Pärnu hosts a world-class classical music festival

Initiated by the renowned conductor Paavo Järvi, the Estonian “summer capital” hosts the Pärnu Music Festival from 12 to 21 July; Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi and Kristjan Järvi will conduct the high-profile concert programme, which was named one of Europe’s best classical music festivals by the BBC Music Magazine this year.

Pärnu, the fourth largest town in Estonia and the country’s most popular resort, known as its unofficial summer capital, has always held a special place in Paavo Järvi’s heart as it was where his family traditionally gathered for summer holidays.

During the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Pärnu became the summer home for many Russian intellectuals and artists, including composer Dmitri Shostakovich and violinist David Oistrakh. It was a place for artists to relax and enjoy each other’s company and it was here in 1973 that a young Paavo met Shostakovich for the first time. Meanwhile, Oistrakh invited musicians and students to join him for ad hoc performances in the green villa which he rented in Pärnu each summer before his death in 1974.

Paavo Järvi (left), Dmitri Shostakovich (middle) and Neeme Järvi in Pärnu in 1973. Photo by Järvi family.

It was in this spirit that Paavo Järvi decided to create a festival in 2011, offering masterclasses to international young conductors, creating the Academy Orchestra comprising the very best of young Estonian musical talent and the Estonian Festival Orchestra. All the performers are hand-picked by Järvi, including professional Estonian musicians and complemented by soloists from the top European orchestras. In addition to playing in the Festival Orchestra, the guest musicians also perform chamber music concerts and offer advice to the younger generation of musicians.

The Pärnu Music Festival has since become one of the pre-eminent classical music festivals in Estonia – this year, the event was listed among the 29 best classical music festivals in Europe by the BBC Music Magazine. In the meantime, the Estonian Festival Orchestra has performed in concert houses throughout Europe, including the Royal Albert Hall in London as a part of the BBC Proms festival.

Paavo Järvi conducting the Estonian Festival Orchestra at the Pärnu Music Festival. Photo by Kaupo Kikkas.

Jüri Reinvere’s new work premieres at the festival

This year’s festival opened with a concert conducted by maestro Neeme Järvi – Paavo and Kristjan Järvi’s dad and the head of the dynasty – who at 86 is as sharp as ever.

The festival also sees the world premiere of composer Jüri Reinvere’s new work and Kristjan Järvi’s concert project Babylon Pärnu, with music from the TV series Babylon Berlin. The Estonian Festival Orchestra and Paavo Järvi will give four concerts and record new material for an album.

Neeme Järvi conducting the Riga Sinfonietta at the Pärnu Music Festival 2023. Photo by Kaupo Kikkas.
Kristjan Järvi (left) conducting the Baltic Sea Festival Orchestra on 14 July 2023. Photo by Kaupo Kikkas.

According to Kristjan Hallik, the executive director of the festival, a total of 200 musicians from different orchestras will take the stage of the festival. “The soloists include both the world’s leading musicians and beloved young Estonian virtuosos,” he said in a statement.

“In addition to world classics, the Pärnu Music Festival will also feature works by Estonian composers. The festival will also continue its tradition of bringing one new work by an Estonian composer to Pärnu for a world premiere every summer. This year, Jüri Reinvere‘s new work ‘On the Ship of Fools’, commissioned by the festival, will begin its journey to the world concert stage in front of our home audiences, and we will record it in Pärnu,” Paavo Järvi added.

Jüri Reinvere’s (left) new work, “On the Ship of Fools”, premiered at the Pärnu Music Festival on 15 July 2023. Photo by Kaupo Kikkas.

The internationally renowned artists, who will be performing at the festival, include Israeli American violinist and violist Pinchas Zuckerman, Canadian cellist Amanda Forsythe, Estonian soprano Mirjam Mesak, French oboist François Leleux and Turkish pianist Fazıl Say.

The festival streams the concerts for free.

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