Saturday, May 14, 2011

A look back at the Järvi era
by J. Gelfand
May 13, 2011

Autograph line for Paavo Jarvi at Suntory Hall, Japan, 2009

Paavo Järvi leads his final concerts as music director this weekend in Music Hall. (Limited seats are still available.)

For the past 10 years, I’ve had the best seat in the house, from Music Hall to Suntory Hall in Tokyo.

Here are a few of my favorites. What were yours?

Sept. 14, 2001 – Faced with a national tragedy, a soloist who was stranded in Norway, and the collapse of a musician during the performance, Paavo Järvi’s inaugural concert three days after 9-11 was a test of grace under pressure. In the end, the conductor brought Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 to an affirmative and powerful conclusion that did not fail to move anyone who heard it.

Feb. 2003 – It was the dead of winter, but the maestro turned on the heat in a hypnotic performance of Ravel’s “Bolero” in Music Hall.

Nov. 2003 — Järvi and the CSO make their mark in Japan, as Japanese fans go wild over Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique.” In ‘Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,’ the basses slithered, the violins cackled, and clarinetist Anthony McGill played his eerie dance on the E-flat clarinet. Järvi treated his cheering audiences to no fewer than four encores.

CSO at Carnegie Hall

January 2004 – Bruckner’s Third – a tricky piece to pull off – was simply awe-inspiring. Järvi’s view had breadth and majesty – yet it was also down-to-earth. He brought its Austrian character to the fore – the sunny themes and earthy folk dances – and that warmth communicated to the listener.

Feb. 2004 – In Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” the orchestra’s playing was almost brutal. Every beat was taut – even the silences had electricity.

Oct. 2004 – The 70-minute journey through the sprawling universe of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 had intensity from the first note to its last majestic moments.

Jan. 2005 — Getting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to Carnegie Hall involved more than “practice, practice practice” in the wake of a record-setting East Coast snowstorm that dumped nearly 14 inches of snow on New York. A day after the CSO’s flight was canceled, Delta found a plane to get the orchestra to the Big Apple in time for its 45th concert in the fabled hall.

New Yorkers were still digging out from “The Blizzard of 2005.” Incredibly, the 2,804-seat Carnegie Hall was nearly filled with an enthusiastic crowd of intrepid New Yorkers, who braved frigid temperatures and slushy sidewalks to stand and cheer at the conclusion of Sibelius’ great Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major. The concert drew 15 national music writers.

January 2006 — Composer Anton Bruckner is known for the heavenly length of his symphonies. On Friday, Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra clocked in at 75 minutes, but under the baton of Paavo Järvi, it was 75 minutes of power, emotion and discovery.

March 2006 — When the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra struck an earth-shattering climax in the final moments of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” on Friday night, you could feel the floor of Music Hall vibrate. Its sheer sonic power punctuated one of the most electrifying readings by Paavo Järvi in his five-year tenure, a journey that was at once fiercely intense and wonderfully relaxed.

Nov. 2007 — Järvi’s high-voltage interpretation of Beethoven’s Third with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on Friday night was revolutionary – in a program that matched two composers who revolutionized music. In step with the trend of “period” performance, tempos were exceedingly quick. Short bows, prominent timpani drumrolls and crisply articulated phrases created an unusual lightness of spirit. It was adrenalin-charged and the musicians played like virtuosos.

April 2007 As Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra erupted onto the finale of Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, timpanist Richard Jensen strode onstage from his seat in the hall to begin a fierce duel with timpanist Patrick Schleker. It was an electrifying finish to a performance that vividly captured the drama and grandeur of Nielsen’s Fourth, “The Inextinguishable.”

Jan 18 2008 — Pictures at an Exhibition — it’s in the classical top 40. But this performance stands out for its electrifying contrasts and sheer spontaneity, from the edgy gnome of “Gnomus” to “The Great Gate of Kiev,” ablaze with gongs and chimes.

Nov. 21 2008 — The floors of Music Hall vibrated in this high-voltage performance of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” the English composer’s suite evoking seven celestial bodies. With an expanded orchestra onstage, a panorama of glowing orchestral colors unfolded through each of the seven movements. Besides the music – which has inspired many a Hollywood film score – here was an orchestra playing at the height of its powers. It simply doesn’t get any better than this.

March 15 2008 Paavo Järvi led one of two tour programs that the Cincinnati Symphony will be playing in Europe’s musical capitals, and it was clear this ensemble is primed to go. Schubert’s “Great” Symphony is known as “a symphony of heavenly length.” Yet this reading, from first note to last, never lacked for inspiration. Järvi took his cue, perhaps, from period instrument performances, for bows were short and timpani attacks were crisp. Yet it also was a performance that sang, befitting this composer of 600 art songs.

April 8 2008 – VIENNA The intense mood continued in Shostakovich’s Tenth, a searing portrait of Stalin, composed in 1953. It was a performance of devastating power and extremes of tempo. The musicians rose to the occasion with stunning playing.

Nov. 5 2009 — TOKYO – Musically, the orchestra’s seven-concert, two-week tour of Japan has been a steady crescendo through some of Japan’s finest halls. For the finale in Suntory Hall, the whole tour seemed to be summed up in its performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. It was perfection, not only for the romantic sweep, interpretive power and excellent playing, but also for the sheer sonic beauty of this orchestra in an acoustic gem. Like every other concert here, tickets were expensive (up to $255) but the hall was full, and patrons mobbed the table of Järvi’s CDs – with the CSO and his other orchestras – at intermission.

Feb. 19, 2011 — It was the first Beethoven symphony that Paavo Järvi conducted with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1999. Järvi, now in his 10th and final season, revisited Beethoven’s Fifth. For listeners in Music Hall, it was an unforgettable occasion where great music meets orchestral virtuosity and precision.

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