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Järvi's Debut Deserved Better Circumstances

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 15, 2001 - 1:09:36 PM in archives

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Sept. 15, 2001)

May we start again, please? Incoming Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi may have had such thoughts this week, not just when one of the cellists fainted during the world premiere of Charles Coleman's "Street- scape" Friday night at Music Hall.

This weekend marks his inaugural concerts with the CSO, and because of the fallout from Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, much of the celebration has been muted. Guest artist Truls Mork was unable to be here because of the halt in air traffic. Pre-concert events, including "street" activities on Elm Street keyed to the Coleman premiere, were scrubbed. And attendance at the concert, 2,131, was less than expected, not only because of the nation's trauma, but the likelihood than some ticketholders simply thought it had been canceled.

None of this, however, affected the quality of the performance. Taking his first bows as the orchestra's 12th music director, Järvi brought a new splendor to the orchestra and a musical gift which promises immeasurable riches for the city. The audience clearly recognized this, awarding him a unanimous ovation at the conclusion of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, many repairing to the lobby afterward for a champagne toast to welcome his arrival.

The program, with Debussy's "La Mer" substituted for the Shostakovich cello concerto Mork was to play, was remarkably suited to the nation's mood. Following the national anthem, Järvi led a heartfelt performance of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings - dedicated to the victims of this week's violence - pausing with his hands in the air for a moment of silence at the end.

Coleman's "Streetscape," commissioned by Järvi for his CSO debut, bore an uncanny resonance in view of the World Trade Center disaster. A native New Yorker (and neighbor of the former landmark), Coleman wrote it to celebrate the ebb and flow of city life. Drenched in percussion, including anvil, cowbells, xylophone, tom-toms and sandpaper blocks, it calls up the vitality of urban scene, even if in memoriam on this occasion. There are echoes of Broadway, Latino music and jazz, as well as plangent moments that recall Barber's Adagio. Former percussionist Jarvi led it with energy and relish, taking care to highlight its abundant melodic as well as rhythmic elements. (The cellist, Jarvi said, was "OK," the performance having been stopped briefly to help him offstage.)

In "La Mer," Järvi turned to seascape, and the result was even more rewarding than on his performance of the work with the CSO as a music director candidate in 1999. He is perfectionist when it comes to detail, but always in furtherance of deeply musical ends.

Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony is packed with emotion and a kind of uplifting resolve that stirred Friday's listeners. Järvi, who indulged in only two Bernsteinian leaps on the podium (he was a student of Bernstein), revealed that he is a softie, too, pausing lovingly for a tender turn of phrase in the work's gentler moments.

The performance, which is being televised live, repeats at 8 tonight at Music Hall.