By Janelle Gelfand
A Nordic thread runs through the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's upcoming 110th season, Paavo Jarvi's fourth as music director.
Ten pieces in the 2004-05 season are from Northern Europe - including the symphony's first-ever performance of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius' epic masterpiece, Kullervo, opening the season Sept. 17-18. It will feature the 58-voice Estonian National Male Choir, with whom Jarvi won a "Best Choral Performance" Grammy last month, for the choir's singing in an old Finnish dialect.
Some of the sounds you'll hear include the extraordinary deep voices of the only professional male choir in the world, and the spaciousness and imagery of Nordic music - music that evokes wind in the trees, sparkling clear lakes, mountain grandeur and epic folk tales.
Alongside orchestral giants such as Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, Beethoven's Second, Brahms' Third, and Mahler's Fifth - there will be 23 symphony premieres with 11 new soloists and guest conductors.
"I'm trying to expand the repertoire, bring in new people and make it as fun as possible," says Jarvi, who will conduct 14 weekends.
Jarvi, a native of Estonia, is sharing part of his heritage with his selections, giving the Cincinnati Symphony season a flavor that is unlike others around the country.
Former prodigy violinist Sarah Chang and Atlanta-born violinist Robert McDuffie are among the returning stars. Conductor Keith Lockhart, the orchestra's former associate conductor whose career has skyrocketed with the Boston Pops, will make his first trip back to Music Hall since 1996.
The Nordic touch appears in new faces, too, such as the prize-winning young Estonian Olari Elts, who will make his United States conducting debut with Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen in February. Swedish mezzo-soprano Charlotte Hellekant and Finnish baritone Raimo Laukka will make their first appearances on opening night.
Of special note among newcomers, Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili is, says Jarvi, "unbelievable. Not to sound dramatic, but I think she's the best young violinist."
He's also introducing Baiba Skride, a Latvian violinist and winner of the 2001 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, in one of her first American appearances.
War and peace
The season is a piano-lover's dream - 11 pianists are coming, starting with the highly respected Emanuel Ax, in his first appearance here since 1990. Others include Helene Grimaud, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Radu Lupu, Awadagin Pratt and Stephen Hough.
Also on the roster are phenom cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who has been turning heads in chamber music circles, and 18-year-old Czech pianist Lucas Vondracek.
On the podium, May Festival maestro James Conlon will make a return visit, leading The Nutcracker - without the ballet dancers.
"The truth is, it's probably the best music Tchaikovsky wrote," Jarvi says. "To hear it as a piece without dancers is extraordinary."
Among the eight guest conductors are James DePreist, laureate music director of the Oregon Symphony; Hans Graf, music director of the Houston Symphony; Brazilian-born Roberto Minczuk, associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic; and Stanislaw Skrowa-czewski, conductor laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra.
May Festival director of choruses Robert Porco will conduct a "war and peace" program of Cincinnati premieres in November, including Haydn's Mass in Time of War and John Corigliano's Elegy for Orchestra.
Jarvi has many personal highlights. Among them: The U.S. premiere of Symphony No. 8, Autumnal Fragments, by Aulis Sallinen, the "elder statesman" among living Finnish composers. (Jarvi is conducting the world premiere in Amsterdam in a few weeks.)
In April, the orchestra will premiere a piece by Esa-Pekka Salonen (music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and a Jarvi friend), who represents the younger generation of Finnish composers.
"Finland is a nation of composers," he says. "It shows what an important influence Sibelius was."
Jarvi also anticipates conducting the Cincinnati Symphony's first performances of Danish composer Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 3, Sinfonia espansiva. And he is fond of a January program pairing symphony musicians Gillian Benet Sella, harpist, and Randolph Bowman, flutist, in Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299. The program also pairs mystical Estonian composer Arvo Part's atonal Symphony No. 2 with Beethoven's classic Symphony No. 2 - "an interesting program, because they can't be more different."
There's a good representation of American composers, including John Adams, Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin. Most intriguing is the new music by Jennifer Higdon, Tobias Picker and Kevin Puts - the cream of America's up-and-coming generation.
The CSO - one of the last American orchestras that has a recording contract - will make two albums for Telarc. The first will pair Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu's rarely played Symphony No. 2 and Dvorak's familiar Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, From the New World. The second will be Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra - "probably the two greatest concertos for orchestra in the 20th century," says Jarvi.
"I would like the CSO to be seen as an orchestra that is versatile," he explains. "We go from Ravel and Berlioz, to Rite of Spring and Sibelius' Second - enough variety so that the orchestra can be seen as something that can do not just one thing well, but can prove its quality."
In January, Jarvi will make his second Carnegie Hall appearance with the orchestra, leading Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 and Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor, with German pianist Lars Vogt.
A European tour of major music capitals is in discussion for fall.
NEW CSO SEASON
Paavo's personal touch
Music to your ears
Nordic music under spell of the north
Symphony ticket prices will increase
CSO 2004-2005 season
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