There were notable changes to this year’s event; the dates had been moved one week later in the calendar, which meant some of us managed to get a few days break between the SXSW slog and hitting the Baltics: the conference had an improved professional aesthetic, with raised stages to seat the panels, colour-coded decoration and lighting, and a clearer time schedule throughout the weekend; and, most plain to see, was the fact that the delegate count had increased, substantially, by almost 50%. The place was FULL and buzzing like a beehive. There were plenty of first-timers present, chattering away like kids on a school trip, excited as heck to be in this most magical of cities to witness an event they had only ever heard wonderous whispers about.
The opening night, and the guests were herded towards Rock Cafe, a castle-like venue perched atop the hill that winds up and out of the city centre. Clutching delegate passes as if they were golden tickets to a chocolate factory, everyone mixed and merged with everyone else, grabbed fistfuls of free food when possible, necked complimentary wine and beer, and switched back and forth between the VIP balcony and the two rooms housing the stages. There couldn’t be a better way to kick off this (or any) festival than a set from Finland’s finest twisted-indie act, Rubik – a band that has come on leaps and bounds since their first appearance at Tallinn Music Week two years ago. As soon as the Finns left the stage, the pleased crowd swarmed over to the main room where Estonian pop princess, Iiris, was about to appear for her album-release performance. There’s been much interest around Iiris ever since she bounced on stage as a teenager at the 2nd edition of Tallinn Music Week and she proved in this, her biggest gig to date, that she is ready to fulfill her potential. This was all a pretty perfect way to get the Tallinn party started and everyone knew it.
We meandered out into the dark night, back down the hill towards the old town. There is something about Tallinn - its spires and steeples, cobbles and kellars that is completely fairytale-like. Tallinn Music Week is almost designed to ensure the visitor feels as warm, snug, spoilt, and safe as possible and it feels like each delegate is subjected to a dose of some kind of magic potion in order for them to feel immediately relaxed, open-minded, and in awe at the surroundings and set up of this, still relatively new, event.
Presenting its fourth edition, Tallinn Music Week is still very new amongst the many showcase conferences going on around the world but it has already gained an enormous amount of respect and recognition within the music industry, and is now starting to pick up awards for being one of the best new events in Europe. It’s an incredible achievement.
The secret to the success is that the event partly reflects the personality of its main organiser, Helen Sildna. Tallinn Music Week is a pure realisation of her original vision; cultured, passionate, dynamic, intriguing, inclusive, and soulful - everything she would insist on. The seamless mixture of classical, jazz, rock and pop is surely unique amongst the myriad music events already in the calendar. Despite its rapid growth, Tallinn Music Week somehow seems to remain a truly bespoke occasion. There is a feeling of specialness about being a delegate. It is easy to return from Tallinn feeling satisfied, with genuine new contacts, fresh perspective, and having discovered some truly fascinating new acts to explore further. We all hope this will continue.
Day two stirred and rose with the weak Baltic sun but there was nothing languid about the start to the event proper. A crammed main conference hall, gathered to be welcomed by Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves - a man who has made quite an impact on those who have previously visited this event and heard his inspiring, knowledgable welcome addresses. His relaxed yet accurate message, his genuine love and knowledge of modern pop & rock music puts a charlatan like David Cameron to shame (if Dave was capable of feeling shame, that is). The President stole the show and set the bar very high in terms of quality performances. Having the presence of the nation’s head of state was a glowing confirmation of the value that Tallinn Music Week has earned for itself, but it has not always been the case that such lavish attention has been bestowed on the event. Only four years ago, the inaugural edition was met with a good deal of local sceptisicm and political indifference at best. A small band of international guests arrived, liked what they saw, and reported back that here was a place that deserved recognition, despite its position off the beaten path. The fact that the local attitude has been turned emphatically around and political interest is, clearly, extremely real, there is all the more reason to really grasp and appreciate the enormous, almost unthinkable challenge that Helen had to overcome. With a small team of loyal followers she set about making a difference with a tenacity, skill, and determination that is simply awe-inspiring and has already managed to give Tallinn Music Week not only a place in the local calendar, but has also firmly established the event as an International annual occasion.
to be continued