Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Die Welt: A craftsman with genius (in English)

Orchestras have to be titillated
The Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi is a busy craftsman with genius

Children of great musicians are often to be regretted. Yehudi Menuhin criticized his own son Jeremy so that he would not follow in the leadership of Gstaad festival. Karlheinz Stockhausen is very strict with his children Markus and Majella. Paul and Rico Gulda had big problems trying to step out of the shadow of Friedrich.

An exception as a father is Neeme Järvi, the great old conductor of the musical Kleinmeister (less well known composers) from Estonia. With 357 CDs (from Hugo Alfven to Eduard Tubin), he is one of the most recorded conductors of all times. And with three self-confident children, one of the most successful workers for the younger generation in music. Daughter Maarika is a brilliant solo flutist, son Kristjan is conductor of the Austrian Tonkünstlerorchester and is said to be "at the moment the youngest conductor" of the Järvi clan. Which means on the one hand: Who knows who else will be coming? And on the other: Paavo Järvi is the older.

"He's my biggest fan," says Paavo Järvi (43) amazed about his own father. The Haydn lessons for four hands on the piano were the "initial" starting point, since 1985, of his highly regarded upcoming career. Today, Paavo - who was born in Tallinn - is chief conductor of three orchestras and about to take over a fourth one with the Symphonieorchester des Hessischen Rundfunks in 2006. Megalomania? No, rather something like pusillanimousness in duplicaton. "Conducting is the thing I like to do the most, when I am not making music", Järvi says self-critically. A great number of CDs show him as one of the most innovative, incalculable talents of his generation. Similar to his Baltic colleague Mariss Jansons, Järvi favors continuity instead of cash, slowness instead of wearout.

On the terrace of the Baltic Beach Hotel, an old spa in Jurmala, Latvia, Järvi is dreaming of Waltz-excesses in the role of an Estonian Willi Boskowsky and complains coolly about his own profession. A lot of young conductors were swallowed up early on by their own hubris and wanting-to-do-more-than-everything-attitude, says Järvi: "You can not live on adrenalin" and turns eagerly towards his Matjes herring. Paavo Järvi is no phlegmatic person out of passion - like the figures of the Finnish KaurismДki. Especially with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, with whom he is touring the Baltic states, he is eliciting the most nervous, most thin-skinned virile sounds to be heard in the musical scene at the moment.

Influenced by old music, Järvi convinces in restlessly titillating the orchestra. After a day of rehearsal you never know with him, whether things are going to stay like that - or whether he will surprisingly rush into an different direction the same evening. Guest conducting, the Grammy-winner rarely likes to do anymore. "You do the best work with your own orchestras," he quotes George Szell, "even, if they happen to be third class orchestras."

This trained percussionist started his career at the bottom. After listening to hundreds of his father's opera performances in Tallinn, the family emigrated to the Unites States. There, five years ago, Paavo took over the Cincinnati Symphony, the orchestra of his teacher Max Rudolf - and led it in a storm back onto the musical map. He even managed to outstrip the success of Cincinnati Pops.

For the Estonian National Orchestra, he got astonishing CD contracts. With the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, which he took over from Daniel Harding in 2004, he is recording a Beethoven cycle at present. The Kammerphilharmonie was founded exactly 25 years ago, and turned under Schiff, Hengelbrock and Harding into one of the most transparent and sensitive ensembles in existence today. Rhythmically sharp, with a cool sound, there is a Bremen Beethoven cycle arising that might be startling due to its liveliness, accuracy and freshness. Very obviously, this Beethoven comes from Stravinsky, not from Wagner. It crisscrosses all dark German heaviness - and from that brings an approach for an all-European Beethoven of the future. On the tour through USA and the new European Union countries Poland, Latvia and Estonia, no concert was similar to the others. The New York Times spoke about the "event of the summer". Järvi himself about "a dream, that's becoming reality".

Eight years ago, the orchestra was on the edge of going bankrupt. By using a self-help concept, they gained more sponsors, a young boss and a little more financial support. With the musicians as self-responsible shareholders, the Kammerphilharmonie created and realized a sucessful model. "Children at heart" - Järvi does not call his musicians like that coincidentally. While Bremen's audience was skeptical in the beginning, now every concert is a sell-out. In the tour bus, the musicians themselves haggle over the last tickets, mostly without success. But instrumental exuberance is, in their case, not only paid off in notorious "darkly temperamental men" like Beethoven, Schumann or Stravinsky. Just in turbid waters like Sibelius "Valse triste" or Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 6, they reach their top form. If, at any point, the joy in Waltzes of the Wiener Philharmoniker have to face a German competitor, the wavering wit and knife-throwing melancholy of the Kammerphilharmonie would be the only candidate. Paavo Järvi is secretly dreaming about Strauss, Lanner and Lehar. If a passage in a concert works very well, he wittily throws a view over his shoulder to the audience. He does not like Wagner, but reveres the Wagnerian Humperdinck. He is complaining with a lot of words about people who are talking too much. And he managed to transport successfully the paradox of his own person into the orchestra. In Cincinnati, he plays Sibelius, in Tallinn Pärt. This is how the distribution of tasks of a top conductor looks nowadays. Paavo Järvi shines as a musical local politician and by this takes worldwide effects. As a craftsman with genius. "Think big" for him this works in a concentration on limitation. It's not possible to think in more modern terms in a time of crisis.

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