Marimbas from Estonia

MustonenFest Tallinn-Tel Aviv brings together some great Estonian-Israeli collaborations.

19-YEAR-OLD Tanel-Eiko Novikov: At the concert in Jerusalem, I will even be playing with six mallets at certain moments, so it’ll keep me on my toes as well (photo credit: HOOANDJA OVIKOV)
19-YEAR-OLD Tanel-Eiko Novikov: At the concert in Jerusalem, I will even be playing with six mallets at certain moments, so it’ll keep me on my toes as well
(photo credit: HOOANDJA OVIKOV)
Get ready for some Estonian music with the MustonenFest Tallinn-Tel Aviv, which takes place between February 12 and March 9.
The roster of performers includes Estonian and Israeli choirs, soloists, orchestras and ensembles, which will perform classical and folk music performed at some 20 concerts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and other cities throughout the country.
The festival, now in its sixth year, was founded and is still directed by Andres Mustonen, an Estonian violinist, conductor and early music researcher, as well as a jazz musician. This relatively new yet well-established Israeli festival is the offspring of the veteran Estonian MustonenFest. Over his years of cooperation with Israeli music bodies, Mustonen has conducted most of the local orchestras, the Jerusalem and Rishon Lezion symphonies, the Israeli Chamber Orchestra, the Baroccada ensemble, and participated in major local festivals. He also brings Israeli soloists and ensembles to appear in Estonia.
The variegated festival program includes such pieces as Handel’s “Resurrection” oratorio, performed by the Israel Chamber Orchestra and Israeli Estonian singers under the baton of Mustonen, and “Eternal Love” – a selection of traditional love songs from East and West, performed by Israeli vocalist Etty BenZaken together with local Modalius ensemble and Hortus Musicus from Estonia.
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra will present a program of 17th-century music from Venice, while the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon, together with the Tartu University (Estonia) and Emek Hefer choirs will perform Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and pieces by Israeli Yoav Talmi and Rudolf Tobias, and this is just a part of the festival’s offerings.
Mustonen, who is a music life organizer no less than he is a performing artist, has previously brought rising musical stars from his native Estonia to appear in Israel. This time it will be 19-year-old Tanel-Eiko Novikov, who plays a somewhat exotic instrument – the marimba – obviously with great success, judging from his many awards.
“I wanted to play the drums for as long as I can remember. In kindergarten, we imagined being a band, and while everyone wanted to be the lead singer or guitarist, I only wanted to be the drummer,” says Novikov in a phone interview from Tallinn, Estonia’s capital.
This interest brought him to the Tallinn Music High School, where he was attracted to the marimba. “I think it is its mysterious soothing sound, together with rhythm, that captivates me. Thanks to a wide variety of mallets, there’s an incredible amount of colors that you can extract from the instrument, so experimenting with the sound is never boring.”
What is the most difficult thing in mastering the marimba? “The transition from playing with one mallet in each hand to two mallets – that is, with four mallets in total, I think. That opens up a lot of new possibilities. Marimba techniques are constantly progressing, so there are always new tricks to learn. The most difficult thing for many performers is accuracy – playing the marimba requires an incredible amount of coordination, because your entire body, from your legs to your fingertips, is required to attain maximum efficiency.”
The marimba is an ancient instrument, known in Africa for thousands years, says Novikov, but in the 19th and 20th centuries innovations were introduced.
Nowadays, the marimba can be used for performing a wide variety of music, and its repertoire is constantly expanding, ranging from classical and pop arrangements to modern music. A lot of music is written by the players themselves. Each of them has a distinct style, ranging from folk to neo-romantic to jazz.
Interestingly enough, although the marimba is a percussion instrument, one of its names means “mother of song.”
“It is not easy to make the instrument sing, but we have a wide range of dynamics, which allow the instrument to sing in ways that touch people as well, and this is an incredible experience,” says Novikov.
Describing his experience as a performer, Novikov says that “since the instrument is relatively new, there is always a sort of ‘wow’ effect that comes along. Mostly people really seem to like the sound and the physicality of the instrument. There is a lot of moving around while you play the instrument. Many listeners have even called it a dance of sorts.”
Speaking about his upcoming concerts in Israel, the 19-year-older says that when he chooses his repertoire, he always thinks about what the audience would like to hear and what would be fun to play.
“The pieces chosen for the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem concerts are engaging and beautiful. At the concert in Jerusalem, I will even be playing with six mallets at certain moments, so it’ll keep me on my toes as well!”
For the detailed program and reservations: