Sunday, January 18, 2004

Music-making keeps maestro on the go

Paavo Jarvi talks about tours, finances, projects

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Since he was last in town, music director Paavo J”rvi has led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on an acclaimed tour of Japan in November, been nominated for a Grammy Award and received a Queen City Advocate Award from the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

A busy guest conductor, he has upcoming debuts with the Orchestre de Paris (March) and Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw (April). He's also conducting the Cleveland Orchestra this summer at Blossom Music Festival (July). Future engagements include Detroit, Chicago and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Today: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's Paavo J”rvi makes his Linton Music Series debut at 4 p.m., First Unitarian Church, Avondale.

He'll conduct his own arrangement of the Sextet from Richard Strauss' opera, Capriccio. There's also Vivaldi's Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, with pianist Michael Chertock.

J”rvi says about Strauss: "It is originally for sextet, but I have arranged it for a small string orchestra. (Arranging) is not something I usually do, but I have done it for a few other things. ... It's absolutely a fantastic piece. (Strauss operas) are my very favorite. I love them."

Call 381-6868 for ticket availability ($30).

Coming up: J”rvi conducts the Cincinnati Symphony, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Music Hall. Ohio-born soprano Sylvia McNair joins in Ravel's Sheherazade and Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne. The program includes Debussy's Nocturnes and Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 5. Tickets: $13-$54; 381-3300 or Web site.

We caught up with J”rvi in London last week, as he prepared to come back to the Queen City for the second half of the season.

Which programs coming up with the symphony will be highlights for you?

The most spectacular programs, the obvious favorites, would be Nielsen's Symphony No. 5 (Friday-Saturday) and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Feb. 19-21), that the orchestra and I are doing the first time together.

I'm very much looking forward to doing Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question (Feb. 13-14). This is one of my all-time favorites, and I think it's one of the most ingenious pieces of music. Beethoven Symphony No. 7 (May 6-8) I've never done with the orchestra.

How do you feel about the November Japan tour now that you've had time to think about it?

It was received well, but now we've gotten all the feedback, and it was more than I expected. For me, the most important piece is musicians' feedback - musicians and friends who heard about the orchestra tour, or people who went (to Japan) after us.

People universally seemed to be almost surprised that the orchestra is playing so well. And that makes me happy, because this is really what we were there to prove or to show, that this is a very fine orchestra. It wasn't just a PR exercise.

Last month, your album, "Sibelius Cantatas," with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Ellerhein Girls' Choir and the Estonian National Male Choir, received a Grammy nomination. Were you surprised?

Yes, very. Because it was a little project that I dreamed up, truly, while sitting on the plane thinking about things.

It is music that I knew: shorter and lesser-known pieces of Sibelius. All of a sudden it dawned on me that there is a common thread that goes through a lot of (Sibelius') small choral pieces that are ideal for one CD. Of course, the sales potential for a CD like this is practically zero.

I love that album. And I especially love the girls' pure-sounding voices. The men's voices complement very well. We have now done Beethoven's Ninth in Estonia with the same combination. We are thinking about doing another project: Grieg's Peer Gynt.

Where were you when you found out about the Grammy nomination?

I was in Vienna, and I just finished (conducting) The Rite of Spring. I was walking toward an Italian restaurant with a friend of mine. I received the news from the manager of the Estonian Orchestra, who was very excited by it and completely shocked. These projects we do, we do it literally for love. Nobody is expecting that sort of recognition.

When will you begin recording with your new orchestra, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen, Germany? (He was named artistic director in October.)

Well if you look at my Web site ( , you will see that there is a curious red recording on the front page. It's another dream that finally came true. It's Stravinsky small masterpieces: The Soldier's Tale, Ragtime, Dumbarton Oaks and Concerto in D. (The album will be released in the United States in March.)

You have two more tours with the symphony coming up: A six-city tour of Florida, March 24-29, and a big European tour in November. How are plans going?

So far, it is all on track. There are some dates that need to be confirmed (in Europe), but it looks very positive right now.

It may seem like, why would one need to do Florida? Of course, touring tightens the orchestra's ensemble, as you saw on the Japanese tour. But also, the orchestra needs to reach out and remind all the important citizens of Cincinnati who have migrated to warmer lands that there is a wonderful orchestra at home that needs support.

The orchestra is facing lots of challenges: a new strategic plan, financial difficulties and musician contract negotiations. How is the financial picture?

Let me put things in perspective by financial difficulties. For our orchestra, they are not nearly as bad as for many orchestras. We have been bracing ourselves, and working to try to work our way out of it. ... In this financial and economic environment, it would be a miracle if we were immune.

I would be lying if I would say that I feel comfortable with it. It is an incredibly important time for the orchestra. It's not just about survival. The orchestra is just now making a step into a new level, and this could seriously be undermined by financial problems.

How has attendance been this season?

The single-ticket buyers have increased. The trend overall, nationally, is that subscriptions are not increasing. We have so much choice that committing to something in advance is something people don't do these days.

Do you think publicity from the Japan tour will fire up people to come and try the symphony?

I hope so. I must say, if I knew the magic formula of what actually affects attendance, I would be using it. I think mostly, it has to do with quality of playing, with the kind of buzz that the orchestra is generating.

The one way of not improving the situation is all kinds of gimmicks. I find that often the way big orchestras in America go about finding audiences is by watering down what they do, rather than trying to make it more accessible or somehow educating people.

Let's face it, we cannot compromise on the quality of the performance. We cannot perform half of a symphony because it is too long for some people.

It sounds almost like a cliche, but we need to improve overall education. If it is not part of education, it will not be part of somebody's life.

What's the one thing you can't wait to do in Cincinnati?

(Laughs.) I'm very much looking forward to seeing the orchestra again, and starting to make music again.


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