City to award Medal of Tartu to Taavo Virkhaus

Press statement 3.06.2009

Tartu City Government decided to reward Taavo Virkhaus, soon celebrating his 75th birthday, with Medal of Tartu for his contribution to promoting Estonian diaspora's music scene and for his merits in the history of Estonian and Tartu's song festivals.
The awarding ceremony is planned for 12 June when a concert of Vanemuine Theatre Symphony Orchestra and selected choirs from Tartu will take place with Taavo Virkhaus as one of the conductors. He will also conduct the theatre's orchestra at this year's Tartu Song Festival.
Taavo Virkhaus was born on 29 June 1934 in Tartu to Adalbert Wirkhaus (1880-1961), a music teacher, choir and orchestra conductor. His grandfather was David Otto Wirkhaus (1837-1912) from Väägvere, the father of Estonian wind band music, a composer and conductor, the winner of the wind band contest of the first Estonian General Song Festival and a conductor of the second and third general song festivals.
Taavo Virkhaus began his education in the elementary school of Tartu School of Teacher Education where he was able to study for only one and a half years. In August 1944, his family left for Germany, and since 1949, Taavo Virkhaus lives in the United States of America. In 1951, he graduated from Fort Lauderdale High School in Florida and was granted a scholarship for studying at the University of Miami from which he graduated in 1955.

Virkhaus acquired his Master's degree from the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music in 1957. After six months of military service, he worked as a music teacher in Rochester's suburb Penfield and began his Doctoral studies at the Eastman School of Music. In 1960-1961, Virkhaus studied conducting in Pierre Monteux's master's class and in 1963 began studying at the Conservatory of Cologne in Germany. In 1967, Taavo Virkhaus acquired his Doctoral degree and was invited to become the music director at the University of Rochester. That university's symphony orchestra participated in the 1969 Estonian Jubilee Song Festival concert and in the Republic of Estonia's anniversary concert in Toronto. In 1976, Virkhaus was the music director of ESTO 76 and performed his own 1st Symphony and Eduard Tubin's 10th Symphony with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He was also an organiser and conductor of ESTO song festival. In 1977-1994, he was the music director of Duluth Symphony Orchestra and has also worked as a conductor of Huntsville, Minnesota and Alabama symphony orchestras.

In 1978, Taavo Virkhaus was invited by Neeme Järvi to Estonia where he conducted Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. He has conducted orchestras and choirs at West Coast Estonian Days in Vancouver in 1987 and in Los Angeles in 1999. On his visits to Estonia, he has conducted Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and symphony orchestras of Estonia and Vanemuine theatres on several occasions. In 1990, he was the chief conductor of wind bands at the Estonian General Song Festival. He has also conducted orchestras at song festivals in Tartu and Tallinn in 1994, 1999 and 2004.