Saturday, May 14, 2011

Parting thoughts from Paavo Järvi
by Mary Ellyn Hutton
May 13, 2011

Paavo Järvi, newly named music director laureate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, has advice for his successor (to be named):

Have a vision for the orchestra.

“One of the things that an orchestra needs is somebody with a vision, somebody with a clear plan. And the more musical it is, the better. Once you live here a little bit and you get to know the community, then one either will choose to become involved in it or not. But the main thing is to have a strong point of view of what to do here musically.

“On the one hand, the orchestra has a very distinguished history, but this history has always been under the supervision of a music director. It has always been somebody who has had a strong mission.”

Former CSO music director Max Rudolf (with whom Järvi studied at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music) “had a mission to build this orchestra, so under him, it become known as something on a high level. He was the one who was credited with making this into a fine orchestra. There is a certain glamour that (Thomas) Schippers added to that legacy. Fritz Reiner was legendary for precision and the kind of standard he later brought to Chicago.

“You’re never going to make everybody happy, but make sure that musically the orchestra is growing.”

Järvi, who became music director of the Orchestre de Paris last September, spoke earlier this week before rehearsal for the CSO’s annual joint concert with the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra. His final concerts as CSO music director are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (May 13 and 14) at Music Hall.

The Estonian born conductor first led the CSO in February, 1999 in a guest conducting engagement. He was 36 years old. He remembers his first impression of the orchestra:

“I remember thinking how natural it feels and how good they are, how well they are playing.” Just one year later, in January, 2000 he was named 12th music director of the CSO. His inaugural concert was Sept. 14, 2001, just three days after 911.

Jarvi’s vision is and always has been “to make the orchestra as good as it can be.” He has earned a wave of community affection in the process. There were boos in the hall at the post-intermission ceremony May 3 naming him music director laureate when CSO president Trey Devey mentioned that he was leaving the orchestra this month.

“It’s always nice to feel that you are appreciated,” said Järvi. “I feel that I have always had support -- and a sort of basic support based on music rather than anything else. It’s very touching now to go anywhere – it happened yesterday in a shop – when people come up and say, ‘Thank you for what you have done for our city,’ or something like that. I set out to be as committed to the orchestra as possible, and somehow it has come across.”

Leaving Cincinnati is a matter of the time having come, he said. “I leave because ten years is a very major time in our relatively short lives. I’m not leaving in reaction to something, not at all. I like leaving the way I am leaving now, which is when things are really going well and people are not sick and tired of you yet.” (Going against the industry grain, attendance at CSO concerts has been on a significant upswing the past two seasons, said CSO communications director Christopher Pinelo.)

Ten years is a time to “sort of sit down and assess what you want to do next. Do you want to do or change anything? Do you want to continue doing the same thing? Opportunities come along and you don’t necessarily even expect it. Moving to Paris had a lot to do with my decision, and it is something that five years before I wouldn’t even think about because it was not in the cards at that time. You have to sort of see what life deals for you.”

“How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” Järvi was not familiar with the song made popular during World War I, when American troops were abroad, but the analogy doesn’t fit him, having long been accustomed to a cosmopolitan life. In addition to Paris, he also heads the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in Germany and is artistic advisor of the Estonian National Orchestra in his native country.

There have been frustrations in being CSO music director, Järvi conceded. Chief among them has been Music Hall itself. At 3,516 seats, it is the largest concert hall in America (in fact, just about anywhere). There were too many nights when what would have been a full house in a normal-sized concert hall (2,000-2,500 seats) looked empty. Music Hall’s size comes in handy for things like last weekend’s blockbuster “Amériques” by Edgar Varèse. “On the other hand it’s very hard to play a Haydn symphony here, and that’s exactly what we need to be playing,” said Järvi.

It feels “really great,” when Music Hall sells out, he said (as it did at the May 3 CSO concert with cellist Yo Yo Ma). “It would make all the difference if every concert was sold out. That would have been an incredible boost for the orchestra because people are out there. Why they are coming now – and it may possibly be because it’s my last weeks or maybe there are some other reasons -- but there have been many times when it was half a hall.”

There were viable plans at one point during his tenure to build a new, mid-sized concert hall in the parking lot next door to Music Hall, but they fell through in favor of “revitalizing” Music Hall itself (including a down-sized auditorium). Järvi takes an optimistic view of the project, which is now in the final planning stages, though implementation has been delayed until after the World Choir Games take place in Cincinnati in the summer of 2012. “They are going to re-do it majorly,” Järvi said. “It’s going to be a different hall, and I think it’s about time.”

There is something special about Music Hall, he said. “All you need to do is drive around the building once, especially at night, and look over the park and see this incredibly majestic building. This is a destination.”

Loss of the CSO’s recording contract with Telarc (which ceased producing its own recordings in 2009) was a major disappointment, but the CSO now has its own in-house label, CSO Media, and a distribution arrangement with Naxos Records. The first CD on the new label, “American Portraits,” was released earlier this year and another one is projected (all-Nordic repertoire, compiled like “American Portraits,” from prior CSO concerts).

“American Portraits” has gone international and was just picked up in Japan, said Pinelo.

Järvi, who led the CSO on four international tours, three domestic tours and made 17 recordings with the CSO (not counting “American Portraits), is gratified to have been able to perform and record a sizeable amount of new and lesser known music during his tenure. His farewell concert will include the North American premiere of Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s 2006 Piano Concerto with pianist Awadagin Pratt.

The important thing is to program the familiar and the unfamiliar “in context,” he said. “We need to do music that is standard, and if you put it in an intelligent context where you have a little bit of both, it makes sense.” Examples include his pairings of Sibelius and Eduard Tubin, Dvorak and Martinu, Bartok and Lutoslawski and Shostakovich and Veljo Tormis (all recorded). World premieres include Charles Coleman’s “Streetscape,” performed on his inaugural concerts in 2001, and this season, five 10th anniversary fanfares, to include Tüür’s “Fireflower,” which will open this weekend’s concerts.

Järvi’s new home will be in Paris, but he will keep his Cincinnati apartment and plans to return often. Not only are there guest conducting dates in the works, but his two daughters, Lea, 7 and Ingrid, 4, live here with his former wife, violinist Tatiana Berman.

In addition to guest conducting and family visits, he wants to return to Cincinnati see the transformation of Music Hall. “If it happens – and I am very hopeful that it will happen – something very major is going to change in this city.”

Paavo Jarvi’s final concerts as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (May 13 and 14) at Music Hall. On the program are “Fireflower” by Erkki-Sven Tüür, the Piano Concerto by Tüür with pianist Awadagin Pratt and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Tickets (going fast) begin at $10. Call (513) 381-3300, or visit

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