Death of a formidable conductor

We regret to report the death, early today, of Eri Klas, one of the best known conductors around the Baltic region and an influential teacher at the Sibelius Academy and Estonian Academy.

Eri, born in Talinn in 1939, had been music director of the Estonian National Opera (1975-95), of the Royal Opera in Stockholm (1985-90) and of the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1996-2003.

He made his US debut in 1991 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, followed by appearances with the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Boston, Minnesota, San Francisco and many more.

He gave the world premiere of two major works by Alfred Schnittke, Peer Gynt and the 1st cello concerto.

Read a soloist’s tribute here.

eri klas

Not many know: he started out as a barbershop singer.

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  • Shocked to hear this! Dearest Eri RIP. I daily treasure and use your advice on the podium. I learned so much from you from playing under your baton and from your fantastic pleasurable conducting lessons! With your colorful and friendly personality I experienced you ignite orchestras and bring a musical story into so many compositions. We will miss you!

  • Eri conducted also the world premiere of Arvo Pärt’s wonderful Tabula Rasa and was one of the dedicatees together with Gidon Kremer and Tatjana Grindenko. RIP. dear friend.

  • He was indeed highly professional conductor, very nice man with lots of humor, great teacher. We met last time in Toronto just after his week with Toronto Symphony, and spend few hours in Hotel Intercontinental .They loved him in Toronto!, as well as Vancouver Symphony loved him. And many many other orchestras in different countries.
    His heart was not in a best shape since many years, but neverthless such sad news are coming always very unexpectedly …
    Rest in peace, Dear Eri!

  • Eri Klas was the chief conductor of the Royal Opera in Stockholm, Sweden, for some years. I feel very sad that he was never duly appreciated there. To me he was a true, genuine and very talented musician and, moreover, a very gentle and friendly person.


  • I saw him several times at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, where his nights on the podium were sensational — electric, roof-raising concerts. Both the Orchestra (by all appearances) and the audience were wildly enthusiastic about him. He will clearly be missed throughout the world.

    • We just emailed Katherine Duncan of CBC Calgary (who was in 2001 the host of the CBC broadcast featuring Eri’s all Tchaikovsky concert), requesting that her weekly Saturday program Center Stage would re-broadcast this amazing concert. Let’s hope she will.

  • Very sad news. He was an excellent musician and conductor, with a sly sense of humor. At the end of a dress rehearsal, he thanked us for the week and said, “No matter what happens tonight, I hope that tomorrow we are still friends!”

  • Dear Eri, thank you so much for the wonderful memories I have of the times we worked together.These were some of the happiest moments of my musical life and I will cherish them always.

  • A few years back I was in a meeting in Tallinn with an advisor to the minister of culture when the door flew open and Eri burst in, strode up and down the room talking for a few minutes about all the improvements that could be made to musical life in Estonia, and then he stopped, looked around and then said: “Oh, sorry, this isn’t my meeting” — and went out again. But what he said was just what the advisor needed to hear.
    Eri used to tell a wonderful Schnittke story. He was with Alfred and Irina Schnittke at the Kiev Festival when Schnittke had a stroke (perhaps the first one, in 1985 — I’m not sure) — so severe that, although they got him to hospital and he was lying on a stretcher, they couldn’t get any sign of life from him: he was completely paralysed. Eri leant over him and said: “Khrennikov” — and Schnittke gave a defiant laugh: “Ha!”

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