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Estonia’s greatest musical family – the Järvis

Global story of celebrated conductors Neeme, Paavo and Kristjan Järvi

8 min read
© Peter Adamik

Every summer the global Järvi music dynasty retreats to the Estonian seaside town of Pärnu – to spend time together at the old family country estate and to pass on their musical legacy, through the Järvi Academy, as part of Pärnu Music Festival. The three celebrated conductors – Neeme, Paavo and Kristjan, each have their personal style and trademarks but they also share a strong common musical heritage and rootedness in Estonia in spite of the globe-spanning careers.

Neeme Järvi

Neeme Järvi  © Simon van Boxtel

The Patriarch

Neeme Järvi was already a celebrated conductor when he emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1980 with his wife, daughter and two young sons, just a few weeks ahead of Arvo Pärt who ended up at the same hotel in Vienna. Pärt’s ‘Credo’ had premiered in Tallinn under Järvi’s baton in 1979, resulting in official disfavour by the Soviet authorities. Since then, Neeme Järvi has become one of most respected maestros, world-renowned for his spontaneity, creativity and freedom of expression. With his intuitive style Järvi often changes his interpretation from one concert to another. A prolific recording artist, he has amassed a discography of nearly 500 recordings, probably the largest of any living conductor. Järvi has been a keen promoter of Estonian music throughout his career, both through performances and recordings.

Over his long and successful career Neeme has worked with the most prestigious orchestras including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Wiener Symphoniker, as well as the major orchestras in the USA including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras. He also continues to have regular relationships with the NHK in Japan, Shanghai and Singapore Symphony orchestras as well as the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Göteborg Symphoniker and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He is currently Artistic Director of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, as well as holding the title of Music Director Emeritus with both the Residentie Orkest and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Neeme Järvi

Neeme Järvi 

Neeme Järvi has recorded with Chandos for over thirty years. Highlights of his extensive discography include critically acclaimed complete orchestral cycles of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Mahler, Dvorák, Glazunov, Grieg, Sibelius, Nielsen and Brahms. Järvi has also championed many Estonian composers, including Rudolf Tobias, Artur Kapp, Eduard Tubin and Arvo Pärt.

Celebrating his 80th birthday next summer, he remains a ‘man of 100 projects’, with more recordings to his name than any living conductor – all fuelled by his desire to ferret out little-known repertoire to which he can add his sparkle.

It’s also thanks to his boundless enthusiasm for passing on his passion that two other Järvis wield the baton – his sons Paavo and Kristjan –while their sister Maarika is an accomplished flautist.

Paavo Järvi

Paavo Järvi  © Ventre Photos

The Classic

The Grammy-awarded Paavo Järvi’s international conducting career has lasted 30 years up to now. He has just finished his last season at the helm of Orchestre de Paris and taken up the baton as chief conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. Paavo Järvi’s accolades include Artistic Director of Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen, Conductor Laureate of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Music Director Laureate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Advisor of the Pärnu Music Festival and Järvi Academy and Artistic Advisor to the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.

The next few seasons with NHK will see a focus on Richard Strauss. Paavo Järvi considers the NHK SO to be one of the best orchestras in Asia, if not the best: ‘I have been conducting in Japan since twenty years and this fanatism and respect that they have for classical music is extraordinary – there’s nothing like it in the whole world. Not even in Germany. They have a special love for classical music. Those who have found you always will come to your concerts.’

Kristjan Järvi

Kristjan Järvi  © Frank Ferville

The latest Estonian adventure of Paavo Järvi is the creation of the Estonian Festival Orchestra (EFO), based on the Pärnu Music Festival which the Järvi family has been running for many years. The Järvi Academy, which takes place in Pärnu in July, brings some of the best musicians from all orchestras conducted by Paavo Järvi to the Estonian summer capital and creates a very special vibe. It is also a great opportunity for young Estonian musicians to learn from acclaimed colleagues and build networks for their careers. Now Paavo Järvi wants to take the festival orchestra beyond this once-a-year format and bring it together for tours during the festival season as well. The celebration of Estonia’s 100th jubilee in 2018 offers a great backdrop for this adventure as it also aims to present Estonian culture worldwide. And what can be more suitable for this celebration than music?

Paavo Järvi has described the Pärnu Festival Orchestra as one of the best he has ever conducted: ‘The quality doesn’t just stem from the really high level of all players, who work in the most renowned orchestras of the world, they all share a mission – they want to play here. I felt it was a pity to have this orchestra play just once a year and not to be able to offer this quality outside of Estonia. I think it’s a shame that in spite of the great amount of talent of Estonian musicians we have seen so few true international breakthroughs. I see in the EFO the potential to break through this glass ceiling.’ Concert halls in Vienna, Luxembourg, Brussels, Berlin and Amsterdam have already shown interest in hosting Paavo Järvi’s new orchestra which is to be represented by Järvi’s own agency HarrisonParrott.

Paavo Järvi

Paavo Järvi  © Julia Baier

The Rebel

A recent concert of Kristjan Järvi’s Baltic Sea Philharmonic in Tallinn was described as a ‘one-man-show of a rock star wearing a sweater and stretch jeans’ – Kristjan’s conducting style is all but classical: ‘The orchestra between his hands feels like an instrument … or a woman, with whom he is heading towards climax. Järvi himself and the BSP exude an erotic excitement that led to an inevitable explosion in the Estonia concert hall,’ wrote a critic in Estonian daily Postimees. Kristjan also uses the trade-mark conducting manner of his father – just a slight twitch of his shoulders is enough for the orchestra to take the cue.

An entrepreneur by nature and a passionate educator, Kristjan Järvi leads both the oldest Radio Orchestra in Europe and the newest Youth Orchestra. He realises his pioneering ideas with his four ensembles: as Music Director of the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Gstaad Festival Orchestra, as Founder-Conductor of his New York-based classical-hip-hop-jazz group Absolute Ensemble, and as Founder and Music Director of the Baltic Sea (Youth) Philharmonic, the cornerstone of the Baltic Sea Music Education System. As a recording artist Kristjan Järvi has more than 60 albums to his credit, from Hollywood soundtracks such as ‘Cloud Atlas’ and award-winning albums on Sony and Chandos, to his eponymous series on renowned French label Naïve Classique: the ‘Kristjan Järvi Sound Project.’

Tallinn Music Week Opening Party

Tallinn Music Week Opening Party  © Mart Sepp

Kristjan continues to work with some of today’s brightest creative minds, from film directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, to composers and artists Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Tan Dun, Hauschka, Dhafer Youssef, Anoushka Shankar and Esa-Pekka Salonen, with whom he started his career as Assistant Conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Kristjan’s primary focus has turned towards his new conceptual concert shows ‘The Kristjan Järvi Sound Experience’.

‘It’s kind of a hybrid between a rock band, chamber orchestra, and big band, and has the mentality that music is non-genre-oriented, that all music is actually an evolution: it started from the days of clapping and singing, which are still very inherent in our physiology and sensibility as human beings, but at the same time it has developed to incorporate such a fantastic scope of different types of music nowadays, from Renaissance to rock to hip-hop and you name it,’ says Kristjan.

He is constantly gaining more global awareness for the strength, knowledge and possibilities of Estonia and the whole Nordic region, with his Baltic Sea Philharmonic. All developments, concepts and projects he is creating as an entrepreneur actually reflect his Estonian roots.

Kristjan concludes: ‘I want to create a harmonious oasis, where we can feel calm and quiet. I’m looking for a light that enlightens our existence not only in this world, but in the whole universe. We have to understand that nobody will survive. Nobody. That means we have to make the most of our time here. Do the best that we can imagine. Then it’s much easier to create the harmony. I can’t find a better justification for my being on this planet.’

Source: Life in Estonia

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