May 27, 2007
by Anneli Reigas
TALLINN (AFP) - Nearly 30 years after Neeme Jarvi took his family and left the Soviet Union for the United States, the conductor from tiny Estonia who has become a global music giant will hold a homecoming concert in Tallinn that spans the generations.
Sharing the conductor's baton with Jarvi for the concert in the Estonia Concert Hall in Tallinn on Saturday will be his sons, Paavo and Kristjan.
Daughter Maarika, a flautist, will be a featured solo artist in the concert, while a handful of Neeme's grandchildren will be in the audience.
The entire family will be travelling to Estonia especially for the concert, with Grammy-award winner Paavo arriving at the last minute because of professional commitments in Germany.
The concert is not only a birthday celebration for Jarvi, who will be 70 on June 7, but also a homecoming for the entire family, which has kept alive its love of Estonia despite long years spent outside the Baltic state.
"Although my family and I have been living far away from our homeland for 27 years, we have always remained attached to our Estonian roots," Jarvi told AFP.
"It's a great honour to be a member of a tiny nation of around only one million people that has survived wars and occupations by Russians, Germans and even Danes and Swedes," said Jarvi, who is currently chief conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in the United States.
After working for 17 years as a conductor in his native Estonia, which was a Soviet republic from 1945 until 1991, Jarvi took his wife Liilia and three children and fled the Soviet Union in 1980.
With just 200 US dollars to his name, he emigrated to the United States, where he was immediately snapped up by Columbia Artists.
His debut concerts in exile were with major US orchestras : the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
"When I left the Soviet Union it was like a prison - whenever I was invited to conduct in the West, it was up to Moscow to decide whether I could go. And they never let me take the kids," he said.
"When we finally left the empire behind, with almost no money, the new job proposals came very quickly. I learnt from that, that if you want to open the door to new opportunities, you have to be free to take those opportunities."
Jarvi will share the baton with his sons Paavo and Kristjan at Saturday's sold-out concert.
They will conduct the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, with Maarika featuring as a solo artist on the flute.
Tenor Juhan Tralla will be the featured soloist of the Estonian National Male Choir, which is also taking part in the concert of Sibelius' Finlandia, movements of the Aladdin Suite by Nielsen; and works by Liszt and Estonian composers Tormis, Kapp and Eller.
For 44-year-old Paavo, conducting an orchestra is a childhood dream come true.
"As a kid I used to sit for hours at the concert hall, watching my father's rehearsals and dreaming that perhaps one day it will be me standing in front of the orchestra," said Paavo, who won a Grammy award in 2003 for his recordings of Sibelius cantatas.
Paavo is currently lead conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the United States, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, and regularly guest conducts around the world.
Kristjan conducts the Vienna Tonkunstler Symphony Orchestra, and is artistic director of the New York Absolute Ensemble, which has a repertory running from Renaissance to rock music. He established the ensemble in 1993.
From their outposts around the world, the Jarvi family watched with dismay the riots that rocked Tallinn in April, triggered when a monument to Soviet soldiers who fought fascism in World War II was removed from the centre of the city.
Paavo thinks he has a solution to the violence that erupted in the riots and the ensuing anti-Estonian rhetoric from Moscow.
"We should start changing the way we teach history at school," he told AFP.
"It would be much better to teach kids history through music history, because if we keep teaching history the way we do now, from one war to the next, we will continue to raise our kids with the wrong mentality," said the father of two, who admits that, as a child, he didn't know "that some families do something else for a job, other than music."
For Estonians, the Jarvi family concert is a reminder of the role music has played in the country's history.
Estonians sang their way through the Soviet occupation that began at the end of World War II, and with their "Singing Revolution" -- peaceful, musical demonstrations in the late 1980s -- opened the gates to renewed independence in 1991.