I've been to Estonia this week to do a travel feature for BBC Music Magazine and something for The Strad. The trip was courtesy of Warner Classics, who took me and several other journalists there to meet a very glamorous female conductor named Anu Tali who has her own project orchestra in Tallinn, and a twin sister, Kadri, who is her manager. Live wires, both of them, and easy to see why Warners are so keen to get her on board.
Tallinn is extremely beautiful. As in Vilnius, the outskirts are grey, Soviet and awful, but then you go through an ancient archway into the old city and suddenly you're in fairyland - medieval Hanseatic houses, cobbled streets, pretty churches, a wonderfully restored Russian cathedral towering at the top of the hill...and the restaurants are marvellous. The City Council treated the entire Warner group to lunch at Old Hansa, entirely in medieval style with candlelight, wooden trestle tables, murals, hefty wooden staircases and 14th-century recipes which were fabulous: salmon with hazelnuts, turnips with ginger, liver pate, wild berry preserves etc etc, not to mention honey beer and spiced wine. Estonian for 'cheers' is Terviseks, a word that, predictably, was much mis-quoted by some members of our party...
The concert hall is small and sweet with a pleasing, clear acoustic. The contemporary music that we heard was laden with Sibelian influences. The composer who most impressed me was Tormis, who was featured several times in Anu's concert; I was less thrilled by a 1984 minimalist symphony by the late Sumera; mixed feelings about a dance suite by Tubin. All of it sounded pretty good until the programme suddenly turned up some Tchaikovsky - the letter scene from Onegin - upon which everything else somewhat paled.
Tallinn was altogether easier to be in than Vilnius. No tears, no pain, less seedy, less historically significant, better kept, further advanced in westernisation terms, less religious, less intense and - because of all this - not quite as interesting either.