Artistic director Heli Jürgenson

Tunes, seeds and tonality

It only took conductor Heli Jürgenson (48) 15 minutes to decide, whether she wants to be the artistic director of the 12th Estonian Youth Song Celebration or not. She discussed the issue with her family and said „yes”. The subsequent two and a half years have so far been the most awesome years in her life.

Written by Margit Kilumets

Every weekend, when Heli has some spare time, she leaves Tallinn. To the countryside. She has never spent her vacation at some paradise beach and she doesn’t even miss it − fussing with plants, cuttings and seeds is for her the best way to rest from tunes and tonalities. „I need gardening as much as I need air,“ describes Heli the feeling of utmost happiness that takes her over at the beginning of the green season both in her childhood home in Aseri and in their country home near Häädemeeste, which they inherited from the grandparents of her husband. There she free to go to her greenhouse or to her garden beds and switch off the biggest-challenge-in-her-life-button for a couple of days. At the same time, she keeps underlining that preparation for this celebration has been an immense pleasure and that there has never before been such a fantastic and cool celebration. As saying it she moves herself to tears, there is no reason to doubt that she means every word she said.


did the two young men, Veiko Tubin and Rasmus Puur, ask her to join their team, when their concept „Young roots“ was approved by the Song Celebration’s Commission and they were looking for a professional conductor. It was unexpected and surprising, because Heli has been teaching young conductors in Georg Ots Music School for 25 years now and doesn’t consider herself a young conductor. Still, she didn’t lose her nerve, well realizing that this might be an offer and opportunity of a lifetime.

„Since I made the decision, I have been in the spotlight,“ she says, describing the time of preparation for the celebration, „and I am starting to feel sorry that this time is soon going to be over. I promised myself to take from this hustle and bustle all that I can and I have. We have had incredibly awesome creative camps, where we have conducted each other’s songs, analysed everything to the smallest details, sung each song through our soul and body. The master-apprentice relationship has worked miraculously and it doesn’t matter, whether you are young or old − everyone is involved to the fullest. There are many young conductors conducting at our celebration and I can assure you − cross my heart − that they are getting an incredibly valuable experience.“

Heli together with her partners has also covered the whole notional journey during which the theme and the name of the current celebration was born. As the seemingly so simple and right concept „Here I’ll Stay“ started to prevail and chime in the meeting room, Heli suddenly remembered all those hundreds of kilos of homesickness, which she had carried on her shoulders during numerous concert tours. The concept of staying in one’s homeland is as emotional and touching as a concept can ever be, because Heli just doesn’t know how to feel homely in any other city or country. She just always wants to return home.


and warmly are the best adjectives to describe Heli’s attitude towards all singers, who sing their heart out under the Song Festival Stage arch and have toiled for two and a half years for the sake of best possible result. She appreciates that for most of the participants singing is just a hobby and they must find time for it at the expense of their day-to-day life. She has been working for past six years as a choirmaster of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and knows well how the professional music world works. Well enough to remind her elder kids − the youngest, Siim, is only six and attends kindergarten! − that choosing a path of a musician would not be an easy one.

„However, I am in favour of Children’s School of Music, since studying music makes person’s view of the world more wholesome,“ Heli describes her principles. Son Sander (17) is seeking to combine his own music with computer programming and daughter Hanna (21) has gone a few steps further. She is playing double bass and is participating in the „Here I’ll Stay“ celebration as a member of the orchestra. „I did not favour the choice of Hanna in any way as being a professional musician means a bumpy ride in life. You must be damn good in order to succeed. It is particularly tough for a conductor, for there is a very limited number of real jobs.”


Heli was noticed in Aseri music school by her teacher, who suggested that she should continue music studies in Tallinn. And so, it happened that one fine midsummer day she found herself standing at the heart of the city, not even knowing, how to get to the Georg Ots Music School, where she was supposed to study. „I must admit, that I am a hundred percent hillbilly,“ takes Heli pride in her roots in Ida-Virumaa county and refers at the same time to the extremely fertile music soil of her home place, which has produced such renowned names as conductors Ants Üleoja and Hirvo Surva. „For sure, I have inherited some toughness and love for music from my childhood home in Aseri and that has helped me through the hard times alone in Tallinn, since the end of eighties and the beginning of the nineties was a rather complicated time in Estonia. There was no bread or shampoo on sale, but on the other hand we had our fantastic night song festivals and these years were emotionally very loaded.“ Heli still considers as her spiritual mentor conductor Ants Soots, who taught her conducting in the conservatory.


and cheerfully does the reputable professor still salute Heli for several decades now with words „Hi, student!” Heli was the first student whose talent was sprouted in the conservatory by Ants Soots and the theme of growth and sprouting in the context of this year’s song celebration is very important for Heli. „Our programme doesn’t include any random songs and this is really important,“ feels Heli happy. „Preparations for the celebration have been incredibly smooth and it is super important that there has been no whining and complaining. Still, my own secret mission number one has been training young conductors via song celebrations and this is exactly what those young people here at home and prevents them from leaving. I do sincerely believe in it.“

My own mission number one has been training young conductors via song celebrations and this is exactly what those young people here at home and prevents them from leaving.

The master-apprentice relationship has worked miraculously and it doesn’t matter, whether you are young or old − everyone is involved to the fullest.