Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Music runs in the family

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

By TIMOTHY MANGAN, The Orange County Register

Paavo Järvi, whose Cincinnati Symphony comes to Orange County this week, was raised to be a conductor.

Paavo Järvi always knew he wanted to be a musician. Or, to be exact, he wasn't aware that people did anything else.
His father is Neeme Järvi, the widely traveled conductor, now music director of the New Jersey Symphony. When Paavo was growing up in Estonia the house was filled with his father's music. He would go to his father's rehearsals and performances (Paavo heard "La Traviata" several hundred times). Both his brother, Kristjan, chief conductor of Vienna's Tönkunstler Orchestra, and sister, Maarika, a professional flute soloist, caught the bug, too. His nonmusician mother, the friendly, deep-voiced Järvi said recently from his home in Cincinnati, is "the only normal person in the family."
Neeme, it seems, far from pushing his children, turned music into playtime. Paavo remembers vividly how it went. He would stand next to his father's chair, a little behind him and looking over his shoulder. His father would have a score in front of him and a record of it playing on the stereo.
"He would always ask me to point out, 'OK, where are we? Which instrument is playing?' He always asked me to follow the score and to be involved not only by listening but by looking at the score. ... It was a lot of fun.
"That's in essence why we all wanted to become musicians, because he managed to make it alive, he managed to make it so much fun."
Sometimes, Neeme would keep the name of the composer they were listening to a secret from his children.
"It was a game," Paavo says, "a question of what composer is it, can you recognize the composer? Can you recognize which period it comes from, is it Romantic, is it Classical, is it Modern, is it Baroque? If you can't tell that, then which country? Is it Italy, is it Russia or is it Germany?
Listeners can play the same game this week, when Järvi and his Cincinnati Symphony visit the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Their repertoire (besides Brahms's Violin Concerto, with Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos as soloist) is a little off the beaten path, evincing the enthusiasm that Järvi's father gave him for music outside the standard canon. Over the years, Paavo has made numerous recordings of music by composers such as Martinu, Stenhammar, Tubin, Sumera and Nystroem. To Orange County (reader, stop here if you don't want to know) he'll bring a piece by fellow Estonian and friend Erki-Sven Tüür, and Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, "The Inextinguishable."
He makes a point of programming such fare in Cincinnati, too, where he's served as music director since 2001. It's not always easy, Järvi explained. With a capacity of 3,500, Cincinnati's Music Hall is one of the largest in the United States, and there are pressures to fill it, he says, even though attendance figures are robust.
"We have the stats for every night of how many people come to the concerts, how many subscriptions are sold, you know. The paperwork is all very clear and the numbers are very clear and we have one of the highest average attendances of any orchestra in America. Meanwhile, when you come to the hall, and we have 2,300 people sitting in the hall, we have more than a thousand empty seats. And that translates to a normal human being who sits in the hall that something is wrong because we're not selling out the hall."
"In one way it has a danger of reflecting on our repertoire because it possibly can make us – and a lot of people encourage us – to create more popular and populist programs. Which I refuse to do. Because if we play 'Carmina Burana' every night here we would probably sell out the hall, but I can't play 'Carmina Burana' every night. I don't want to and I on purpose do a lot of music that has never been done here before because I think it is very important to stay current and to explore new music and not to become a kind of box-office-driven organization."
A fluent and eloquent conductor, Järvi, 44, is among the most highly regarded young conductors working today, and his many recordings with the Cincinnati Symphony (for Telarc) have helped spread the word. His own music-making philosophy is simple, if not simply accomplished.
"I suppose that every person is different," he says, "but for me it is not a question of bringing to the audience a sort of well-balanced, correctly executed piece. For me the piece has to come literally alive, like a human being. If that piece is not alive, then audiences will never, ever be able to get interested in it or never get involved in it.
"By alive, I mean the process itself has to be of the moment and very organic and very flexible because the magic moment that happened yesterday in that place might not happen today." He takes Leonard Bernstein, with whom he studied briefly, as an example.
"What Bernstein was doing is exactly what I think conducting is supposed to be, where you are the piece, but not you alone, you and the orchestra. ...You know, I'm not a coach on a football team who stands there on the sidelines; I'm part of the process and the musicians have to be part of the process."
Being part of the music – it's something he learned as a child. He recalls all those "Traviatas" many years ago.
"I remember hearing it over and over and knowing every detail and always anticipating Violetta's death and usually crying at the time."

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