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My Year in Tallinn University Symphony Orchestra


I am Tobias and my Erasmus year at Tallinn University has ended. I am looking back on a year full of moments of excitement, new friends and international lifestyle. Basically, the classical Erasmus dream. But there is one thing that made my year special in a very personal way: my time in Tallinn University Symphony Orchestra.


When I came to Tallinn I was looking for any kind of musical “something” in which I could participate. During the Orientation Week I found out that there are two options: theMen’s Choir and the Symphony Orchestra. I decided to apply for both groups. Since my timetable allowed me quite a lot of free time at first, why not?

I was nervous as hell when I went to the audition for the orchestra. I have never played in a classical orchestra before and also my instrument (piano) is not really a classical orchestra thing. Indeed you may wonder how piano and Symphony Orchestra would match together and that’s fair enough. It is not a common combination. Unfortunately the mainstream of classical composers forgot us piano players in their most famous oeuvres. I was full of concerns, whether there is at least need for me respectively a fulfilling task.

But there was, luckily. The conductors agreed to take me for the first rehearsals. I had lots of problems at the beginning, but step by step I saw a bit of an improvement coming. Of course not every piece had piano scores, but I was surprised how many of the works had. If there was no explicit piano part then I usually played the harp parts on the piano. Also I had a lot of concerts with the choir, so I was definitely not demanded to little.

Tallinn University Symphony Orchestra at the Inauguration Ceremony of prof. Tiit Land

In December we had the first row of concerts, the most important was a tribute concert to Finland on the 6th of December, the Independence Day of our neighbor in the north. It was held in Kaarli Kirik, Tallinn’s biggest cathedral. Matching this we played Finlandia of the finish national composer Jean Sibelius. Now things developed in a challenging way during this concert. At the rehearsal before the concert it was suddenly clear that we were lacking percussion players to play Finalandia properly. So I was asked to play the piatti (cymbals) and triangle party. I have never had percussion instruments in my hands… so why me? But the conductors trusted in me, so I tried. I tried really, really hard. Well it worked kind of okay for the first time!

During the next months I became a bit addicted to percussion instruments. I would not have expected it to be that much fun to play it. All this “boom and bssh” feels really powerful. So I was always happy when there were some parts where they needed me in the drum section. After Christmas we started to rehearse for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a massive work written for big orchestra, soloists, choir and two pianos and absolutely the peak of the year. This meant for me, back to the keys!


But Carmina Burana was by far not the only project. While rehearsing for it we had several smaller concerts inside and outside of Tallinn, we did some premieres of new compositions, and we played twice in the Estonia Concert Hall. It was an absolutely fancy feeling to play on a stage where usually international professionals perform. Unfortunately I had to quit the Choir, since the Orchestra projects were more time taking.

At the end of April Carmina Burana finally came closer. We staged it together with a partner choir from Nijmegen in the Netherlands, the choirs of Tallinn University, professional dancers and a visual installation. And, most fancy, the whole piece was filmed and broadcasted live on national TV and on the internet. Just take your own impressionshere.

Carmina Burana here in Tallinn was definitely the most challenging and impressive thing I have ever done in my life. I am very grateful that I could be part of this huge project and all the other concerts. I gained a lot of new experiences and improved my skills. I was even able to try new instruments. It was an absolutely enriching experience to spend my Erasmus year with TU Orchestra.

I will miss it a lot. The friendly atmosphere, the good organisation due to our manager Janne Jakobson and the relaxed but despite pushing spirit of the conductors impressed me a lot. We just arrived back from a concert tour in the Netherlands, where we met our partner choir and did an another round of Carmina Burana concerts! See the photos of our tour.

Text and photos by Tobias Mayr (Erasmus student).