The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra (Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniaorkester) has become the most prominent Estonian orchestral ambassador abroad. It was created in 1926 as a small radio orchestra, but since then, it has increased its international scope, particularly in recent decades. Since 2010, its principal conductor and artistic director has been Neeme Järvi, who was the orchestra’s principal conductor also from 1963 until 1979. The artistic adviser of the orchestra is Paavo Järvi and the principal guest conductor is Olari Elts. 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 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, 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, 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 broadcasted 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.