Tuesday, September 23, 2008

All the World's a Stage for Paavo Järvi

September 22, 2008
By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Paavo Järvi is the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s first truly international music director.
He currently holds two posts in addition to the CSO, music director of the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra and artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. In the fall of 2010, he will add another, becoming music director of the Orchestre de Paris. (Järvi recently extended his CSO contract through the 2010-11 season, with a provision for automatic renewals.)
A native Estonian, Järvi, 45, also serves as artistic advisor of the Estonian National Orchestra, with whom he won his and Estonia’s first Grammy in 2003 (for Sibelius Cantatas with the ENO, Estonian National Male Choir and Ellerhein Girls Choir).
Järvi records with all of these ensembles and has toured internationally with the CSO, DK and Frankfurt Radio Orchestra. He gives to -- and learns from -- all of them with respect to their individual strengths and musical traditions.
With the DK, for example, he is recording a complete cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies, tapping into the Bremen musicians’ German roots and their extraordinary skills as one of the world’s best chamber orchestras. The result is a version that blends lean authentic performance practice with an updated, 21st century “kick.”
In Frankfurt, an orchestra with a Bruckner tradition, he would like to perform and record Bruckner (their Bruckner No. 7, recorded in 2006, was released earlier this year). He and the Frankfurt Orchestra have also recorded Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the young French cellist Gautier Capucon, (to be released in early 2009).
In Estonia, Järvi is free to perform and record Estonian and Scandinavian music, without the shock of unfamiliarity he is likely to encounter elsewhere (including Cincinnati).
Love of music and music-making allied with the Järvi family’s rigorous work ethic are what drive him. His father Neeme, 71, and brother Kristjan, 36 (both conductors) follow the same kinds of paths. Having emigrated from Estonia in 1980 without expectation of ever returning – Estonia and the Baltic countries were occupied by the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991 – they became citizens of the world and followed the muse wherever it led them. All became U.S. citizens, but continue to maintain residences in Europe.
Kristjan lives in Vienna, where he is music director of the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra (he also heads the electro-acoustic chamber ensemble Absolute and is artistic advisor of the Basel Chamber Orchestra). Neeme, who is based in New York City, is music director of the Hague Residentie Orchestra in The Netherlands and, until the end of this season, of the New Jersey Symphony. In addition to his apartment in East Walnut Hills, Paavo has a home in London’s Notting Hill district, where his wife, violinist Tatiana Berman and their daughters Lea (4) and Ingrid (2) also spend time when not in Cincinnati.
All of the Jarvis speak multiple languages.
What -- besides spending many hours in the air jetting from place to place -- does it mean to be an international conductor on such a scale?
It means time, or a chronic lack thereof, for family life.
“I feel that the family is getting a little less than they should,” said Paavo, in the middle of a working vacation in Estonia last summer. “I need to be with the kids more than for vacation once a year (they had some time off together in the Canary Islands in August). I need to be there every two weeks at least.”
Still, Järvi does not believe his situation is that different from many others in today’s world. “I’m not that special, because everyone has gone through that. I mean, you think I’m busy? I know people ten times more busy with much more important issues to solve.”
As for his health, “so far, so good,” he said. (He underwent minor surgery in the summer of 2005 to relieve pain in his left arm.)
Musically speaking, conducting all over the world has given the Järvis a very broad perspective on music and musicians. Comparing his American and German ensembles, Paavo had this to say:
“American orchestras basically play as they are asked to. They can play extremely expressively, but there is a kind of ‘less is more’ thing. It’s something cultural about the society: Do it clearly. Play together. It’s soft enough if it’s piano. It’s loud enough if it’s forte. 'You want to take your time? OK, let me write that down.'
"Individual expression is what I miss in American (and English) orchestras. In German orchestras, they will do it, but they will tend to overdo it. They will be like, ‘Nobody knows this.’ Yeah, but you have to make sure it’s together and that it’s right.”
Järvi has noticed this attitude among the music critics in both countries. When you read critics, for example, in London, you have often: ‘Oh, he had a tendency to drag. Let’s get on with it.’ It’s very often the same in America. It might register as a bit less 'captivating,' so they say: ‘Well, it’s boring. Get on with it.’
"People often speak of the “Russian temperament,” said Järvi (whose mother was born in Russia).

“It’s not even the Russian temperament so much, because if you look at who runs Russian music even now, there are people from Armenia, Georgia, Caucasus. (Yuri) Temirkanov and (Valery) Gergiev (conductors) are both Ossetian. Khachaturian the great Russian composer was from Armenia. It’s a complicated area, because there are also lots of Jews and other ethnic groups mixed in, and over the years it has become that ‘Russian personality.’ Basically, it’s kind of unpredictable.”
A worldwide viewpoint affords a keen appreciation of performance styles and strengths. For instance, there are simply no choirs like those in the Baltics, said Järvi, having most recently worked with the State Choir "Latvija" on Brahms’ “A German Requiem ." He would like for Cincinnati's choruses to be less "top heavy" and have "more low men.”.
When it comes to interpreting composers from the former Soviet Union such as Shostakovich, there are two ways of looking at it, said Järvi. Referring to Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, Op.110a -- required repertoire for students in a master course he taught in Pärnu, Estonia in July -- "it's almost impossible to really relate to it if you are not vaguely or somehow distantly related to somebody who has gone through this." You have to "get into" the history, or at least read about it, he said. "You have to kind of digest it, and how can you digest it if you don't have any contact with it?"
Many of the songs and hints of songs in the Chamber Symphony are "old Red Army revolutionary songs which he re-worked into eerie kind of hints, and nobody in the West knows it." A Shostakovich scherzo -- while a scherzo and "it comes from there" -- is used as "sort of a camouflage. Inside, there is this incredibly sarcastic and ironic music. It's sick music, actually."
(The Chamber Symphony, composed in 1960, has been called Shostakovich's "musical suicide note.")
On the other hand, "it's just that dimension that I can tell when nobody gets it. The tempi are very good and it's played very well, but it lacks the inner expression. It's more merry. Maybe it's very good for Shostakovich to have also non-Russian expression. It makes it more international. There's nothing wrong with that."
Being from Estonia, which has been little known in the West because of its absorption by foreign powers over the centuries, the Jarvis have tried to bring Estonian music and musicians to the world’s concert stages. Though no one does it better – and who else but Estonian conductors should be their country's advocates? – it has been difficult, he said.

He hopes to bring Lithuanian cellist David Geringas to Cincinnati to perform Estonian composer Lepo Sumera’s Cello Concerto (a powerful work which they recorded with Sweden’s Malmö Symphony). But he expects reluctance.
“’Gering-who? Sumer-what? Yo Yo Ma is better,’ they will say, or 'Alicia Weilerstein is more marketable.’ That’s exactly how it’s going to be, but I want to do it anyway.” (Järvi performed Sumera’s Symphony No. 6 with the CSO in 2002).
“The balance between Estonian and other music is going to get better,” he said. “In general, we ought to commission more American music, but we don’t have enough money. I can only commission pieces if I do it in collaboration with another orchestra, like the Jörg Widmann piece (“Antiphon” performed by Järvi and the CSO in March).
Having opened the CSO season this month with two very successful programs (one all-Russian with Andre Watts in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, the other all-Dvorak with Capucon in the Dvorak Concerto), Järvi goes to Europe for concerts in Frankfurt, Tallinn and Paris in October. He returns to Cincinnati for three concerts with the CSO in November, including Brahms' Requiem with the May Festival Chorus, soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and baritone Matthew Goerne, Stravinsky's "Petruschka" and Holst's "The Planets."

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