Thursday, September 21, 2006

More than music: Järvi's Job a Balancing Act

Photo: Jason D. Geil, Cincinnati Post

It's not all fun and glamour being the conductor of a major American orchestra these days. The side most people never see is what goes on behind the scenes as he occupies the post of the Music Director, too. The Cincinnati Post's classical music critic Mary Ellyn Hutton provides us today with an inside look at Paavo's daily life off the concert stage when he's in Cincinnati in her article More than music: Järvi's Job a Balancing Act.
There is an Estonian legend that once a year an old man rises from Ülemiste next to the capital city, Tallinn, and asks "Is Tallinn finished yet?"

The answer must never be "yes," Estonians know, for, if it is, he will flood the city.

The consequences may be less drastic for conductors, but their tasks are never finished either, said Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi.

"It's an ongoing thing. There's always something to correct."

Being a music director and having your own orchestra "requires similar talents as a bank director or a business person. You have employees, you have long terms plans, you have financial responsibilities, people to whom you owe money, people from whom you want money.

"Most of the nights are spent dealing with people who know nothing about music, but who are able to support the cause that you must make them believe is important. And at the end of the day, if something goes wrong, it's all your fault."

When Järvi returned to Cincinnati to open the CSO season last weekend, he picked up both reins, leading the CSO in two all-Brahms concerts and attending to the many complexities of being artistic leader of the organization.

This week he conducts the CSO in the Symphony in D Minor by Cesar Franck, Mozart's Bassoon Concerto (with CSO principal bassoonist William Winstead as soloist), and Three Dances, Op. 6 (1932), by French composer Maurice Duruflé, a CSO premiere. Concerts are 11 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall.

As usual, Järvi hit the ground running, having just recorded Beethoven's Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, conducted the Estonian National Orchestra at the Baltic Sea Festival in Stockholm and toured with the DK to the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

The first thing he does when he returns to Cincinnati is "detox," a healthful regime recommended by his wife, Tania, whereby he doesn't eat anything for two or three days and drinks only tea, juices and water. "The first time I did it I felt so good," he said. "I had more energy, and I wasn't hungry."

As he enters his sixth season with the CSO, Järvi will need lots of energy. Facing him are the potential "downsizing" of 3,500-seat Music Hall (largest concert hall in the country), player auditions, a to-be-announced CSO capital campaign, tour planning, recordings, programming and the usual rounds of meeting with CSO sponsors and donors.

Formation of a Music Hall Working Group, comprising representatives of the CSO, Cincinnati Opera, May Festival, Cincinnati Ballet and the Cincinnati Arts Association, which manages Music Hall for the city, was announced in August. The group will seek recommendations for reconfiguring the hall from Jaffe Holden Acoustics, Inc. of New York City and Fisher Dachs Associates Theatre Planning and Design of Norwalk, Conn. Preliminary recommendations are expected by the end of the year.

"I don't know what ends up being the final configuration, if it is going to be something changeable or not," said Järvi. "That is really something for the next step. The sooner the better as far as I'm concerned."

Performing in Music Hall constricts the CSO by putting pressure on the box office to sell more tickets and limiting the types of music that can be performed ("The hall is killing us," Järvi said in a March 2005 Post interview).

"The beginning of my real frustration was not being able to do not just new music, but lesser known classical music. If we do a Honegger symphony (Swiss composer Arthur Honegger), we have nobody in the hall, and that is not even new music.

"I am battling constantly with my marketing department because we can't fill the hall, and the thing is, I want to do more new music. I at least need to try to have some balance."

To try to enhance communication with Music Hall audiences, he is preparing pre-recorded video program notes (tested at last weekend's concerts) that involve screening his comments on the music to be performed on plasma screens mounted on each side of the stage before the concert.

On the 2006-07 season the Symphony No. 11 of Estonian composer Eduard Tubin, Vincent Persichetti's Symphony No. 4, Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension, Christopher Rouse's Der gerettete Alberich (Alberich Saved), Krzysztof Penderecki's Symphony No. 2, Alexander Scriabin's Symphony No. 2, John Harbison's Double Bass Concerto, Erkki-Sven Tüür's Zeitraum and the world premiere of Charles Coleman's Deep Woods.

From the standard repertory come Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 ("Italian"), Respighi's Pines of Rome, Tchaikovsky's Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3, Schumann's Symphony No. 4 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastorale").

Two Shostakovich symphonies - the 7th ("Leningrad") and 11th ("The Year 1905") - appear as well, in honor of the centennial of the Russian composer's birth.

For more details, visit the CSO web site at

Finding "balance" is a goal in every area of Järvi's life right now, he said. A notorious workaholic, he is all over the globe, guest conducting and meeting his commitments to other ensembles. In addition to the CSO, he is artistic adviser of the Estonian National Orchestra, artistic director of the DK and in October, will become music director of the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra.

Järvi, 43, whose hair shows traces of gray, said he is "trying very hard to find that balance, but I know that has never been my forte. I've never been really good at finding a good balance. I am somebody who is interested in many things - or at least, not just one thing.

"I will always be in America, I will always be in Japan and I will always be in Europe. It's the way this profession works.

"I must say that when I'm in Cincinnati, I love it, and Tania, who was always very skeptical about living in America, loves it. I am completely committed to Cincinnati. Logistics are complicated now, even more complicated because we have a second child coming."

The couple's second child, a daughter, was born here Tuesday. Their daughter Lea, 2½, was born in London.

One of the reasons for Järvi's peripatetic existence is his keenness to assimilate and record a wide variety of repertoire. He does Nordic composers in Estonia (his recording of Sibelius cantatas with the Estonian National Orchestra won a Grammy in 2005), he is recording the complete Beethoven symphonies with the DK, and he plans to focus on Bruckner in Frankfurt. Maintaining that pace is something he simply accepts.

"If there is something to do, then you get up in the morning and you do it. I feel that when you are in this kind of ongoing motion all the time, then you are in it. You don't start from the beginning. You just continue. Sometimes the most difficult thing is to get the momentum going."

Järvi is full of ideas. Among them is having the Estonian National Orchestra spearhead a festival in the city of Narva on the Russian/Estonian border. "It would have a dimension that we so much need of unifying and finding connections" (Estonia was occupied by the former Soviet Union until 1991).

He would also like to take the CSO to Estonia, the homeland he is so proud of (touted on the New York Times op-ed page Sept. 5 as "New Europe's Boomtown").

The most practical way to do that would be as part of a CSO tour of Europe.

"I'm actually quite disappointed that in the next (unannounced) European tour we're not coming. It wouldn't cost that much, but if we are going to have a capital campaign, and in the middle of that we have a tour, and in the middle of that we have contract negotiations (the CSO contract expires in Sept. 2007).... You understand."

This weekend's CSO concerts featuring Franck's D Minor Symphony and the Mozart Bassoon Concerto are 11 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall. Tickets are $18.50-$77, $10 for students, half-price for seniors Saturday only. Call (513) 381-3300 or visit

No comments: