Jarvi sees end to absentee music directors
Musical family has four conductors
By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer, February 19, 1999
Paavo Jarvi got a head start on becoming a conductor -- he grew up in a conductor's home.
"My influence, mostly directly and most immediate, was my father," Mr. Jarvi says by phone from New York where he lives. His father is Neeme Jarvi, the Estonian-born music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
"There was never any kind of pressure to be a musician, but he was an infectious character," he says. "He seduced me into loving music."
The younger Mr. Jarvi will make his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducting debut this weekend.
Before he emigrated to the United States in 1980, Mr. Jarvi studied piano, percussion and sang in a boy choir in Estonia. At home he listened to his father prepare operas and symphonies. He enjoyed playing four-hand piano arrangements of the Haydn symphonies with his father, generating an early love of Haydn.
Mr. Jarvi is one of four conductors in the family. A brother, Kristjan Jarvi, is assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. An uncle, Vallo Jarvi, conducts opera.
Because Estonia was part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s, musicians had little access to music from the West. Estonian music was influenced by Russians like Shostakovich and Prokofiev. But one time, the elder Mr. Jarvi went on tour to the United States -- and returned with music to Leonard Bernstein's Mass.
"We were the first people in the Soviet Union who had access to the Bernstein Mass," Mr. Jarvi recalls. "For months before I went to school, I would get up an hour early and listen to the entire Mass."
Later, Mr. Jarvi studied with Mr. Bernstein in Los Angeles and recorded an all-Bernstein album with the City of Birmingham (England) Symphony Orchestra.
The elder Mr. Jarvi's teaching methods were subliminal. He suggested his son take up the percussion because it would give him invaluable experience -- watching conductors.
"You could witness how the orchestra relates to a conductor, what was clear and not clear, how they rehearsed and how they got different sounds from the orchestra," he says. "The point was to observe. It was exactly what my father did when he was young."
This background, plus studies with former CSO music director Max Rudolf at the Curtis Institute of Music, may be the reason that at the age of 35, he is already principal guest conductor of both the Stockholm Philharmonic and the City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras. And, at a time when the classical recording industry is in a slump, he has a recording contract with EMI - Virgin Classics for 10 albums.
Mr. Jarvi views American orchestras from the perspective of having two relatives working with major orchestras.
"Classical music has ceased to have an everyday presence in the lives of the average American," he says. "If you ask the average person who was (Herbert von) Karajan, they won't know." (He was the renowned music director of the Berlin Philharmonic.)
A big problem is the absentee music director who flies in and out of town, no longer the revered "musical father figure" of the community. Mr. Jarvi predicts that his generation of conductors will return to practices of the past, when maestros were visible members of the community.
"Even though travel will be part of a conductor's life, it is less important now. It's more important to have a hands-on experience in one's community," he says.
"Most (music directors) now live in the cities where they work," he says, mentioning his colleagues Andrew Litton in Dallas, Esa-Pekka Salonen in Los Angeles and Simon Rattle in Birmingham, England.
Another problem is orchestra programming, which lacks excitement and creativity, he believes.
"Audiences in America have to be given credit. American programming is patronizing there's a strong marketing influence," he says. "If we're only thinking that way, in 50 years we will not have an audience."
American orchestras may have to change to survive, he says.
"Classical music is tradition-based. Traditions often don't let us change with the times because we have people who say, no, no, no, it's always done that way.
"But in a society which changes so quickly, we have to adapt and we must change quickly. The challenge is to keep the music an important part of the every day," he says.
"One has to not look at it as a sinking ship -- you have to build something new, take initiative."
That challenge goes to the conductors, he says. "Being that they are in leadership positions, they should be responsible in taking initiative to salvage the situation."