Enter your email address and click subscribe to receive new articles in your email inbox:

Introducing Paavo Järvi

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 11, 2001 - 12:00:00 AM in archives

Author's note: Paavo Järvi's inaugural concert as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra took place just three days after 9/11, on Sept. 14, 2001. The program was changed to include Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and to replace the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 with Truls Mork, who was unable to appear, Debussy's "La Mer."

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Sept. 11, 2001)

Think Paavo Järvi.
   Think Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
   That's the linkage the CSO's new music director wants to create, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14 at Music Hall.
   At that hour, with the opening of Charles Coleman;s "Streetscape" a world premiere commissioned for the event Järvi makes his debut as the 12th music director of the 107-year-old orchestra. Saturday's repeat will be telecast live by WCET channel 48, the first live telecast of a CSO concert in over 20 years. The 8 p.m. concert will be simulcast by WGUC-FM (90.9) and taped for national airing by PBS in 2002.
   Choice successor to former music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Estonian-born Järvi has a goal for the nation's fifth oldest orchestra:
   Step up to the plate and let the world know how good you are.
   Järvi, 38, son of Detroit Symphony music director Neeme Järvi, outlined his strategy over breakfast in June at Sarabeth's Kitchen on New York's Upper West Side.
   "The real challenge is to change the opinions of important people outside Cincinnati who have for years allocated a certain spot to it, and think that is where it is always going to be," said the slightly jet-lagged conductor, cradling a double orange juice in his hands. They need to be "put into position where they are either forced or encouraged or excited about the new 'something else.' That is the only way for them to change their mind."
   Järvi made this clear to the CSO when he accepted the music director post in January 2000 after a courtship of remarkable brevity and unanimity (he was signed less than a year after his CSO debut). "One of the things I really wanted to have changed is to spend much more money on creating a national and international awareness of its (the CSO's) existence. I told them we were going to have to hire a strong press firm, which we did (Kirshbaum, Demler and Associates, Inc., New York) and then to actively with a long term view in mind, not just once before my season opening create an ongoing, working relationship with people who might be excited about what we are trying to do in Cincinnati."
   Järvi spent a week in The Big Apple in June, meeting with representatives of the national media. "Everybody," he said, a characteristically mischievous smile forming around his lips. "The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, magazines, Travel and Leisure, Arts and Entertainment. I have never done this in my life before. I am preaching the gospel of Cincinnati to anybody who wants to listen."
   The idea, he said, is "to try to get as much awareness of the orchestra as possible," then follow it up with tours and recordings.
   "We have a national tour in 02-03 with really excellent stops after Carnegie Hall. We have to go to places that are not just reserved for secondary groups. We are not going to go somewhere just for the sake of going."
   "Major venues" in Japan are on the horizon for 03-04, Europe after that. Performing in important venues is an objective heightened by Jarvi's international visibility. "I have over the last ten years established a working relationship in a number of very nice places. Every year I go to Munich, Paris, the Czech Philharmonic, London Philharmonic. The reason we can set up a successful tour in Europe is because people know me. They've seen my work."
   Järvi and the CSO have already scored a base hit with their first recording together, Berlioz' "Symphonie fantastique" for Telarc (a beauty, also including the love scene from Berlioz' "Romeo and Juliet"). Released Aug. 28, it will be on sale at this weekend's concerts. Later this season, they will record Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 and an all-Stravinsky disc, also for Telarc.
   Järvi hopes to boost his record sales with the CSO. His current discography, heavily weighted with Scandinavian repertoire, moves painfully slowly, he said. "I have a horrible feeling about looking at how much anything sells, so I try to avoid it. They send statements that say 'minus six,' meaning they sent out six recordings and nobody buys them and they are supposed to get them back. I mean, it takes years."
   Clearly, he is out to change hearts and minds. "The important thing right now is that everybody, here and in Europe, identify and associate the Cincinnati Symphony with Telarc and Paavo Järvi. They (Telarc) will be a very strong partner in our effort."
   Järvi, who emigrated to the U.S. at 17 and is now an American citizen, intends to take a European post in addition to the CSO when he finds one "that is right." This, too, will help to promote awareness of the CSO. "You can't anticipate the European scene. They don't keep in touch with what's going on in Cincinnati. You really have to have a presence."
   However, he will cut back on his guest conducting in the U.S. "It will be more useful for the orchestra if I spend my time cultivating Europe."
   Järvi's focus outside the city will not be at the expense of the Cincinnati community. To begin with, he is making a home here. "I am going to live downtown in a loft," he said. And he plans to forge ties with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music through master classes, rehearsals and perhaps a joint concert with the CSO.
   Pursuant to its newfound marketing credo, the CSO is giving Järvi the works. His blond, blue-eyed visage gazes down on traffic from deep blue billboards. Banners fly downtown, and TV spots show him vigorously rehearsing the CSO.
   The image is youthful and energetic, with hyperbolic print ads dubbing the trained percussionist as a "former heavy metal kid." Järvi does, in fact, like all kinds of music, including jazz and rock. "I'm quite eclectic, and for me, variety is very important. I'm somebody who wants to be challenged. In Scandinavia, unless you have a world premiere on the program or something entirely unusual, they think it is a bad program."
   He confesses that CSO programming for his first year is not as adventurous as he would have liked, but stresses he is "a team player.
   "We ended up, I think, with a really balanced program." For this weekend's concerts, he will conduct an audience favorite, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, in addition to the Coleman premiere and Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto (with Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk). Also this season, he will conduct Eduard Tubin's Symphony No. 5 and Erkki-Sven Tüür's Violin Concerto, both Cincinnati premieres by Estonian composers, plus the U.S. premiere of Carl Orff's ""Tanzende Faune'' and a world premiere by American composer Kevin Puts. (Next season, look for a symphony by Estonian Lepo Sumera.) On the traditional side, he will conduct Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony, Beethoven and Brahms' Fourth Symphonies, Schubert's Ninth, Mahler's First and Stravinsky's "Firebird" and "Petrouchka" Suites.
   "Ultimately, it's not what you're doing, but how you do it that is going to bring people to the concert hall," Järvi said. "If you do a standard program with all your heart and create something alive and meaningful and try to find something new, the most standard program can actually be an innovation."
   The unmarried Järvi plans to take part in social activities in Cincinnati, "but it will be obviously selective, because as much as I'm committed to doing as much as possible, I am a musician and my main job is doing my job. It will never be otherwise." This, plus he's booked solid, with guest conducting dates on four continents through May 2002. He will lead 12 of the CSO's 24 Music Hall concerts this season, 14 for the balance of his four-year contract (through 2004-05).
   Affable and talkative off the podium, Järvi is focused and intense onstage. For this reason, he does not like to address the audience. "I find it extremely difficult to talk from the stage because by the time you walk out, you have to be somewhere else. You have to be in the world of that piece. I never understood how somebody can turn around and say, 'Now, it's the Mahler Second Symphony. Listen for this.'  For me, I know that's going to be a terrible performance."
   By the same token, he avoids pre-concert talks. "I need a little bit of time to be alone, like 30-40 minutes. If I have that, I'll do it, but it's not something I would commit to as a rule.
   "I sleep before concerts always. It's very important, even if I have five minutes, to just be between the sheets, almost like meditation. You have to feel like, 'Now I'm completely free of everything.'"
   Fiber optically, Järvi is eminently accessible. He has a web site, www.paavojarvi.com, where fans can e-mail him and a fan site at www.paavoproject.com.
   Järvi wants the newly renovated green room and the conductor's suite at Music Hall to be welcoming places, too.
   "When people open the door to my room, I want them to feel a fresh, Nordic breeze."
Paavo Järvi Facts.

  • Pronounced PAA-vo YA(a as in at)R-vee.
  • Born Dec. 30, 1962, Tallinn, Estonia.
  • Immigrated to the U.S. in 1980.
  • U.S. citizen since 1985.
  • Oldest child of Neeme Järvi (music director, Detroit Symphony) and Liilia Järvi.
  • Sister Maarika, flutist living in Geneva.
  • Brother Kristjan, music director, The Absolute Ensemble, New York City.
  • Single.
  • Studied percussion and conducting, Tallinn School of Music.
  • Graduate of Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, 1988 (student of Otto-Werner Muller and former CSO music director Max Rudolf).
  • Studied with Leonard Bernstein at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.
  • Former music director, Malmö Symphony (Sweden).
  • Former principal guest conductor, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and City of Birmingham Orchestra (England).
  • 22 recordings for EMI/Virgin Classics and Bis.
  • CSO debut recording, Berlioz, ""Symphonie fantastique'' (Telarc).
  • On the web at www.paavojarvi.com and www.paavoproject.com

Paavo Järvi speaks five languages, and is very articulate and generous with his time (when he has it).
Paavo Järvi on:
  • April's race riots in Cincinnati. "It's a disgrace that America is not able to solve this issue. Meanwhile, we are sending warplanes to Bosnia to deal with their racial issue. I would never say this as a European, but as an American citizen, I have to."
  • Over-the-Rhine. "I am obviously a newcomer, but I think it has the capacity for being a real urban center, not office buildings, but where the community has its soul. It has wonderful historic architecture. It's where the concert hall is. It could have some jazz, schools, a theater."
  • Connecting with an orchestra. "When people make music, they are at their most open in every way, both orchestra and conductor. For me, the first thing I do is play through a piece beginning to end. By the end, you will have found, or not, substantial common ground. If you can convince an orchestra to see what you are doing without stopping and telling them, all of a sudden there is communication. It shouldn't be a question of fear or intimidation, but a natural process of making music together. If that happens, you can do anything."
  • Programming Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. "Sometime we will do a Beethoven 5 but it will in the context of something around it which might force you to re-examine Beethoven."
  • His nephew Lukas, 18 months (son of brother Kristjan and his wife, violinist Leila Josefowicz). "It's amazing to see something so beautiful, so pure. He looks at you and you try anything, then after you've lost all hope, there's just a little bit of a smile and you just melt."
  • Having fun. "I am only having fun. I mean, doing concerts is tiring and quite stressful, but it's fun. I just conducted the Tubin 5th for the first time. It was one of the most exciting experiences I have had in a long time. Before that, I made a debut with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (formerly the Leningrad Philharmonic), that famous orchestra that premiered all the Shostakovich symphonies. It's just sometimes you wish you had a little less fun."
   (first published in The Cincinnati Post Sept. 11, 2001)