- Reset + Prindi

At the Inauguration Ceremony of Rector of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Professor Ivari Ilja


Honourable Rector Ivari Ilja, dear academic family!

Culture, and especially music, has been a form of survival for us Estonians. Music has enriched the blood in our hearts just as oxygen does in the lungs. We have been making music in the name of survival for centuries, to speak of things that were not allowed to be put into words. During tumultuous periods in history, we have always chosen music to make ourselves visible to all instead of provoking political and potentially bloody clashes: during the Estonian national awakening and the Singing Revolution, but also in various ages of silence both before and after the Second World War.

Over the last fifty years, our music has been the most conspicuous Estonian phenomenon in the world; the most popular ‘export product’, so to say. Estonians are known through our musicians. Pärt, Tormis, Kaljuste, Laretei, Tüür, Järvi senior and his sons. Our musicians are currently the greatest bearers of Estonia’s reputation abroad. Yes, this still holds true, and it likely will for a long time to come, because one does not have to pass a background check to enjoy Estonian music like one does to enjoy the benefits of Estonia’s e-government as an e-resident. Major responsibility for preserving, furthering, and developing this reputation, as well as for guiding Estonian culture as a whole, both among ourselves and elsewhere, falls upon the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (EMTA). Today’s Estonian greats in the field have also given us a responsibility to keep this bar high. The world expects us to continually deliver new, fascinating composers and interpreters.

Music and theatre culture also makes up a very important part of the Estonian nature here at home. Local theatre departed from the pattern of societal interpretation for a while sometime around the turn of the century, but then returned. No doubt their hearts were aching and they saw no other way. Music culture tends to be uniting, binding, soothing, and calming. It confirms identity. Theatre culture is more antagonising, questioning, demanding, and even criticising. Drama requires one to separate from an instinctive manner of thought and behaviour as a contemplative human being. Even right now, when the main issue facing our society is gradually becoming a struggle between two different understandings of the nature of the power of the majority, leaders’ responsibilities to the minority through the democratic process, the nation state’s European future, or a mean and closed-off version of Estonianness, you are the ones at the front line of this battle. You mock or point attention in a particular direction, but ultimately, we will still gather at the Song Festival or Neeme Järvi’s anniversary concert and will all be proud bearers of our culture together. We love our music and theatre, which is proven by the almost two million concert attendances and one million theatre attendances each year.

Our musicians and theatre figures emerge from this very school, together with their socially-sensitive nerve. It is the EMTA school. Sensitive and responsible.

From history, we know that the first professional Estonian musicians were trained in St. Petersburg. The first diplomas issued in Estonia were given to ten young musicians in 1925. By now, over 5,000 people have received higher music- and theatre education in Estonia. Next year, we will celebrate our national centenary. The Estonian Music and Theatre Academy will also soon be marking 100 years, in 2019. To outsiders, it might seem bewildering that a nation which had just achieved its independence and had fought a war to preserve it deemed it necessary to set up a school of higher music education as one of the first stones in its foundations. To us Estonians, it’s completely natural.

Professor Peep Lassmann served as the rector of EMTA for nearly the entire period since the restoration of independence to date. Through that whole hopeful but rocky time for a young country. EMTA has continuously improved. I fear that as a result, we may have had less of a chance to hear Professor Lassmann as a pianist. Leading a university is strenuous work and it’s entirely understandable for one to be drawn more towards nature and birdsong aside of it, though I suppose now he has the opportunity to do so in all his free time and channel the emotion he experiences in nature or intense human environments into creative activities. We’ll eagerly wait and see.

Rector Ivari Ilja is a pianist, just like his predecessor. Ilja has been tempered and has also woven a very fine network in the international music scene, having been an acclaimed accompanist for global stars such as Irina Arkhipova and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Thus, as a supportive participant, he is famous in his genre, like many other Estonian musicians. I’m confident that Rector Ilja will be able to keep EMTA at the centre of attention here in Estonia, hold our strong position as a participant in international cultural debate, and make the Academy perform even better as a seedbed for Estonian musical ambassadors. For, just as our economy, our culture can only be large-scale in international cooperation and export. Estonia’s musical culture is simply too great for the country to bear alone.

At the same time, Estonian music culture only belongs to the country for as long as it has support within the walls of its own home. It can be no other way: sooner or later, a homeless and cosmopolitan culture will turn melancholy and empty. The audience can hear it. The people of Estonia, even those who only hear our composers’ newer works when they are performed at a Song Festival, need Estonian music and our musicians’ interpretations of world music. Stirring songs wouldn’t reach the Song Festival if it weren’t for all the rest as well. We must be strong on an international level, but without forgetting our own people. The Estonian people is experiencing one of the most prosperous periods in its history, and this also in terms of free time. It’d be nice if a significant and impactful portion of this free time was spent in the sphere of influence of Estonian actors and musicians.

EMTA is a modern-day university with novel curricula and research projects. International experience is brought by both foreign students and teachers, in addition to exciting international research projects and student exchanges.

Just as I said at the inauguration ceremony of the rector of the University of Tartu, so would I like to repeat now: I believe it’s the right time to open university doors to secondary-school students for academic audit. In this way, universities can link into people’s lives at an early age and offer them constant support. We call it lifelong learning, though I suppose the younger generation simply calls it ‘life’. Few of them expect the education they receive to carry them all the way to retirement and then be able to stop working. They are eager to broaden their horizons at already a young age, and the majority of university-level classes are, in fact, exciting and comprehendible to gymnasium students. Life is becoming more fluid and clear boundaries are fading, which is undoubtedly also an opportunity for universities to be present at more points in the arc of people’s lives.

The more people there are whose hearts have been touched directly by EMTA, even if just fleetingly, and not only by way of attending concerts or theatre performances, the easier it is to also keep the school’s interests in the hearts of our decision-makers. Perhaps, then, we won’t have to wait as long in the future for the investments the school needs to breathe easily.

Over the weekend, I read the book In pricipio. The Word in Arvo Pärt’s Music. Pärt’s texts have been collected in the exquisite work, the cover of which is designed with a pattern that resembles speckled seabird eggs left scattered across stones, drawn by Arvo’s own creative hand. This particular text inspired me, thinking of EMTA:








My road had its hours of greatness,

its blows, its pain.

My road has its crest and its groundswell,

its sand and its sky.

My road. Yours.

Edmond Jabès. A Jewish writer who was born in Egypt and wrote in French. The poem was originally published in the literary cycle Le Livre des Questions, but Arvo Pärt used the German-language translation. In his books of questions, Jabès worked unremittingly for ten years on the problem of how to say the unspeakable. Unspeakable because of impropriety, or unspeakable because there are no words. It leads to beautiful and important ideas. Speaking the unspeakable through music, theatre, art, and even the written word has a long history in Estonian culture. Even when one is allowed to say anything, many things are easier to put into words on stage, in poetry, or through music. EMTA’s path is the path of Estonian culture; it is the path of our people. Both mine and yours.

Thank you for listening, and I wish you strength in your work!