Classical Music: Tallinn-Tel Aviv tripping

The Mustonen music festival takes place February 13 to March 1.

Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir of Estonia (photo credit: KRISTEL ÜKSVÄRAV)
Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir of Estonia
(photo credit: KRISTEL ÜKSVÄRAV)
Founders of new cultural events have a predilection for declaring that they are starting “a new tradition.” In addition to the chronological anomaly – a tradition is something that evolves over time, and you can only apply the epithet in retrospect – some new additions to the cultural scene simply peter out before they take on bona fide “tradition” status.
That is not the case with the MustonenFest, which has grown impressively over the past four years, starting out at the Train Compound in southern Tel Aviv.
This year’s edition will take place February 13 to March 1 at various locations around Israel, including some of the country’s most prestigious venues such as the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Jerusalem Theater, with concerts also scheduled for Kfar Shmaryahu, Rishon Lezion, Abu Ghosh and Ashdod.
The event’s full name has TallinnTLV in the second part, referring to the fact that the festival actually has an Estonian leg, currently in progress in Tallinn, with a slot in St. Petersburg featuring the Barrocade – The Israeli Baroque Collective.
The Mustonen festival was founded by ebullient Estonian conductor and violinist Andres Mustonen, who is also well known to local audiences for his frequent appearances all over the country and is a fixture at the biannual Abu Ghosh Festival of vocal music.
Mustonen will certainly be kept out of mischief during the upcoming Israeli leg of the twoweek festival, putting in five performances, which includes conducting the I Am Bach program which. In addition to Barrocade, the program features actor Shlomo Bar-Abba and the Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir of Estonia. The festival artistic director will also be on the conductor’s podium for the opening Beethoven Celebration concert at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on February 13 (8 p.m.). The robust program includes Symphony No. 9 and the Triple Concerto in C Major, with four stellar young musicians from Estonia front and center, along with the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion and choirs from Israel and Estonia.
One of the rising stars is pianist Sten Heinoja, who is a student at the Royal College of Music in London but also gets in his fair share of performing in concerts farther afield. The 23-year-old admits to a penchant for Beethoven’s music, although he says it wasn’t always the case.
“I remember telling my teacher that Beethoven’s music was boring. Her reply was ‘Yes, you just have to grow up, and at some point you will like it.’” The educator in question was Marju Roots, with whom Heinoja studied for 12 years. Naturally, in due course, the youngster discovered that she was right.
“I started growing and I was waiting for the moment, and suddenly the moment came a couple of years ago, and I really started liking Beethoven’s music,” he says.
The young pianist says he is looking forward to his trip over here and to the concerts he will contribute to. The Beethoven Celebration will get a second airing in Rishon Lezion on February 19 (8:30 p.m.), and Heinoja will play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the Bright and Brilliant concert at the Israel Conservatory of Tel Aviv on February 16 (8 p.m.).
The Triple Concerto is replete with sumptuous colors and rousing passages.
“I think the concerto is the most majestic piece by Beethoven,” Heinoja declares. “That and his third symphony – they were actually written at the same time.”
This will be the Estonian’s first rendition of the Triple Concerto, which must be something of a daunting prospect.
“I’ve never played it before,” he states. “I just learned it. I’m trying to get it right. It is a difficult piece, but I have a feeling for the music.”
Prior to the concerts here, Heinoja will spend a week in Germany rehearsing the work with the other soloists – Ukrainian-born bass player Pavlo Balakin and Heinoja’s Estonian twins violinist Katariina Maria Kits and cellist Marcel Johannes Kits.
Tenderness of years notwithstanding, the pianist feels he has made great strides on all fronts since relocating to the UK.
“Living in London teaches you about life,” he remarks. “That is something you can’t learn from anywhere else.”
It was quite a transition for him.
“When I came to London almost two years ago, it was hard for me at the beginning,” he says. I came from Estonia, which is a really small country with about one million people, and I moved to a city with 10 million people. It was really difficult. Last year I had some moments when I said, ‘I’m going to leave now.’ It was rough.
But now I’m happy I stayed because I feel that the city is growing on me, and I’ve learned so much at the college.”
The Israeli audiences will be able to enjoy a more mature Heinoja.
“I have learned to see the music and to understand it better. I now have a different angle on new pieces, how to read the music, compared with how I was in Estonia,” he says.
Heinoja is chalking up the successes as he goes along. One of the high points in his still nascent career was appearing at the Royal Albert Hall.
“It was the most exciting experience of my life,” he asserts. “I played a Schubert sonata and a Beethoven sonata and some Estonian music. Just to be in the hall was wonderful, and I played on Elton John’s piano, the red one, which he donated to the Albert Hall.”
The inclusion of works from his homeland was important for Heinoja and is something he plans to pursue in his career.
“When I hear an Estonian playing Estonian music and I hear foreigners playing it, it sounds completely different. I actually play quite a lot of Estonian pieces.
Hopefully I’ll find time to play some in Israel as well. Hopefully I’ll go back to Israel again, and then I can do that. For me it is very important to keep the Estonian heritage alive and to present it to other people,” he says.
This time around, Israeli audiences will have to “make do” with Heinoja’s interpretations of Beethoven’s works, but no doubt the ambitious young man will be back here before long with some of his national musical treasures.
For tickets and more information about the MustonenFest: