Järvi was born in Tallinn, Estonia, to conductor Neeme Järvi and Liilia Järvi. His siblings, Kristjan Järvi and Maarika Järvi, are also musicians. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Max Rudolf and Otto-Werner Mueller, and at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute with Leonard Bernstein. From 1994 to 1997, Järvi was principal conductor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. From 1995 to 1998, he shared the title of principal conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with Sir Andrew Davis. Järvi was music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to 2011. The orchestra made a number of recordings for the Telarc label during Järvi's tenure. In May 2011, he was named the orchestra's Music Director Laureate. Since 2004, he has been the artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Bremen and an Artistic Advisor to the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. In 2006, Järvi became the principal conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, and served in the post until 2014. In 2010, he became music director of the Orchestre de Paris. He is scheduled to conclude his tenure with the Orchestre de Paris at the conclusion of his current contract, at the end of the summer of 2016. In June 2012, the NHK Symphony Orchestra named Järvi its next chief conductor, beginning in the 2015–2016 season, with an initial contract of three years. Järvi has recorded for the RCA label as well as Deutsche Grammophon, Pentatone, Telarc, ECM, BIS and Virgin Records. His Virgin Classics recording of Sibelius Cantatas with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Estonian National Male Choir and Ellerhein Girls Choir won a Grammy Award for „Best Choral Performance“.
Järvi has two daughters from his past marriage to the violinist Tatiana Berman.