Thursday, August 03, 2006

Paavo on his native soil

Mary Ellyn Hutton has spent a lot of her summer vacation time this year in the Baltics and sends this dispatch, published in today's Cincinnati Post about Paavo's visit to Estonia earlier last month.
PÄRNU, Estonia - Conductor Paavo Järvi has many scripts to follow on his travels around the globe.

One is as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Another is artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, with whom he toured Japan in May with their newly recorded cycle of Beethoven symphonies.

Yet another is unfolding in his native Estonia. As artistic advisor of the Estonian National Orchestra, Järvi has made a series of acclaimed recordings, including Sibelius Cantatas (Virgin Classics, 2004), Estonia's first Grammy-winner.

Son of famed conductor Neeme Järvi, he has taken on another role recently, joining his father as a teacher of young conductors at Neeme Järvi's Summer Academy in Pärnu, Estonia.

"I have done occasional master classes in places where I have been a guest conductor, but nothing like this, which is quite organized and quite a specific course," said Järvi, 43, over a late-afternoon snack at one of Pärnu's outdoor cafes.

Held in July in conjunction with Pärnu's distinguished David Oistrakh Festival, the week-long master course is a prime opportunity for young conductors to hone their craft, he said.

"There are very few opportunities for young conductors to have a chance to conduct an orchestra and have actual interaction with an experienced conductor. Every person who comes here will have a chance to conduct in concert as well, as an active participant. It's an opportunity that you just can't get anywhere."

In Pärnu - a picture postcard town on the Baltic Sea famed for its spas and white sand beach - a dozen or so students work in front of an orchestra for allotted time slots each day, typically two 15-minute sessions each. The conducting sessions are videotaped and critiqued by the teacher before the entire class, and each student is assigned to conduct a portion of the two student-led Oistrakh Festival concerts. Classes and concerts are held in Pärnu's brand new Concert Hall, a five-story, glass-walled sparkler on the bank of the place Pärnu River.

There were 15 students this year, from Estonia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States. Although he has taught in Pärnu twice before, this was Järvi's first time as sole instructor with his dad. (Finnish guru Jorma Panula and Russian conductor Alexander Dmitriev have assisted Neeme Jarvi in the past).

Järvi taught July 6-9, his father July 10-12.

Pärnu, a former Hanseatic League city founded in 1251, is uniquely hospitable for a conducting course, said Järvi. "This is a secluded place, not a show business environment. Here you can actually do work and feel like you can make mistakes. It's a charming city that is not over-developed yet, with nice places to eat and walk."

Järvi sat score in hand during the conducting sessions, often striding to the podium to raise or clarify an issue with the student. His manner was serious, but congenial. "We are all friends here," he said, to one very nervous conductor.

He was also uncompromising. "I will not say 'this is great,' if it is not great. Go somewhere else for compliments. Here you are going to get what you need to hear."

As soon as something went wrong or struck Järvi as "not working," he immediately pointed it out and offered a solution.

There is "no formula" for what makes a good conductor, said Järvi, who presided in T-shirt and jeans, often barefoot during video sessions.

"Conducting is very personal," he said. "It depends on each individual - the way they are built, the way they think and are taught, how old they are and so on."

What Järvi looks for is "somebody who can communicate something. In a course that lasts four or five days, you can be most useful by helping people show what they mean. There are people who have very much talent, but don't know how to express it, others who have more experience but don't have much to say.

"I try to catch my very first impression, because that is what musicians go by. They don't have time to analyze too many things while they are playing 50 notes in a bar."

Jarvi's goal was to give the students a "second opinion."

"It is very hard to get an objective point of view in conducting because first of all, it's hard to get a chance to conduct at that stage in your life. Second, they have a certain standard set by their teachers, that this is the way to do it. It's good to have a reality check and see how it works in an environment when your teacher is not there."

Järvi dismisses the godlike image of the symphony conductor. (Conductor joke: What's the difference between God and a conductor? God doesn't think he's a conductor.)

"Too much is made of this kind of mystical quality of conducting," he said. "There are certain things that, yes, cannot be explained, but the things these guys don't know yet are not some sort of mystical, religious or other-worldly abilities. They don't know enough repertoire. They don't listen enough. They don't have enough experience. There is so much to learn, so much music to just know."

Despite growing up surrounded by music and having his father as an example - "my one really great advantage," he said - the first thing Järvi learned as a conducting student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia was "how little I knew, not even repertoire so much as elementary musical issues - harmony, analysis, score-reading, everything."

Despite Jarvi's candor and high standards, no egos were crushed during his four days in Pärnu, and the students applauded him warmly after their July 9 concert with the Pärnu Festival Orchestra. The program comprised Mozart's Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro," Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals," Romances for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 40 and 50, by Beethoven, and Mozart's Symphony No. 38. Soloist in the Beethoven was Järvi's wife, Tatiana Berman, a sporting collaborator in rehearsals and an exquisite performer in concert.

For Järvi, "one of the great joys" of coming to Pärnu is working with his father.

"I love his enthusiasm. I use the word 'infected' with music.... It's a virus, a disease, the incredible joy that comes from making music."

There is no father-son rivalry, he said. "People can't believe we don't have this sort of Freudian thing.... It's a better story the other way."

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