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Classical 101

Join the Singing Revolution: The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir Performs in Columbus This Sat.

Kaupo Kikkas
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

The Baltic nation of Estonia is home to one of the world’s most esteemed choral traditions, rich with gigantic choral festivals and some of the finest professional choirs around, and inextricably linked with Estonia’s political history.

One of the crown jewels among Estonia’s choral treasures is the multi-Grammy Award-winning Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. This Saturday, Feb. 4, Columbus music lovers will have a chance to hear the choir sing and its artistic director talk about the choir’s work within Estonia’s fascinating choral music tradition.

The Concert

At 3 p.m. Saturday, I will interview artistic director Kaspars Putniņš onstage before the choir’s performance at 4 p.m. in the Southern Theatre. The concert, hosted by Chamber Music Columbus, will feature music by Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Estonian composers Veljo Tormis and Arvo Pärt.

As a preview of Saturday’s concert, here is the choir’s recording of The Woman with the Alabaster Box, a classic example of Pärt’s choral style, in which haunting harmonies unfold in their own time, as though transcending the temporal and releasing into infinity:


The Tradition

The Estonian choral music tradition extends well beyond the realm of school and church choirs, playing a transformative role in the country’s political history.

The first large Estonian national song festival, the Laulupidu, took place in 1896, when Estonia was still a province of Russia. Choirs of 20,000 to 30,000 people stoked the flames of Estonian nationalism at a time when the fires of nationalism were spreading throughout Europe. Held every five years, the Laulupidu has since 1928 taken place in its own dedicated space, the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.

In 1969, after decades of Soviet occupation in Estonia, thousands of participants in an Estonian music festival broke out singing the unofficial Estonian national anthem, “Land of My Fathers, Land That I love,” which the Soviets had banned years before. As the song swept through the crowd, Soviet officials tried to bring the festival to an end, but the people sang on, repeating the song until the officials gave up and let them.

The people had spoken.

Rather, they had sung.

And they kept singing. Estonia’s national song festivals continued during the country’s years behind the iron curtain. Also during those years – specifically, in 1981 – the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir was founded.

Between 1987 and 1991, Estonians gathered in what would become a series of anti-Soviet protests to sing banned songs. These protests, along with other acts of defiance, have come to be called Estonia’s Singing Revolution, which culminated in Estonia winning political independence in 1991.

As a remarkable instance of a bloodless political revolution and a statement of the power of music to strengthen common bonds among people, to change minds and to change the world, Estonia’s Singing Revolution was chronicled in the 2006 documentary "The Singing Revolution."


Estonia’s Singing Revolution lives on in a free and democratic Estonia and among the country's people, who today lift their voices together in song, just because they can.

Join me at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4 for a public interview with Kaspars Putniņš, artistic director of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, onstage at the Southern Theatre, before the choir’s 4 p.m. concert.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.