Eri Klas

June 7, 1939, Tallinn - February 26, 2016, Tallinn
Council chairman of Estonian National culture Foundation (since 1991)
Member of Estonian Theater Union (since 1965)
Member of Estonian Cinema Union (since 1972)
Member of Estonian Olympic Committee

Eri Klas had the reputation of an internationally highly acclaimed and well-respected musician. His mission was to promote Estonian music and culture all over the world.

Eri Klas has studied conducting at Tallinn Music High school in Arvo Ratassepp’s class and at Tallinn State Conservatoire under the guidance of Gustav Ernesaks. From 1964 to 1967, he furthered his studies in orchestral conducting at Leningrad Conservatoire with Prof. Nikolai Rabinovitch and from 1969 to 1972 in Moscow Bolshoy Theatre as Boriss Haikin’s assistant. Until 1982, Klas worked there as a conductor and participated in theatres concert tours in Paris, Tokyo, and Athens.

From 1959 to 1965, Klas worked in Estonian National Symphony Orchestra as a percussion player. From 1960 to 1963, he sang in Estonian Radio Male Quartet with Arved Haug, Uno Loop and Kalju Terasmaa (CD-s 1997 and 2006).

In 1964, Eri Klas made his conductor’s debut with Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Estonian National Opera. Since then he has stayed connected with it – from 1975 to 1994, he was the artistic director and principal conductor, since 2004 the honorary conductor, and since 2005 the chairman of the board. He has conducted more than 50 operas and ballets, including premieres by Leo Normet, Eino Tamberg, and Raimo Kangro. He has taken Estonian National Opera on concert tours to Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Moscow, St. Petersburg etc. Eri Klas has also worked in other opera houses, from 1985 to 1989, he was the music director and chief conductor at Stockholm Royal Opera and since 1990, first honorary conductor at Finnish National Opera. Since 2006, he was named the chief conductor of the Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow. Klas has collected tribute as a ballet conductor. In 1980–1990, he collaborated with well-known American ballet dancer and choreographer John Neumeier in Hamburg State Opera.

Klas has conducted more than 100 opera and symphony orchestras from all over the world. He was the principal conductor of the Århus Symphony Orchestra in 1991–1996, elected principal conductor of the Holland Symphony Orchestra in 1996–2003 (since 2003 principal guest conductor), principal conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in 1998–2006 (since 2006 honorary conductor) and since 2000, he is the artistic director of the Tallinn Philharmonic Society (he initiated the concert series Classical music with Klas with Tallinn Chamber Orchestra). He has also conducted Berlin, Munich and Rotterdam Philharmonics, Swedish and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestras, the BBC Philharmonic, Stockholm and Helsinki Philharmonics, the Paris Opera Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Symphony Orchestra and orchestras in Australia (Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Melbourne).

He made his US debut in 1991 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Since then, he has appeared with most of the major North American orchestras including Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, San Francisco, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras and others. In March 2009, he was on a concert tour in the United States with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.

Eri Klas has given concerts in major concert halls all over the world: China, Japan, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, Canada, Israel, US and throughout Europe. Klas has participated in music festivals at Edinburgh, London, Schleswig-Holstein, Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl, Sydney, Savolinna, Moscow, Riga and elsewhere. In 1999 and 2004, Klas was the artistic director of the Song Celebration and since 2005 the artistic director of Birgitta Festival in Tallinn. He has also participated in Estonian music festivals like Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game), Tubin and his Time, Saaremaa Opera Days, Estonian Music Days, Tamula Lake Music and David Oistrakh Festival.

Eri Klas has collaborated with foreign soloists like Bruno Leonardo Gelber (Argentina), Katherine Chi (Canada), Joyce Yang, Julie Albers, Andre Watts (USA), Julian Lloyd Webber (England), Natalia Gutman, Tatjana Gridenko, Viktor Sõtš (Russia), Kiri Te Kanawa (New-Zealand), Cecilia Zilliacus, Britt-Marie Aruhn, Esaias-Tewolde Berhan, Carl-Johan Falkman, Mari-Ann Håggander (Sweden), Laura Mikkola, Matti Salminen (Finland), Kristine Gailite, Kristine Zadovska, Egils Silinš (Latvia), Ilja Grubert (Netherlands), Mario Zeffiri (Italy) and Carlos Moreno (Spain). From Estonian musicians he has perfomed with Rauno Elp, Kalle Randalu, Toomas Vavilov, Silver Ainomäe, Kalev Kuljus, Ivari Ilja, Peep Lassmann, Marrit Gerretz-Traksmann, Kristjan Randalu, Käbi Laretei, Anna-Liisa Bezrodny, Heli Veskus, Annely Peebo, Kädy Plaas, Riina Airenne, Helen Lokuta, Priit Volmer, Uku Joller, Pille Lill, René Soom, Jassi Zahharov, Urmas Põldma, Angelika Mikk, Oliver Kuusik, Monika-Evelin Liiv, Mati Palm, Leili Tammel and others.

Eri Klas is closely associated with several contemporary composers. He has conducted many world premieres of such composers like Henryk Górecki, Alfred Schnittke, Veljo Tormis, Eino Tamberg, Eduard Tubin, Heino Eller, Arvo Pärt and others. His repertoire mostly consists of world classics, but his most important aspect is promoting Estonian music all over the world (music by Eduard Tubin, Arvo Pärt, Heino Eller, Eino Tamberg, Veljo Tormis, Lepo Sumera, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Heino Jürisalu, Jaan Rääts, and others). He has recorded music for Estonian Radio and released CD-s with Melodija, BIS, Ondine and others.

Klas is greatly interested in the education of young musicians. He has worked with many youth orchestras in Estonia and foreign countries, among others the Asian Youth Orchestra, the American Youth Orchestra, the Nordic Youth Orchestra, and the Ireland Youth Orchestra. In 1994–1997, Eri Klas held a professorship in conducting at the Sibelius Academy (Helsinki), where among his students have been John Storgårds, Hannu Lintu, and Hannu Norjanen. In 1995, he was named Honorary Doctor and since 1998, he is Assistant Professor at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. He has given master classes in Estonia and the Netherlands and has been a member of various juries of international contests (e.g. Nikolai Malko International Contests for Young Conductors).

There have been made documentaries of Eri Klas – Chief Conductor (1985, Estonia), A Special Life (1990, Finland) and The Sound of the Composer (2007, Estonia). He has also participated in feature film Da Capo (1984, Finland). In 1999, he revealed his reflection on his life as a book Who am I (published by Estonian Encyclopaedia Publishers) and in 2008, Ivo Parbus wrote a book named Eri Klas. Cultural Ambassador (published by Revelex).

Since 1991, Eri Klas has been the Chairman of the Estonian Cultural Committee. In his leadership, the fund has become one of the biggest contributors to the Estonian culture. He is the first person who received the title of the Honoray Citizen of Harjumaa.

Eri Klas was given the honorary title of ESSR Honoured Worker in Arts (1973) and ESSR People’s Artist (1986). In 1989, he was awarded the Order of Nordstjernen by His Majesty King Carl Gustav of Sweden, in 1992, the Order of the Finnish Lion by the President of Finland and in 1999, third class Order of the White Star of the Republic of Estonia. Klas received the Annual Prize of the Estonian Theatre Union (1987), Estonian Culture Prize (1991, 1998) and the Annual Prize of Cultural Endowment of Estonia (1998). Eri Klas is a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF (since 1999) and fairy Hans Christian Andersen (since 2005). In 2008, Klas received a scholarship of Gustav Ernesaks Foundation for promoting Estonian music life and introducing Estonian music all over the world. In 2009, he was awarded the Estonian Music Council Interpretation Award for the decades of outstanding work.

In 2012, Eri Klas was awarded the prestigious Baltic Star culture award by the Baltic Centre for International Theatre Festival Fund. The award is funded by the city of St. Petersburg, a number of community organizations and businesses in Russia. The award was created in 2004 in order to develop and strengthen the cultural relations between the Baltic Sea region. In the past, the Baltic Star award was given to Arvo Pärt in 2007.

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