Interview: Conductor Anu Tali


Anu Tali is on the line from her home in Sarasota, FL, where she is music director of the orchestra (though not for much longer), and we ask her about being named recently as one of the world’s top “Female Conductors to Watch” by The Washington Post.

“There are two ways of answering your question — if female conductors should be named separately, or if I’m happy to be nominated,” the Estonian conductor, 45, says in elegant accent. “An answer: I’m happy to be nominated. Because I’m just grateful when people notice my work. And I think I am done and over with complaining every time your name comes in one or the other row,” i.e. male or female.

There’s no use fighting it, anyway, with women conductors on the rise internationally, and therefore much in the news. It’s just that Tali, who makes her debut conducting the Pacific Symphony next week, doesn’t see the world in terms of gender, she explains.

“For me, there are interesting male and female artists and people, if you please. For me it is one big stock of artists, not separated.”

The conductor recently announced her departure at the end of next season from the Sarasota Orchestra, where she has served as music director since 2013, saying she wanted to focus on her international career and guest conducting. She’s open to another music directorship, too, but isn’t in a hurry.

“I don’t like planning my life ahead so that I can’t breathe anymore. For me, it’s very important to keep options open because I still have two years here. So it’s quite a long time to do your job properly and I’m not going to go al niente diminuendo (diminish to nothing) you know. We want to gradually grow and It’s very important for me to leave Sarasota Orchestra to the next hands in a very good position to raise from there.”

Born in Tallinn, Tali began her training as a pianist. She studied conducting at the Estonian Music Academy and then at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and the St. Petersburg State Conservatory. In 1997, she founded the Nordic Symphony Orchestra, an international festival orchestra that performs in Estonia and northern Europe, with her twin sister, who still manages the group. The orchestra celebrates its 20th anniversary with concerts in January. Tali brims with enthusiasm talking about the ensemble.

“We have all the concerts broadcast, so we have a footprint rather large for our size. It has been a great pleasure and the orchestra has changed through the years to become very international, some of the musicians coming from America. We laugh that wherever I go, I bring back some of the vibrant personalities with me (to play in the NSO) — only to guest perform, so not to worry. But it is to enrich our culture and our ways. It works like a master class: People bring the best ideas to each other and they actually go home full of enthusiasm and musical ideas.”

Collaboration is a thread in Tali’s talk; it’s important to her and she’s thought long about it. She’s looking forward to meeting Pacific Symphony and working with the musicians. It will also be her first time working with the pianist, Xiayin Wang, the soloist in Gershwin’s Concerto in F.

“There is one rule in my life and that is I will not dictate anything that does not come naturally to people. Because, when you grow older, which I do every day, you realize the best way of making communication is to realize pretty quickly what the local ways are. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to insert your own musical ideas, but you have to notice very quickly what is already there, so you don’t invent the bicycle every time.”

Her program here bookends two Czech works, Smetana’s “The Moldau,” a chestnut, and a strangely neglected masterpiece, Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony. When asked about the latter’s relative scarcity, Tali laughs and gives a simple explanation: “It is because of the Ninth,” she says, referring to the ever popular “New World” Symphony.

Tali naturally specializes in the performance of Estonian classical music — “I think if I don’t do it, who does?” — and her voice lights up when it is suggested that perhaps in a future visit she could conduct something by the great Estonian symphonist Eduard Tubin (1905-1982). “Oh, with great pleasure,” she says, proposing the Fifth Symphony, from 1946.

These days, Tali travels everywhere with her two-and-a-half-year old boy, Karl, and she’ll be bringing him to California. It will be both his and his mother’s first time in the state. Travel, and new cultures, are important to her, and she wants Karl to feel the same.

She remembers when she was a child and thinking she wanted to become a musician, “but I don’t want to die alone, practicing my piano in the darkness.” She wanted to see the world, to learn languages, to meet new people. Ironically, it has been music that has allowed her to do just that. She passes that good news on to younger musicians now.

“I get to do all these things — I’ve studied six languages and I meet people and I travel the world and soon I’m going to come to you fine people and explore some more and learn your ways, and this is even more important to me than bringing my ways. So, it’s an incredible life.”

  • Pacific Symphony
  • With: Anu Tali, conductor; Xiayin Wang, piano
  • Where: Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
  • When: Nov. 30; Dec. 1-2
  • How much: $35-$206
  • Call: 714-755-5799
  • Online:
Interview: Conductor Anu Tali
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