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Estonians host five-day cultural festival in the heart of Manhattan

The New York Estonian community recently hosted its annual Estonian Cultural Days in NYC (“Eesti Kultuuripäevad New Yorgis”), a multi-day affair with concerts, theater performances, lectures, and other events spanning five days from March 23-27 and featuring Estonians from both the local diaspora and abroad.

The festival, most of whose events were held at the New York Estonian House in Midtown Manhattan, unofficially kicked off on Wednesday, March 23 with “Start-up, Estonia!”, a panel discussion featuring speakers Andres Mellik, Krista Tassa, and Alvar Soosaar, Estonians with experiences in the Estonian startup field.

On Thursday, Helga Merits’ English-language documentary The Story of Baltic University and joint Estonian-Finnish-German Estonian-language award-winning film The Fencer were screened back to back.

Friday saw the official opening and welcome reception of the multi-day event, with a prerecorded video greeting from Minister of Culture Indrek Saar, the Consul General of the Republic of Estonia in New York Eva-Maria Liimets opening an exhibition of posters based on Lennart Meri’s 1970 documentary The People of the Water Bird (“Veelinnu rahvas”), musical and dance performances by a variety of locally active Estonians, including Holger Marjamaa (piano), Valev Laube (violin), Evan Basta (viola), and Diina Tamm (dance), and special guests opera singer Monika-Evelin Liiv (mezzosoprano) and Marje Lohuaru (piano). The evening wrapped up with a dance DJ-ed by Merlyn Uusküla (Merka).

Saturday was the Cultural Days’ busiest single day, with the day’s first scheduled event beginning at noon and events running nearly back to back throughout the afternoon and well into the evening: folklore researcher Mikk Sarve and environmental journalist Kristel Vilbaste gave a joint lecture, “From the Darkness to the Light”; a screening of the Estonian documentary Dance with the Devil’s Grandma was followed by a question-and-answer session; singer Lembe Lokk, visiting from Paris, led a concert and discussion entitled “Now, somewhere else”; Taavi Teplenkov gave a solo performance of the Estonian Drama Theatre’s “Fully Committed”.

Perhaps the culmination of the multi-day cultural event was the sea-themed concert “I Yearn for Land” given by Marko Matvere (guitar) and Peep Raun (accordion), visiting from Estonia. The night once again continued with a dance, DJ-ed on Saturday night by DJ Umru Rothenberg.

The festival concluded on Sunday with a traditional Easter service and concert with soloist Kristi Roosmaa Tootell (soprano) accompanied by Valev Laube (violin) and Evan Basta (viola) at Immanuel Lutheran Church, known among local diaspora Estonians as the “Lexington Avenue church”.

From a one-day event to an annual festival

“We are delighted that our fellow Estonians in New York value our cultural traditions in this metropolitan city,” said Reet Remmel, Adviser at the Foreign Relations Department of the Estonian Ministry of Culture. “We have been able to help those involved and support cultural projects that the organizers themselves would like to see in New York.”

Kadri Napritson, executive director of the Estonian Cultural Days in NYC, explained that the original plan was for a one-day event, but thanks to the support of many from both America and Estonia, the one-day event evolved into a multi-day cultural festival.

“People with Estonian roots from all over America have expressed their support and made donations so that the Estonian Cultural Days could take place,” said Napritson. “This demonstrates just how much our people stick together, even away from home, and strive to keep Estonian culture thriving.”

The Estonian Cultural Days in NYC have been organized in New York City, one of the world's biggest centers of Estonian activity abroad, since 1970.

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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