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Mon Feb 22, 2021, 03:12 AM

Estonian-born conductor & composer Taavo Virkhaus, 1934-2021 (al.com)

Last edited Tue Feb 23, 2021, 03:13 AM - Edit history (1)

Taavo Virkhaus, Music Director and Conductor of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2003, died of Covid on Feb 10. Taavo was born June 29, 1934 in Tartu, Estonia, to a family of conductors. His grandfather, David Otto Virkhaus, is considered the Father of Estonian Band Music; the Estonian Songfest held every four years begins with a parade carrying a torch lit from the eternal fire which burns at his grave. Taavo's father, Adalbert August Virkhaus, was the first professionally trained conductor of the Estonian Opera House. Taavo started young; at age four he was a "featured guest conductor" at a summer band in a resort town, where he was a huge hit.

During the WWII Russian occupation of Estonia, Adalbert was forewarned by a former student passing by in the street: "If I were you, I and my family would not be home tonight." The family immediately left to stay with relatives in the country, thus escaping the fate of the thousands who were sent to Siberia that night. The family then spent five years in refugee camps all over Europe both during and after the war. During this time, Taavo continued to study the violin, playing the violin repertory that his father wrote out from memory.

A job offer from Fort Lauderdale allowed the family to come to America. Taavo graduated from Fort Lauderdale High School, and about this time became an American citizen. Scholarships for playing concertmaster in college orchestras financed all his education: at the University of Miami, where he graduated with honors, and at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where he received both a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts, in Conducting and Composition. His First Violin Concerto was awarded the Howard Hanson Prize.

He then taught conducting at the Eastman School of Music, where he met his wife, Nancy. Taavo served as the Music Director and Conductor of the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra from 1977-1994, and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2003, with many guest conducting engagements around the world. He wrote six symphonies and two violin concertos, as well as many incidental pieces.

Taavo always claimed he was the biggest patriot, and loved the United States for what it is as well as for the opportunities it gave him. He is survived by his wife Nancy, a nephew, Rick Kjeldsen, a niece, Deena Durant, as well as extended family in Estonia.

Because of the pandemic, no gathering is being planned. Donations in his name may be made to the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra or the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Guild, both at: PO Box 2400, Huntsville, AL 35804-2400.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Huntsville Times from Feb. 19 to Feb. 21, 2021.


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