estonian Music Awards, and a listen through her trippy, ultra-expressive offerings suggests why: not only are her vocals profound and singular, but so is her playful piano playing. Songs like Su Jaoks – Kuldrenett showcase Voorand as an outrageously entertaining and delightfully unchained artist.

At Hugh’s Room Live (2261 Dundas West), Sunday, May 27, 7 pm.

Kristjan Randalu Trio

Herbie Hancock once called Kristjan Randalu a “dazzling piano player,” but if that doesn’t convince you, Randalu’s show ought to do the trick. The virtuosic Estonian pianist studied in Cologne, London and New York City, garnering accolades along the way to putting together his current trio. The fluidity with which his freewheeling jazz switches between improv and structure is staggering, leaving you guessing whether anything is truly calculated. The trio’s performances highlight trust and cohesion, with Mats Eilertsen’s double bass and Markku Ounaskari’s drums rarely missing a beat in Randalu’s vortex of keys.

Mazzoleni Hall (273 Bloor West), Monday, May 28, 7:30 pm. | @lukeottenhof



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