Friday, February 27, 2009

Like father, like son: Paavo Jarvi also wields a passionate baton

by Bradley Bambarger/For The Star-Ledger
Thursday February 26, 2009, 11:59 AM

Like his father, conductor Paavo Jarvi has an obsessive love of music-making. The eldest son of esteemed New Jersey Symphony Orchestra music director Neeme Jarvi, the 46-year-old Paavo is similarly driven, having cultivated deep relationships with multiple orchestras and a discography as extensive as any conductor of his generation.
Paavo, who emigrated from Estonia with his family at age 17, is music director of the Cincinnati Symphony, Germany's Frankfurt Radio Symphony and, as of fall 2010, the Orchestre de Paris. He has kept his ties to the old country, too, as artistic adviser to the Estonian National Symphony. And it wasn't just a work ethic that Paavo inherited from his father. More than his free-spirited, very American younger brother Kristjan, also a conductor, Paavo has his father's natural European gravitas.
Yet Paavo is his own man, and a modern one, as anyone who has experienced his conducting of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie-Bremen on record or, especially, in concert knows. He bolsters traditional values with the latest thinking on period style for Beethoven that is sinewy and visceral. This team's take on the "Eroica" Symphony's Funeral March hits a listener like a blow to the sternum, giving one a sense of what this revolutionary music must have felt like to its original audience.
Jarvi and the German chamber orchestra return with their Beethoven this weekend, playing the "Eroica" along with the Symphony No. 8 and "Consecration of the House" Overture at New Brunswick's State Theatre on Sunday afternoon. As part of the inaugural festival for Lincoln Center's wonderfully renovated Alice Tully Hall, they play two concerts there on Monday, the first performance repeating the "Eroica" program and the second featuring Symphonies Nos. 1 and 7.
On the line from Frankfurt during a rare spare moment, Jarvi talked about Beethoven, his father and the beauty of taking chances.
Q: What's different about your Beethoven with the Bremen orchestra?
A: Well, I have to say that it's not "my" Beethoven. It's very much "our" Beethoven. There are orchestras, such those of New York or Vienna, that perform this music so well. But it is rare that an orchestra would play, say, the "Eroica" dozens of times with the same conductor, as the Bremen has with me over the past decade. We have been able to pay such attention to detail that it is as if we are constantly discovering the music. This is a self-governing orchestra, so they play as if their livelihoods depend on it -- which they do. And we only do special projects together, so nothing is routine.
Q: Tell me about the period aspects to your approach to Beethoven.
A: I grew up listening to records of old maestros like Szell and Furtwangler in these symphonies. Later, I also came to admire the best period-instrument groups and the contributions of such historically minded conductors as Harnoncourt and Norrington. For instance, like them, I feel that vibrato should be an embellishment, not a constant. And our approach to tempo is more dynamic. In the past, people felt that the extreme speeds Beethoven asked for were impossible. But Beethoven was deaf, not stupid. One must consider the lighter tone of the instruments used in that day, the smaller size of the orchestras.
Most important, though, is the image the music is meant to convey. The "Eroica" Funeral March has to be a real Andante, calm but at a march tempo. If you have a coffin on your shoulder, you have to keep moving, after all. But for all our attention to the latest scholarly scores, an emotional-spiritual conductor like Furtwangler had it right: The point is to go beyond stylistic issues to inner meaning -- the soul of the notes.
Q: What do you think you got from your father, musically?
A: I got everything from my father. We still talk a lot about the process of conducting. On the podium, he knows what he wants and how to get it, but he isn't the professor type. He wants to have a good time making music, and he has a gift for transmitting this tremendous joy to the orchestra and the audience. And he never seems to perform the same piece the same way twice. This is something that's very important to me, too -- that music has to live in the moment. It means nothing to be technically proficient, if the performance is routine. One must take chances.
That's what I loved about Leonard Bernstein. Once, I was driving and heard on the radio one of his performances of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. It was so strange and overdone, but it was impossible not to listen to. I had to pull the car over. So many of us think we know how this symphony goes, but we don't, really -- and Bernstein showed us this, even thrust the fact in our faces. Immaculate and tasteful don't mean good. A performance is only good when it's the kind that makes you stop your car.

Paavo Jarvi with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie-Bremen. When and where: 2 p.m. Sunday, State Theatre, 15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick. 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Monday at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, Broadway at 65th Street, New York. How much: $15-$60 in New Brunswick; visit or call (732) 246-7469. $25 in New York; visit or call (212) 721-6500.
The photo above was taken by Ixi Chen.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Audiophile Auditon Reviews Beethoven Recordings

The following review of the Beethoven discs listed below is by Tom Gibbs of Audiophile Audition magazine.

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 – The German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen – Paavo Jarvi, conductor – RCA Red Seal Multichannel SACD 88697-21418-2, 69 min. ***** [Distr. by Sony/BMG]:

BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 – The German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen /Paavo Jarvi, conductor – RCA Red Seal Multichannel SACD 88697-33835-2, 55 min. ***** [Distr. by Sony/BMG]:

Whether listening in multichannel or stereo, the sound is superb, and this cycle is definitely one to get excited about.

When Paavo Jarvi in 2004 assumed the position of Artistic Director with the German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen, he led them to a handful of well-received recordings, but I don’t think anyone could have been prepared for the splash they’ve made with this current cycle of Beethoven symphonies. These two new discs encompass the Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7, and Nos. 1 and 5, and once again, maestro Jarvi and company have just about turned the world of classical music literally on its ears! While the chamber performances here lend a sense of historical accuracy to the proceedings, just about everything else has seriously departed from the normal script this sort of soiree seemingly should follow. Jarvi’s chosen tempi throughout are rapid fire, carrying on right where he left off on the excellent initial offering (Symphonies 3 and 8) in the cycle last year. While the orchestral forces have been seriously pared down compared to the typical (and traditional) big-band approach, there’s none of the tonal shifts or instrumental stridency that regularly accompanies chamber and original instrument approaches to Beethoven. This music is as well-played and full-bodied as it gets, delivering a sound that is much less foreign to our ears than one might at first suspect, but with all the requisite familiarity to please even the staunchest of Beethoven aficionados. Yet at the same time, they’ve accomplished that rarest of feats by delivering an experience that seems infinitely familiar, but at the same time quite new and refreshing!In terms of sound quality, these two new discs are magnificent! As with the original installment last year (Symphonies 3 and 8), production of the recordings was overseen by Polyhymnia personnel, and these two discs highlight all the warmth and incredible detail that are the very hallmark of Polyhymnia productions. As I recalled, I was a bit under whelmed by the sound of that first disc in the series, which seemed a bit dry and perhaps lacking in warmth to me. A quick investigation comparing these three discs was quite revealing. The recordings take place at two different locations scattered across a three year period; one of the symphonies, Number 7, is recorded in two different years, 2004 and 2006! As all the recordings on the two new discs sound superb, I thought it would be interesting to take another listen to the first disc to confirm my original impressions. And while I still feel the original disc lacks the overall warmth displayed by these two new discs, it does contain much of the sonic character evidenced by the newer releases. I listen to a lot of music, and I strongly believe that my home system exhibits certain characteristics that on certain days, everything just clicks, the stars align, and my system sounds incredible. Other days, it sounds great, but just not quite as good as it does on those particular days. Maybe it’s the weather, or something in the atmosphere, but I can’t help but believe that the same thing happens with recording equipment. Even though some of these three discs were recorded within days of each other, and in the same location with the same personnel, they do sound somewhat different, though not markedly so. Don’t let any nitpicking on my part sway you from experiencing these remarkable releases. Whether listening in multichannel or stereo, the sound is superb, and this cycle is definitely one to get excited about. Paavo Jarvi, whose work has on occasion left me less than ecstatic, here makes all the right moves, and proves that he can conduct Beethoven with the very best of them. I’m truly pumped for the remaining symphonies to come. Very highly recommended!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Miss Tully's Revenge

From the blog of Alex Ross, Music Critic for The New Yorker:

Alice Tully Hall reopens on Sunday, and Lincoln Center has assembled an impressive lineup of artists for a two-week renovation festival: Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI, the Emerson and Belcea Quartets, violinist Daniel Hope, tenor Mark Padmore, David Robertson and the Juilliard Orchestra (Messiaen's From the Canyons to the Stars, which Tully commissioned), Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic, Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale Gent (the Mass in B Minor), Paavo Järvi and the Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (four Beethoven symphonies in one night), a new-music day with ETHEL, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Alarm Will Sound, and Steve Reich and Musicians, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which long suffered in the dull acoustics of the old space. All tickets are $25, except when they're free.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Classical Music Blogger Reviews Mussorgsky Recording

Since Paavo Jarvi became the Cincinnati Symphony's Music Director in September, 2001, the Telearc label has issued 2 albums a year of the CSO directed by Maestro Jarvi, pretty much like clockwork, one in the Fall, and one in the Spring. This is the 14th in the series. This CD (51 min.) is an all-Mussorgsky album. It starts off with a great appetizer "Night on Bald Mountain", which will immediately appeal to you and sound familiar (from the Walt Disney movie Fantasia). It then is followed by the main course, "Pictures at an Exhibition", one of the most popular classical pieces ever, and Maestro Jarvi brings it with great skill and brings out the best in the orchestra. Check out the subtle yet warm "The Old Castle", the highlight for me on the album, with a tremendous saxophone solo. But other "portraits" like "Bydlo", "The Marketplace of Limoges" and the finale, "The Great Gate of Kiev" are also standouts. The final piece of the album, think of it as the dessert, is the short "Down on the Moscow River", a beautiful pensive tune. As usual, courtesy the folks at Telearc, the recording/audio quality of this CD is nothing short of spectacular. Maestro Jarvi and the CSO went on a highly successful tour of Europe earlier this year (I had the good fortune of catching them on that tour in Amsterdam and Paris). Under the guidance of Maestro Jarvi, the CSO continues to shine, and this new album is ample proof of that. Meanwhile, this album is highly recommended!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grammy võitnud plaadi dirigent on Paavo Järvi

February 10, 2009

Los Angeleses välja antud Grammy auhinna väärinud klassikaplaatide hulgas on CD, millel dirigeerib oma USA orkestri ees Paavo Järvi.

Jean Sibeliuse kantaatide plaadi eest (firma Virgin Classics) 2004. a Grammy saanud dirigent Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati Sümfooniaorkestri, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie ja Frankfurti Raadio Sümfooniaorkestri peadirigent ja muusikadirektor, on dirigeerinud seekordse Grammy võitnud orkestrimuusika CDd Modest Mussorgski loomingust.Plaadi salvestas USA firma Telarc ning sellel esitab Cincinnati Sümfooniaorkester Järvi juhatusel Mussorgski "Pildid näituselt", poeemi "Öö Lagedal mäel" ning eelmängu ooperile "Hovanštšina". Mussorgski plaat oli nomineeritud ning võitis 95. kategoorias "Best Surround Sound Album", mille eest auhinna said nüüd CD heliinsener Michael Bishop ning produtsent, ühtlasi firma Telarc president Robert Woods.97. kategoorias "Producer Of The Year, Classical" olid nominentideks Cincinnati orkestri sellesama Mussorgski plaadiga, samuti nende CDga Sergei Prokofjevi loomingust Paavo Järvi juhatusel (mõlemad Telarc) produtsent Robert Woods ning Harmonia Mundi produtsent Robina G. Young CDga "Scattered Rhymes", mille ettekandjaiks on Eesti Filharmoonia Kammerkoor ning Orlando Consort Paul Hillieri juhatusel. Mõlemad produtsendid seekord selles kategoorias auhinda ei saanud.
~Priit Kuusk

Monday, February 09, 2009

And the Winner Is...

The Cincinnati Symphony and Paavo Jarvi's Mussorgsky recording is a Grammy Winner! Below is the partial listing from the Associated Press:

Surround Sound Album: "Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on Bald Mountain; Prelude to Khovanshchina," Michael Bishop, surround mix engineer; Michael Bishop, surround mastering engineer; Robert Woods, surround producer (Paavo Jarvi and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra) (Telarc)

Friday, February 06, 2009

One-on-One with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Maestro Paavo Jarvi

Printed in "David's Voice" Magazine
By Isaac Selya

As a Jewish atheist, I would be the last person to trust astrology. But I admit that there is a harmonic convergence at the end of January. Those of us nerdy enough to celebrate the birthdays of classical musicians don’t get a break. Mozart, Schubert, Farinelli, Tallis, Furtwängler and Clementi share this birthday season with two musical Jews: Felix Mendelssohn and me. In honor of Mendelssohn’s 200th birthday on February 3rd, 2009, David’s Voice interviewed Maestro Paavo Järvi, music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 2001. He shared his thoughts on Mendelssohn, the human function of music and the myth of the Jewish musical mafia.
Q: Maestro, when a famous composer like Mendelssohn has a major birthday, what goes through your head when you program music for the season?
A: It is complicated, but it is important to consider something as mundane as where we live. In Paris, in London, in New York, people can hear a different world-class orchestra every night; it makes sense to have a full-blown festival celebrating one composer. Here [in Cincinnati] we need to offer subscribers variety. In every concert, I program works that are in intellectual dialogue. Many times when there are festivals for Mozart or Mendelssohn, orchestras’ play the same small set of famous pieces.
Q: Is that an economic concern? Do audiences just want to hear familiar hits?
A: I wish it were that simple. Most musicians have a comfort level with specific corners of the repertoire. Audiences want more variety. Many people ask me why we don’t play more contemporary music or unknown pieces. We work with many talented guest artists who make their best impressions with pieces that the musicians know well.
Q: Mendelssohn has a rocky reception history owing to Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings. Did you notice any bias against Mendelssohn while you were studying music?
A: Not really. The bias against Mendelssohn was mostly in Germany. It is important to place Mendelssohn in context, because anti-Semitism during his time in Germany was taken for granted. Jewish composers learned to handle this. For example, Gustav Mahler wrote the “Resurrection” symphony to prove he was Christian. But every note of it proves that he was Jewish.
Q: This question might not be politically correct, but why do you think that so many Jews have been successful in classical music? Some people even refer to a “Jewish mafia” that ran the classical scene in the United States in the early 20th century.
A: (Paavo Jarvi laughs) Here I thought it was an Estonian mafia… In the early 20th century, musicians from Eastern Europe and Slavic countries developed the American classical community; many of these individuals were Jews. The American string sound in particular is very rich, and it stems from the Russian/Slavic school of playing. To play like that, you need to engage in an introspective quest about every element of the sound. Many Jews in Eastern Europe were brought up in a culture that emphasized rigorous study and introspection on questions of the human experience and religion. The kind of questions you can ask about religion can only be asked about one other subject: art. So instead of becoming the fourth generation of rabbis, some Jews became the first generation of violinists. Many Americans misunderstand this relationship between Judaism and music. They think that just being Jewish makes people talented.
Q: On the topic of the role music plays in the human experience, what are your thoughts about Venezuela and “El Sistema?” (“El Sistema” is a publicly financed private-sector music-education program in Venezuela, originally called Social Action for Music)
A: They have taken energy that was leading to poverty and crime and he [José Abreu] sublimated it towards music. Some people think that it is just propaganda to support [President Hugo] Chávez. But that is nonsense.
Smart people understand the diplomatic power of music and art. It is more compelling than any propaganda. That is why the Soviets sent their ballet company over here. And notice that the New York Philharmonic just went to a country that we have no “official” diplomatic relations with. Because there is nothing more powerful than the sight of young people making music. This is what “El Sistema” has tapped into; it reminds us of our common humanity.

Isaac Selya holds a BA in music from Yale University. He aspires to be an opera conductor. And he hopes to visit Japan one day.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Samuel Pisar

Samuel Pisar, 79 ans, partage sa vie entre ses cabinets de Paris, Londres et New York. Partout, cet ancien collaborateur du président John Fitzgerald Kennedy et essayiste multiplie les sorties au concert. Mercredi 4 février, il ira Salle Pleyel écouter Paavo Jarvi diriger l'Orchestre de Paris. "J'avoue d'emblée que c'est ma femme Judith qui a choisi d'aller au concert de l'Orchestre de Paris, Salle Pleyel, le 4 février. Elle a longuement présidé l'American Center à Paris, après avoir été directrice de la musique de la Brooklyn Academy et directrice de la compagnie du chorégraphe Merce Cunningham. C'est elle qui a introduit dans ma vie la joie, ainsi que quelques géants de la musique contemporaine : Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Henri Dutilleux, John Cage... Lorsqu'elle m'a emmené écouter Stockhausen la première fois, nous avons frôlé le divorce... Mais je continue à lui faire une confiance totale.

Ce concert m'intéresse particulièrement. D'abord nous sommes des inconditionnels de l'Orchestre de Paris (comme de l'Orchestre national de France, d'ailleurs). Mercredi, nous aurons l'occasion d'entendre Paavo Jarvi, son futur directeur musical, et successeur de Christoph Eschenbach. Ce qui m'attire surtout vers ce concert et d'une manière intensément personnelle et subjective, c'est la thématique du programme. Arvo Pärt, d'abord. Je le connais très peu mais son Canto à la mémoire de Benjamin Britten, qui lamente la mort de ce dernier en 1976, me fascine. Sa démarche me rappelle l'impact de la disparition de Leonard Bernstein, en 1990, sur moi-même et ma résolution d'écrire, comme il me l'avait demandé, un nouveau texte pour sa Troisième Symphonie kaddish.

Ensuite, Benjamin Britten, au coeur de l'oeuvre de Pärt, et qui est aussi au programme, avec son Requiem. Il fait, en quelque sorte, partie de ma vie. Récupéré des décombres de l'Allemagne d'après-guerre par la branche française de ma famille, j'ai été reconstruit, après un passage initial à Paris, dans le monde anglo-saxon. Britten était donc forcément une présence dominante dans ma modeste culture musicale d'après-guerre : à la fois l'adolescent qui a perdu comme moi ses deux parents, mais aussi l'homme dégoûté par la violence et qui voulait sauver l'humanité. Et, finalement, la Messe en ut mineur, de Mozart, la troisième oeuvre au programme.
C'est aussi un peu la même chose : la musique qui se confronte à la société ou à la politique. Mozart l'a écrite pour tenter de hâter le rétablissement de Constance Weber, sa future épouse, alors gravement malade. Je l'ai déjà entendue, bien sûr, mais comment résister à un tel chef-d'oeuvre."