If women conductors are rare in classical music, then 33-year-old female identical twins who cofounded, conduct, and manage an orchestra—Estonia's Nordic Symphony Orchestra—are certainly a first. Travel + Leisure met up with conductor Anu Tali and her sister and orchestra manager, Kadri, in the middle of their international tour and before the release of their latest album, Action, Passion, Illusion, a collection of classical and contemporary Russian and Scandinavian music.
Is it difficult to manage an orchestra when many of its members don't live in your country?
ANU It's something that could exist only in the jet age. We started the orchestra to develop a cultural exchange between Estonia and Finland. But over time in has turned into a multinational group of 90 musicians from the United States and Europe, who return to Estonia five times a year to rehearse and perform.
There's an abundance of excellent musicians emerging from the Baltics and Scandinavia. Can you explain the trend?
ANU In Estonia, great value is placed on mastering an instrument. We're a small country, so we travel to study and then adapt to other countries' customs. As a conductor who works all over the world, I feel it's important to learn from this—you'll never get the best results by forcing your will on the players you're working with.
What has been your most memorable recent vacation?
KADRI Cuernavaca, Mexico. We loved the people, the passion, the food, everything. A local chef took us shopping for fresh ingredients at the market and then taught us how to make chicken mole and authentic guacamole. Our freezer's still packed with red, green, and sweet moles from the trip.
How do you pack for a concert season?
ANU I always put performance clothes and musical scores in my carry-on. That way, if my checked luggage goes astray at the airport in Bangkok, I'll have something to wear on stage when we make it to Japan—not to mention the music I have to conduct. KADRI As good a manager as I am for our musicians, I'm a bad one for myself. Some of the things I pack might seem unnecessary—random electronic devices, an assortment of adapters, sets of clothes for the gym—but I've found that it's better to have too much than too little. You never know what you'll really need.
What are some of the challenges of being a guest conductor?
ANU When you go to the supermarkets in Strasbourg, New York, or Tokyo, many of the products are the same—an effect of globalization. But French, American, and Japanese orchestras are very different. As a conductor, you must realize that you are there to get the best from that orchestra, not to try to change the musicians or their essential manner of music-making. Ultimately, it is the conductor who must adapt and, yes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Do you prepare in any special way for conducting in certain countries?
ANU Obviously, one doesn't have time to learn Japanese in order to conduct a Japanese orchestra. However, I find that because characters or ideograms have such symbolic significance in the Japanese language, there seems to be a heightened attention to gesture that correlates to the drawing of characters. If you have an excellent conducting technique, you can use your hands and baton to somehow describe and draw the musical essence in ways particularly meaningful to Japanese musicians.
Speaking of Japan, does any performance you have conducted there in the past stand out for you?
ANU In Tokyo, I conducted Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, which, as it happens, is very popular in that country. By the end of the performance a totally different type of communication among the orchestra, myself, and, ultimately, the audience had been achieved. The orchestra sat motionless; the audience was still. In that moment, it didn't matter where anyone was from. Then the ovations erupted.
What are the dynamics of working together as siblings?
ANU and KADRI We understand each other implicitly. There is no need for preliminaries when we begin an argument. We simply argue. Sometimes it gets very heated, but blood is thicker than water [Kadri says to Anu: "You can't fire me"], and we quickly settle our differences.
October 20-21, 2005
North German Radio Orchestra
Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings
November 5-7, 2005
Graz Symphony Orchestra
Tüür, Action, Passion, Illusion
December 7, 2005
Nordic Symphony Orchestra
Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
Marc-André Hamelin, pianist
December 16, 2005
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Schumann, Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2
December 31, 2005
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
New Year's Eve Concert
January 25-26, 2006
Southwest German Philharmonic
Sibelius, Symphony No. 1
March 12-13, 2006
Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra
Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 4, "Italian"
April 5, 2006
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne
Bruch, Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra,
Mirijan Contzen, violinist
April 28, 2006
Bach Collegium München
Beethoven, Concerto in C major, Op. 56, for Violin, Cello, and Piano
Savonlinna Opera Festival
August 19-20, 2006
Reinhard Fuchs, Orchestral Work (World Premiere)
September 28-October 3, 2005
Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6
October 20-21, 2006
Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Sibelius, Symphony No. 2
December 15-17, 2006
Munich Chamber Orchestra
Kaija Saariaho, Nymphea Reflection (2001)