The Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Kristjan Järvi received a rapturous reception at all three concerts on their ‘Meresillad’ tour of Germany and Estonia (15–21 September). Playing to sold-out houses in Eisenach, Peenemünde and Tallinn, the orchestra thrilled a combined audience of around 2,600 concert-goers with a programme that featured a celebration of Estonian music (‘Meresillad’ means ‘sea bridges’ in Estonian) and a new Dramatic Symphony arrangement by Kristjan Järvi of Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Nutcracker ballet. The Baltic Sea Philharmonic performed the complete 90-minute ‘Meresillad’ programme from memory, as one uninterrupted flow of music, with no intermission. Atmospheric lighting design and bespoke concert outfits highlighted the musical storytelling approach of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and enhanced the visual spectacle of the musicians playing, moving, dancing, and even at times singing on stage.
The orchestra, travelling as an ensemble of 67 musicians, began the ‘Meresillad’ tour on 15 September in the Thuringian town of Eisenach, birthplace of J.S. Bach. Ahead of its debut at the Landestheater Eisenach in front of an audience of 500 concert-goers, the orchestra gave a pop-up concert for 250 pupils at the town’s Geschwister-Scholl-Schule. On 17 September the Baltic Sea Philharmonic opened the Usedom Music Festival, wowing 1,200 concert-goers in Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, the orchestra’s spiritual home and the place where it was founded in 2008. For the final ‘Meresillad’ concert, the musicians journeyed to Tallinn, Kristjan Järvi’s birthplace and home city, where they performed for an audience of 900 at the Estonia Concert Hall on 21 September.
Estonian composers past and present, and a beloved ballet reimagined
In a programme dedicated to Estonia, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic featured works by two of the country’s most celebrated 20th-century composers in the shape of Jan Rääts’ Concerto for Chamber Orchestra No. 1 (first movement) and Eduard Tubin’s ‘Setu Tants’ from his Estonian Dance Suite. The orchestra opened with Kristjan Järvi’s Sibelius-inspired Ascending Swans and closed the programme in rousing style with another contemporary Estonian work, Tabu-tabu by Liis Jürgens, a harpist in the Baltic Sea Philharmonic. Composed especially for the orchestra, and commissioned by the Baltic Sea Music Education Foundation, Tabu-tabu is an example of the orchestra empowering its musicians as creators, collaborators and innovators. The piece was composed at the beginning of this year during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and at the same time recalls the Cold War period in Estonia. Jürgens says: ‘I chose “Tabu”, the Polynesian word for things that must not be spoken about, because there was a time in Estonia when people were not allowed to speak freely, when things that were important to people, for example Christianity or Estonian identity, were shrouded in silence. There were simply many taboos.’ With its colourful percussion and driving rhythms, and with conductor Kristjan Järvi marshalling the musicians and the audience with a shaman drum in his hand, Tabu-tabu was enthusiastically received at all three concerts. In Tallinn the piece was performed with special guest Meister Jaan playing the jaw harp.
Alongside the Estonian works on the ‘Meresillad’ programme was Kristjan Järvi’s new Dramatic Symphony version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, the great Russian composer’s final ballet which has long been a beloved seasonal spectacle. As with his previous reworkings of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, Järvi’s arrangement showcases all the quintessential colour and wonder of Tchaikovsky’s theatre music. The Nutcracker Dramatic Symphony received its world premiere in Eisenach and brought standing ovations for the orchestra even during the concert. Reviewing the Usedom Music Festival performance for the Ostsee Zeitung, Cornelia Meerkatz described Järvi’s Nutcracker reworking as ‘a Baltic Sea Philharmonic version of this impeccable masterpiece. Järvi took on the role of the Nutcracker or Mouse King himself, leaping in the air or crouching down. And from the orchestra there was pure joy of playing. The musicians danced, laughed and even sang. Every note was a feast for the ears.’