by Mary Ellyn Hutton
05/13/2011 - & May 14*, 2011
Erkki-Sven Tüür: Fireflower – Piano Concerto
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5 Awadagin Pratt (piano)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (conductor)
P. Järvi (Courtesy of CSO)
Paavo Järvi’s final concert as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was filled with emotion. Ten years – the length of his tenure in Cincinnati – is a long time in anyone’s life, but the crowd in sold-out Music Hall (3,516 seats) lost no time in letting him know that, for them, it was too short.
The program was trademark Järvi. There was a world premiere, Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Fireflower ; a North American premiere, Tüür’s 2006 Piano Concerto; and a work that was given its U.S. premiere by the CSO in 1905, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Soloist in the concerto was pianist Awadagin Pratt.
Fireflower is a three-minute fanfare for full orchestra, written for Järvi’s tenth anniversary with the CSO. Bright and colorful with a hint of jazz tucked in, it proceeded to a “perfect” conclusion, i.e. a perfect fifth sounded by the oboes. This, said Tüür, was to celebrate the “perfect chemistry” between Järvi and the musicians and the hope that they will collaborate again soon.
Tüür’s Piano Concerto was premiered in 2006 by Thomas Larcher and the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, led by Järvi. It exhibited a phenomenal sonic imagination, with waves of percussion-rich color interacting with the piano. Pratt, who is artist-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, handled its considerable technical demands – complex rhythms and difficult repeated note patterns – with great command. He spoke to its emotive content, too, in quiet, almost meditative moments, and there was a feeling at the end of safe harbor after an adventurous journey.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 has been a touchstone of Järvi’s career in Cincinnati. He took it to Vienna with the CSO on their 2004 European tour together, a kind of bringing-coals-to-Newcastle approach that earned very favorable notices. This final performance with the CSO was something different, however, with the added layer of emotion that a leave-taking brings. There was grief – and heroism – in the opening Trauermarsch and plenty of conflict in the Stürmisch bewegt that followed. Turmoil of all kinds, giddy and unhinged, beset the Scherzo, which was enhanced by placing principal hornist Elizabeth Freimuth at the front of the orchestra for a gorgeous stereophonic effect with her section colleagues.
The famous Adagietto was revelatory. Järvi shaped his lines here with aching tenderness, as if striving for something beyond reach, the harp accompaniment casting a warm glow over the strings. The Rondo-Finale brought things back to earth. It was a breathtaking, brassy run-up to a crashing final chord, another Järvi trademark, given all the muscle he could deliver.
The audience responded with a shout and an instantaneous standing ovation. There was an encore, a very touching one, Sibelius’ Valse Triste, given a breadth of feeling and dynamic range that spoke volumes. As the ovation continued, Järvi walked among the musicians shaking hands and exchanging hugs right and left. When it seemed the audience would not let him go, he finally waved goodbye and walked off the stage.
Järvi, 48, is one of the world’s busiest conductors (he heads the Orchestre de Paris, Frankfurt Radio Orchestra and Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in addition to serving as artistic advisor of the Estonian National Orchestra). Having been given the title of music director laureate by the CSO, it is hoped that he will return soon to re-kindle his relationship with the orchestra and an audience that clearly loves him.