The ESTONIAN NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (known in Estonian as Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniaorkester or ERSO) is the longest continually operating professional orchestra of its kind in the country. The orchestra’s history dates back to 1926 and, like that of many other world orchestras, is connected to the birth of national broadcasting. Since 2010 it has been led by principal conductor and artistic director Neeme Järvi, while Paavo Järvi has been its artistic advisor since 2002, and Olari Elts its principal guest conductor since 2007. Mihkel Poll is ERSO’s artist in residence and Helena Tulve ERSO’s composer in residence 2012/13. The orchestra’s previous principal conductors were Olav Roots (1939–44), Paul Karp (1944–50), Roman Matsov (1950–63), Neeme Järvi (1963–79), Peeter Lilje (1980–90), Leo Krämer (1991–93), Arvo Volmer (1993–2001) and Nikolai Alexeev (2001–10).
The quality of ERSO’s recordings has been praised in renowned classical music magazines and been rewarded with a number of prizes, the biggest of which was a Grammy in 2004 for its Sibelius cantatas (Ellerhein Girls’ Choir, Estonian National Male Choir & ERSO conducted by Paavo Järvi; released on Virgin Classics). ERSO was also nominated for a Grammy in 2010 for its recording of Frank Martin’s oratorio Golgotha with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Cappella Amsterdam and conductor Daniel Reuss (Harmonia Mundi). In addition to working closely with Virgin Classics (on works by Pärt, Tüür, Grieg and Sibelius, conducted by Paavo Järvi), the orchestra has recorded in the past for Alba Records (all of Tubin’s symphonies and the ballet Goblin, conducted by Arvo Volmer), BIS, Antes Edition, Ondine, Finlandia Records, Consonant Works, Melodiya and more. Recently a new record by ENSO and Neeme Järvi performing the orchestral works of the most significant Slovakian composer of the 20th century, Eugen Suchoň and another of Dmitri Shostakovich’s cantatas, conducted by Paavo Järvi were released. Both have received a considerable positive feedback in the international media. Its concerts are also regularly recorded by the Estonian Public Broadcasting.
ERSO has toured in Scandinavia, elsewhere in Europe, the United States and the former Soviet Union. It has taken part in many Estonian and international music festivals, including the “NYYD-Festival”, “Nargenfestival” in Tallinn, the Baltic Sea Festival in Stockholm, Il Settembre dell’Accademia in Verona, the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad and Europamusicale in Munich.
ERSO not only works with Estonian musicians, but also well-known foreign conductors and soloists. Its repertoire ranges from baroque music to premieres of contemporary works. The orchestra has performed symphonic pieces by virtually every Estonian composer, including Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Eduard Tubin, Eino Tamberg, Jaan Rääts, Lepo Sumera, Tõnu Kõrvits and Helena Tulve, often being the first to do so.