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It was in Rapla where two right people met at the right time: experienced and never-tired organizer Raimo Kivistik (“there’s no better place for music events than a small town”), church teacher Mihkel Kukk (“after half a century gone by, the festival helps people to find their way back to church”) and local governon Kalle Talviste (“it’s important that other areas in Estonia besides the capital are valued”). Rapla church has always had a soft spot for music. It is a beautiful, 100 years old church with two stunning towers which never fail to catch attention and impress. It is a perfect home for great music.


On the 6th of July in 1993, Toompea Kaarli choir performed in this very church led by Ene Üleoja and Piret Aidulo. Composer’s editions of Ave Maria and Meie Isa Palve stunned the audience. The end of the concert was heart warming. "Eesti Missa" (Estonian Mass) by Urmas Sisask was played in Estonia for the very first time, and obvioulsy where else than in Rapla, the birth place of the composer. The piece was also later on performed at the national Song Festival. The world premier of the misssa however took place in Poland. The first series of concert was already a success although the event wasn’t yet referred to as festival and its future was still unclear. During the concerts, the audience had the pleasure to enjoy Estonian and Finnish church choirs, solo artists, organ concerts, and a variety of ensembles. The series ended with Johannes Passion by J.S. Bach which left the audience excited for the next music summer. After half a century of silence the church was once again acknowledged as a place for concerts.


It is clear that the first concert series held in Rapla was the beginning of the Rapla Church Music Festival. The varied genres and pieces of music which were played remain the basis of the festival to this day. While being felxible and fresh, the festival surprises its audience with new exciting performers every summer. 


The festival was born in a cooperative environment with an international scope in mind. Estonian musicians appreciated the Finnish support and cooperation took place on many levels. For example when Tampere choir was practicing Belsatsar, they chose Rapla orchestra as their partner. Additionally, conductor Heikki Liimola visited Tallinn to lead the orchestra. A year later, in 1996, the fourth Rapla Music Festival was finished with Belsatsar. The very capable and talented conductor Matti Aikarinen who conducted Johannes Passion at the very first festival in 1993 was always ready and available to help when needed. Musicians from all over the Europe along with conductors like Max Krämer (Germany), Berndt Häggbom (Sweden), J.G. Nielsen (Denmark) and many more found their way to Rapla. In addition to international musicians, the music elite of Estonia has always been present - such as composers Olari Elts, Tõnu Kaljuste, Lauri Sirp, Aarne Saluveer, Tiia-Ester Loitme with the girls choir Ellerhein, Lydia Rahula, Estonian National Male Choir RAM, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra ERSO, Vox Clamantis, Orthodox Singershas and many more. 


After the fourth year, the festival expanded and instead of only organising concerts at Rapla church, they started to be held additionally also in other smaller churches around the county. Both listeners and musicians, welcomed the desicion warmly. Amongst other talented musicions, the wonderful harpsichord player Imbi Tarumis playing at the small Järvakandi wooden church has made an unforgettable impression on many people. Enn Vetemaa, whose music has been played at the festival, makes associations while listening to Debussy piano piece: “Could Debussy ever have imagined that somewhere in Käru church, people come together to listen to his music. To me this is the charm of the festival, that concerts take place in small rural churches."


The concerts of Rapla Music Festival have reached seven different counties and have been held around Estonia too, among other cities also in Tallinn and Haapsalu. The majority of the concerts take place around Rapla but bigger projects reach outside the borders of Estonia.


During the first couple of decades, the festival has created loyal listeners who choose concerts to attend based on the performer, music or the instrument. The long forms, however, have always been the crowd’s favorite. It’s greatly appreciated that this powerful music has been played here a lot. Let us name some of the most important ones: Enn Võrg’s “Valvake!”, led by Tõnu Kaljuste, Urmas Sisask’s Mass number 6 (Madise Missa), written as a reward for Rapla Riinimanda choirs, who also performed it on the 18th festival in 2010.


We are seeing a new generation of musicians and interpreters, among them Rapla Riinimanda choirs, who also took part in Haydn’s oratorio Loomine, Thea Paluoja girls choir together with Tõnis Mägi and conductor Pärt Uusberg with his choir Head Ööd, vend.


Estonians who live outside the Estonian borders have also participated in the Festival: conductor Kristjan Järvi and flutist Maarika Järvi, Kristi and Klaarika Kuusk (Sweden), singer Anneli Peebo (Vienna), violinist Anna-Liisa Bezrodny (London) and Mari Liis Päkk (USA), conductor Guido Kriik and singer Aita Kriik (Finland) concert organizer Katrin Meriloo (Finland) and many more.


Since 2010, the new creative director of the festival is an Estonian top soloist Pille Lill, who has received a warm welcome during the years she has performed in the festival. PLMF Music Trust that she founded in 2003 created Rapla International Summerschool which participants also get a chance to perform during the festival concerts. Workshops have been held for singers, but also for string and brass instruments and also for conductors in different ages. Among a number of teachers there have been: Wilma Venocchi (Italy), Margareta Haverinen-Brandt (Finland), Daniel Nodel (Germany), Mari Tampere-Bezrodny, Peeter Peamurru and many others. PLMF is to this day the organizer of the festival and develops successfully international cooperation. For example, last year, as a project with the European Union, the concert of Camerata Nordica was one of the most memorable pearls of the festival. In 2016 we are eagerly looking forward to Youth Orchestra of Americas YOA and world-class soloists, conductors and academicians.


Time flows quickly - festival’s quarter 25th year is about to be reached.

See you at the Rapla Church Music Festival! 

Written by Tiiu Luht and PLMF (June 2015)


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