Renowned Estonian-German composer turns 80

As Arvo Pärt celebrates his 80th birthday on September 11th, the Estonian-born composer who adopted German nationality can look back on decades of fame, respect and awe from around the globe.

Renowned Estonian-German composer turns 80
Photo: DPA

World-famous classical composer Arvo Pärt turns 80 today. However, the veteran composer is far from retired.

Just last year, Pärt won a Grammy for Adam's Lament, a choral and orchestra compostition performed in Russian.

And in May this year, Adam's Passion premiered in Estonian capital Tallinn.

The composition is a collaboration with stage director and playright Robert Wilson.

From Tallinn to Berlin

Born in Estonia in 1935, Pärt played oboe and percussion in a military band and was writing his own compositions while in his early teens.

He studied at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (then the Tallinn Conservatory) – where, writes Pärt's biographer Paul Hillier, others said “he just seemed to shake his sleeves and the notes would fall out.”

Pärt and his wife emigrated to Berlin in 1981, along with their two sons. With a fluent grasp of German, Pärt is officially a German citizen – and in recent years has split his time between Berlin and Tallinn.

A quiet genius

Dubbed the world's most popular classical composer by Die Welt, Pärt is also notoriously difficult to get hold of. The composer doesn't generally give interviews nowadays, reports Welt.

Reserved and taciturn, Pärt's attitude towards interviews seems similar to that of his compositions – mystic and minimalist.

He uses his own original style of composition: the slow and meditative Tintinnabuli.

In a style often described as New Simplicity, or New Age, Pärt usually works with just one or two voices, and minimal instruments – describing his materials as “primitive.”

“I realised that it was enough simply to play one note beautifully,” Pärt told Die Welt.

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Dancing like there’s no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig

For techno enthusiast Philipp Koegler, it almost felt like a normal Saturday night again as he joined 200 fellow revellers at "Distillery", the first German nightclub to reopen since the start of the pandemic.

Dancing like there's no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig
A file photo of a disco ball in a night club. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Tonight, there are no rules,” the almost 30-year-old told AFP, whipping off his mask on his way to the dance floor.

Despite more than a year of closures forced by the coronavirus, it didn’t take long for the thumping beats, low lights and buzzing crowds to reawaken the much-missed club atmosphere.

“It feels like I’ve come back after being away on vacation for a week,” Koegler beamed.

But of course there are some rules to restarting the party, even in Germany where coronavirus infections have declined steadily in recent weeks as the pace of vaccinations has picked up.

The Distillery club in the eastern city of Leipzig, which bills itself as the oldest techno venue in Germany’s former Communist east, is taking part in a pilot project supported by scientists from the Max Planck institute and the local university hospital.

Just 200 club-goers are allowed in instead of the usual 600 and each person must take two different kinds of coronavirus tests earlier in the day, with entry granted only if they test negative both times.

Once inside, the masks can come off and revellers don’t have to socially distance.

Each participant also agrees to being re-tested a week later, to uncover potential infections despite the precautions taken.


Organisers hope the project can serve as a blueprint for further club re-openings to help the hard-hit sector back on its feet after a devastating year.

Although several venues in Germany experimented with open-air parties, club-goer Konny said it “just isn’t the same”.

“In the club, you’re in a different world,” she said.

Growing influence

Distillery manager Steffen Kache expressed pride at being the first club in the country to reopen indoors.

“Everyone is jealous,” he told AFP.

Kache said that if there has been an upside to the pandemic closures, it was that politicians had woken up to the social and economic importance of Germany’s vibrant club culture.

Lawmakers last month agreed to reclassify nightclubs as cultural institutions rather than entertainment venues, putting them on a par with
theatres and museums to provide more protection and tax benefits.

Germany’s nightlife capital Berlin alone – home to iconic clubs Berghain, KitKat and Tresor – usually attracts tens of thousands of foreign visitors each year who generate over a billion euros in revenues.   

Many observers fear that when the pandemic dust has settled, not all of Germany’s clubs will have survived the lengthy shutdowns.

The collaboration with local authorities that made Distillery’s pilot project possible was “unthinkable before the crisis”, Kache said, and evidence of a “reconciliation” between underground club culture and the political establishment.

He said he hoped the next step would be “the nationwide reopening of cultural spots and clubs, without Covid restrictions”.