Youth is a key factor behind the ethos of the Pärnu Music Festival. The Järvi Academy brings young Estonian musicians together, giving them the opportunity to work with international artists and members of the Estonian Festival Orchestra. In addition, there are conducting masterclasses where young participants from around the world study with the Järvi dynasty – Neeme, Paavo and Kristjan – and Leonid Grin. The Academy's final concert combines the two; its symphony orchestra is helmed by many of the participating conductors who lead a movement before handing on to the next colleague: an elaborate game of pass-the-baton.

Edmar Tuul, Stephanie Childress and Yaroslav Zaboyarkin © Taavi Kull
Edmar Tuul, Stephanie Childress and Yaroslav Zaboyarkin
© Taavi Kull

It makes for an unusual concert experience, where one does not get to hear any single conductor's complete view of a particular work. Stylistic differences can jar – hearing the three movements of Mozart's Prague Symphony given very different approaches can jolt the ears – and having a youth orchestra, which has probably never played the likes of Honegger's Third before, led by conductors at the same level of inexperience, does not always equate to polished results or inspired interpretations. But the opportunity to view so many young conductors developing their craft alongside such spirited playing from the Järvi Academy Youth Symphony Orchestra made for an uplifting evening that bodes well for the future of classical music in Estonia and beyond.

The programme was eclectic. Mozart's Symphony no. 38 in D major was the only work that can be counted as a concert hall staple, although even that is becoming the preserve of period instrument specialists. Of the whole evening, the single movement that probably holds the greatest challenges to a conductor is the opening of the “Prague” with its imposing, slow introduction followed by its bustling Allegro. American Ian Niederhoffer didn't quite get the precision required at the start and his busy style sometimes got in the way, so his Mozart blustered a little too much. Taavi Oramo, with the same avuncular disposition as his father, Sakari, was much more contained in style, but immediately got the orchestra to dance in the G major Andante, bringing wonderful luminosity to the string sound. José Soares Filho conducted a vigorous account of the finale, its crisp tempi not always matched by crisp ensemble.

Triin Ruubel and Mari Adachi play Bruch © Taavi Kull
Triin Ruubel and Mari Adachi play Bruch
© Taavi Kull

Arthur Honegger's Third Symphony is subtitled “Liturgique”, each of its movements named after a liturgical text. It was very well played, Stephanie Childress building the tricky second movement climax deftly while Yaroslav Zaboyarkin brought real drive to the grimy brass perorations in the Dona nobis pacem finale.

Max Bruch doesn't offer the same challenges to conductors... or to soloists. However it's tarted up – for clarinet and viola, violin and viola, or for two pianos – his Double Concerto is bland and aimless, with too little contrast between the two voices. All three conductors were attentive to Triin Ruubel (violin) and Mari Adachi (viola), who brought great warmth to their playing, but one couldn't help feeling they had drawn the short straw in terms of repertoire.

Maria Seletskaja and the Järvi Academy Youth Symphony Orchestra © Taavi Kull
Maria Seletskaja and the Järvi Academy Youth Symphony Orchestra
© Taavi Kull

It was good to hear music by Ester Mägi, at 97 years of age very much the “First Lady” of Estonian composers. Her Bukoolika (Bucolic) opened the evening, its ten minutes awkwardly bisected to accommodate two conductors. Maria Seletskaja brought grace and a sensitive ear for colour to the opening half, while Norwegian Eirik Haukaas Ødegaard's tight rhythmic grip impressed. Such is her natural poise, it was little surprise to learn that Seletskaja was, until very recently, a ballet dancer. She sat in front of me in the second half of the concert, leaning forward, alert to every moment of the Mozart. And after Kristjan Järvi conducted the encore – an emotional, full-blooded account of Sibelius' Andante festivo – it was Seletskaja who was brushing away tears. My kind of artist.


Mark's press trip to Estonia was funded by Red House Productions