Our Forefathers Were Electric Conductors; MUSIC the Baltic Region Has Become a Hotbed for Talented Conductors. Christopher Morley Talks to Estonian Maestro Neeme Jarvi about Why It Has Produced So Much Musical Mastery
Byline: Christopher Morley
THERE is a heatwave in Geneva as I arrive at what used to be a pumpingstation (now an arts centre) at the side of the spectacularly clean, tumbling river. The walkway clanks like a march to the scaffold as I approach the interview room, and there I meet Neeme Jarvi.
We are there to discuss his recent appointment as artistic and musical director of the renowned Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, and their forthcoming UK tour to Birmingham, Manchester and London.
But even before I get the chance to switch on my tape-recorder, Jarvi is bubbling with memories of Birmingham during his time as principal guest conductor of the CBSO.
I get a word in edgeways by thanking him for the LP he made with the CBSO of the two Balakirev symphonies in the 1980s, and he reveals the huge memory for detail he retains for his near-500 recordings and countless concerts.
"It was my first-ever recording in the UK, and that was for EMI. And then, for Chandos it was the Weber Clarinet Concertos with Janet Hilton.
"Being appointed as principal guest conductor of the CBSO was my first position in the UK. We had a wonderful relationship. The concertmaster, Felix Kok, and many others, we were a lot of friends, and we made wonderful music in the Town Hall.
"And actually Simon Rattle started his career at the same time. He was appointed as chief conductor when I was appointed as principal guest conductor - I was probably a year before, or something."
And the Jarvi family must be the only dynasty where both father and son have been principal guest conductor of the same orchestra; Neeme's son Paavo also held the position many years later.
I ask about Paavo. "He's doing very well," responds the proud father, "he always has four orchestras, not less! And he's conducting in Berlin, and in London with the Philharmonia he's doing a complete Nielsen cycle.
"My other son, Kristian, he's the music director in Leipzig, and many other orchestras, so I was proud to see how they have taken this musical magnet from me and our family, and are going on and giving it out - especially in Germany, which is so steeped in the classical tradition. And not least in Beethoven and the speeds of his metronome markings. In his time there was no such orchestra who could play his metronome marks. But now we have, because the players have developed to such a high level."
How does the maestro account for the large number of wonderful conductors who come from his own Baltic area (he was born in Estonia)? "Again magnet, because we studied with very good professors in the Soviet time, in the Leningrad Conservatoire. And conducting is such a thing, not just beating bars and looking nice, it is a profession. …