by Janelle Gelfand
CSO music director Paavo Järvi (left) congratulated Yo-Yo Ma after the famed cellist performed with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall on Tuesday. / The Enquirer/Joseph Fuqua II
“They tell me that I brought the orchestra to a different level,” said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director Paavo Järvi, after a farewell luncheon with musicians at Music Hall on Wednesday. “Well, they brought me to a different level. I learned more from them than they probably learned from me.”
Järvi was reflecting on his decade as music director of the nation’s fifth oldest orchestra. That his era will end next weekend is “not a reality yet.” He is leaving to take on new challenges with the Orchestre de Paris.
“I feel very sad in one way. It’s like leaving your family,” said the 48-year-old Estonian-American conductor. “I just feel very at home here. I also know that it is a right decision because I need to challenge myself. I need to find ways to explore, to push my own boundaries. We have a relatively short life, and 10 years is a very substantial lifetime. The older we get, the more substantial it becomes. You have to think, ‘What’s next?’”
Then he joked “I’ll have to put on my laurels,” referring to his new title of “Music Director Laureate,” bestowed during Tuesday's gala concert with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The title means he’ll be returning “as often as I humanly can.” Part of the reason is that his two daughters, ages 4 and 7, live here with his former wife. He’ll keep his East Walnut Hills apartment, and make Cincinnati and Paris his homes between performances with his three orchestras. (He also has two in Germany, Frankfurt and Bremen.) Järvi arrived in 2001 to take his first major American post at age 38. His first rehearsal took place on Sept. 11, as New York’s Twin Towers were being attacked by terrorists. Järvi’s opening “gala” concert three days later was subdued. The country was in mourning. Nevertheless, he and the musicians had “chemistry” from the first note. He’s not sure why. “If I could explain it, I could manufacture it somewhere else,” he said. “But you always know when it exists and when it doesn’t exist. The personalities match. Something feels natural or makes sense.” He’s proud of something equally elusive – which has made CSO performances spontaneous, or what he calls “more alive.” “It is a very subtle thing, because it was a very good orchestra before I came here,” he said. “An orchestra can do exactly what they rehearsed, and do it very well and precisely and with the subtleties, but it somehow is always the same. It’s not living. It’s not alive. This orchestra can make music come alive. It sounds cliché, and it’s not always easy to do. It’s not in every orchestra’s DNA. We have that. That’s what I’m very proud of.” Over 10 years, Järvi has influenced the orchestra’s sound in many ways – including hiring 21 of its 90 members, seven of them principal players. For the first-chair players who play the big solos, he has looked for larger-than-life musical personality. “It’s important that somebody has the courage and personality to bring their own point of view. I’ve never been a fan of ‘sit and shut up and deliver.’ That’s not music – it’s not even an army. In a good army, people are encouraged to think on their feet and come up with solutions. In music, it’s the same thing,” he said. He recalls some extraordinary performances when his musicians exceeded his tough expectations: Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 (“I thought, this is amazing what the orchestra can do”), Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 (on tour in Japan) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 7. Of his 17 albums with the CSO, the Grammy-winning conductor especially likes the pairing of Sibelius and Tubin symphonies – the first time a Tubin symphony was recorded by major American orchestra. He’s grateful for the unique relationship he shared with Telarc president Bob Woods, who understood Järvi’s preference for projects that might not be best-sellers, pairing Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony with the Czech composer Martinu, or Bartok with Lutoslawski – the latter a big seller on iTunes. During Järvi’s tenure, the Cincinnati Symphony: • Lost its longtime recording contract with Telarc • Weathered the recession and saw its neighborhood come back after the spring 2001 riots near Music Hall that came in the wake of a police shooting • Was gifted with an $85 million endowment from patron Louise Nippert that rescued the orchestra from financial crisis. “There were some critical moments just recently about money. We are very grateful that we are not in that situation anymore. We were literally thinking of existential questions. You lose sleep over it. I did,” he said. Järvi had frustrations – such as looking out at empty seats in the vast, 3,400-seat hall, even though attendance was steady. He’s happy with the planned $100 million renovation of the hall. “Now, sometimes when I’m heading home late at night, I look around the hall and I’m hopeful,” he said. “I see things being renovated, the garage being built, Washington Park being worked on, and the new performing arts school. This is a testament to Erich Kunzel because he actually made this thing into a priority.” As for a successor – he has given the search committee his advice: “Find somebody who really clicks, musically speaking, with the orchestra.” “An orchestra wants a master, somebody who knows what they are doing,” he said. “It needs to be somebody who they want, can still get and who has the potential for development – for growing with the orchestra and making the orchestra grow with them.” He knows that he has grown. “It’s been a great 10 years,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20110506/ENT03/305060015/Paavo-prepares-final-bows?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Entertainment|p