Controversy Hits Song Festival - Again ({{commentsTotal}})

Composer Erkki-Sven Tüür
Composer Erkki-Sven Tüür Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

Held every five years and usually considered a high point of national unity, this year's song and dance festival, to be held in July, is again mired in a controversy.

Composer Erkki-Sven Tüür has asked that a song be removed from a prominent place in this year's program, saying he didn't want one of his works to be the subject of a misunderstanding.

The song has a title that can be translated roughly as "The Retreaters," which at a time when leaders are urging Estonia to be strong amid new concerns about security, appears to have been taken the wrong way.

A diplomat, Margus Laidre, wrote an opinion in Postimees this week in which he said Estonia should not be gloomy and fatalistic in light of geopolitical threats. Toward the end of his piece, Laidre brought up the song and questioned whether it was suitable for the Song Festival.

The librettist, poet Peep Ilmet, said in a response in the daily that Laidre had misunderstood the point of the poem.

Deconstructing it line by line for readers, Ilmet said the work was about impermanence, but in the sense of Eastern philosophies which hold that change is the one thing that doesn't change.

First, Ilmet said, the glaciers receded at the end of the Ice Age, shaping the country for hunter-gatherers, explorers and conquerors who followed and, just as surely, flowed across the landscape and vanished.

"Because the road [of retreat] is endless, the main thing is that we stay steadfastly on our way, all the more that we have been on that road since the Ice Age," he wrote.

The planning of the Song Festival has had its share of high emotions. First there was the worry that some emigre choirs might not clear the increasingly high bar, and an age restriction on dancers also drew some disapproval. Last week it was reported that a brewer was donating money to choirs for every six-pack sold to a musical or dance group. Since the Song Festival was on the verge of going alcohol-free, that was seen as inappropriate.

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