Two weeks later, his father will take over.
Neeme Jarvi, 76, is a significant presence in the classical music world, a veteran of considerable reputation who has made more than 400 recordings, and who has led the NSO many times before. But never has he led the orchestra almost right after his son.
It’s something of a truism, in our culture, that living in the shadow of a famous father can be a burden, a hurdle, an impediment to establishing fame on your own. But it can also be an entree into the family business.
Nowhere is this truer in music, where dynasties are not uncommon. Look at Johann Sebastian Bach, whose sons took up composing with a vengeance — in the late 18th century, when someone referred to the famous composer Bach, he meant Carl Philipp Emanuel, not his half-forgotten father. Look at Leopold Mozart, who was a ready musical stage parent for a virtuoso son and daughter. Look, more recently, at the pianist Serkins — Rudolf and Peter; or the Kleibers — Erich and Carlos, the latter one of the legendary figures of the late 20th century until his death in 2004.
And look at the Jarvi clan from Estonia, which for a while had a festival of their own. In addition to Neeme and Kristjan, there’s Kristjan’s brother, Paavo, for 10 years the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, now Christoph Eschenbach’s successor as head of the Orchestre de Paris, and the designated chief conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Japan. There’s also a sister, Maarika, who is a flutist, and various descendants of Neeme’s brother Vallo, a conductor himself, who passed away in 1994. A Jarvi summer festival in Estonia assembled 16 musician members of the family.
“I’d love to say that Paavo wasn’t available to make the middle week,” quipped Nigel Boon, the NSO’s director of artistic planning. “But it was pure chance. Neeme has a bit of a relationship with the orchestra; he’s been here a number of times. Kristjan came once [before]. As it happened, they were available two weeks apart.”
In the States, where creative life is often romanticized as a solitary struggle, the famous parent may cast a longer shadow than he or she does in Europe, where the tradition of trades and guilds established a social template for keeping professions in the family and passing knowledge down from parent to child. The idea that musical talent is to some degree hereditary offers further reason for the prevalence of musical clans. From the composer Louis Andriessen to the conductor Vladimir Jurowski, there are plenty of cases of second- and third-generation musicians who have attained major success in their fields — or sibling pairs, such as the NSO’s former principal conductor, Ivan Fischer, and his brother, Adam.