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The 2015 Lotus Festival

Baltic Crossing:

With driving guitar and bass beats accompanying a fiery fiddle and the odd-looking, but lilting, Northumbrian smallpipe, the quartet of Baltic Crossing kicked off the Lotus festivities on Thursday and Friday. The members, who were English, Danish, and Finnish, each showcased unique talents and tunes that had audiences doing everything from sitting in cozy silence to clapping along joyously.

Unlike many Lotus acts that fuse styles from opposite ends of the world, Baltic Crossing’s mixture of Northern European sounds was both subtle and unexpected. The most universally recognizable pieces were folk songs and dances, like jigs and polkas. There were also, however, slower, romantic songs pulled from folk traditions in the three countries or composed by the artists (including a touching song dedicated to wedding guests). By themselves, the songs were memorably beautiful with the violin or smallpipe carrying a distinctive melody and the plucked strings providing a familiar, almost Indie-feel. But as all the songs were often juxtaposed rapidly against each other, the audience was kept on their feet as to what would be next or whether a song would even change tempos rapidly in the middle. The outcome was never disappointing.

In between pieces, all of the group members proved to be extremely charming even off of their instruments. Their lighthearted jokes with the audience and each other solidified the intimate and warm atmosphere of a unique and fun concert.


On Friday and Saturday nights, churches resonated with the powerful sounds of the Finnishkantele (plucked dulcimer) and reki (harmonic singing). Kardememmit, who celebrated their Sweet Sixteen as a band just this year, were a spectacle in simplicity.

This group comprised of four women presented a repertoire that was both lulling and magical. Whereas the sounds of kantele are traditionally much more brisk and intricate, they were used much more slowly here, much more like a harpsichord with pulsing chords and deliberate melodies. That the instruments were not electric made their unique sound even more memorable. They were a perfect, slightly minimalist accompaniment to the beautiful voices that sung both traditional epics and independently composed poems. Though ostensibly uniform with these same instruments and even in a similar singing range, the singers’ voices branching off together into different notes were as much to be heard as they were felt.

While their repertoire was not recognizably varied, Kardememmit’s live performance was bold and entrancing. The acoustics of the venues were compliments to this talented group whose tight, complex harmonies were carefully and impressively executed. 

Maarja Nuut:

The visual of a single woman, two violins hanging off a solitary microphone, and a looping machine seems primitive and slightly awkward. The music they make together, however, is anything but. Using nothing but these accoutrements, her voice, and occasionally even her shoes, Maarja Nuut took us on a musical journey through Estonian folklore.

With a soft and slightly raspy voice, using strategic pauses and dry, understated humor for emphasis, Maarja told stories of fantastic and familiar creatures, like the bird with the silken feathers who created the world and the little devils who danced polka in a circle. Otherwise unheard of characters were brought to life thanks to a texturally rich tapestry of sounds that could express the creaking groans of the upset wooden swing or the clicking of the black horse’s hooves. With the looping machine, she was able to provide her own harmonies against which she sang traditionally-inspired Estonian songs or continued to build more layered melodies (again, with herself). The effect was ethereal. When she proved herself to be a dancer and performed a solo waltz, the rhythmic brushing and tapping of her shoes was as hypnotic as her complex harmonics.

Maarja’s performance was not only unique for her ingenuity but also her expressivity and ability to captivate through both words and music.