GENEVA (Reuters Life!) - Estonian-born Neeme Jarvi, among the best-known classical conductors in U.S. and European concert halls, has been appointed artistic director of Switzerland's Suisse Romande Orchestra.
The Geneva-based orchestra said 73-year-old Jarvi, who shook the former Soviet Union's music world when he left for the United States in 1980, would take over the post next January and become its chief conductor in 2012.
In both posts he will replace Polish-born Marek Janowski, who has headed the orchestra since 2005 -- the latest in a series of top conductors who have led it since its foundation by Swiss maestro Ernest Ansermet in 1918.
As musical director, he will prepare the orchestra's programme for the three years that he will be conductor.
Jarvi, whose two sons are also conductors, studied in Leningrad -- now St Petersburg -- under Soviet maestro Yevgeny Mravinsky and headed Soviet Estonia's main orchestras.
He won several international prizes and was hailed in Moscow as a Soviet cultural icon, gaining major state awards.
But he was known to have chafed at restrictions on what music he could perform and on foreign travel and was allowed to leave the communist-ruled country with his family 30 years ago.
That came during a period of widely publicized defections and enforced departures to the West of other major Soviet cultural figures, and the Kremlin clearly aimed to avoid a further international scandal.
Jarvi took U.S. citizenship in 1987 and has directed and conducted major Western orchestras -- including Sweden's Gothenburg Symphony, the Royal Scottish National, the Detroit Symphony and the New Jersey Symphony.
He is currently chief conductor of the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague and musical director of the Estonian National Symphony. A Suisse Romande spokesman said he would continue to combine these posts with his work in Geneva.
Jarvi holds annual summer master classes for young conductors in Estonia, to which he first returned as a visitor after it became independent on the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He lives in New York.
(Editing by Jonathan Lynn)