by Janelle Gelfand
Paavo Järvi will conduct his final concert as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra tonight in Music Hall. Janelle Gelfand reviews Friday night's penultimate performance..
Paavo Järvi received a standing ovation as he walked to the podium on Friday night to conduct the first of his final two concerts as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Later, as his fans cheered and flashbulbs popped at the conclusion of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, Järvi treated with a rare encore: Sibelius’ “Valse Triste.” It was a moving farewell to his decade-long tenure.
More than 3,000 came out for Friday’s concert, and all were invited to stay afterward for a party. The evening opened with a warm video message from the maestro, in which Järvi thanked the audience “for a wonderful 10 years.” He added that with the unique support of this community, “the orchestra can continue to be one of the greatest in the United States.”
After Friday’s performance, no one would dispute that Järvi has elevated this orchestra to a new level. His inspiring reading of Mahler’s Fifth will be remembered as one of the great performances by the Cincinnati Symphony during his tenure.Besides Mahler, the program included Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s new fanfare, “Fireflower,” in Järvi’s honor, and the American premiere of Tüür’s Piano Concerto with pianist Awadagin Pratt, artist-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Järvi’s interpretations of Mahler during the past decade have been among his most enjoyable, partly for his ability to bring out the expressive details of Mahler’s myriad moods. Never, though, has this expression been so vivid as it was on Friday. From the first to the last note of this 70-minute symphony, Järvi led with electricity, and propelled the orchestra forcefully. As the musicians responded, you could only marvel at their precision and energized playing.
The Mahler universe brings together the mundane and the sublime – funeral marches, waltzes, Austrian folk tunes and noble brass chorales. In Järvi’s hands, the Funeral March was not despairing, but rather defiant and full of drama. It was enhanced by superb playing from principal trumpet Robert Sullivan.
Järvi brought out the schizophrenic nature of Mahler’s music, balancing white-hot intensity with sunny little tunes. It was all alive with expression. His tempos were bracing, yet he easily pulled back to allow a soloist to soar, or to linger on a phrase. The winds lifted their bells, there was bite in the strings, and the brass chorales were magnificent.
For the scherzo, an exuberant ländler (Austrian folk dance), Järvi brought principal horn Elizabeth Freimuth to the front. It was a terrific touch, and she filled the hall with glorious, golden sound.
In the famous “Adagietto,” Gillian Benet Sella’s harp added an extra glow and the strings were so refined, it took your breath away. The cheerful finale, with its beautiful brass chorale, was a dazzling summation.
Järvi opened with “Fireflower” by Tüür, a fellow Estonian whose music the conductor has championed. The avant-garde composer has many influences, from minimalism to rock. The piece, also celebrating the 50th anniversary of WGUC, was celebratory in tone, with shimmering swaths of sound clusters, glissandos by the whole orchestra and even some jazz drumming.
For his Piano Concerto, Tüür gave the pianist fiendishly difficult technical hurdles, from keyboard-spanning leaps and bounds, to incessant repeating notes – giving the effect of tintinnabulation. The work opened and closed with the whoosh of brass and wind players blowing soundlessly through their instruments, like the wind.
Pratt tackled it all with flair. The first part set an agitated mood, and his muscular flourishes in the piano were echoed by the orchestra. The center of the piece was a lyrical, more improvisatory contrast, warmly played by the soloist. Glimmering motives were tossed between piano and orchestra, and dissolved into a moment of jazz trio with bass and cymbals.
The concerto was well-received and the composer was present to take a bow.
At intermission, it was announced that three musicians will retire with these concerts: Violinists Darla Da Deppo Bertolone (43 years) and Borivoje Angelich (46 years) and flutist Kyril Magg (38 years).