Friday, April 28, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Polusmiak shines with CSO

The Cincinnati Post's Mary Ellyn Hutton found much to like in Anna Polusmiak's debut performance with the CSO Thursday night in this review:
If the metaphor fits wear it. Just back from the Netherlands where a critic dubbed her a "keyboard lioness," pianist Anna Polusmiak was just that Thursday night at Music Hall.

Given her lithe, powerful performance of Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" with the Cincinnati Symphony led by Paavo Järvi, it seemed no exaggeration to liken the 23-year-old, Ukrainian born Northern Kentuckian to a pianistic queen of the veldt.


Garbed in glittering turquoise for her CSO Music Hall debut, she put grace and focused energy into the old warhorse, sparking an instantaneous ovation.

But Polusmiak's wasn't the evening's only spontaneous demonstration. There was applause after the Adagio of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, as well, and not just the inadvertent kind. Järvi recognized it as such and didn't wave it away with his hand, but turned and acknowledged it with a smile.

The all-Rachmaninoff program, which included the CSO premiere of Two Dances from "Aleko," an early, one-act opera about gypsy life, was a crowd-pleaser. The Symphony No. 2 and "Aleko" Dances will be recorded next week by Telarc.

Polusmiak's performance shone from the outset, where her diamond bright touch etched the "Rhapsody" theme, then traced sparkling counterpoint with the trumpet and winds.

There was plenty of heart in her work, too, as the gorgeous "upside down" Variation 18 demonstrated. Preceded by shudders in the strings, it unfolded tenderly, tracing a sonorous arch that floated to earth like a feather (you could tell listeners had been holding their breath because of the rustling heard at the end). The bombastic finale with its witty, understated ending brought the crowd to its feet.
Her encore was a total contrast, Rachmaninoff's soft, touching "Daisies."

Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony was everything we have come to expect of Järvi and the CSO, transparent and full of gesture and emotion.

The energetic finale featured dense undercurrents, echoes of previous movements and an exhilarating and very Russian sounding finish.


Järvi's encore was a treat, Rachmaninoff's earliest extant work, a charming teenage Scherzo modeled after Mendelssohn's music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Repeats are 11 a.m. today, 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall. Information (513) 381-3300.

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO showcases NKU grad

Janelle Gelfand of the Cincinnati Enquirer gives us this review of Thursday night's concert:
At one time, Rachmaninoff's music was a scarcity on symphony programs, panned by critics as unabashedly romantic, with tunes that seemed right out of Hollywood. But no more; now there's a Rachmaninoff revival of sorts in concert halls, and on Thursday, it arrived at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Conductor Paavo Järvi presented an all-Rach concert - including two encores - that showcased the debut of 23-year-old Northern Kentucky University graduate Anna Polusmiak in "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." But, if her rapid-fire technique was impressive, it was Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 after intermission that offered the evening's most inspired music making.

Clocking in at nearly an hour, Rachmaninoff's Second is his longest but best-loved symphony. Despite the romantic themes that tumble out, one after another, including the third movement's "love theme," a dull performance can be tedious.

Yet this one was enthralling, with a balance of expressive detail and voluptuous string sonority that made it truly extraordinary. The strings, which lately have played with more refinement than ever, phrased their long, sweeping themes with wonderful feeling. Elegant contributions from the winds included a haunting solo by English hornist Chris Philpotts and a stunning third movement solo by clarinetist Richard Hawley.

Järvi made it a virtuoso showpiece for the orchestra, galvanizing his players in frenzied passages and pulling back to savor the warmer, arch-romantic moments. The third movement, with its great, ardent themes, resulted in spontaneous applause, before the fervent display of the finale.

It doesn't get much better than this.
The orchestra will record it this week for Telarc.

For the centerpiece, Polusmiak, a native of Kharkiv, Ukraine, displayed technical power in Rachmaninoff's brilliant "Rhapsody," a set of phenomenally difficult variations based on the music of Paganini. Treacherous passages glittered and sparked, though the pianist had a tendency to rush through some of the work's more sensuous moments.

Yet after a memory lapse, she visibly relaxed; the famous "18th Variation" was lush and beautifully phrased, and her staccato articulation of the "19th Variation" that followed was truly impressive. Järvi's orchestra supported her well.


Polusmiak's encore, Rachmaninoff's "Daisies," was evocative and played with nuance and affection.

The evening opened with a somewhat uninteresting reading of two gypsy dances from a long-forgotten Rachmaninoff opera, "Aleko."

The other encore was "Scherzo," largely a showpiece for principal flutist Randolph Bowman.

The concert repeats at 11 a.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday. (513) 381-3300.

E-mail jgelfand@enquirer.com

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Paavo Rachs On Again This Week!

Sorry, kids, for the late blogging here. I am still having computer problems at home (not to mention some physical ailing, too) and so here I find myself once more sitting in the downtown branch of the Cincinnati Public Library--this time additionally handicapped by having to use what must be the one and ONLY computer with a *privacy* screen - meaning that squinting at the screen is required (although I guess this is superior to having a keyboard with a dead spacebar like I had *last* week!).

Only one more weekend after this to see Paavo and the Cincinnati Symphony before season's end. And this week is another all-Rachmaninoff program--although not the same as the one in Los Angeles a few weeks ago.

On the program this week: his Dances from Aleko; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (guest artist: Anna Polusmiak); and the Symphony No. 2 in E Minor.

Concerts will take place Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 pm (with a complimentary buffet dinner in Music Hall Ballroom beginning at 6:15); Friday, April 28 at 11 am; and Saturday, April 29 at 8 pm. Saturday is also GLBT night with an official after party at Hamburger Mary's on Vine Street.

Listen to Paavo's Notes on this concert and read the Program Notes at your leisure before going to the concert--you'll have more time for star-gazing that way!

The CSO will record Rachmaninoff’s Dances from Aleko and Symphony No. 2 on the Telarc label, for release during the 2006-2007 season. Classical WGUC-FM 90.9 will broadcast this concert via streaming audio on Sunday, May 21 at 7::30 pm.

CONCERT REVIEW: Symphony tries to get in swing

Cincinnati Enquirer contributor John K. Toedtman filled in for Janelle Gelfand Friday night and had this to say in his April 22 review:

Billed as a jazz concert, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra program Friday night encompassed music imbued with jazz idioms rather than true improvisatory jazz. The music by Weill, Bernstein, and Gershwin has won the hearts of audiences for much of the 20th century; the symphony played to an almost full house.

Kurt Weill wrote the score for Bertolt Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera" in 1928. The Brecht play was judged subversive by many in Germany. Ten years after the first production of the opera Weill was forced to emigrate to the United States. The Weill Suite was performed by a small ensemble of winds, brass and piano. After the overture, the famous "Mack the Knife" theme wafts through the air. The "Ballad of the Easy Life" sounded suave and elegant. However, the polished classical musicians were not as free and sassy as Weill's music probably sounded in a smoke-filled Berlin cabaret in the 1930s. It is often tough for classical musicians to swing when they are used to playing it straight. I wanted the clarinets and brass to wail with more abandon.

Leonard Bernstein's "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs" borrows from the bebop era of Charlie Parker, but is hardly true improvisatory jazz. After a heated dialog with piano, clarinet and string bass the music gradually engulfs the entire ensemble to produce a very strident big band swing sound. Maestro Paavo Jarvi left center stage and allowed the group to swing on its own to a raucous exciting conclusion. For a pre-intermission encore the group played the jazz tune "Walking the Dog" with a wild solo by clarinetist Richie Hawley.

Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances from West Side Story" showcase his most popular successful composition. Bernstein's music moves from gentle ballads to acerbic sounds of violent conflict. After lots of fireworks, the piece ends with a hushed atmosphere and the melody "Somewhere."

Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is more rhapsodic than it is true blues or jazz. For a successful performance the pianist must draw both of the musical styles from the piano. Wayne Marshall approaches this music with great affection and lots of improvised notes. His touch is highly percussive, yet surprisingly lacks the weight and tonal power to be heard over the orchestra in forte tutti sections. A lack of balance between the orchestra and piano and a ragged quality to the part of both piano and orchestra left much to be desired in this performance of the Rhapsody.

This concert repeats tonight at 8:00 P.M. and Sunday at 3:00 P.M. These concerts are part of the Multicultural Awareness Council's Open Door Series.

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO kind of blue, jazzes up the joint

The Cincinnati Post's Mary Ellyn Hutton filed this review (4/22/06) for last weekend's almost capacity-filled concerts:
We knew the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra wasn't just a big band, but a Big Band?

In its Pops incarnation, yes, and Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel has made the CSO swing often, but it was music director Paavo Jarvi's turn Friday night at Music Hall.

He did it complete with blue lighting and amplification - again nothing the Pops has not done, but on a CSO subscription concert the twain rarely meet.

Billed "Jarvi 'n Jazz," the concert was heavily infused with the latter, some by way of Weimar-era Germany (Kurt Weill), the rest by native sons George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. The hall was packed, a signal to the CSO to "unbend" once in a while.

Guest artist in Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" was pianist Wayne Marshall. CSO principal clarinetist Richard Hawley did the honors on the famous opening "smear" and was soloist in his own right in Bernstein's brilliant, bebop-influenced "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs."

"Rhapsody in Blue" was heard in the familiar symphonic arrangement by Ferde Grofe, "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs" in its original jazz version. Also on the program were Weill's Suite from "The Threepenny Opera" and Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story."

Sitting in with the CSO players in the Weill were accordionist Jack Frost and saxophonists Rick vanMatre and James Bunte. It was music to slice off the years, recalling early jazzmen like Bix Beiderbecke with its steady, foursquare beat and banjo, tuba coloration (kudos to CSO violinist Paul Patterson who played banjo and guitar).

The 18-piece "theater orchestra" performed seven excerpts from Weill's legendary work, including "Mack the Knife," "Ballad of the Easy Life" (dripping satire with its tinkling piano and drum rim shots) and a lovely, lilting "Polly's Song." Trumpeter Doug Lindsay was a standout in "Cannon Song," and Jarvi milked all the drama from the anarchic, mock-solemn Finale.

Jarvi and a 15-member Big Band (five saxes, five trumpets, three trombones) tossed hot licks into the hall in Bernstein's "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs." Jarvi stepped aside near the end and let Hawley, Marshall and the players rip, the notated "Riffs" aping true improvisation. It prompted a spontaneous ovation as well as an encore, Gershwin's witty, urbane "Walking the Dog" in which Hawley showed once again that he owns far more than classical chops.

The strings came on for the second half, adding their lush sound to Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances," a blend of rumble and romance, with finger snaps, police whistle and an aching "Somewhere." Jarvi handled the work's difficult transitions smoothly, coursing static-free from the charming, pizzicato-laced "Maria" to the crackling electricity of "Cool."

It was Marshall's moment in Gershwin's "Rhapsody" and he made the most of it, though I prefer and warmer, more defined interpretation. He played with plenty of dash and virtuosity, but tempos were pushed, and it had a hard-edged quality. Balances were sometimes off, too, particularly at the end where Marshall was nearly covered by the brass.

Program repeats at 8 tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday at Music Hall.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

...And all that JAZZ!

OK, kiddies, listen up! You only have three weeks left to see Paavo conduct his marvelous Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra this season--and if you don't go this week, I really do not know what you are waiting for! I will go out on a limb here and predict that these will be some of the most fun concerts of the year. I mean, a little Gershwin, a lot of Bernstein, and a little bit of "Mack the Knife"? It's classical music, but with a jazz flair.

Here's the program: Kurt Weill's Suite from "The Threepenny Opera"; Leonard Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue and Riffs in its original jazz version (CSO Premiere), featuring the CSO's principal clarinetist Richie Hawley; Bernstein's much-loved Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"; and ending with George Gershwin's dramatic Rhapsody in Blue with special guest, pianist Wayne Marshall. (Fun Factoid: Paavo recorded these Bernstein pieces and others with Wayne Marshall and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1998! Click HERE to buy!)

Concert dates are Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22 at 8 pm; and Sunday, April 23 is a CSO Family Sundays Concert at 3 pm.

Read the Program Notes before you go. (I just did--and discovered that Benny Goodman played the clarinet part in Prelude, Fugue and Riffs when it premiered on television in 1955 with Bernstein conducting!) This program will air via streaming audio on Classical WGUC 90.9 FM on Sunday, May 14 at 7:30 pm.

Disney Hall looks like music's future

Disney Hall looks like music's future
The view from behind the orchestra in Los Angeles

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, April 18,2006

Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Frank Gehry-designed home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was completed in 2003 at a cost of $274 million. Its 2,265 seats surround the stage, giving audiences a dramatic variety of vantage points to watch concerts.

Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel said it best. In a 1990 interview with The Post, Kunzel addressed the way symphony concerts are presented. "What is the great thing to observe about a symphony conductor? Certainly not his rear end."

That image, however -- coattails and arms waving at a secret society of musicians on a plane elevated from the rest of us -- is what most people see in the concert hall, including in Cincinnati's 3,517-seat Music Hall. The problem can also be intensified by poor sight lines and listeners' average distance from the stage.

Most new concert halls, including some of the best in the world, provide a more inviting experience, including seating at the sides and behind orchestra. One of them is Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the 2,265-seat home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Completed in 2003 at a cost of $274 million, the stainless steel-wrapped landmark is already an icon for the city (Cindy Crawford recently shot a bra commercial there, according to Bloomberg.com).

Designed by architect Frank Gehry to suggest billowing sails, it succeeded the larger, multi-purpose Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (3,200 seats) as the orchestra's performance venue. (Gehry, architect of the famed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, also designed the University of Cincinnati's Vontz Center for Molecular Studies at Eden Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive.)

On a recent visit to the West Coast, I observed Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi rehearse and guest conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Disney Hall. I did so from four different vantage points: in front of the orchestra, on the side, from the top tier of seats and, reversing what most people see in the concert hall, behind the orchestra.

There are no bad seats in Disney Hall.

Seats are arranged in ascending rows on all sides. The stage, though not centrally located (the conductor's podium is, they say) is "in the same room" with the audience, rather than on a proscenium stage at one end. The feeling of intimacy and warmth is enhanced by Douglas fir paneling on the walls and ceiling. The 109-rank pipe organ situated in the space behind the orchestra is an arresting sight, its wood-enclosed pipes standing askew like huge matchsticks.

Adding a touch of awe are skylights and a huge rear window flanked by wooden "sails," which not only let light in, but make the building's metal skin glow after dark, eliminating the need for exterior floodlights.

Sitting behind the orchestra is an experience "as intense, if not more so than other parts of the hall," says Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen in a taped audio tour provided to visitors to the building. "The way we hear is not immune to the other senses."

Performing in Dorothy Chandler (a proscenium theater like Music Hall) was "slightly depressing," said former Los Angeles executive director Ernest Fleischman. "We never felt enveloped by the sound."

If that sounds similar to what Järvi has been saying lately about Music Hall, it's no coincidence. He and Finnish-born Salonen are good friends, and Järvi's brother Kristjan was assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1999-2002.

Sitting behind the orchestra, where you can watch the players and actually see the conductor's face, may be thought of as a kind of violation of the inner sanctum, but that is something the classical music world desperately needs.

Said Kunzel in 1990: "We shouldn't treat the orchestra and the people who go to it the same way we did 100 years ago."

If that means watching the conductors and the players "sweat," so be it, he said. "I love that big screen up in Riverfront Stadium (the Reds' home at the time). You can see close plays. You can see everything you can't see in the stadium because you're so far away." (In 1992, the CSO became the first orchestra in the nation to use video screens during an adult subscription concert, then abandoned the project.)

From my vantage point behind the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I could watch how the players handled their instruments, what they did during rests (rest usually) and, theoretically at least (if I had brought binoculars), read their music.

As for Järvi, it was fun to see what the players saw and how they responded to his directions.

Järvi is all-business in rehearsal, all energy during concerts. He often smiles for reinforcement and provides numerous signals unseen by the audience - a hand on his heart, tapping his finger on the baton to set a tempo, taking anticipatory breaths before downbeats.

Conductors do not make the sound. Seeing as well as hearing is believing.

The concert April 6 in Los Angeles was all-Rachmaninoff, including his Symphony No. 2, a piece Järvi will perform and record with the CSO later this month.

Interestingly for the nation's second largest metropolitan area (16 million in Los Angeles compared with 1.9 million for Cincinnati), the hall was not full. There were scattered empty seats and the upper level furthest from the stage was closed off.

The Music Hall audience on a good night, such as April 8's all-Mozart concert with CSO guest conductor Jaime Laredo and the majority of Jarvi's concerts here, could easily match it.

As the CSO moves closer to addressing the issue of what some consider its oversized hall, Los Angeles' experience and its new, "downsized" hall stands as a kind of Cinderella's castle example.

The cost, of course, was fantastic. Lillian Disney (Walt Disney's widow) gave $50 million in 1987 to spearhead the project. Faced with cost overruns that threatened to swamp the project, she and other members of the Disney family later kicked in twice that amount, with the balance from a broad-based coalition of state and local government, corporate, foundation and private giving.|

Friday, April 14, 2006

CD REVIEW: Bartok/Lutoslawski

Lawrence B. Johnson of the Detroit Daily News (4/14/06) has this very positive review to offer of Paavo and the Cincinnati Symphony's newest recording venture:
Critics' choice: Our top picks for the week's events

Classical CD

Not far from the mighty oak? Conductor Paavo Jarvi , the son of Detroit Symphony Orchestra music director emeritus Neeme Jarvi, has emerged large on the musical landscape. Word has it Paavo, 44, music director of the Cincinnati Symphony, is being considered as Daniel Barenboim's successor at the helm of the Chicago Symphony. All the evidence I've heard on Telarc's series of CD releases with Jarvi and Cincinnati -- and one appearance by Paavo with the DSO -- suggests that Chicago would do very well to grab him. Paavo Jarvi is a gifted conductor, a forming megastar.

The latest Jarvi-Cincinnati release from Telarc, a coupling of Bela Bartok 's 1943 Concerto for Orchestra and Witold Lutoslawski's 1954 Concerto for Orchestra, may be the most convincing demonstrations yet of the conductor's rightful place among the international elite. While Bartok's vibrant and much-recorded work is far better known than the Lutoslawski, Cincinnati's virtuosic and flavorful account reveals the latter's layered charm. Like the Hungarian Bartok's concerto, the Polish Lutoslawski's work displays its folk roots while also showcasing his flair for expressive line and orchestral color. Cincinnati offers a performance as suave as it is robust.

But the Bartok is simply disarming. Even measured against the piles of recordings by great conductors and orchestras, this new entry is distinguished by Jarvi's unhurried, probing, imaginative and precise conducting and by Cincinnati's impeccable delivery. The wind playing is a model of warmth and personality -- thanks in no small way to Telarc's spacious and smartly balanced sound.


By the way, the DSO plays both of these splendid concertos next month at Orchestra Hall, the Lutoslawski under Libor Pesek (May 5-7) and the Bartok under Neeme Jarvi (May 25-27).

Lutoslawski/Bartok: Concertos for Orchestra. Cincinnati Symphony conducted by Paavo Jarvi. Telarc CD-80618.

Monday, April 10, 2006

PJ Breezes Into Chicago!

Is there gossip here? Check out this piece from the Chicago Sunt-Times on Sunday! (And yes--I am still without a computer and blogging this from the library!! :-((()
Physics of the podium
By WYNNE DELACOMA
Chicago Sun-Times, April 9, 2006

If Paavo Jarvi were a rock and roller, smarty-mouth young critics might dismiss him as a geezer. In the classical music world, the 43-year-old music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is considered a notable up-and-comer.

Jarvi takes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's podium on Tuesday, returning for the first time since 2004. Now in his fifth season in Cincinnati -- and scheduled next season to add a second major post, music director of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra -- Jarvi is a conductor deeply attached to symphonic music's centuries-old traditions, as well as its yet-to-be-charted future.

His father is Neeme Jarvi, the distinguished Estonian conductor who was the Detroit Symphony's music director from 1991-2005. His brother, Kristjan, heads the hip, accomplished Absolute Ensemble, a chamber group devoted to contemporary music.

Balancing the old and the new has been vital to Jarvi's artistic success as Cincinnati Symphony's music director since September 2001. Like most big-city orchestras, the 111-year-old ensemble is facing formidable challenges. Its elegant and venerable home theater, the 3,417-seat Music Hall, is much too large for orchestral concerts. Observers blame a price hike last season and problems with crime in the Music Hall area for a drop in subscription sales.

On the artistic front, however, the news hardly could be better. Jarvi and his Cincinnati colleagues consistently win high praise for their local performances, international tours and commercial recordings -- up to four a year -- for Telarc.

"There's great energy emanating from the stage, from the orchestra and from the podium,'' said Steven Monder, president of the Cincinnati orchestra. "There's a certain edginess to everything that's going on because they're working together, they're creating spontaneously. There's just a great chemistry between Paavo and our orchestra, and it's very clear and very easy to feel in the audience. From concert one [Jarvi made his Cincinnati conducting debut in February 1999], our musicians were immediately impressed with Paavo, so we immediately re-engaged him.''

The orchestra has been holding him close ever since. Not even two years into Jarvi's initial contract, it was extended through 2008-09.

Jarvi has conducted around the world and was principal guest conductor of both the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the City of Birmingham Symphony before arriving in Cincinnati. He landed at a city with an enviable musical heritage. Fritz Reiner, who led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to artistic glory as its music director from 1953 to 1963, held Cincinnati's top musical post in the 1920s. Jarvi's immediate predecessor was Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

"I inherited an orchestra that was in very good shape,'' said Jarvi. "The orchestra in general is known as being of very high quality.''

One of his main goals has been to raise the Cincinnati Symphony's national and international profile through recordings, tours and exciting concerts at home.

"I like Cincinnati very much,'' Jarvi said, "but there's a kind of mentality here. They like to keep the good things to themselves. I want to make the symphony a little less of a best-kept secret.

" 'Balance' is the vital world,'' he said about his approach to programming. "It's important for me to do something that has proven value and also to add a little spice, to play works the orchestra or the audiences might not know.'' He has brought the music of a few contemporary composers to Cincinnati, playing a wide range of their works over several seasons so that audiences can become familiar with their musical voice.

Jarvi deplores the notion that orchestras must stick with familiar masterworks to increase audiences.

"There is too much great music that isn't played,'' he said. "Why should there be a culture where we gravitate toward the popular? Our mission is not the same as in the pop world. Our mission is to explore art.''

Jarvi's name regularly pops up as a possible successor to Daniel Barenboim, who leaves the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's music director post in June. Both Jarvi and Monder turn vague when asked about the conductor's plans beyond 2008-09.

"At this moment, I haven't thought about the future,'' said Jarvi. "All this talk is quite premature. I'm not the type of person who goes easily from one place to another. I'm a person who commits and is quite loyal. I like to see something important happen, to build something."

Conducting is a family affair

The Chicago Sun-Times' Wynne Delacoma provides some insight on the Jarvi family business (4/10/06):
Conducting is the Jarvi family business, and father and sons don't hesitate to talk shop, according to Paavo Jarvi.

The Jarvi homes -- first in Estonia and since 1980 in the United States -- had a huge record collection. Paavo, his brother Kristjan and their father enjoyed playing compare-and-contrast with multiple recordings of the same Beethoven symphony or Mozart piano concerto.

"It was a game for me," said Paavo Jarvi of those hours spent sharpening his ear, "but it was an extremely efficient game."

As Paavo and Kristjan moved into the professional music world, the men have continued the conversation.

"We talk all the time," Jarvi said. "A few weeks ago, we were doing the Mahler Second Symphony, and my father flew in from New York to come to my rehearsals and the performances. He was very curious to see how I would do it. We had prolonged discussions, especially about the second movement, which is very complicated."

Neeme Jarvi, now 68, served as music director of the Detroit Symphony from 1991 to 2005. This season, he became music director of the New Jersey Symphony. He intimately understands the challenges music directors of American orchestras face.

"Even in the technical details of how to conduct, there are things you don't know as a young man," Paavo said. "And you usually learn them because you do them wrong. Right now, my brother is doing large pieces like [excerpts from Beethoven's] 'Fidelio' for the first time. [In addition to heading the Absolute Ensemble, Kristjan Jarvi became music director of Vienna's nearly 100-year-old Tonkunstler Orchestra in 2004.] He calls me, and we spend hours on the phone. I will sing something to him or say, 'Look, you will never hear the second oboe at this point unless you make the trumpets mezzo forte.'

"Cincinnati is my very first American orchestra," Jarvi said. "But having my father in Detroit for 15 years, I was so aware of the kind of work schedule and the fund-raising schedule and the community involvement that needs to happen. In a way, this job was not new for me."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

RADIO ALERT: Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony/Cincinnati Symphony

Program from March 10 and 11:

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection")

This concert will air on Classical WGUC, 90.9 via streaming audio Sunday, April 9, at 7:30 pm ET.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Rachmaninoff power source

Here's one from L.A.:
Rachmaninoff power source
André Watts dazzles, but neither he nor conductor Paavo Järvi proves revelatory.
By Chris Pasles
Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2006

Pianist André Watts, who stepped in on short notice for an ailing Hélène Grimaud, received a huge ovation after finishing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Paavo Järvi on Thursday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Los Angeles audiences give routine, if not obligatory, standing ovations, but this time the response was instantaneous, electrifying and accompanied by hoots, whistles and bravos that were anything but business as usual.

For one listener, it all seemed a bit over the top. Watts was a powerhouse but direct, rather objective and even-tempered soloist. He favored clarity over mystery or personal involvement, and while his technique seemed effortless, especially in his dazzling arabesques toward the end of the work, he didn't give a particularly revelatory performance.

Järvi too kept a cool head, avoiding extremes and lush indulgences and guiding the big tunes with a lean intelligence. Fortunately, principal clarinet Lorin Levee, principal flute Anne Diener Zentner and principal horn William Lane provided more personal touches.

Perhaps all the objectivity was part of a new, rehabilitating approach to Rachmaninoff, arguably the 20th century's last-standing Romantic. Yet in the Vocalise, the opening piece of a program entirely devoted to him, Järvi allowed more moodiness and flexible phrasing.

Rachmaninoff has a rap as a slush-pump composer, but his Symphony No. 2, which closed the concert, is better crafted than might at first be apparent. It is also less a stream of endless emotion — although it has plenty of feeling — than an immersion in subconscious, associative processes.

Järvi directed light into these murky realms, earning respect for the work's details and structural integrity at the expense of some of its oceanic heft and power.

There was special clarity in the Scherzo, a homage to Rimsky-Korsakov and others among Rachmaninoff's Russian forebears, and impressive attention to all the movements' on-the-dot endings. But again it was principals such as clarinetist Levee, oboist Anne Marie Gabriele and concertmaster Alexander Treger who triggered the ardent emotions leading to the third movement's climax and afterglow.

TECHNICAL PROBLEMS!

I am writing from the public library because my Mac is having major problems. I will not be posting again until I can have it fixed!!!!

CONCERT REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic Rachs Out

HA! I knew somebody else out there wouldn't be able to resist that pun! Here's a review of PJ's concert from the Los Angeles Daily News (4/8/06) by David Mermelstein:
Must have been all that Minimalism. How else to explain the Los Angeles Philharmonic's decision to veer in the opposite direction and devote an entire program to the lush strains of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Thirty years ago, a bill containing the composer's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Second Symphony would have been standard fare. But these days, at least with this orchestra, it's practically a rediscovery.

How lucky, then, that the Philharmonic's music director, Esa- Pekka Salonen, is in Paris leading the premiere of compatriot Kaija Saariaho's latest opera, and that Paavo Jarvi, music director of the Cincinnati Orchestra, was on the podium in his stead. For Jarvi, a native of Estonia, clearly relishes Rachmaninoff's ripe scores.

In the tender Vocalise, which opened the program, the conductor opted for quiet reflection over self-indulgence, so much so that when he heightened intensity even slightly, it seemed a major mood shift.

Rachmaninoff's barnstorming Piano Concerto No. 2 might have been tour de force. But the originally scheduled pianist, Helene Grimaud, bowed out due to illness. And though her replacement, Andre Watts, should have managed this music handily, he proved instead enormously disappointing.

From the concerto's memorable opening chords, which Watts delivered clumsily, the pianist seemed out of sorts, his performance lugubrious and lacking color. And there was, unfortunately, little improvement as the work progressed.

Jarvi, too, was anything but a firebrand, but at least he and the orchestra turned their slow tempos stately.

Indeed, Watts' careful and uninflected playing was disconcerting in the extreme, perhaps a result of his not expecting to be in L.A. performing this piece.

He sounded better in the slow second movement than elsewhere, but the glory there really belonged to flutist Anne Diener Zentner and clarinetist Lorin Levee, both producing lovely phrases.

No tentativeness tainted the program's second half, though, with Jarvi leading the orchestra in an extraordinary account of the Second Symphony. The Philharmonic has a tradition of playing this work well, and longtime concertgoers will recall superb performances of it during Andre Previn's directorship in the mid- to late 1980s.

Jarvi's reading was richly detailed and lushly textured. More important, he held a listener's interest throughout the work, which is no mean feat in a symphony that can sound turgid in the hands of nonbelievers. This conductor, on the other hand, seemed to have this music in his blood, proving himself a master of moods as he variously shifted the work's tone.

In the second movement, he achieved sweep without sentimentality and coaxed the orchestra to well-calibrated felicities. His judicious employment of dynamics was especially impressive, his brisk pace right and welcome.

In the gushing third movement - in which Levee offered melting clarinet solos - Jarvi wisely opted for restraint, a gently lush approach. Yet emotion was powerfully asserted nonetheless. The finale was one of controlled exuberance, the playing tight, with the strings displaying rare bloom, the concluding measures practically Wagnerian.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Paavo Rachs Out in L.A.



Oh, yes, it's true. PJ is in Los Angeles this week for two all-Rachmaninoff concerts with the LA Philharmonic (Thursday, April 6 at 8 pm and Sunday, April 9 at 2 pm) in the beautiful new Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

On the program: Vocalise; Piano Concerto No. 2; and Symphony No. 2. Due to illness, Helene Grimaud will not be able to appear. In her place will be the great American pianist, Andre Watts.

Paavo will also conduct a performance of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 on Friday, April 7 at 8 pm as part of "First Nights", a series designed to introduce audiences to orchestral music. Each concert concentrates on a single piece and provides background information in different ways.

Dr. Thomas Forrest Kelly, who wrote the book First Nights upon which the series is based, offers his engaging observations and analysis of Rachmaninoff's romantically lush Symphony No. 2.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 850-2000

Sunday, April 02, 2006

RADIO ALERT: Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff/Cincinnati Symphony

Program from March 3 and 4, 2006:

Weber's Overture to "Euryanthe"
Brahms' Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor ("Double")(Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff)
Schumann's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major ("Rhenish")

Listen to this concert via streaming audio on Classical 90.9 WGUC at 7:30 pm EDT.