Mary Ellyn Hutton
Aug 12, 2011
Estonia is a small country (population 1.34 million) with a very large musical footprint.
This was demonstrated at the first International Järvi Summer Festival in Pärnu, Estonia, a picture book seaside resort on the Baltic, July 28-August 4.
The newly organized Festival, named for Estonia’s first family of music headed by conductor Neeme Järvi, brought together an outstanding Festival Orchestra, a master course for conductors (the Järvi Conducting Academy), famed violinist Ivry Gitlis, master classes for string and wind players and an ambitious calendar that packed ten concerts into eight days.
Plans are already underway for the next Järvi Festival, to be held during last two weeks in July, 2012.
“The hope is that it will be what it is now on a very high international level,” said artistic adviser Paavo Järvi (son of Neeme Järvi). “Number one, the Festival Orchestra is something I hope to see develop into a really world class orchestra. It is possible, I think. There are phenomenal young players and not only Estonian. Of course, an Estonian festival will want to have Estonian players, but an orchestra that can pretty much play as well as the best orchestras in the world.”
Concertmaster was Florian Donderer from Germany, concertmaster of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (Donderer was also a student in the master course for conductors). Principal clarinet was Fabio di Casola, professor at the Zürich Hochschule. On the program were Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits’ exquisitely scored tone poem “Sung into the Wind,” Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with soloist Anna-Liisa Bezrodny and Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony (No. 1).
Neeme Järvi (who has multiple commitments, including artistic director of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra in Tallinn) closed the Festival August 4 with the Estonian National Youth Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. On the same concert, students from the Järvi Conducting Academy led Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” with cellist Teet Järvi, Concertino for Flute, Viola and String Orchestra with flutist Maarika Järvi and violist Mikhail Zemtsov (principal viola of the Hague Residentie Orchestra), and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with noted bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann (a native of Estonia now living in the United States).
Chamber music concerts were outstanding, including two all-Järvi concerts featuring family members Teet and Maarika, violinists Miina and Martin, pianists Mari and Mihkel, violist/composer Madis and cellist Marius.
A major highlight was the August 2 concert in Pärnu Concert Hall featuring Gitlis and six other violinists in Bach’s Double Concerto in D Minor and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins, Op. 10, No. 3.
In a kind of extension of the Festival, there were two concerts on Leigo Lakes in South Estonia Aug. 6. Twelve Academy students conducted the Estonian National Youth Symphony Orchestra on a barge in the lake in waltzes, polkas and marches by Johann Strauss Jr., and as the grand finale, Neeme Järvi led Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, accompanied by onshore bonfires and fire and color effects.
Paavo Järvi intends to build the Festival Orchestra by “identifying the best players,” he said. “I don't mean the most famous players, I mean the best players. Invite them, then invite them back and create an atmosphere where they will want to come back. Conceptually, it’s the same thing as the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, where quality is more important than anything else.”
Estonia doesn’t have the financial resources of Switzerland, Järvi conceded, but “once the word gets around, I know we can attract world class players.”
One thing Estonia has is a prime location. “The place itself (Pärnu) should be a major draw for people,” said Järvi. “It is kind of a magic location in many ways. I like the fact that it is not too big (Pärnu is about 45,000 people), that it is near the sea and that in Estonia, there is interest. By that I mean people are in the hall to hear the concert.”
Estonia is a music-loving country and even in rural venues like Tori Church just outside Pärnu (where Estonian independence was declared in 1918), people invariably come for the music. This year’s concert in Tori featured eight conductors of the Järvi Conducting Academy who led the Pärnu City Orchestra in Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, Respighi’s “The Birds” and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 (“Italian”).The Conducting Academy also has the potential to “grow into something major,” said Järvi, who coaches Academy students along with his father and conductor Leonid Grin (Paavo’s own teacher). “It is not impossible in the future to create some sort of a competition for conductors,” he said.
An annual master course begun by Neeme Järvi in 2000 and originally aligned with the David Oistrakh Festival in Pärnu, the Järvi Conducting Academy became independent in 2009, and is now under the aegis of the Järvi Festival.
There were 16 students in the 2011 class, selected from among applicants from the United States, Australia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. Academy students rehearse Festival orchestras and are assigned to conduct portions of Festival concerts under the tutelage of Neeme and Paavo Järvi and Grin. This year, they rehearsed and conducted the Pärnu City Orchestra and the Estonian National Youth Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. Students also attend lectures (Grin's are masterful) and there are video sessions where their work is critiqued by the instructors.
“I would not be surprised if they double or triple the number of applicants for next year, because now one can point at something,” said Järvi. “You can say, ‘Look at that web site. This was the first Festival. These are the contacts.’ The precedent has been made. Right now, judging by what most of these people have told me, they can’t wait to come back.”
As part of the Festival, string and wind master classes are taught by Festival artists, this year including Gitlis, Bezrodny, Zemtsov, Kuuskmann, oboist Kalev Kuljus, violinists Ulrike Danhofer (University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna), Tõnu Reimann (Estonian Academy of Music), Arvo Leibur and Elar Kuiv (concertmasters of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra), violist Gareth Lubbe (Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra) and Miina, Teet and Maarika Järvi (Miina and Teet teach at the Lahti Conservatory in Finland, Maarika is based in Geneva).
In addition to “a hand-picked orchestra, with the top players one can get,” Järvi wants to “continue bringing some very special guest artists” to Pärnu. “This year we have Ivry (the legendary Gitlis, now 88, captivated everyone at the Festival). Maybe we can have two next time, maybe one really great old master and somebody from a younger generation.”
Järvi also wants to feature Estonian soloists. “I want to make sure that Estonia as a culture benefits from what’s going on here. If you bring a very interesting, internationally important artist and that artist sits next to an Estonian artist, one can learn from them. Every time you have a young person playing next to an established artist it can be a life-changing experience.“
The Järvi Festival will continue to be a mix of symphonic and chamber music (there were five concerts each this year). However, Järvi plans more concerts in the future for the Festival Orchestra, which performed only the opening concert this year. He would like to diversify the orchestral repertoire, as well. “There is so much interesting repertoire that simply doesn’t find its way to the normal concert season. This is an opportunity to play these pieces and bring them back, at least to the conducting participants, so they are in contact with not just the obvious box office hits.“
One of the world’s busiest conductors, Estonian-born Järvi (who lives in Paris, where he is music director of L'Orchestre de Paris in addition to posts in Frankfurt and Bremen) is involved with the Järvi Festival for personal reasons, too. “This is maybe the primary reason to be here. First of all, it is in Estonia, the place where I spent all my summers. I bring my kids here now. It is a chance to connect with them again and for them to connect with the language again, because they live away from Estonia (daughters Lea and Ingrid, 7 and 5, live with Järvi’s former wife Tatiana Berman in Cincinnati, Ohio). Also, my father and my mother, my sister and brother’s families – we have a very large extended family as well – all come here (to Pärnu) during the summer. All of a sudden it’s a chance to re-unite the family. It’s a big reunion.”
For further information about the Järvi Festival, visit www.järvifestival.ee