From Estonia with love

A music festival in Tel Aviv features the effervescent conductor and violinist Andres Mustonen.

andres mustonen_521 (photo credit: Maxim Reider)
andres mustonen_521
(photo credit: Maxim Reider)
Marketing executives and other senior members of the classical end of the music industry have been looking for ways to extend the appeal of the sonic output for many a year now. But Andres Mustonen does not appear to have any problems with engaging the spicier, and more mass-market-oriented, side of his profession.
That will be apparent at the first Tallinn TLV Mustonen Festival, which the effervescent Estonian conductor and violinist will musically supervise at Hatahana in Tel Aviv from February 20 to 24.
“Vivaldi was the best rock composer, Bach was a jazz composer and Mozart was a punk rock composer,” posits the 60-year-old when we meet in the center of Jerusalem.
For Mustonen, there are no hardand- fast rules. “What is entertaining music, what is not entertaining music? It is all entertaining music – Mozart and Schubert. It is like contemporary music today, and I would like people to relate to it without some kind of special thinking, or like it is serious music. I think people forget that. They sit in the concert hall, so serious, almost sleeping. Where is the enthusiasm?” It is a fair bet that no one will be dozing off during the festival.
Mustonen has certainly lined up plenty of entertainment for us, and the program is true to his eclectic word. The shebang kicks off in relative mainstream style, with the Symphonic Overture program of Handel’s Water Music, Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and a work by 20thcentury composer Arvo Pärt who, like Mustonen, hailed from Estonia.
That, by the artistic director’s standards, is a pretty gentle and mainstream-oriented entrée into the five-day program. Mustonen himself will be on the conductor’s podium, with compatriot mezzosoprano Helen Lokuta soloing and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, IBA providing the instrumental substratum for the occasion.
“The program for the festival reflects my musical view and my spiritual view,” Mustonen declares. “I don’t sit in one [musical] chair, and all my chairs are very large,” he adds with a laugh.
But Mustonen is not looking to fly in the face of tradition, come what may. For him, Mozart may have been something of a punk rocker, but the reference to the feral sounds that originated in the UK in the mid-1970s relates to the energy levels put out by the spiky-haired performers of those days, rather than to the quality of the music they made.
THE ESTONIAN has certainly paid his dues and has performed – both as a conductor and violinist – with such venerable ensembles as the Moscowbased Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
But he has always had several strings to his creative bow. As a youngster he became very interested in avant-garde music and, in the 1970s, developed an interest in the European Christian tradition, and founded his Hortus Musicus. The ensemble continually traverses cultural and musical boundaries, and its repertoire ranges from Indian, Arab and Jewish traditional music to the most contemporary compositions.
Mustonen plays chamber music and has recently created the Art Jazz Quartet, which includes guitarist Jaak Sooaar, double-bass player Taavo Remmel and percussionist Tanel Ruben; he will perform with the quartet at next week’s festival.
Mustonen may not be an Israeli citizen but he certainly chalks up significant working hours in this part of the world, and has become a familiar figure at all sorts of musical events here, including the annual Chamber Music Festival in Eilat.
That, naturally, creates a generous comfort zone for his freewheeling professional endeavor here.
“I am very happy to have the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in the festival, because we just finished the Liturgical Festival and I had a very good connection with the orchestra.
The orchestra very much enjoyed my free conducting. I am not an academic conductor; I am a musician, and the orchestra and I are like friends. I am not like the boss of the orchestra, we are all one family. They played 100 times better with that spirit.”
That convivial approach will be evident through the proceedings at Hatahana next week. Mustonen’s jazzy take on Bach’s oeuvre is not exactly revolutionary – many jazz artists relate to the 18th-century composer as the pioneer of the improvisational art form – and that will come across loud and clear on the second day of the festival, in the Power of Jazz concert. In it, internationally celebrated Israeli jazz pianist Anat Fort joins forces with the Art Jazz Quartet, fellow pianist Itamar Carmeli, and a trio led by conductor-pianist Yaron Gottfried, who also spreads his considerable talents across a range of disciplines, including chamber music and jazz.
True to his fundamentally nonstuffy approach to music, Mustonen has also lined up an event for all the family, and anyone of any age who would like to get off their comfy auditorium seat and shake a leg. The proactive slot goes by the self-explanatory name of And Now We Dance!, and will take place on February 22 at 11:30 a.m.
The musical backdrop to the boogying will be provided by Mustonen and his Hortus Musicus troupe, who will play an eclectic repertoire of material that will stretch – as the website notes – “from Baroque to rock.” Mustonen’s ensemble will be complemented by the Israeli String Quartet, and the Suzanne Dellal dancers will also be on hand – or foot – to set the pace.
Elsewhere in the festival program, the Art Jazz Quartet will collaborate with multi-reed player Yoram Lachish in the Nordic Dream of traditional music from that part of the world, delivered in a far more contemporary fashion and, on February 23, fans of madrigals can get plenty of that at the Bel Canto concert.
The festival winds up on February 24 in suitably expansive style, with the Universal Harmony concert that takes in a highly cosmopolitan stretch of music from such countries as India, Egypt, Estonia, Turkey and the Balkan states, as well as songs in Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, Ladino and English.
For tickets and more information: *9066, and