“Musicians are all brothers and sisters”: Why a leading Estonian conductor chose to stay in Russia after Ukraine invasion

23 March 2022, 15:26

Paavo Järvi is a Grammy award-winning Estonian conductor
Paavo Järvi is a Grammy award-winning Estonian conductor. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Paavo Järvi was urged to leave Russia by friends and family when Ukraine was invaded. But the conductor decided to temporarily stay, putting “love and hope for humanity” first...

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Estonian conductor, Paavo Järvi was in Moscow leading rehearsals of the Russian Youth Orchestra, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022.

The performance with the orchestra was due to take place on 26 February, with a programme of works centered around Richard Strauss.

“Many friends...urged that I should cancel the concert and leave Russia immediately…and to be honest that was my first instinct,” Järvi admits in a statement on his website, “I arrived in Moscow...when few believed that Putin would actually start a war.

“Suspicion and distrust of our large neighbour...unfortunately [proved] to be well founded.”

But instead of cancelling the concert and leaving the country when the invasion began, Järvi decided to stay.

“[I came] to the conclusion that this would be defeatist, dishonest and disloyal to the wonderful young musicians of the Russian Youth Orchestra,” he revealed, “who feel confused, torn and shocked, and who are against this war as much as I am.”

Read more: Russian music students bravely condemn conductor’s pro-Putin ‘Z’ stunt

Members of the Russian National Youth Symphony Orchestra
Members of the Russian National Youth Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Alamy

Kristjan Järvi, Paavo’s brother and fellow conductor, was one of the signatories on yesterday’s high profile open letter from classical music stars which called for an end to the war, and an end to blanket boycotts against Russian and Belarusian artists.

Some Russian musicians have experienced cancellations and have been barred from participating in competitions due to their nationality, since the invasion of Ukraine began last month.

Paavo Järvi’s decision to remain in Russia to perform with the Russian Youth Orchestra was one he thought about “deeply”.

In his website statement he explained, “With this concert I wanted to leave my young colleagues with some love and hope for humanity…Love and hope that might remain in their hearts and memories for the years, maybe decades, of isolation that is surely to come.

“These young people should not and cannot be punished for the barbaric actions of their government. I cannot turn my back on my young colleagues: musicians are all brothers and sisters.”

A Ukrainian and Russian pianist play a Mozart duet

The 59-year-old grammy-winning conductor was born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1962, which at the time, was part of the Soviet Union; the Estonia Restoration of Independence took place in 1991.

“Being an Estonian it is obvious that an attack on Ukraine, an independent country, hits very close to home,” Järvi acknowledged.

“As a human being and as an Estonian, I hate what is going on in Ukraine. I resolutely condemn the actions of Russian government and Putin!

“I conducted this concert in the Spirit of defiance and deep solidarity with these young artists and in the Spirit of support and solidarity of the Ukrainian people!”

Järvi left Russia on 27 February, after his performance with the Russian Youth Orchestra.

Tonight, the award-winning musician is in Switzerland conducting a benefit concert with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich for the people of Ukraine.