“The Polar Music Prize of 1 million Swedish Kronor, is given to each of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to support their national music culture, as a nucleus for the formation of performing rights societies in international co-operation.”
When Stig Anderson founded the Polar Music Prize in the early ‘90s, he decided it should be awarded to individuals, groups and institutions in recognition of exceptional achievements in music and/or musical life – and “for achievements which are believed to be of great potential importance for the advancement of music and/or musical life.” The three Baltic States; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are to this date the only institutional Laureates.
To understand the significance and the background of the award, one needs to go back to the winter and spring of 1991-92. At that time, the three nations had only existed for six months. They declared their new independence in March 1990 (Lithuania) and in August 1991 (Estonia and Latvia) and had legally elected governments. The Soviet Union officially recognized the three Baltic States on September 6, 1991.
“Aside from the financial support, the Polar Music Prize had a most encouraging effect showing that there was a trust in our future and that Estonian Authors’ Society was considered being – or rather to be – a collecting society capable of performing the same functions like any other European society”, says the Managing Director of EAU, Kavel Rattus today. “Yes, the financial support and the moral recognition were the two biggest values”, agrees Edmundas Vaitekunas, Director of the Lithuanian copyright management association LATGA-A in 1992 and until recently. “You have to understand”, says Kavel Rattus, “that our copyright law was enforced only 6 months later, there was anarchy on the music market and piracy prevailed.” Together with Latvian author’s society AKKA-LAA, these newly founded rights societies were the real recipients of the Polar Music Prize – since it was awarded “to support their national music culture, as a nucleus for the formation of performing rights societies in international co-operation”.
Aid and assistance
The Prize money was trusted by the Swedish Performing Rights Society STIM, who administered payouts, bit by bit, during two years. They also gave professional advice and support to the Baltic societies. “It was the beginning of a good partnership with STIM”, says Kavel Rattus of EAU. “Not only should we manage the economic rights of authors and composers in our own country, but also taking care of the interests of our sister societies throughout the world in our territory.”
All three Baltic societies are members of CISAC (International Federation of Societies of Authors and Composers) and the European group GESAC. “The Polar Music Prize also meant very practical aid and assistance to the Baltic societies”, remembers Bo Lindqvist of STIM. “I travelled a lot in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1992-93 and visited the three societies. I could see the need of very basic equipment, besides the need for structural support.
What do we know about the music in the three Baltic states? Most people around the world, possibly very little. What all three countries have in common is the strong position for choral music, for singing. Some of the world’s largest song festivals are held in Vilnius, Tallinn and not least in Riga. The All-Latvian Song and Dance Festival has been held here since 1873, normally every five years.
Approximately 30,000 performers participate in the event. Traditionally, folksongs and classical choir songs are sung, with emphasis on a cappella singing, but in recent years modern popular songs have been incorporated into the repertoire. During the Soviet coaching, rock music was extremely popular, because it, as well as folk songs, offered a chance to rebel against the local authorities. Jazz has had a strong foothold in this part of Europe. Now, the popular music scene is dominated by pop music and alternative rock.
There is a movement in Estonia, as well as in Latvia and Lithuania, with more and more alternative rock bands and artists singing in English in a personal, poetic style – to some extent rooted in their national music culture but at the same time with an international appeal. Ewert and the Two Dragons is a successful example. At the Estonian Music Awards 2012 they won “Band of the year”, “Album of the year” and “Song of the year” (for 2011). One of the most famous contemporary classical composers in Europe is from Estonia; Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) – although he left his country many years ago because of struggle with the Soviet authorities. He now lives in Berlin. The Eurovision Song Contest kind of music has a strong foothold in Estonia, too, as has heavy rock. But as Estonia and the other Baltic countries become more and more part of a European and global society, all genres and styles are represented on the Estonian music scene.
The examples of Lithuanian contemporary music are typical of the evolution of music in countries previously isolated, and now democracies in a global world. You cannot really say that it’s typical Lithuanian music. Still it is. At least it is composed and performed by musicians and artists living in Lithuania, but now moving freely around the world. Mario Basonov (Marijus Adomaitis) makes ambient, house and dance music that is universal. Alina Orlova (Orlovskaya, b. 1988) is a sung poetry musician of Polish-Russian heritage who performs in three languages; English, Russian and French. Gediminas Gelgotas (b. 1986) is a Lithuanian composer, conductor and performing artist. In 2006, he founded the ensemble NI&Co (New Ideas Chamber Orchestra) to realize his musical and conceptual ideas. His works are performed in concert halls in Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and Great Britain – besides Lithuania.