Special To The Washington Post.
“The recordings that I got really captivated by – and got really into the sound and rhythm and scales (of) – they are mainly from the 1920s and ’30s, recorded all over Estonia,” Nuut said via Skype from Estonia in the lead-up to her debut North American tour. Nuut’s concerts will feature music and another of her specialties – storytelling.
“Some are true stories; some are maybe not true stories,” Nuut said. “I do like to play a lot (on) the border of reality and unreality.”
The roots of Nuut’s idiosyncratic career date to her childhood in Rakvere, in northern Estonia, where her mother was a choir conductor. Nuut, 29, began violin lessons at age 7 and continued her classical studies for 14 years, with time out for Ethno camps, a program that allows young folk musicians from around the world to meet, jam and teach each other.
At 21, Nuut traveled to India, where she studied violin and Hindustani music. Upon her return to Estonia, she decided to focus on her homeland’s folk tradition.
That tradition, Nuut said, went into something of a deep freeze when Estonia became part of the Soviet Union in 1940. “The culture changed a lot,” she said, noting that old-style village fiddle music died out for a half-century or so.
In 1991, Estonia regained its independence. “When we got independent, people really started to look for their roots,” Nuut said. “Since the beginning of the ’90s, and especially during the last 10 years, (there’s been) a huge boom of folk music here in Estonia.”
While digging in the university archives, Nuut came across recordings made in the early-20th century by the Finnish ethnomusicologist Armas Otto Väisänen, who appears to have been a sort of Alan Lomax of Finno-Ugric culture.
Taking a cue from the historical material, Nuut developed a style of fiddle-playing that features repetitive, subtly varying patterns reminiscent of minimalist composers such as Philip Glass. She sings sometimes, too, drawing lyrics from traditional Estonian songs or using her voice as a rhythmic instrument. And giving her musical brand a digital-age twist, Nuut incorporates live looping into her performances, so you can hear multiple versions of her voice and/or fiddle at the same time.
Despite her apparent comfort with libraries, Nuut finds frenzy energizing and is optimistic about her upcoming whirl in North America. “Stress,” she said, “makes me really creative.”
Keywords: Estonian fiddler and singer Maarja Nuut, kennedy center, Ingrid Bergman, swedish embassy