Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Audiences love Jarvi, symphony

Touring with the symphony

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Paavo Jarvi and Ixi Chen during a rehearsal break at Suntory Hall in Tokyo.
(Kyril Magg photo)
| ZOOM |
TOKYO - On Sunday morning in Tokyo, Paavo Jarvi left the ANA Hotel and walked next door to Japan's famed Suntory Hall to prepare for perhaps the most important concert during the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's current seven-city, eight-concert sweep through Japan.

His day included a matinee concert, interviews with two of Japan's most prestigious record magazines and dinner with the head of Japan Arts, the tour promoter.

"The three halls which are considered prestigious are Suntory, Yokohama and Metropolitan Arts Space," said Jarvi later, in Kitakyushu, the next tour stop. "You're lucky to get just one."

The orchestra will play all three halls on this tour. It has been playing to crowds of more than 80 percent capacity - excellent attendance considering Japan's economic woes .

On Sunday, his day ended at 4 a.m. - with friends who live in Tokyo.

"This is a working tour," he says. "I see my friends after everything else is done."

Enquirer classical music writer Janelle Gelfand is traveling with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as it tours Japan. Follow her adventures in her Web log
11:20 a.m. Sunday: Jarvi arrives at Suntory Hall for a sound check of the bells borrowed from the NHK Symphony. They'll be used in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique that night, but positioning them - backstage, or at the back of the auditorium - is crucial to the performance.

He greets his staff and stage crew backstage, giving last-minute instructions to librarian Rebecca Beavers, who has been placing musical scores on the players' stands. A small group of symphony staffers - including Jan Cauhorn, stage managers Joe Hopper and Tom Thoman - are clustered in his dressing room, staring up at Jarvi's jacket as it swings from a ceiling vent. It was soaked with perspiration from the concert in Yokohama the previous night, and they were hoping it would dry out.

Symphony musicians, many battling fatigue from the long days and 14-hour time change, begin to straggle in. Jarvi has asked to speak to oboist Lon Bussell, who had to step in the night before on 15 minutes' notice for principal oboist Richard Johnson, down with a virus that has been bouncing through the symphony ranks.

11:35 a.m.: Bussell and Jarvi have an impromptu meeting by the door of the maestro's dressing room, and Jarvi compliments him profusely.

"It was really a personal triumph for this guy," he says later.

11:45 a.m.: Jarvi stands on the podium onstage, and asks someone to strike the bells from backstage. He approves. The bell check is over.

Noon: Jarvi leads an hour-long sound check rehearsal in the hall, with full orchestra. Sarah Ioannides, assistant conductor, is his extra set of ears in the auditorium. At one point, he goes into the hall himself to listen to the orchestra, because he's worried that the brass is overpowering the strings. Of course, he knows it could all be different when the audience fills the seats.

2 p.m.: Suntory Hall, a spectacular space, is about 90 percent full, and Jarvi begins the downbeat. Critics from many of the country's most important newspapers and magazines are in the hall. Jarvi leads a powerhouse performance, and the concert is a triumph. The orchestra plays four encores, but the audience keeps applauding - even after the lights go up.

Jarvi puts his hand on his heart, clearly moved by the Japanese reception. Finally, he waves goodbye, and leaves the stage.

4:30 p.m.: Jarvi is greeting VIPs in his dressing room. In the second wave of important guests are Kenji Oenishi and Cincinnatian Tristano Colaizzi of GE Aircraft Engines, and their wives. He greets them warmly.

4:45 p.m.: Jarvi can't get out the back-door artist entrance because a large group of fans have lined up for autographs. A table is brought out, and he sits down to sign pictures, programs and CDs. One fan brings him a picture of Jarvi's brother, Kristjian, who is also a conductor, taken there last year. Jarvi, pleased, says, "Look at this! That's my brother!"

5:15 p.m.: Jarvi is late for an interview with a writer from the Record Guijutsu, one of three interviews he'll do for major record magazines in two days; he and his entourage of PR people power-walk from Suntory Hall back to the hotel. As he passes through the lobby, he spots several Cincinnati musicians. "Your solo," he tells principal cellist Eric Kim, "was perfect. I'll talk to you more about it later."

Still flying high from their performance, he turns and says, "Have you ever heard them play like that before?"

5:30 p.m.: Because there is no other place to do interviews, Jarvi heads for the cramped hotel room where symphony tour physician Dr. Eric Warm sees patients. He is seated opposite the journalist, against a black backdrop and bright lights. A photographer creeps around him, snapping pictures. The editor of the Guijutsu and several others are seated on the beds, watching the interview.

"Beer or water?" someone asks Jarvi. "Beer."

"Suntory or Kirin?"

"Today, Suntory!" Jarvi laughs.

The interview begins. The writer, Issay Kohata, is planning a major feature story, and Jarvi fields questions about his life and his work. The writer asks about Music Hall, and performances in Cincinnati.

Then he asks about Jarvi's teachers: former Cincinnati music director Max Rudolf, Leonard Bernstein and, not least, his father, Neeme Jarvi.

For Bernstein, Jarvi tells the writer, music was his "fountain of youth. That changed my life, because I thought, if this old man is still in love with music, Paavo, put everything aside and go for it. For me, he's still alive."

The session ends, and the crew dismantles the photography equipment. The next interviewer is outside, waiting.

7:15 p.m.: Jarvi meets symphony President Steven Monder and a group from Japan Arts, to go to dinner. "I don't know where it will be, but I know it will be something good," he says.

Later, he says, "The Japanese never discuss business at dinner. But much to my surprise, the executive director of Japan Arts, Masayuki Sekita, was very pleased."

Everyone has been amazed at the reaction of the audiences.

"I haven't had this kind of reaction here before," says Jarvi, who conducted the NHK Symphony last year in Tokyo, and will return next season. "It's not as explosive, but it's persistent. It's a slow-burning fire, but it is long-burning."

Next concert: Kitakyushu.


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