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National orchestra has reason to celebrate

  • 2001-12-13
  • Aleksei Gunter, TALLINN
The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra recently turned 75. After starting off as a radio broadcasting orchestra, surviving Soviet era regulations, and today's tight budget, the orchestra has reason to celebrate.

The works of Rudolf Tobias, Igor Stravinsky and Johannes Brahms soothed guests at the Estonian National Opera House during the official birthday concert. One part of the celebration featured performances from rarely-spotlighted musicians with overtures for contrabass and bassoon quartets. The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra's musicians from the past and present staff welcomed the long awaited party.

When Minister of Culture Signe Kivi took the stage to congratulate the orchestra, she also mentioned that the orchestra faces funding problems and needs new instruments. As she said the words, "but we promise to solve this problem," her pledge was met with audible skepticism from one of the musicians, who refused to comment to The Baltic Times.

Estonia has five professional symphony orchestras. Three are in Tallinn, while Parnu and Tartu each have one. According to orchestra producer Kersti Kirs, this is the largest number of orchestras Estonia has ever had at one time. She added that Finland has 13.

With a budget of about 14 million kroons ($1.2 million), the orchestra is a formal part of the Ministry of Culture and receives funds from compact disc and ticket sales as well as from sponsors.

The Estonian orchestra is the same age as the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, while the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1988. As in Estonia, the development of the Latvian orchestra was stimulated by the launch of public broadcasting.

Notable history

Symphonic music composition in Estonia has a century-long history. Rudolf Tobias, an Estonian composer trained in St. Petersburg, created the very first Estonian overture, "Julius Caesar," - in 1896 at the age of 23. Later came "Don Carlos" by Artur Kapp, followed by other works by Heino Eller and Eduard Tubin.

The orchestra developed along with the country's symphonic music, performing the latest works of Estonian composers and perfecting them through improvisations with the help of guest solo performers. By 1939 the Radio Broadcasting Symphony Orches-tra, the orchestra's previous title, had 39 musicians. Today, the staff boasts 100 musicians with an average season of 60 concerts.

The orchestra even performed in Tallinn during World War II. Soviet rule failed to enforce the "allowed composers" list on the Estonian orchestra, and the local public still had the opportunity to enjoy oratorios by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven. Even the music of Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky and Anton von Webern was first performed in the Soviet Union by the Estonian orchestra.

Roman Matsov, orchestra conductor from 1950 to 1963, hailed Tallinn as the third venue after Moscow and Leningrad to listen to the latest works by popular Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich.

Under Neeme Jarvi's direction, who became the chief conductor in 1963, the repertoire and activities of the orchestra were expanded, with more focus on recordings and live performances. He guided the Estonian orchestra until 1979 and today maestro Jarvi heads the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Now, after years of cooperation with Maria Theater in St. Petersburg and the Ulyanovsk and Zagreb philharmonic orchestras, Nikolai Alexeyev from St. Petersburg leads the Estonian orchestra. Alexeyev is also the main conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.