Saturday, November 13, 1999

Jarvi, CSO still dazzling crowds; His 3rd appearance puts him in running for director's job

Jarvi, CSO still dazzling crowds
His 3rd appearance puts him in running for director's job

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer, November 13, 1999

Will Paavo Jarvi be the next music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra? The search process is secret, but Mr. Jarvi's CSO concert on Friday morning in Music Hall was a perfect example of why this young maestro is making a big impression here and around the world.

What we do know is this: Mr. Jarvi's program of Faure, Sibelius, Dvorak and Debussy galvanized the players, who responded with rare energy and precision. Debussy's La Mer, which concluded the program, was nothing short of a dazzling aural experience.

At its conclusion, the audience of 1,847 stood in a lengthy ovation and the musicians afforded him their greatest honor -- refusing to stand while he took a bow alone.

Friday's was Mr. Jarvi's third guest appearance in nine months on the CSO podium -- a sure sign that he is high on the list to succeed Jesus Lopez-Cobos, who leaves in 2001. From the buzz backstage and the number of board members and players who lined up to greet him after Friday's concert, Mr. Jarvi is creating excitement -- something the CSO needs to boost its attendance.

Mr. Jarvi's gestures on the podium are expansive and every motion makes musical sense. He opened with Faure's Pelleas et Melisande Suite, incidental music to Maeterlinck's enigmatic play about a love triangle. String textures were luminous, and the detail of phrasing was memorable.

Orchestral soloists shone, particularly in the familiar Sicilienne, where harpist Gillian Benet Sella and flutist Randolph Bowman performed a sublime duo. The resulting quality was lush, transparent and very French.

CSO principal second violinist Yumi Hwang made her solo debut in the Dvorak Violin Concerto, which followed. Ms. Hwang, who leaves next season to become concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony, is a confident performer with a pure, beautiful tone.

Her unflagging concentration and engaging expression gave the work a fresh quality. Her virtuosic passages were impressive, but above all, she communicated with a natural ease. The slow movement had a genuine warmth, and she sparkled through the dance rhythms of the finale.

Mr. Jarvi was a superb collaborator, careful never to cover the soloist.

In an interesting juxtaposition, Mr. Jarvi programmed Sibelius' Pelleas and Melisande Suite after intermission. The contrast of these nine scenes with Faure's suite was immediately evident: its darkly rich atmosphere make it some of the most searching music Sibelius wrote for the theater.

Mr. Jarvi balanced the more delicate, poetic moments against the dramatic ones, and the orchestra responded with pristine playing.

One of the work's pleasures is the solo writing for English horn, performed exquisitely by Robert Walters. The suite ended poignantly, with the orchestra achieving a wonderful pianissimo.

That sublime range of color and dynamic continued in Debussy's sonorous La Mer, where the first movement had a beautiful ebb and flow, and Mr. Jarvi allowed orchestral soloists to shine.

The "Games of the Waves" was both fleet and eloquent, and Mr. Jarvi brought out its play of light and dark. The atmospheric finale was brought to a glorious, brass-filled climax.

Thursday, March 11, 1999


Super Sub
New York
Avery Fisher Hall
03/11/1999 -
Bela Bartok: Violin Concerto #2
Johannes Brahms: Symphony #2
Gil Shaham (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Paavo Jarvi (conductor)

By Frederick L. Kirshnit

I'm a little out of my element here but I understand that one of the secrets to a winning basketball team is a player who doesn't appear in the starting lineup but rather comes off of the bench at critical times to enhance the performance and character of the team. For this musical season in New York, that player is Paavo Jarvi who substituted for Riccardo Chailly when the principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra hurt his shoulder earlier this year. Maestro Jarvi conducted a sensitive performance of the Mendelssohn 4 and then followed with a gorgeous Mahler 4, forging his personal conception into the collective psyche of the orchestra and producing a fine interpretation on short notice. Last night Jarvi stepped into the breach once again, substituting for Danielle Gatti who was indisposed, and leading the New York Philharmonic in a beautiful evening of Bartok and Brahms.

One of the works that Bartok studied in anticipation of writing his concerto was the brand new Violin Concerto (To The Memory of an Angel) by his dear recently deceased friend Alban Berg. Gil Shaham's conception of this seminal work of twentieth century music is close in spirit to the Berg as the Israeli violinist emphasized the lovely melodic aspects of this Hungarian masterwork rather than the tense, barbaric side. Playing an elegant Stradivarius, Shaham's fingers of the left hand were vibrating seconds before he bowed his first note and one realized instantaneously that his take on the Bartok was far different than the more exciting but less beautiful approaches of the two current masters of this piece, Kyung Wha-Chung and Midori. Shaham and Jarvi were obviously in sync in their appreciation of the rhapsodic nature of the first movement, angular in harmonic theory, but smooth in aural impression. Like another Israeli, Itzhak Perlman, Shaham looks for the inner beauty in the music of the 1930's although sacrifices a lot of the drama and power inherent in both the Berg and the Bartok. Although I personally prefer the more exciting approach, I was perfectly content with the mellifluous side of the dissonant school (although the Philharmonic crowd was its usual restless self when anything written after 1890 is performed).

Shaham is also reminiscent of Perlman in his hand strength and uses his large fingers ala Oistrakh to magnificent effect. It is amazing that such dexterity can accompany such vibrato, but a few of the greats have mastered this style of play. The second movement was pure gold with the sensuous violin soaring above the quiet effects of the attentive ensemble (apparently they perform well for everybody except Masur these days) and the last movement a study in virtuosity. It is a shame that so few people were there to hear this fine music making and that so few of the few in attendance were in the least bit appreciative. The audience response was underwhelming.

This is the second Brahms Second that I've heard in recent weeks and the inevitable contrast to the fine playing of the Concertgebouw leaves the Philharmonic in the shadows. Having said that, this performance was, I believe, as good as it gets with the New York ensemble. Jarvi, as he did with the Philadelphia, drew every last ounce of ensemble strength from his forces and shaped a finely phrased version of the old chestnut, suffering only from the tinny string tone which is New York's curse. The brass section was superb and overall this would have been a fine performance if only the sound of the Amsterdam orchestra were not still in my ears.

So what do we learn from all of these successful guest conductor appearances? I for one am no longer scheduling any Masur concerts as I hate to write a bad notice if I can avoid one. Like many other inconveniences in New York, one must learn to endure and wait for improvement. I don't suppose Maestro Jarvi would be a frontrunner is this most political of appointments, but we in this city could do much worse than having him as a fresh and eager music director. The old guard is soon departing and time is on the audience's side.

Monday, March 01, 1999

CD REVIEW: Bernstein: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, Facsimile, West Side Story Dances, Divertimento

American Record Guide, March-April 1999 v62 i2 p97(2)

Bernstein: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, Facsimile, West Side Story Dances, Divertimento City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Jarvi, conductor)
Virgin 45295 (EMI) 68 minutes
Review By Justin R. Herman.

The British critics have had a field day with this disc, praising it to the highest. Most US writers tend to take those reviews with a grain of salt; but, Hallelujah, they're not wrong this time. The Birminghammers really swing under Jarvi, and the important clarinet and piano solos are well performed by Sabine Meyer and Wayne Marshall.

Written for Woody Herman (no relation), the 1955 Prelude, Fugue and Riffs is just super, sounding like the carefully controlled improvisation I suspect the composer had in mind. Facsimile, a work I find somewhat dry and dull, has more life than usual, and I can tolerate its 20 minutes better here than on any other recording. The Symphonic Dances billed here as the original 1960 version (though how it differs from what is "normally" heard is not explained) is comparable only to the San Francisco/Ozawa. Divertimento has considerably more humor in it than Bernstein's Israel Philharmonic version, plus an immeasurable sonic advantage. Speaking of sorties, the team of David R. Murray and Mike Hatch have given us a digital spectacular of great range and excellent balance. With Bernstein's appealing music, this can't be beat.

Friday, February 19, 1999

Jarvi sees end to absentee music directors; Musical family has four conductors

Jarvi sees end to absentee music directors
Musical family has four conductors
By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer, February 19, 1999

Paavo Jarvi got a head start on becoming a conductor -- he grew up in a conductor's home.

"My influence, mostly directly and most immediate, was my father," Mr. Jarvi says by phone from New York where he lives. His father is Neeme Jarvi, the Estonian-born music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

"There was never any kind of pressure to be a musician, but he was an infectious character," he says. "He seduced me into loving music."

The younger Mr. Jarvi will make his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducting debut this weekend.

Before he emigrated to the United States in 1980, Mr. Jarvi studied piano, percussion and sang in a boy choir in Estonia. At home he listened to his father prepare operas and symphonies. He enjoyed playing four-hand piano arrangements of the Haydn symphonies with his father, generating an early love of Haydn.

Mr. Jarvi is one of four conductors in the family. A brother, Kristjan Jarvi, is assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. An uncle, Vallo Jarvi, conducts opera.

Because Estonia was part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s, musicians had little access to music from the West. Estonian music was influenced by Russians like Shostakovich and Prokofiev. But one time, the elder Mr. Jarvi went on tour to the United States -- and returned with music to Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

"We were the first people in the Soviet Union who had access to the Bernstein Mass," Mr. Jarvi recalls. "For months before I went to school, I would get up an hour early and listen to the entire Mass."

Later, Mr. Jarvi studied with Mr. Bernstein in Los Angeles and recorded an all-Bernstein album with the City of Birmingham (England) Symphony Orchestra.

The elder Mr. Jarvi's teaching methods were subliminal. He suggested his son take up the percussion because it would give him invaluable experience -- watching conductors.

"You could witness how the orchestra relates to a conductor, what was clear and not clear, how they rehearsed and how they got different sounds from the orchestra," he says. "The point was to observe. It was exactly what my father did when he was young."

This background, plus studies with former CSO music director Max Rudolf at the Curtis Institute of Music, may be the reason that at the age of 35, he is already principal guest conductor of both the Stockholm Philharmonic and the City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras. And, at a time when the classical recording industry is in a slump, he has a recording contract with EMI - Virgin Classics for 10 albums.

Mr. Jarvi views American orchestras from the perspective of having two relatives working with major orchestras.

"Classical music has ceased to have an everyday presence in the lives of the average American," he says. "If you ask the average person who was (Herbert von) Karajan, they won't know." (He was the renowned music director of the Berlin Philharmonic.)

A big problem is the absentee music director who flies in and out of town, no longer the revered "musical father figure" of the community. Mr. Jarvi predicts that his generation of conductors will return to practices of the past, when maestros were visible members of the community.

"Even though travel will be part of a conductor's life, it is less important now. It's more important to have a hands-on experience in one's community," he says.

"Most (music directors) now live in the cities where they work," he says, mentioning his colleagues Andrew Litton in Dallas, Esa-Pekka Salonen in Los Angeles and Simon Rattle in Birmingham, England.

Another problem is orchestra programming, which lacks excitement and creativity, he believes.

"Audiences in America have to be given credit. American programming is patronizing there's a strong marketing influence," he says. "If we're only thinking that way, in 50 years we will not have an audience."

American orchestras may have to change to survive, he says.

"Classical music is tradition-based. Traditions often don't let us change with the times because we have people who say, no, no, no, it's always done that way.

"But in a society which changes so quickly, we have to adapt and we must change quickly. The challenge is to keep the music an important part of the every day," he says.

"One has to not look at it as a sinking ship -- you have to build something new, take initiative."

That challenge goes to the conductors, he says. "Being that they are in leadership positions, they should be responsible in taking initiative to salvage the situation."