January 7, 2010
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is searching for a new music director.
Paavo Järvi , 47, told orchestra musicians today that his last concerts will be in May 2011, at the end of his 10th season.
“There was no kind of traumatic experience that made me want to leave,” he said Wednesday about his decision. “I always trusted my intuition. We have reached a momentum; we have reached a level where the orchestra is in incredibly strong shape right now. I feel that 10 years is quite substantial. The welfare of the orchestra is important to me. I want to make sure there will be the right transition.”
Järvi became the orchestra’s 12th music director in September 2001. In May of 2007, the Cincinnati Symphony extended his contract through the 2010-11 season and, in an unusual gesture, added an evergreen clause, automatically renewing each season by mutual agreement.
Ultimately, it was Järvi who made the decision to leave at the end of his current contract, said the orchestra’s president, Trey Devey.
“We think the world of Paavo. Clearly he’s one of the world’s elite conductors, an orchestra builder of the first order. He’s a remarkable musician,” Devey said.
But because he also is leading two orchestras in Germany, observers have wondered how Järvi would juggle a fourth orchestra next year, when he becomes the seventh music director of the Orchestre de Paris. He will not have one free day all year, he said on Wednesday. Devey admitted that, “when you’ve got three music director posts that go to four, you just get so stretched. The idea of having Paavo for a limited number of weeks well into the future – that wouldn’t be good for anyone.”
A search committee is forming to name his successor. Ann Santen, former general manager of WGUC, will chair the committee, he said.
Under Järvi, the orchestra achieved a high level of musical excellence, and recordings and concerts were highly praised around the world. During his tenure, he hired 18 musicians, or about one-fifth of the 88 musicians in the orchestra, and six of those are principal players.
His musical performances in Music Hall have been gripping, intelligent and often electrifying. Musicians have remarked that his interpretations in concert were unpredictable, which gave the music a spontaneous quality.
In November, the orchestra returned from a 10-day tour of Japan, where it performed seven concerts in sold-out houses in four cities before enthusiastic audiences. Järvi led the orchestra’s first nationally televised concert in Japan at NHK Hall. Next month, Järvi and the orchestra will return to New York’s Carnegie Hall for the orchestra’s 47th performance on the celebrated stage since 1917.
His tenure coincided with a turbulent time in America. Järvi conducted his first rehearsal as music director on the Sept. 11, 2001, as the terror attacks of 9-11 were unfolding. He made his debut three days later, in a somber rather than celebratory event. In the ensuing economic downturn, the orchestra, like all other American orchestras, has struggled for audience as well as for funding.
Recently, after financial belt-tightening, the orchestra reported an uptick in attendance. It also announced that it managed to close a financial gap last season, after posting a $3.8 million deficit just one year earlier.
And last month, arts patron Louise Nippert made an unprecedented $85 million gift to benefit the orchestra. Järvi praised her generosity, saying, “we are in a situation where the orchestra’s existence is not threatened anymore. Mrs. Nippert personifies this great American spirit, of people with a sense of profound ownership and culture.”
Under Järvi’s leadership, the Cincinnati Symphony released 16 critically acclaimed recordings on the Telarc label. Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” released in October, was the last recording to come out of the historic collaboration of Telarc and the Cincinnati Symphony.
He has led the symphony in tours of America, Europe and Japan.
Järvi was born in Estonia but moved with his family as a young boy to America and is a U.S. citizen. He has more than 30 recordings with other ensembles, and won a Grammy Award for his recording of Sibelius’ Cantatas with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. He regularly guest-conducts the world’s major orchestras, and this season led the gala opening concert of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Järvi is also artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen, Germany, with whom he is recording a complete Beethoven Symphony cycle for RCA Red Seal, and he is music director of the Frankfurt (Germany) Radio Symphony.
According to the most recent available IRS financial forms from 2008, Järvi ’s Cincinnati Symphony salary was $859,000.
He plans to return to guest conduct every year.
“The relationship, I hope, will continue. I do want it to continue, and I have been asked to come back and I want to,” he said.
His biggest achievement, he said, has been “to create an atmosphere here where the best music can happen. I am very happy that the orchestra is playing on the level that it’s playing. … We have something special going on there. To me, that’s the accomplishment over all the other things.”
Asked about the possibility of eventually accepting a position with another U.S. orchestra, Järvi said right now he’s not even looking beyond next year.
The news of his pending departure from his Cincinnati position means that the orchestra will be conducting two simultaneous searches for musical leaders. Pops conductor Erich Kunzel died on Sept. 1 of cancer. Board member Jack Rouse will chair the search for Kunzel’s successor.
Järvi leads the Cincinnati Symphony in concerts at 11 a.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in Music Hall. Tickets: 513-381-3300, www.cincinnatisymphony.org.