Pre-Concert Conversation With Mikk Üleoja

21 Nov 2023

Intervjuu Mikk Üleoja

In 2024, the Estonian National Male Choir will mark its 80th anniversary. What can we anticipate during the celebratory year?

Certainly, we engage in celebrations every five years, and the upcoming year will commemorate the choir's 80th anniversary. There will be a special performance of Tormis's "Kalevala 17. runo," particularly noteworthy as it aligns with the Kalevala year, culminating in a significant jubilee.

Under your leadership, the choir has experienced a notable rejuvenation, with the singers' average age being lower than in previous years. How was this transformation accomplished?

I recall a piece of advice I received: "You must be bold enough to dream!" By wholeheartedly embracing this approach, some of those dreams have indeed accomplished.

What do you consider to be your, or the choir's, most significant accomplishment?

During my tenure with the National Male Choir, I view the heightened level of seriousness within the ensemble among professional musicians as a noteworthy achievement—a substantial shift in perception.
When viewed from an international perspective, devoid of local context and preconceptions, the assessment is made on an absolute scale based on the observer's standpoint. In Estonia, shaping the choir's image proves to be more challenging—opinions often stem from pre-existing biases. Successfully navigating this transformation in perception is something I regard as a substantial achievement, both for myself and the choir.

Can we say that Tormis is part of the choir's identity, part of the past and the future?

Certainly. I've stated it confidently in the past. The National Men's Choir plays a crucial role in bringing Tormis' music to life. Regrettably, a significant portion of the male choir's repertoire is such that unless others take it up in Estonia, it might go unperformed. Tackling the intricacies of Tormis' compositions is a formidable challenge. Without our performances, these pieces would likely fade into obscurity in Estonia.

Does Tormis's work still need to be explained today, or are timeless themes and elements persistent?

Folklore itself is timeless and has survived for a very long time without explanation. And the situation today is certainly different from the moment when Tormis created these works. On the one hand, the situation has gotten worse, on the other hand, it has also gotten much better in some aspects. Veljo himself has explained so many topics to the Estonian people, listeners and audience that we don't need to discuss certain things. They have become a part of Estonian society and a part of our DNA.

What are your personal favorites from Tormis' creations?

As a rule, I like the work that is currently in hand. I can keep falling in love with music repeatedly. There are works that are included in the program more often, but the program is often prepared according to the audience. Some works speak more abroad, while others speak more to the Estonian local audience - in essence, there is no point in offering questions about the inner circle of one's own culture abroad. There they don't speak, or they don't speak in the same way. Some of the works in our repertoire that have traveled around the world more for this reason are, for example, "Litany of Thunder", "Songs of the Ancient Sea", "Incantatio for a Stormy Sea", "Forging the Sampo" by Veljo Tormis.