From Music in Cincinnati

Paavo Järvi: Globe-Trotting Maestro

Posted in: 2015
By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Feb 27, 2015 - 3:28:00 PM

Paavo Järvi
For international conductor Paavo Järvi, Cincinnati “feels like home still.

“You know, ten years of my life were here.”

Music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 2001-2011 and now music director laureate, Järvi returns this weekend to lead the CSO in the Symphony No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich, Carl Nielsen's "Aladdin" Suite and Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major, featuring. Georgian-born pianist Khatia Buniatishvilii in her CSO debut.

Estonian-born Järvi, whose commitments include music director of the Orchestre de Paris (through 2015-2016), artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (since 2004) and chief conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo beginning in September, says he “learned a lot here and had a really good time.

“When I come back here, I can feel that we still have this very natural musical connection, which is such a blessing. I mean, if you don’t have that, what do you have?”

Järvi’s globe-spanning career “feels really natural,” he says. “I’ve sort of stopped thinking about the world and continents because it’s just a few hours on the airplane.”

Time changes can be a problem, he admits, “but it’s OK. There are no shortcuts. It’s not like you somehow can outsmart jet lag. You just go on and it depends. If you come from Europe to America, it’s very easy to rehearse in the mornings because you wake up really early. Your time is different in that direction. Right now, I just came from Tokyo, so I’m 14 hours ahead which makes sleeping a little bit problematic.”

His “official home,” he says, is in Florida, where he returns whenever he has a week off. He likes to spend time there with his daughters, 11-year-old Lea and 9-year-old Ingrid, who live in Cincinnati with Järvi’s former wife, violinist and Constella Festival organizer Tatiana Berman. He also brings the girls to Pärnu, Estonia in the summer, where he conducts master classes and joins the other members of his very musical family -- which includes his father Neeme and brother Kristjan, both conductors, and his sister Maarika, a flutist -- at the annual Järvi Festival.

This year’s Constella Festival (April 8-19) will feature the Cincinnati premiere of “Maestro,” a documentary directed by David Donnelly that Järvi describes as “a view inside the orchestral music business for people who will never see it otherwise.” (The showing is set for 7 p.m. April 17 at the Cincinnati Art Museum Theater in Eden Park.)

Järvi, 52, met Donnelly when they lived in the same building in Cincinnati. “He had not been exposed to classical music at all and I advised him to come to the concerts. He was sort of shocked that his generation of people, even living here, don’t go to the concerts, and they don’t know they have a great orchestra here. They are very diligent people. They go to the museums and they go to plays, but they don’t come to the concerts. He found this subject interesting and wanted to do something about it.”

“Maestro” is “not really a film about me,” said Järvi, “even though there is a lot of me in it. He (Donnelly) needed somebody to walk him through this field and I was a good guide. A lot of people are in it (Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Pekka Kuusisto) and that’s the thing. There is a view of backstage by a person who is in it all the time, an attempt to de-mystify it in some way.”

"There are a lot of misconceptions about the life of a musician," said Järvi, “just like there are misconceptions about rock musicians. There is this myth about rock bands and what they do backstage, all the craziness and this and that. The truth is that a lot of those people travel with their personal trainers, and they have dieticians in order just to keep in shape to be able to perform. Having 150 concerts a year, do you think they actually can survive if everything we think they do is true?”

A large part of Järvi’s life involves recordings, which number more than 80 now, “but who’s counting?” he said.

He has completed a celebrated Beethoven cycle with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, as well as a Schumann cycle. “The cycle we are doing next with the Kammerphilharmonie is Brahms, not only the symphonies but also the overtures and orchestral music.”

A cycle in progress, he said, is Richard Strauss (with the NHK Symphony). “We just did the first recording last week in Tokyo, ‘Heldenleben’ and ‘Don Juan.’ The first one is coming out for my opening concert in September.”

A cycle of the Sibelius symphonies with the Orchestre de Paris is also underway, as are the complete symphonies of Nielsen with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, of which Järvi is also conductor laureate.

A recent recording Järvi is very proud of  is an all-Henri Dutilleux disc with the Orchestre de Paris. “Dutilleux is so underestimated here (in the U.S.). The First Symphony is a wonderful piece. Then there is a violin piece, “Sur la même accord,” a late piece played by Christian Tetzlaff, and the “Mêtaboles,” which is a famous piece, really, really, really good music.”

In September Järvi has a double disc of Rachmaninoff coming out with the Orchestre de Paris, including the Symphonic Dances and the Third Symphony. Also coming up -- a recording which Järvi describes as “really cool” -- is a disc of cantatas by Shostakovich with the Estonian National Orchestra. “It has three cantatas, two of them extremely Sovietic, patriotic, because he had to stay alive. The third one, ‘The Execution of Stepan Razin,’ is a very anti-Soviet thing. It’s the first time all three of them are on the same disc. It’s brilliant music, too.”

As if that weren’t enough, Järvi has another Shostakovich disc due in April with the Russian National Orchestra, the Seventh Symphony. “Both of them are not what you think they are,” he said. “The Shostakovich Seventh (subtitled the “Leningrad”) is not a glorification of Russian victory over the German army. It’s about fascism, which is in any form the same tyrannical idea. Stalin’s Russia was a fascist country, basically.”

Shostakovich’s Seventh “could have been interpreted in any way, but it is really a requiem. It is the kind of thing that the Soviets, of course, interpreted as a great Soviet symphony, but actually it’s not. It’s a symphony about war and tyranny. It also has to do with Hitler, of course, but Stalin did exactly the same thing. It is about global tyranny, basically.”

As a conductor, a father and an international recording artist, Järvi has little time for what one would call hobbies. “I do read and I do watch movies. It’s not like I’m doing nothing but music. But I don’t spend every free moment hot air ballooning like some people do. With a life like mine, it’s not a question of having or not having hobbies. It’s a question of simply organizing your time. If I have it, I come and spend the week with my girls.”

Paavo Järvi conducts the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Music Hall. Guest artist is pianist Khatia Buniatishvili in the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major. Also on the program are the Symphony No. 1 by Shostakovich and the “Aladdin" Suite by Carl Nielsen. For tickets and information, call (513) 381-3300, or visit

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