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Brave Estonian National Symphony to play in Valley and Orange County

Brave Estonian National Symphony to play in Valley and Orange County
Neeme Jarvi conducting Orff's "Carmina Burana" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and baritone Kevin McMillan at the Hollywood Bowl in 1994 (Los Angeles Times)

The Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- are a small region with an enormous musical footprint. Jascha Heifetz was Lithuanian. The greatest violinist since Heifetz, Gidon Kremer, is Latvian, as is conductor Mariss Jansons.

Estonia is the country with Eastern Europe's most revered composer, the mystical minimalist Arvo Pärt. And that country's capital, Tallinn, is home to the most the most important Baltic orchestra, the Estonian National Symphony.

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Known as the ERSO (for, in Estonian, Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniaorkester), the orchestra is to perform at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge on Friday night and at the Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo on Sunday afternoon.

This is the brave orchestra that defied the Soviets in the '60s and '70s and played such suppressed modernists as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Indeed, Pärt began as a subversive 12-tone composer before he found his spiritual musical calling.

The 76-year-old Järvi, meanwhile, has done his part not only for Pärt but for Estonian awareness in general. He was music director of the ERSO from 1963 to 1979, after which he became music director of the Gothenburg Symphony for 22 years and of the Detroit Symphony from 1990 to 2005 before returning to the ERSO in 2010. Both of his sons are also noted conductors, Paavo being the former music director of the Cincinnati Symphony and Kristjan a champion of new music.

The two ERSO programs are to begin with Pärt's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" and include Dvorák's Cello Concerto with the young Armenian soloist Narek Hakhnazaryan, a winner of the 2011 Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow and an exciting player at the Piatigorsky International Cello Competition at USC last year.

In Northridge, the big symphony on the program is Tchaikovsky's Fifth. In Aliso Viejo, it is Sibelius' Fifth, which Esa-Pekka Salonen happened to hit out of Disney Stadium (otherwise known as Walt Disney Concert Hall) last weekend. Järvi, however, is no Sibelius slouch. He recorded the seven symphonies in Gothenburg, and it's one of the top Sibelius sets.

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