Sunday, May 06, 2007

A conversation with Jarvi about CSO's future

May 4, 2007

Cincinnati Post

By Mary Ellyn Hutton Post music writer

On April 22, music director Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra returned from a week-long tour of Southern California.
It was revelatory from the viewpoint of the audiences and critics they "bowled over" (one critic's words), gratifying for Järvi and his band, and capstone of their sixth season together.
"I felt that the orchestra played in many ways the best I've heard them play," said Järvi, whose uncommon rapport with the orchestra was noted at every stop.
"I thought we were on a different level of interaction than we've been before. It's a very impressive sight to see them trying to get their point across to a new audience. I felt that this is the basic level of the orchestra now, and it's high."
On Wednesday the CSO announced that Järvi has extended his contract through August 2011, after which it will become "evergreen," renewing automatically each season unless cancelled by either party.
Without tipping his hand in advance, the Estonian-born conductor, 44, shared some of his thoughts and concerns about the CSO last week at Music Hall.
At the top of his list is Music Hall itself, the home the CSO has shared with the May Festival, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet since moving from the Emery Theater on Walnut Street in 1936.
There is no longer disagreement with the other tenants that the 3,516-seat hall (largest concert hall in the U.S.) should be refurbished and re-configured (i.e. "downsized") for symphony concerts, he said.
"The arts organizations here, the May Festival, the Opera and the CSO, have found common ground. I am impressed that they are willing to work together to do something."
The question mark now is political, he said. "A new problem has come up, a realization that the hall needs substantial infrastructure work. It's an old hall and so is the plumbing, the electricity and basic things. This is very expensive and the city owns the hall. We would be investing money in a place we don't own.
"If we could reach an understanding with the city that the city is going to give us $20 million to do the infrastructure work, it would be a sign that they really want us to stay here. If not, at least they should give us the hall," he said.
"If we could own the hall, or at least if we could own it for $1 a year from the city, which is done in many places, in essence the price tag would be $20 million," Järvi said. "We would need to invest that money into it before we do anything else. We can't do anything unless we fix the electricity and plumbing and all the infrastructure things. Otherwise, everything needs to be torn up later to fix them.
"Time is moving on," he said. "We're entering our seventh season and coming back from California seeing all those wonderful halls being built, in some cases in the middle of nowhere. This is somewhere. We cannot be talking about this three years from now."
Järvi said he would "love nothing more than to have this square (in front of Music Hall) be kind of the arts district. We have the school (the new School for Creative and Performing Arts, approved for construction between Washington Park and Central Parkway beginning next fall). The Opera and May Festival would be here, we'd be here. Maybe we could bring the Playhouse near here somewhere."
The pace of things, "even basic Over-the-Rhine conditions," said Järvi, "is not changing that much. We can talk about less or more shootings, but if anything is happening, we don't see it. I don't know if there is political will in the city to do something about Over-the-Rhine, but it's not just about a concert hall. It's about people's lives. It's about having a historic, most beautiful area in the city that is basically a war zone.
"If we're not going to see some results," Järvi stressed, "then maybe there are other options. Maybe we should not be in Over-the-Rhine. Maybe we should be somewhere else."
Artistically, the CSO must continue "to introduce the orchestra and capitalize on the success that we've had." Touring is vital, he said, alluding to the orchestra's 2008 European tour, announced in March. "It doesn't get better than this. The venues are unbelievable, Vienna, Paris, the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Munich, Hamburg."
The CSO is developing its "own sound" under Järvi. He received a reminder of this on the California tour when his conducting teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Otto-Werner Mueller, paid a post-concert visit in San Diego. "He (Mueller) said, 'I've never heard an American orchestra that has so much dynamic contrast.' That's the kind of thing you want to hear, and is exactly what we are trying to do, to have more subtlety and be more sensitive to nuances, not big heavy machinery that plays mezzo-forte and nothing below."
Key to maintaining the CSO is, of course, money, Järvi said.
Like orchestras across the U.S., the CSO was hit hard by the decline of the bull market at the end of the 1990s, seeing its endowment fall by almost a third (from a high of over $90 million, now recovered to about $70 million).
"Success is expensive. This is an orchestra that has set out to really try to be the best, so we need to be at least on the level of support that other orchestras of our category are. We need to make sure we have an endowment that can support our ambitions."

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