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

Next Stop Europe

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Oct 27, 2004 - 11:02:51 PM in news_2004

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Oct. 26, 2004)

The bows have been taken, the bravos acknowledged. The encore (Sibelius' "Valse Triste") has been played.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra librarian Mary Judge and her staff pack up the music from Saturday night's CSO concert at Music Hall.

Backstage, a row of cellos in hard cases waits to be loaded into the 53-foot trailer that will take them and 18,509 pounds of instruments, wardrobe and equipment to Chicago. There they will be transferred to a 747 cargo plane bound for Paris.

Next stop is Vienna, where they and stage managers Joe Hopper, Tom Thoman and Ralph LaRocco will join 100 CSO players, music director Paavo Järvi, pianist Helene Grimaud and members of the CSO staff on the first leg of a two-week, five-country tour of Europe. There will be 11 concerts in 9 cities, including the CSO’s debut in Paris and The Netherlands.

The musicians and staff – the tour entourage numbers 116, including assistant conductor Eric Dudley and tour physician Dr. Eric Warm - leave today (Tuesday, Oct. 26) aboard two Delta jetliners, one bound for Paris, one for Frankfurt, en route to Vienna.

After performing at the Konzerthaus in Vienna Friday night, the CSO will travel to Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Cologne and Mannheim in Germany, to Paris, where they will make their debut Nov. 5 at the Theatre du Chatelet, Enschede in The Netherlands, then Madrid and Barcelona. Tour repertoire includes Mahler's Symphony No. 5, Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 and Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta," Nielsen's "Maskarade" Overture and Erkki-Sven Tüür's "Aditus." Grimaud will perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 and the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor.

It will be the orchestra's first European tour with Järvi. Previously, they have toured the East Coast (New York, Boston and Washington D.C. in March-April, 2003), South Florida (last spring) and Japan (last fall).

They have received enthusiastic, even ecstatic, reports everywhere they have performed ("look out world," the Boston Globe reported of their 2003 concert in Boston’s Symphony Hall).

A lot is riding on the European tour.

Perceptions, for one thing. Not just of the CSO, but of Cincinnati itself.

The CSO has "quite a good reputation" in Europe, said Estonian born Järvi, who has spent most of his career in Europe.

However, "they don’t know our city.

"Unfortunately, there is a kind of equation of the orchestra and the city. You know, Paris is Paris, and it doesn't matter how the local orchestras are playing, it's still Paris. Rome is Rome, New York is New York and Chicago is Chicago. Even Detroit has kind of an extra-musical image. It’s a car city and has been featured in many films. Somehow, Cincinnati is not on their radar. That’s why I think it is important to go there.

"Once they hear something from us, they are very impressed, but it is not the immediate impression."

Another obstacle is the long-standing notion that there is an American "Top Five," a cadre of elite orchestras comprising Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago, that are the only ones worth hearing.

"Critics in Europe see things from afar," said Järvi. "They know the ‘top five’ and there is almost an assumption that anything that is not in the top five is not that good, that there is a big difference in the level (of excellence). The truth is there isn't."

Although the prejudice is breaking down, said Järvi, "we need to realize that you can't change perceptions overnight. When we go there, we have to do much better than they expect, so it is much harder in essence for us."

American Symphony Orchestra League president Henry Fogel, former president of the Chicago Symphony, agrees that the vaunted supremacy of the so-called "big five" is invalid.

"I have always hated the concept of the "big five," even when I managed one of that alleged group," said Fogel.

"First of all, orchestras aren't sports teams - there aren't wins and losses which allow a numerical ranking. Secondly, judgments are subjective: what matters more, precision, passion, style, commitment, flexibility? And thirdly, the only people who would be capable of making any kind of intelligent judgment would be people who consistently and regularly over time heard all of the orchestras - and I doubt there is a single person alive who has done that.

"I personally have heard concerts by the orchestras of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis that were absolutely at the same high level as the best concerts of the traditional ‘big five.’ In all of those cases, I have heard them play in regular subscription concerts at home, not solely in finely honed tour programs at Carnegie Hall."

The issue, said Fogel is "less about 're-shuffling' than getting rid of a myth that may not have been true for the past 25 years, or more."

Sponsors for the CSO tour are Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America, CFM International, General Electric and Convergys. (The expenses of the tour are funded by concert fees, sponsorships and grants, not from the CSO operating budget, said CSO president Steven Monder.)

To further showcase the city, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce will travel to France coincident with the tour to conduct a seminar in Paris for French business leaders. Participants in the seminar will attend the CSO concert Nov. 5.

The CSO will meet some friends abroad. Music director emeritus Jesus Lopez-Cobos, now music director of Madrid’s Teatro Real, will attend the concert Nov. 9 in Madrid, where he is conducting performances of Verdi’s "Macbeth" at the Teatro Real. Lopez-Cobos, CSO music director from 1986-2001, led the orchestra’s last European tour, a 12-day, 8-concert visit in January-February, 2001, that included the CSO’s first performances in mainland Spain and Warsaw, Poland.

Järvi has been raising awareness of the CSO in Europe. He pitched the CSO’s Oct. 29 Vienna concert at a media event in Salzburg, Austria in August, when he made his Salzburg Festival debut with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

"It’s been an ongoing process," he said. "Every time I am there I try to talk about one of our CDs or our upcoming tour."

Järvi is particularly well known in Paris, where he frequently guest conducts both the Orchestre de Paris and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

"They know who I am by conducting the local orchestras. Showing them the quality of our orchestra is something that is very important to me."

Adding to the luster of the Paris concert – which is sold out - is French born Grimaud, 33, a star in her native country. French television will make a 60-minute tape of the CSO rehearsal for airing on "Envoye Special," a kind of French "60 Minutes."

The concert in Madrid is also sold out, as is one of the two Frankfurt concerts. Cologne is "very close" to a sell out and "tickets are scarce in all locations," said CSO public relations director Carrie Krysanick. (The largest of the halls, Frankfurt’s 2,400-seat Alte Oper, is one-third smaller than 3,400-seat Music Hall. Vienna’s Konzerthaus seats only 1,700.)

The repertoire list – worked out with the European presenters based on "what they think they can sell," said Järvi – plays to his and the CSO’s strengths. The Mahler Five is "definitely our music (the CSO performed the U.S. premiere of the work in 1904) and Sibelius is very much my domain."

Also associated with Järvi are Danish composer Nielsen and fellow Estonian Tüür, whose work Järvi has featured each season since becoming CSO music director in September, 2001.

Whatever the response in Europe, "you have to be sure you are satisfied with the results yourself," Järvi said.

"It doesn’t matter how difficult and how uphill the battle might be in terms of acceptance by others, we are our biggest critics.

"I don’t necessarily think that the goal is to wait for approval of the local press. If it’s good, it’s good and it’ll be great for us. But at the end of the day, we need to feel that we really have done exceptionally well and be happy with our own performance."

CSO Tour at a Glance:

Oct. 26. Depart Cincinnati.

Oct. 27. Arrive Vienna.

Oct. 28. Rest day in Vienna.

Oct. 29. Concert, Vienna Konzerthaus.

Oct. 30. Fly to Frankfurt. Concert, Alte Oper.

Oct. 31. Bus to Stuttgart. Concert, Liederhalle.

Nov. 1. Rest day in Stuttgart.

Nov. 2. Bus to Cologne. Concert, Cologne Philharmonie.

Nov. 3. Bus to Frankfurt. Concert, Alte Oper.

Nov. 4. Bus to Mannheim. Concert, Mozartsaal Rosengarten.

Nov. 5. Fly to Paris. Concert, Theatre du Chatelet.

Nov. 6. Fly to Amsterdam. Bus to Utrecht. Bus to Enschede. Concert, Muziekcentrum Enschede.

Nov. 7. Rest day in Utrecht.

Nov. 8. Bus to Amsterdam. Fly to Madrid. Concert, Auditorio Nacional del Musica.

Nov. 9. Concert, Auditorio Nacional del Musica (Madrid).

Nov. 10. Fly to Barcelona. Concert, Palau de la Musica Catalana.

Nov. 11. Return to Cincinnati.

Tour repertoire: Dvorak, Symphony No. 7. Mahler, Symphony No. 5. Sibelius, Symphony No. 5. Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 4. Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor (piano soloist, Helene Grimaud). Nielsen, "Maskarade" Overture. Kodaly, "Dances of Galanta." Erkki-Sven Tüür, "Aditus."

Tour Facts:

People on the tour: music director Paavo Järvi, 100 musicians, 10 staff, 3 crew, 1 doctor.

Cargo: 103 boxes, 18,509 lbs., approx. value $3 million, traveling to Chicago by 53-ft., air-ride, climate controlled trailer, then by 747 cargo plane to Paris and Vienna.

Trucking company, U.S.: Tony Totten, Tony Express, Inc.

Approx. miles traveled: 11,800.