Estonian National Symphony Orchestra

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The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra (Estonian: Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniaorkester (ERSO)) is the leading orchestra in Estonia and is based in the capital Tallinn. The orchestra traces it roots to December 18, 1926, the first concert broadcast by Tallinn Radio. The broadcast concert was performed by an ENSO predecessor, a trio headed by Hugo Schütz. The ensemble’s ranks grew steadily, and by 1939 the Radio Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra included 39 performers. In addition to radio concerts, the public enjoyed live symphonies presented by the orchestra in conjunction with guest artists from the Estonia Theatre. In 1939, one of Estonia’s most outstanding musical figures of the day, Olav Roots, accepted the role of orchestra director. With Roots as director, the Orchestra continued to perform symphonies in Tallinn throughout the WWII period.

In the post-war years, the Orchestra was directed by Leo Tauts, Sergei Prohhorov and Roman Matsov, who was principal conductor from 1950-1963. By 1956 the Orchestra had 90 members. Despite the Soviet repertoire policy of the time, Maestro Roman Matsov managed to also bring oratorial works by such greats as Bach, Händel, Mozart and Beethoven to the public. For the first time in what was then the Soviet Union, Matsov also managed to give audiences the listening pleasure of works by Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schönberg, Anton Webern, Carl Orff and others. It was not unusual for the Tallinn audience to be among the first to hear symphonies by Dmitry Shostakovich; Tallinn was usually the third venue, only preceded by premiere performances in Moscow and Leningrad.

Since the season 2020/21, its Chief Conductor and Artistic Director is Olari Elts. Neeme Järvi, the longest-serving chief conductor of the ERSO, continues to cooperate with the orchestra as Honorary Artictic Director for Life and the Artistic Adviser of the orchestra is Paavo Järvi .

The orchestra has dazzled the world with numerous tours and participated in reputable international music festivals. They have played in prestigious venues such as the Konzerthaus Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna, Rudolfinum in Prague, Brucknerhaus in Linz, the Avery Fisher Hall (current David Geffen Hall) in New York, the Grand Hall of Saint Petersburg Philharmonia and the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre, the Kölner Philharmonie, Festspielhaus in Bregenz, Helsinki Music Centre, the Berwaldhallen in Stockholm, and many more – including, of course, their home venue, the Estonia Concert Hall in Tallinn. In 2019, ENSO and Neeme Järvi opened the highly acclaimed Festival de Radio France et Montpellier.

In addition to their praiseworthy live performances, the high quality of the musical recordings of the orchestra has been recognised by several renowned music magazines and the recordings have won several prizes, including a Grammy Award (conductor Paavo Järvi). The orchestra has enjoyed fruitful cooperation with highly acclaimed record companies such as Chandos, BIS, and Onyx, and in the past also with Alba Records, Harmonia Mundi, and Melodiya. In 2018, Neeme Järvi received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the magazine Gramophone and ENSO had the honour of performing at the Gramophone Classical Music Awards Gala. In addition to local radio and television channels, ENSO’s concerts have been broadcast by Mezzo and medici.tv. They have also reached many radio listeners in Europe via the EBU.

As for conductors and soloists, ENSO is fortunate to perform with the very best from all around the world, including front-rank Estonian musicians. Commanding a repertoire that ranges from the Baroque period to the present time, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra has had the honour to premiere symphonic pieces by almost every Estonian composer, including Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Tõnu Kõrvits, and Eduard Tubin.

In 2018, when the Republic of Estonia celebrated its 100th birthday, ENSO was deeply involved in the anniversary programme both in Estonia and internationally. In addition to tours in the U.S., Hong Kong, Armenia, and Georgia, Estonia’s first oratorio – Jonah’s Mission by Rudolf Tobias – was performed at the Konzerthaus Berlin, conducted by Neeme Järvi. Performances were also given at the Sibelius Festival in Lahti and the Baltic Symphony Festival in Riga. Furthermore, ENSO’s musicians gave 100 concerts in one week all over Estonia.

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