Latvian Radio 3 "Klasika" interview with Märt-Matis Lill



Two years ago the chairmen of three composers' unions – Märt-Matis Lill (Estonia), Mykolas Natalevicius (Lithuania) and Rolands Kronlaks (Latvia) met in Tallinn to build on the concept of Baltic Contemporary Music Network. The outcome of this collaboration is the 1st edition of a rotating festival Baltic Music Days hosted by the Estonian Music Days from 22nd April – 2nd May 2021.

How will the festival take place? Will the concerts be carried out with an audience or virtually online? How is the current situation in the Estonian culture field? Are there any state support schemes for creatives? What is the current atmosphere that surrounds the composers and musicians in our neighbouring countries? All aspects will be discussed in this conversation between the LR3-Klasika music producer Anna Veismane and the Estonian Composers' Union chairman Märt-Matis Lill.

Anna Veismane:
Sometimes during our Zoom conferences it feels like we are neighbours, but the current situation is quite different in each country. So far, Estonia has managed to protect its cultural life but what will happen this month? What are the new restrictions?

Märt-Matis Lill:
Actually, the picture is dark because the statistics have gone very bad. We are one of the leading countries with infections per 100 000 inhabitants. In the middle of this week the government decided to close down everything which is quite a new development in Estonia and of course, there is a lot of uncertainty. How long will it last and what does it mean for our culture? For one month nothing is happening that is for sure.

Anna:
In Latvia, we already experienced a lockdown for the last three months and survived but I agree, it is a difficult situation. What is the state support for people who work in the culture field? Are there any special support schemes for composers and creatives?

Märt-Matis:
There are two primary support schemes. One is connected to the minimum wage. Anyone whose income has fallen under the minimum wage can get financial support for half a year. It includes all social guarantees like health insurance. The government changed the law and now it is possible to reapply immediately. We had this measure before but it was mainly for freelance artists and there was a restriction which forbid applying consecutively. There had to be some kind of time interval. Other measures are meant for the organisers, more specifically for concert and event management. These are not so general schemes like the minimum wage fund.

What I see is that everything got delayed or canceled. I'm really afraid that this situation starts to hurt us later, not now, because as you know, the composer's life is programmed quite long in advance. So in Estonia, for instance, we usually get the commission fees at least one year in advance. So all the paperwork must be done even before that. Right now, in terms of all the commissions and these kind of things we are sort of still living in a period from one year ago. But, what I see is that all the important institutions that commission and perform new music are in trouble in many ways. Certainly, the need for new music will be much less quite soon. So I'm afraid that probably this will start to hurt us in the end of this year. I hope there will be some measures to counter that but it is likely that in one or two years’ time life will become much harder for composers.

Anna:
Yes, and maybe our cultural consumption habits will change? Maybe people will not want to go to concerts. They will choose recordings or live broadcasts instead? How do you think how will it change?

Märt-Matis:
I'm actually skeptical about that perspective because in Estonia we had a very good situation in the summer. We were one of the countries which had the lowest infection rates. And now we have jumped to one of the highest. It's quite the change, of course. So what I saw in summer when all the events started happening again was that people very much wanted to experience live concerts. Many people said that they are so fed up with transmission via the Internet and Zoom meetings. They really want to see people, hear music, and experience a live physical connection to art. Let's hope that everything will be OK at some point and the vaccines will work. Perhaps people will appreciate the physical events even more now because as we all see, they are actually very fragile. Culture is not a self-evident thing, it really presupposes safety in many ways. I somehow believe that people will appreciate the circumstances which allow us to have all these kind of live events.

Anna:
I believe too! At the very end of April until the beginning of May, the 1st Baltic Music Days Festival will take place in Tallinn. Is there any hope that it will be with the audience like ordinary concerts or how does it look now?

Märt-Matis:
Well, right now the situation looks very gloomy and dark. However, like in the Western Christian culture, hope is one of the cardinal virtues. So let's stick to that! [Laughter]

Anna:
But you will not postpone?

Märt-Matis:
Right now, we are still not talking or thinking about postponing. But of course, we just have to see on a week-by-week basis. What is the situation in Estonia right now? It is very bad and if nothing will change, then it will be either a virtual festival or we will try to postpone it. But of course, the postponement is very tricky because we have so many collectives. They already have their schedules and plans, therefore, to get them all together again will be very-very difficult. We already have this experience from last spring when we had to postpone and actually, many events have still not taken place. We have kind of a debt already from the last festival so this time we will try to do whatever the situation allows us. Perhaps fewer concerts but most likely we will try to avoid the postponement.

Anna:
As we did now with the Latvian New Music Days. We did not postpone.

Märt-Matis:
Yes, and I think you managed really well! For a virtual event, it was really enjoyable. All worked very well. It sounded and looked very professional. This kind of gives us courage to see that it is possible.

Anna:
Yes, somehow. [Laughter] By the way, Latvian radio planned to broadcast three concerts of the Baltic Music Days festival. In this program today, we will listen to a fragment of the Ensemble U: concert recording. What is the significance of Ensemble U: and new music in Estonia? Do they play exclusively contemporary music?

Märt-Matis:
Yeah, they are one of the few ensembles who exclusively play contemporary music. No Beethoven or Brahms.

Anna:
How many years do they play together?

Märt-Matis:
15 years. I would say Ensemble U: is more or less my generation ensemble. I have been very tightly connected with their activities. They have performed many of my pieces. The Ensemble U: has provided like an experimental ground for many of our colleagues within the same generation, because they are very good, they are very open, and very enthusiastic! Ensemble U: has been a wonderful partner for composers for more than a decade. Actually, I think they must be nearly 20 years old now. They have been active for quite a long time.

Recently the Ensemble U: had to make last-minute changes at the Latvian New Music Days 2021 concert because one player got ill and some pieces, which they had already been rehearsing, had to be canceled. In a way, this very well reflects the times we are living in right now. Sometimes we are forced to do very quick changes and react fast. I think that this is Ensemble U:’s very big asset! They are really capable of adapting, and very flexible and professional in that sense.

Within the Baltic states, we have so many common sense which perhaps is not so prevalent in the middle and in the Western Europe. It was quite surprising to hear this kind of currents, which we share. Seems that we share quite a lot actually, which is nice!

Anna:
Yes, and we can continue to do that. Thank you very much for the conversation and stay safe!


Interview date: March 15, 2021

Photo © Kaupo Kikkas