Northern Lights shine at NJSO fest
January 2, 2005
www.nj.com
Bradley Bambarger

An English colleague of Jean Sibelius described the Finnish composer’s Fifth Symphony as bringing listeners “face to face with the wild and savage scenery of his native land, the rolling mists that hover over the rocks, lakes and fir-clad forests.” Much more than nature can be evoked by the rich, poetic music of Sibelius and his Scandinavian peers, from the Norwegian Edvard Grieg to the Swede Wilhelm Stenhammar and Dane Carl Nielsen, among others. Yet the majesty and mystery of their Nordic environment was an undeniable inspiration to the composers, as well as a natural association for listeners.

Aptly, boreal atmospherics give the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Northern Lights Festival of Finnish and Scandinavian music its name. From Jan. 4 to 23 in several venues across the state, the NJSO and music director Neeme Järvi will perform famous works by Sibelius (Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony) and Grieg (Piano Concerto), as well as such tantalizing rarities as Stenhammar’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Norwegian Johan Svendsen’s Symphony No. 2.

Finland’s most famous figure isn’t a statesman but a composer — Sibelius (1865–1957). To this day, the Finnish government supports classical music as a key element of the country’s national esteem.

Järvi is a native of Estonia, which is separated from Finland by just a few miles of water and whose language shares roots with Finnish. The conductor has recorded the bulk of Sibelius’s music, in addition to Grieg’s complete orchestral output and pioneering discs of Stenhammer and Svendsen. In this, he worked with an orchestra steeped in such sounds, Sweden’s Gothenburg Symphony.

Noting the status of Sibelius’s 1899 tone poem “Finlandia” as a rallying anthem in Finland’s struggle against Russian domination, Järvi points out the reason for the prominence not only of the composer but of music in general for Finland and other countries in the region.

“First under the Swedes and then under the Russians, Finns weren’t allowed to speak their own language or discover their own culture — much like we Estonians,” Järvi says. “They found themselves with the publishing of their national epic, the “Kalevala”. Artists like Sibelius were inspired by its dark mythic poetry and touched a chord with the people. You can hear the rhythms and atmosphere of the “Kalevala” encoded in his music, including the “Lemminkäinen Legends”, which we’ll perform in the festival.”

Other composers explored in the Northern Lights Festival include Nielsen and his Danish predecessor Neils Gade, as well as Estonian Rudolf Tobias and contemporary Norwegian Arne Nordheim. (That’s not counting last–minute additions for Järvi’s customary encores.)
In addition to Järvi leading the NJSO in two programs, young Estonian conductor Anu Tali will make her New Jersey debut with Jan. 13–16 concerts featuring Sibelius’s sublime Fifth Symphony and Grieg’s sweeping Piano Concerto. Beijing–born Yujia Wang is the piano soloist. Järvi’s programs include two concertante features, with Swede Per Tengstrand soloing in Stenhammar’s First Piano Concerto (Jan. 6–9) and Finn Pekka Kuusisto in the Sibelius Violin Concerto (Jan. 20–23).

A special favorite of the conductor’s is the concerto by Stenhammar (1871–1927), the Gothenburg Symphony’s founding music director. “It’s easy to say that Stenhammar is the Swedish Brahms, but this is true in a way,” Järvi says. “There are some Scandinavian folk tunes in his music, as with so many of these composers, but he was very German–influenced. As with the Brahms concertos, Stenhammar’s First is like a Romantic symphony with a piano running through it.”

Tengstrand, 36, has performed with Järvi in Detroit and Gothenburg, with the conductor describing the pianist as “deep–thinking.” (Shortly after winning top prize in the 1997 Cleveland International Piano Competition, Tengstrand settled in Highland Park, N.J., with his fiance, a Rutgers student and also a pianist.)

Tengstrand shares Järvi’s enthusiasm for Stenhammar. “Stenhammar’s First Piano Concerto is emotional music, a personal statement by a troubled young soul,” Tengstrand says. “Unlike Grieg, Stenhammar wasn’t an especially happy man. He shares a certain darkness with Sibelius. There’s a Swedish word that applies to his music, “vemod”, which doesn’t translate directly. It means a sad feeling, a melancholic state of mind. But there’s a beautiful, human quality to that sadness.”

There will be “festival prelude” performances leading into the Northern Lights orchestral events, with one featuring Tengstrand playing Stenhammar’s lovely solo suite “Late Summer Nights.” The festival will also include “interplay” events at Newark Museum Jan. 4, 12 and 21 that mix lecture and performance, hosted by NJSO humanities consultant Joseph Horowitz.
The Jan. 4 festival opening will feature the NJSO Woodwind Quintet; the Jan. 12 event will include Kuusisto, who will also join New York’s Kalevala Trio and the Montclair University Singers on Jan. 21. Visiting from Norway is the Oslo String Quartet, which will perform the Sibelius “Voces Intimae” String Quartet and Grieg’s F Major String Quartet on Jan. 21 at Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium. The program will also showcase the U.S. premiere of “Five Stages” by Nordheim (born in 1931).

Järvi is deeply proud of the musical legacy from his part of the world. He takes particular delight in introducing not only audiences but his new orchestra to Stenhammar, Svendsen and lesser–known works by Sibelius. “I know these scores very well, of course, but they will mostly be new to the orchestra — and that is interesting,” Järvi says. “It will be a challenge, too, as we’ll be rehearsing and performing a lot of new music in a short period of time. This will be a test for the players not only to get the notes right but to capture the ideal style. But this is Romantic music, full of big tuttis and big tunes, which the NJSO has a real feel for.”

Järvi is realistic about any audience’s ability to appreciate music that is new to its ears. “Nobody understood in Amsterdam when Willem Mengelberg first introduced Mahler’s symphonies there,” Järvi says, “but he repeated them many times — now the Dutch have a great Mahler tradition. People have to get to know any music over time, and the festival gives us a good chance to start. But Scandinavia is a special place that makes special music, music that should be part of the culture of the world, including New Jersey.”

 

An Epic Gave Finns a Lot to Sing About
January 7, 2005
The New York Times
Cori Ellison

You may not think you know a thing about the “Kalevala,” but if you’re acquainted with Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the heavy–metal band Amorphis, or Don Rosa’s Donald Duck cartoon books, you’ve got a running start. And if you want to dig deeper, check out the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Northern Lights Festival, featuring several works by Sibelius and running through Jan. 23, or any of the several other Finnish musical events taking place around New York this month. If you do, you’ll also learn a lot about why Finland’s artistic clout so far exceeds its size.

The “Kalevala” is Finland’s national epic, a hefty volume full of voyages, battles and magic, very much like the Scandinavian “Edda,” the Anglo–Saxon “Beowulf,” the German “Nibelungenlied” or the Indian “Mahabharata.” But unlike those tomes, it is basically a reworking by a single individual – and a modern one – rather than a rough–and–ready collection of unvarnished folk poetry.

It was Elias Lönnrot (1802–84), a country doctor and folklore scholar who, by sheer force of will, created the “Kalevala”. Beginning in 1828, he made 11 expeditions, ranging as far south as Estonia, as far north as Finnish Lapland, as far west as the Tampere area (100 miles northwest of Helsinki) and as far east as Russian Karelia, in search of the ancient sung poetry, or “runo”, tradition then alive in the Eastern Orthodox regions of Finland, though long banned in the Lutheran areas. Lönnrot sought out accomplished runo singers, the best of whom could remember thousands of lines. He could not read or write music, but notated the runos he heard by numbering the strings of his kantele, the five–stringed zither that is the national musical instrument of Finland.

Lönnrot then organized the material into a unified body of poetry, as Homer had with the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”. Lönnrot selected the best variants of each story and assembled them into a coherent whole, writing his own connective passages where necessary and imposing his own timeline to create a logically flowing chain of events. He conflated characters to streamline the action and transformed dialect passages into newly minted literary Finnish. On Feb. 28, 1835, Lönnrot completed the first phase of his work on the “Kalevala”, and ever since, Feb. 28 has been celebrated as Kalevala Day, the birthday of Finnish culture.

Such a freakishly wonderful event could have happened only at that precise split second of history. The German poet Johann Gottfried von Herder was urging Europeans to seek their cultural identity in their ancient folklore, which he termed “the mirror of the soul of the people.” Finland, a province of Sweden since 1155, had been annexed as an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire in 1809 and was beginning to hatch dreams of nationhood. But Finland in 1809 was a far cry from the sleekly sophisticated, Nokia–obsessed nation we know today. The country’s educated elite then spoke Swedish, while Finnish was the tongue of servants and peasants.

Longfellow’s Source
During the first millennium A.D. the animistic tribes living near the Gulf of Finland, and speaking an exotic, non–Indo–European language nothing like that of their Scandinavian and Slavic neighbors, laid the foundation of “Kalevala” poetry. This poetry, sung in a narrow, five–note melodic range, lacked both rhyme and stanza structure, but it hewed to a single, all–purpose metric formula that served as a memory aid, so that the unlettered Finns could easily remember old poems and improvise new ones. This “Kalevala meter” is trochaic tetrameter, or four two–syllable feet, in a long–short pattern, similar to Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha”: By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big–Sea–Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis. Longfellow, a contemporary of Lönnrot, had co–opted the Finnish epic’s meter, alliteration and even some plot points, trying, as he wrote, “to do for the old Indian legends what the unknown Finnish poets had done for theirs.” The “Kalevala,” the epic of the people of Kaleva, is dominated by the character of Väinämöinen, a shaman and sorcerer who can charm wild beasts with his kantele and use words as weapons. He is the Gandalf–like “eternal sage” who establishes the land of Kaleva and leads and teaches its people.

Promise of Prosperity
The “Lord of the Rings” parallels don’t end there. Tolkien fashioned Quenya, the lyrical lingo of Middle Earth’s elves, after the click and lilt of spoken Finnish. Both the “Kalevala” and Tolkien’s saga, modeled after it, outline a hero’s journey in pursuit of a powerful sacred object, replete with shape–shifting, demons and magical plants and animals. The “Kalevala” depicts the continuing struggle between the good Kaleva (read the Finns), from whose perspective the story is told, and the bad Pohjola from the foggy north (perhaps the Sami people of Lapland). On a deeper, more esoteric level, the “Kalevala” may be read as a contest between light and darkness, good and evil. The central myth of the “Kalevala” is the story of the Sampo, a mysterious object forged by Väinämöinen’s brother, the blacksmith Ilmarinen. We are never told what the Sampo actually is, but it has often been imagined as a sort of magic mill that churns out salt, grain and gold. The Sampo’s metaphorical meaning is clear enough: it is the source of prosperity and good fortune. The “Kalevala” swiftly became the de facto collective memory of the Finns, a boost to their national self–esteem, a rallying point for Finnish independence and, eventually, a wellspring of artistic inspiration. It brought a small, obscure nation to the world’s attention, raising the Finns to a historical status alongside other old European peoples, while highlighting their uniqueness.

Creating an Identity
Lönnrot published an expanded “New Kalevala” in 1849, but it would be years before any of it was set to music. Finland was then a political and economic backwater, and Finnish classical music was in its infancy. It slavishly imitated the music of central Europe, the only model it knew. So even the first “Kalevala”–based concert works, like the “Kullervo Overture” (1860) by Filip von Schantz, merely stuffed the epic’s sprawling subject matter into a tidy Western musical matrix. Enter the Karelianists, a group of young Finnish artists who revered the “Kalevala” as the cornerstone of Finnish culture.

The Karelianist movement peaked in the 1890’s and continued until shortly after Finland achieved its independence, in 1917. Its ranks included the poet Eino Leino, the architect Eliel Saarinen and the painter Akseli Gallen–Kallela, whose vivid images of “Kalevala” scenes are still the ones etched in most Finns’ minds. These Karelianists also gave the world Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), who, through his embrace of the “Kalevala,” would become as great a national symbol and source of pride as the epic itself. His music, the composer Erkki Salmenhaara said, “was stylistically influenced to a great extent by the modality, endless repetition and narrow compass of ancient Finnish folk music and the rhythm of “Kalevala” poetry – much like primitive Russian folk music was later to influence the music of Stravinsky.”

A National Music
Sibelius was a Swedish speaker by birth, unable to speak a word of Finnish until he was about 8. His mother enrolled him in one of the first schools in Finland to use Finnish as the teaching language, which opened up to him the world of the “Kalevala.” Like many Finnish composers before and since, Sibelius felt humbled at the thought of setting the “Kalevala” to music. But he tamed his fears enough to write the symphonic poem “Kullervo” (1892), which put him on the international musical map and, more important, planted the seeds of a national musical language. Rather than idealizing the subject matter, Sibelius took an archaic–flavored, musically radical approach that embraced both the tale’s ancient nature and its modern guise.

After “Kullervo” Sibelius planned a “Kalevala” opera, “Building of the Boat,” with Väinämöinen as the main character. When this project was scuttled, its musical materials were absorbed into the “Lemminkäinen Suite” (1896), four tone poems on the exploits of the epic’s Don Juan figure. Sibelius had gone on a poetry–collecting jaunt to eastern Karelia in 1892, but he rarely used direct quotes from folk songs or runo tunes, and disparaged their significance in his works, probably for fear of being branded provincial.

Though digging for traces of runo tunes in Sibelius’s works has been frowned upon in Finland, the folk song scholar A. O. Vaisanen found numerous runo tunes in his work. In the first tableau of “Karelia” (1893), the composer used direct folk music quotes and brought actual runo singers on stage to perform them.

More significant than Sibelius’s quotations of folk songs is the way that the musical heritage of the “Kalevala” merged seamlessly with his personal musical voice. The narrow melodic range of the runo themes gave birth to his distinctive brand of symphonic motifs, and the endless repetition of “Kalevala” tunes sparked his new ornamental variation technique.

The modality of “Kalevala” music helped Sibelius distance himself from the constricting major–minor tonality of Western music. In 1896, Sibelius wrote: “I had to yield to the tonality stemming from ancient folk songs. Now it is apparent that our present system of tonality is crumbling.”

As the 20th century wore on, enthusiasm for the “Kalevala” waxed and waned, and Karelianism was sometimes stereotyped as conservative jingoism or a retreat from reality. Modernists saw the “Kalevala” culture as a hindrance to the universal aspirations of their art. When the “Kalevala” did influence 20th–century music, it tended to do so more generally, as an emphasis on ancient, mythical sensibilities. The youngest generation of Finnish classical composers has taken scant interest in the “Kalevala,” but the epic seems to intrigue young musicians of a more popular stripe. In the 1980’s, the folk music band Värttinä began with pure runo singing but more recently has raised hackles among purists for its fusion work. Edward Vesala, a powerful, shamanlike jazz musician, recorded two “Kalevala”–flavored discs, “Snow” (1987) and “Ode to the Death of Jazz” (1990), before his death in 1999. The progressive rock band Kalevala recently released a triple CD, “Kalevala – A Finnish Progressive Rock Epic,” on which 30 international bands explore themes and tunes inspired by the “Kalevala.”

Made for Heavy Metal
Of all popular musical styles, heavy metal would seem perfectly matched to the moody Goth fantasy of the “Kalevala.” In 1994, Amorphis, Finland’s best–known metal band, began exploring the “Kalevala” in its album “Tales From the Thousand Lakes.”

Clearly, the impact of the “Kalevala” has been extraordinary, both within and outside Finland. Beyond the realm of high art, Finland’s streets, businesses and merchandise (including Kalevala–Koru’s imposing replicas of Iron Age jewelry) bear names drawn from the epic, and “Kalevala” tarot decks, video games and comic books abound, including Don Rosa’s “Tale of the Sampo,” featuring Donald Duck. The epic has been translated into 51 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Esperanto, Greek, Hindi, Swahili – and even Yiddish. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the “Kalevala,” however, is the fact that the heroism it celebrates is accomplished not through physical strength or violence, but through magical songs. If that’s not the key to Finland’s success story, what is?

 

Northern highlights: NJSO brings out Romanticism of Nordic composers in festival opener
January 8, 2005
www.nj.com
Bradley Bambarger

The most exciting period of each New Jersey Symphony Orchestra season –– for players and audience –– has become its winter festival, in which the group focuses on a single composer or area of repertoire. The current Northern Lights Festival of Nordic music is perhaps the most compelling yet.

Music director Neeme Järvi –– a world authority on Finnish and Scandinavian music –– led the show Thursday at New Brunswick’s State Theatre, beginning a three–week exploration of many composers, pieces and styles new to the NJSO and its audience. Along with some “greatest hits” of Nordic art, the Northern Lights concerts feature music that has gone unheard even in the hallowed halls of New York and London.

In this age of beleaguered orchestras –– and New Jersey’s biggest ensemble knows a thing or two about being beleaguered –– the NJSO has, with this festival, resisted conservatism in favor of engagement. Learning, marketing and performing such a swath of unfamiliar music expands an orchestra’s horizons. At the festival’s end, the NJSO will be a better ensemble and its audience better listeners.

And all should enjoy the process along the way. For, at its heart, the tradition of Sibelius, Grieg and such lesser–known composers as the Swede Wilhelm Stenhammar and Norwegian Johann Svendsen is a Romantic one. Romanticism –– big emotions borne along sweeping melodies –– is what the NJSO has long done best (and its subscribers have favored). As Järvi and others stressed at Tuesday’s informal festival kickoff at the Newark Museum, even those festival items hardly ever performed outside Scandinavia sound a lot like music people already know and love.

One of the relatively familiar attractions on Thursday, Sibelius’ iconic “Finlandia,” demonstrated the growing bond the NJSO has with its new music director. Their performance didn’t depict the work as merely the artful national anthem it is sometimes made out to be; rather, the music sounded like its true self: a tone poem of invention and majesty. The NJSO brass section played beyond itself, voicing the grave invocation with sonorous amplitude, and the rest of the orchestra met the challenge.

Although Stenhammar has been described as the Swedish Brahms, his First Piano Concerto of 1893 sounded more like Swedish Rachmaninoff –– more rhapsodic than symphonic, with a sweeter tooth, tune–wise. At 45 minutes–plus, the work is certainly vast like the Brahms concertos, requiring much skill and stamina to pull off. Swedish–born, New Jersey–residing pianist Per Tengstrand combined both in a bravura performance that ranged from epic octaves to lyrical meditations. Järvi has played the work with Tengstrand in Sweden, and he was obviously impressed anew, as the conductor led the call for an encore –– a repeat of the concerto’s playful scherzo.

In a charming spoken preface, Järvi underlined the common ground between Scandinavia and his native Estonia before conducting a Nocturne composed by “the father of Estonian symphonic music,” Rudolf Tobias. Orchestrated for strings by 20th–century Estonian symphonist Eduard Tubin, the bittersweet piece echoed Grieg’s string elegies even as it seemed to hint at those by contemporary Estonian Arvo Pärt.

Svendsen’s Symphony No. 2 was the find of the program. Abounding in infectious Norwegian folk melodies, the 1877 piece is wondrously entertaining. It’s apparently a Järvi favorite, as his enthusiasm to draw espressivo from the strings almost carried him off the podium. He made a sidelong glance at the audience during one rich passage, seeming to say with his eyes, “See, isn’t this beautiful?”

Järvi dedicated the night’s affecting encore, Finn Edvard Järnefelt’s wraithlike “Berceuse,” to the victims and survivors of the South Asian tsunami, noting the high number of Scandinavians involved in the tragedy.

 

A PEEK INTO JÄRVI’S FUTURE: Downsizing his career, DSO’s outgoing conductor still has time for a new post in New Jersey, more undiscovered masterpieces, Wagner and grandchildren
January 9, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

“The biggest problem with conducting the New Jersey Symphony is traffic,” says Neeme Järvi with a heavy sigh. The maestro is sitting in the back seat of a chauffeured black Lincoln inching down Ninth Avenue in the kind of light rain that for no apparent reason turns Manhattan arteries into parking lots. It’s a little after 7 on this Saturday night in November, and Järvi is due on the podium at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark in less than an hour.

It’s only a 15–mile trip from Järvi’s high–rise on West 61st Street to the Newark concert hall, typically a 25–minute sprint. Järvi has already been riding for nearly 30 minutes and hasn’t even reached the Lincoln Tunnel out of the city. Wearing a dark overcoat and a dashing blood–red scarf, he waves off concerns about cutting it close. “Sometimes I arrive five minutes before a concert,” he admits a bit sheepishly.

Järvi’s 15–year tenure as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra comes to a close in June, but at 67, he is hardly hanging up his baton. The music director designate of the New Jersey Symphony, Järvi doesn’t take the full–time reins of the orchestra until next fall, but his concerts this November weekend offer a sneak peek at his post–DSO life. Or at least one segment of it.

A recovering workaholic, Järvi, who returns to conduct the DSO at Orchestra Hall this week, has cut back on his globe–trotting in the wake of the aneurysm he suffered in 2001. The resulting stroke left no permanent neurological or physical damage, but Järvi got the message. He gave up his long–held permanent posts in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Detroit, and he has substantially downsized his guest conducting schedule. He once conducted as many as 120 concerts a year, but now he’s down to about 60.

Yet to listen to him wax excitedly about his plans and priorities for the coming years is to be reminded of an indefatigable Duke Ellington, who when asked late in his life if he ever longed to retire would always respond, “Retire to what?”

No end to discovery
Järvi’s New Jersey post has him geeked like a kid who found just the toy he wanted under the Christmas tree. Meanwhile, sundry guest–conducting opportunities keep his calendar full. Between his fall commitments in Detroit and New Jersey, he took Switzerland’s UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra, an ensemble of high–powered young musicians, on a 10–day European tour.

On another front, Järvi is in the midst of recording the complete Tchaikovsky and Sibelius symphonies with the Gothenburg Symphony. Then there are the plans spearheaded by the eminent Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who is arranging a salute to Järvi this summer in St. Petersburg, home of the former Leningrad Conservatory where Järvi was trained. Järvi’s two sons, Paavo and Kristjian, both of them conductors, and his daughter Maarika, a flutist, will also appear.

And Järvi has begun the Herculean task of preparing the four operas of Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” for the Royal Swedish Opera –– one opera a year beginning in September and culminating with a complete “Ring Cycle” in 2008.

“Right now, he has the entire “Ring” on his table, which he is studying every day,” says Paavo Järvi, the fast–rising conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony. “If doing a Wagner “Ring” is taking it easy, I’m not sure what that means. And he has so much new and interesting repertoire he wants to do, I don’t know how he’ll get to it all. He’s not listening to the Beethoven symphonies at home. That’s been done. His whole excitement still comes from discovering new things.”

Järvi speaks of golden years saturated with masterpieces by Mozart, Stravinsky and especially Haydn –– he dreams of performing all 104 of Haydn’s symphonies –– but he’s still even more enthusiastic about the overlooked repertoire that has always fired his imagination. Some current passions that come up during the ride to Newark: the profound symphonies by his Estonian countryman Eduard Tubin; scores by Martinů and Ibert, all manner of light classics and two works he recently introduced to the DSO, the proto–Mahler Symphony in E Major (1880) by the obscure Viennese composer Hans Rott and the Third Symphony by living American master Ned Rorem.

“Symphony concerts should be like a jazz concert where you play all kinds of stuff all evening, both popular and non–popular. That’s what we have to do in a symphony concert. We have to play the masterpieces by the great composers, but we also create masterpieces. ”I don’t like to repeat myself. I don’t like to play the same pieces over and over again. My job is to be fresh.”

Onstage in New Jersey
Once the Town Car clears the tunnel, it is smooth sailing into Newark, but the driver, a substitute for Järvi’s regular chauffeur, gets lost after leaving the expressway. The car circles the downtown for five minutes, but it seems longer amidst a cityscape even more desolate than Detroit. The downbeat is in just more than 20 minutes, and for the first time, Järvi starts watching the clock. He and his wife, Liilia, who is in the front seat, are themselves still learning the way. They pepper the driver with directions. “Is that the bridge?” says Järvi. “Turn right now.”

The car arrives backstage at 7:43 p.m. Järvi leaps out and grabs his tuxedo from the trunk. A relieved member of the symphony staff scurries into the picture with an umbrella and whisks the maestro and his wife inside.

Järvi’s decision to take on the New Jersey Symphony took many in the industry by surprise. The orchestra’s $14.5–million budget is half the size of the DSO’s, and it has a second–tier standing that would appear beneath Järvi’s stature. Grateful New Jersey musicians and board members still express shock that he agreed to take the job.

But Järvi, who has managed his career with the same kind of intuitive spontaneity that defines his music making, sees parallels with the other small–market orchestras, the Gothenburg Symphony and Scottish National Orchestra, that he put on the world map earlier in his career. In addition, Järvi says that the overall technical standard of orchestral playing in the United States is so much higher than in Europe that homegrown ensembles, even regional orchestras like New Jersey, are underestimated.

“Maybe it doesn’t sound promising going to the New Jersey Symphony, but it’s fantastic,” says Järvi. “They already play wonderfully and will get better because I can give them my knowledge. Of course, we have to start somewhere and slowly, but surely go on. But they are already a very good team of musicians.”

A chance to explore
It is practically impossible for a free spirit like Järvi to pursue his offbeat programming ideas as a guest conductor. For that he needs his own sandbox, and the New Jersey Symphony has already revealed an exploratory spirit with imaginative annual thematic festivals. Järvi conceived this year’s Northern Lights Festival devoted to Scandinavian composers. Still, whether the orchestra can reverse its financial fortunes –– it’s carrying a $6–million deficit –– and support Järvi’s ambitious ideas, including recording, remains a serious question.

But Järvi was clearly impressed by the orchestra’s now–controversial deal to buy 30 rare Italian string instruments from pet–care mogul Herbert Axelrod for $18 million in 2003. Since then, it has become clear Axelrod bamboozled orchestra leaders by trumpeting an inflated $50–million estimate for the instruments. The New York Times reported that an in–house investigation issued last month chastised the orchestra’s leadership for not fully informing the board and the public that some independent appraisals had placed the instruments’ value only between $15 million and $26 million. (Axelrod has since pleaded guilty in an unrelated federal tax fraud case, and the executive director at the symphony who spearheaded the deal left for another orchestra before the situation imploded.)

Järvi says the investment represents a significant upgrading of the orchestra’s sound and symbolizes an orchestra committed to making a splash. There were non–musical attractions to the job, too. He can now drive to work 10 weeks a year instead of schlepping through airports. That leaves more time to spoil his three grandchildren (all under age 5), a job Järvi takes every bit as seriously as conducting Mahler.

Prudential Hall, the handsomely wood–paneled theater in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, has surprisingly good acoustics for a large, multipurpose venue. An audience of 1,600 has turned out to hear the Brahms “Requiem” on this Saturday. The orchestra lacks the expressive depth and supple execution of A–list ensembles, but the strings have a glow atypical for orchestras this size –– you can hear the impact of those Italian instruments –– and Järvi’s infectious spirit resonates in the playing.

The orchestra and conductor are still getting used each other. At one point during the opening “Serenade” by Brahms, Järvi takes a couple of steps toward a bassoonist to encourage more emphatic playing, but the gesture so startles the musician that he stops playing for a bar.

“He’s extremely physically communicative so it seems as if we need not speak a lot,” says violinist Eric Wyrick, the orchestra’s concertmaster. “I was watching tonight during the first piece because the violins don’t play, and I was amazed by what he can do with his hands and expression, a gesture or a look and the different planes of communication with his hands. ... We feel lucky to have him here.”

The audience, too, has yet to learn that Järvi’s encores are an everyday treat. Dozens of patrons halfway out the door scramble back to their seats when he launches into a final exclamation point after taking his bows; Detroit audiences know to stay put.

After the concert, Järvi and Liilia press the flesh for 45 minutes at a reception for key donors before piling back into the car for the ride back to Manhattan. He chats enthusiastically about the performance for a few minutes before leaning his head back and shutting his eyes.

The end of a love story
Choosing the right time to bow out of a music directorship is tricky. Most conductors stay too long, and by the time they leave, their relationship with the orchestra is as dysfunctional as a marriage in an Edward Albee play. Järvi and the DSO are the rare exception. No U.S. symphony has enjoyed a warmer relationship with its music director, and even after 15 years, the good feelings and mutual respect flow freely at Orchestra Hall. So why leave at all?

Because Järvi is no fool. He knows that it’s better to scat a few seasons too early than one to late. He knows that no matter how swell the honeymoon, musicians eventually tire of the same face saying the same things week after week, and he knows some DSO players already feel that way. Fifteen years, the second–longest tenure in DSO history after Ossip Gabrilowitsch’s 18 years, appealed to his dramatic sense of timing. And in the wake of his stroke in 2001, he knew it was time to slow down and reappraise his priorities.

Järvi also says that after his illness, he caught whiffs of anxiety about his health from DSO leaders and sensed a slight dampening of enthusiasm from both top management and players. No one ever suggested or even hinted that he should step down, but Järvi went with his intuition. He will, however, still return to Detroit as conductor emeritus, including four or five weeks next season while the DSO searches for his successor.

“I am lucky,” he says. “This has been a real love story, but for musicians, music–making is also a job, a very difficult job, and I appreciated every note they played. They are very hard workers.”

As the car motors back to Manhattan, Järvi reopens his eyes and is drawn back into conversation. The topic turns to Järvi’s love of jazz, and, ever curious, he starts asking questions about jazz harmony and rhythm, the mysteries of improvisation and composers who blend elements of both jazz and classical music. You can tell he’s trolling for programming ideas. A joke he shared with his wife earlier at lunch bubbles up again in the dialogue. “Yes,” he says, laughing. “First you die, and then you have plenty of time to retire.”

 

The Maestro says good–bye
January 9, 2005
Detroit Free Press

Neeme Järvi has seven weeks remaining as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The performances are split into three major residences beginning this week and conclude in June with Järvi Fest!, a celebration of his 15–year tenure and legacy. Details: 8 p.m. Thu.–Fri and 8:30 p.m. Sat., Jan. 28–29, Feb. 3–5: Järvi conducts Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony this week, Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony at the end of the month.

April 15–16 and 21–23: Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony highlights Week 1, and Eduard Tubin’s Fifth Symphony highlights Week 2.

Järvi Fest! June 2–4, 9–12, 16–19: Daughter, flutist Maarika Järvi, performs with the DSO in Week 1. Järvi’s final week includes Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Son Paavo Järvi conducts the DSO June 17–19. A black–tie gala with performances by Järvi and all three of his children takes place June 16.

 

An Idealistic Tour of Unknown Territory
January 10, 2005
The New York Times
Anne Midgette

Exhuming unfamiliar works of music is a risky business. Performers staking out new territory have a tendency to become partisan and make great claims for pieces that can’t bear them out in practice. A cynical reader, discovering in a program note that Johan Svendsen’s second symphony in B–flat Major from 1877 is “one of the most brilliant symphonies of its time,” might respond, with a broad New York accent, “Yeah, right.”

But on Friday, Svendsen’s magnum opus was not played in New York. Rather, it was in Newark, on the first program of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s annual Winter Festival, this year called “Northern Lights” and focusing on music from the region around the native land of the orchestra’s music director–designate, the Estonian–born Neeme Järvi, who takes over officially at the start of next season.

And anyway, this orchestra doesn’t really do cynicism, particularly in its annual festival, which, as curated for the last several years by Joseph Horowitz, tends to exude an endearing idealism.

Certainly, there was nothing cynical about the opening program, in which Mr. Järvi and Mr. Horowitz succeeded in balancing unfamiliarity and accessibility. Following Sibelius’s well–known “Finlandia” were no fewer than three pieces the audience probably had never heard before: Wilhelm Stenhammar’s first piano concerto, a Nocturne by Rudolf Tobias and Svendsen’s symphony. But the overall tone was less didactic than purely entertaining. The music was billed as “beautiful” or “brilliant,” but none of it was offered as “good for you”; and there were more pretty tunes than big thoughts per square inch of music.

Especially in Stenhammar’s piano concerto, which lay somewhere between folk song, operetta and Broadway musical in its melodic evocations. Composed when Stenhammar was 22, lauded by Mr. Järvi as “the most beautiful piano concerto ever written” and apostrophized as filled with “confusion” and “dark demons” in remarks to the audience by Per Tengstrand, the pianist, it turned out to be pretty, slender and elegant: the adolescent outpourings of a sweet and talented composer. Mr. Tengstrand was an ideal and lively interpreter, thin and pale of physique, his long fingers strumming the keyboard like a harp.

The orchestra did not always keep pace. The New Jersey Symphony’s Achilles’ heel remains its winds and brass, and there were moments in the concerto when the entire orchestra seemed to be slightly out of sync with the piano – in its energy if not actually in its rhythm. Mr. Järvi was forgiving: a warm, phlegmatic presence who, rather than whipping the orchestra to great heights, led them in a nice mellow sound that never rose much above a jolly forte.

The point, as delivered here, was enjoyment. And the climax of the evening offered plenty of that. For the Svendsen symphony proved indeed to live up to its billing: a piece of bracing, well–written music by a composer who knew his craft and had something to communicate.

Cynics, they say, are just frustrated romantics at heart. This very romantic program offered plenty to keep them happy.

 

Cultural interplay: NJSO concert demonstrates interweaving of Scandinavian cultures
January 15, 2005
www.nj.com
Willa J. Conrad

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s ongoing Northern Lights Festival (at various venues through Jan. 23) is not just an introduction to Scandinavian orchestral works –– some better, some lesser known –– but a lesson in geography and history, as well. Norway was once part of Denmark, then Sweden, then independent, but Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg grew up speaking Danish. Scandinavia’s greatest neo–Romantic symphonist, Jean Sibelius, was a Finn who saw things through a Swede’s eyes. Got that? Throw in the guest debut Thursday evening of young Estonian conductor Anu Tali –– music director designate Neeme Järvi is teaching us that Estonian and Finnish cultures are closely intertwined –– and you understand the educational subtext.

But this is part of the pleasure of the orchestra’s annual three–week winter festivals, which coordinator Joseph Horowitz lovingly stitches together with lectures, pre–concert presentations and erudite program notes. The good news is that the musical performances are typically more fleet, more probing and more enjoyable than subscription series fare. Certainly, this was the case Thursday evening at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, where Tali led with a rigorous style that tended to offset the generally surging insistence of much of the music.

Niels Gade, the 19th century Danish composer considered a kind of father to Scandinavian Romanticism, was represented by his “Hamlet” Overture, a short, evocative work created with Mendelssohnian balance of form, but with a touch of Nordic playfulness and color. It was neither pale nor excessive, just pleasantly balanced.

Although inadvertently omitted from the program book, this was the annual Herbert and Evelyn Axelrod Concert, underwritten to showcase a bright student from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Although the Axelrods’ past dealings with the orchestra are under investigation, years ago, they endowed the cash to make this annual peek into up–and–coming talent an NJSO event.

Seventeen–year–old pianist Yujia Wang was this year’s choice, and she played Grieg’s Piano Concerto with confident phrasing and powerful keystrokes, though some of the detail solo work needed more clarity of articulation. Interactively, Wang was somewhat stiff in negotiating the hand–offs between orchestra and piano, and Tali worked hard to compensate.

Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 is about as mainstream as this festival will get. With the Grieg, this program constitutes the most familiar repertoire of Northern Lights. Tali was quite good at stoking long, plump legato lines from the orchestra; the strings especially responded with lush, silky playing, and the cellos, featured often in Sibelius’ score, played grandly. No section, though, could compete with the brass, which played beyond itself, offering crisp ensemble work and a brawny, muscular texture. The horn section also had a big role to play: It was likewise on fire, particularly principal player Lucinda–Lewis, who offered several strong solos.

Tali is a big gesture conductor, even in quiet moments; perhaps that is why softer sections, even when they were fast or laden with rich contrapuntal material, tended to lose tension. In such familiar music, it’s hard not to want a larger than life performance. Tali offered a cultivated, more modest view.

Onward, then, to the return of Järvi to the podium next week; a pre–concert performance exploring Finnish folk tales is planned. So far, the musical picture emerging is of a culture historically given to clear and pure tonality, a spirit of both longing and delight, and a love of both the impish and the grand in a musical score.

 

Pleasant surprises in Northern Lights
January 24, 2005
www.nj.com
Willa J. Conrad

Finland is NOT part of Scandinavia did you know that? In the continuing geography lesson and cultural primer that is the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Northern Lights Festival, such distinctions obvious to anyone who lives there, less so, perhaps, to Americans are part of the litany of pleasant surprises brought by the festival.

Friday evening’s program at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark was a study in Finnish culture, with a symphonic program largely devoted to the Finn Jean Sibelius and preceded by a fascinating pre–concert program of mostly contemporary Finnish choral music and recitations from the Finnish folk poem epic the “Kalevala.”

It was conductor Neeme Järvi, Estonian–born and so a near neighbor to Finland spiritually, who made this distinction, while chatting amiably from the stage with the astonishing young Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. (To clarify: Swedes, Norwegians and Danes consider themselves Scandinavian; Finns and Icelanders do not, though sometimes others the German, the British –– lump them together. They are, though, all Nordic cultures.)

Earlier, Kuusisto offered a version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto that cleaned the ear of a century of interpretive gloss, offering feathery, coloristic playing with a super–elastic sense of rubato. It was not an immaculate, technical show. Now and then a note was missed or marred. But Kuusisto probed the work gently, paying attention to delightful moments of playfulness not usually highlighted. In all, with Järvi doing a fairly good job of keeping up with Kuusisto’s spritely stretches of tempo, this was a vivid and moving reading of the familiar work.

Kuusisto also returned to the stage for an encore, his own variation on the Sarabande from Bach’s B–minor Partita for Violin, a meditative act that beautifully shaped both the spirit and the notes of the original.

In conversation, Kuusisto, discussing the place of the “Kalevala” in modern culture, offered another view of the modern Finn, who is playful, creative and imaginative, and not saddled with the weight of profundity that other cultures bear.

Järvi’s reading of Sibelius’ “Four Legends from the Kalevala,” in essence a set of tone poems based on tales of the impish hero Lemminkäinen from the epic, was likewise full of humor and romance and full–bodied orchestral sound. Finnish actor Tuomas Hil provided interpolated narration between each of the four movements.

Järvi, who will become the orchestra’s music director in the fall, leads with a lighter hand and more attention to the colors and interplay of the inside lines and voices of a score than his predecessor, Zdenek Macal. Whereas Macal loved to stoke his players to full volume and tension–filled musical climaxes, Järvi dabbles more with the paint colors, likes to dwell a little in the valleys before climbing the hills, and generally gets more expression at distinctly lower volumes. The NJSO musicians played well for him.

He also loves orchestral encores. On Friday, it was the beautiful Berceuse by 20th century Swedish composer Armas Järnefelt, a soft parallel to Kuusisto’s Bach but here featuring concertmaster Eric Wyrick and principal cellist Jonathan Spitz as soloists.

The pre–concert program, called Interplay, was part of the festival’s humanities offering, highlighting the well–prepared singing of the Montclair State University Chamber Singers (directed by Heather Buchanan), an impressionistic modern flute solo by Finnish flutist Ulla Suokko, and a reading from the “Kalevala” by the New York Kalevala Trio, composed of Suokko, Hil and Aili Flint.

This was the final program in the festival, which has successfully offered a window into Nordic musical culture.

 

Familial, Geographical and Musical Connections
January 26, 2005
The New York Times
Anthony Tommasini

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra came to Carnegie Hall on Monday night with a Nordic program that was curiously similar to the recent Northern Lights festival of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

There was a further similarity. The music director designate of the New Jersey Symphony and architect of the Northern Lights festival is Neeme Järvi, and his son, Paavo, conducts the Cincinnati. Was this a musical version of family planning?

Whatever the case, if the concert was indicative of what’s going on in Cincinnati, Paavo Järvi, now in his fourth season as the orchestra’s music director, is the right person for the job. The orchestra played with robust energy, complete assurance and a rich sound that favored dark and mellow colorings.

Two of the works – Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony – were recently presented in New Jersey on a Northern Lights program conducted by the Järvis’ young Estonian compatriot Anu Tali. (A coincidence? If so, this is getting a little strange.) But Paavo Järvi provided a fresh and effective context for those familiar works by beginning his program with the New York premiere of Symphony No. 8, written in 2001 by Aulis Sallinen, a leading Finnish composer.

Though Mr. Sallinen, born in 1935, began his career as a 12–tone composer, by the 1970’s he had shifted stylistic direction, embracing Neo–Classical forms and a tonal, though tart, harmonic language. The radical element of this compact, 20–minute symphony is suggested by its subtitle, “Autumnal Fragments.” The music is like a string of boldly disconnected rhythmic riffs, melodic motives and aborted attempts at development.

It begins with a nonchalant rhythmic pattern for wood blocks, as if the percussionist is trying to get the piece going. Soon, strangely haunting things happen: whistling figurations from the violins, minimalistic repetitions in the lower strings, pungent brass chorales that suddenly stop. A middle section, like a nervous scherzo, gains in impetus and density. But the work subsides into a slow, funereal ending, the composer’s response, as he has written, to the horrors of 9/11. If the fragments never quite coalesce into a whole, Mr. Sallinen takes you on a journey so wondrous you are sorry when it ends.

Mr. Järvi and his players gave an involving and impressive account of this intriguing work. Mr. Järvi’s clear–headed and vigorous approach to Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony also had rewards. It seemed a corrective those who get too caught up in the work’s strangeness and mystery.

The soloist in the Grieg Concerto was the German pianist Lars Vogt, whose playing was exasperatingly uneven for an artist with such a significant career.

His technique, which favors keeping the fingers close to the keys at all times, seemed strained and uptight. Notes got swallowed in sloppy, sweeping runs. Mr. Vogt swayed between interpretive extremes: soft lyrical passages were murky and introverted, loud brilliant passages steely and extroverted.

But he did convey a sense that something dramatic was happening, which may account in part for the prolonged ovation he received. He played a solo encore, an inexplicably poor performance of a presto finale from a Haydn sonata – rushed, careless and heavy–handed. Go figure.

Still, Mr. Järvi’s Sallinen and Sibelius will stay with me. The Cincinnati Symphony seems in fine shape.

 

Neeme Järvi shows why he will be so hard to replace
February 5, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

To witness Neeme Järvi’s all–Tchaikovsky concert Thursday night with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was to be reminded of just how fine of an edge he has honed on this ensemble in his 15 seasons as music director.

The program’s progression from the Serenade for Strings to the “Rococo” Variations (with principal cellist Robert deMaine as soloist) to the Symphony No. 4 in F minor also brought forcibly to mind the standard Järvi has set for the conductor who succeeds him when he quits his directorship at the end of this season.

Start to finish, across every section, the DSO put on a display of virtuosity that Järvi forged into music–making of unfailing finesse, power, style, energy and expressivity. It was a special night at Orchestra Hall.

Järvi opened with a genteel, yet indulgently Romantic turn through the Serenade for Strings – a full–throated, lyrical performance that lacked only words to be a cycle of songs. Even if one might have wished for a bit more drive in the last movement, something closer to the “spirito” intent of Tchaikovsky’s tempo marking, there still was no denying the grace of Järvi’s broad phrasing. The DSO strings have perhaps never sounded more balanced, more resilient or warmer.

If the orchestra is taking its time in finding a new music director, it learned the reward of patience in the long quest for a principal cellist that ended two years ago with the appointment of Robert deMaine. He has proved himself to be a worthy complement to the DSO’s extraordinary principal violinist, Emmanuelle Boisvert. DeMaine’s agile, radiant, pervasively soulful playing of the “Rococo” Variations touched off a ripping ovation.

Last came Tchaikovsky on a grand scale: a blazing account of the Fourth Symphony that showcased winds and strings in poetic accord as the brasses showered bursts of light over the whole affair. And here was Järvi in his element, the master of Romanticism playing upon an orchestra that has become his personal instrument.

 

Up to snuff: NJSO proves itself worth venturing out to see on stormy night
February 26, 2005
www.nj.com
Bradley Bambarger

Thursday’s New Jersey Symphony Orchestra concert featured accomplished, attractive music–making, as well as the NJSO debut of a bright young soloist. But sandwiched around those aspects of the evening were ad–libs that underlined the idea that a flair for the unexpected is vital for the health of arts organizations.

There is such a fecundity of world–class classical music on CD and DVD now that concerts must be more than the highly polished presentation of scores; to induce people to leave the house, these events should be “events,” with a sense of surprise and communion with the precious moment. Such a moment came at the end of Thursday’s concert at New Brunswick’s State Theatre.

As usual, NJSO music director Neeme Järvi had prepared an encore, which he presents more as an unadvertised coda to the program than as a response to applause. This night’s offering was Anatol Liadov’s rarely heard miniature “A Musical Snuff Box.” Once the conductor had wound up the winds and percussion for Liadov’s evocation of a chiming contraption, he sauntered off stage, letting them play. As the circular tune slowed down, Järvi the showman stepped briefly from the wings to wind the music up again for its final loop before closing.
Those few charming minutes alone made it worth trekking through the snowstorm to reach the theater. The weather delayed the concert by a half–hour, but in another nice touch, an NJSO representative came onstage to express the orchestra’s appreciation for the few dozen listeners who made it out. Moreover, because the program’s scheduled opener –– Brahms’ “Academic Festival” Overture –– had to be canceled due to the delay, she encouraged everyone to use their ticket stubs to see the full program for free at one of this weekend’s repeat concerts.

As to the scheduled attractions, pianist Esther Jung–A Park –– winner of the NJSO’s 2004 Young Artists Auditions –– performed Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto not only with panache but poetry. A more hackneyed totem of the concerto literature would be hard to imagine, with the piece seeming like a dessert that’s just too sweet. A bit more capriciousness wouldn’t have been out of place, but the mix of Park’s clean–slate approach (with superb digital address) and Järvi’s care for supple phrasing made for a fresh experience.

Tchaikovsky’s swooning tunes are meat and drink to the NJSO, and belying her diminutive stature, Park displayed a deep, strong tone in the work’s famous octaves. Yet the performance’s most ear–catching aspect came with the intermezzo–like slow movement; the interaction between Park’s limpid tones and the lovely solo winds was like a subtle play of shadows on a wall. Born in 1984 in Korea, the pianist is a student at the Juilliard School; it would be good to hear her again with the NJSO, in, say, Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto or Prokofiev’s First.

Glazunov’s Fifth Symphony isn’t the most riveting example of late 19th–century Russian music, especially if it’s just skated over. Yet the lower strings groaned with expressive weight in the opening movement, and the Scherzo was effervescent, tinkling triangle and all. The revelation, though, was the richly detailed reading of the Andante, a berceuse combining German grandeur with Russian sentiment. The finale may be relatively empty, but Järvi drove it like a Cossack. At the end, the conductor was excited enough to lift concertmaster Eric Wyrick out of his seat as he shook his hand.

 

Idealist with a determined streak
March 1, 2005
Financial Times
Andrew Clark

There can be few more philosophical conductors than Susanna Mälkki – yet few more adept at solving practical problems, as orchestras across Europe have found in recent seasons. “A bad performance of a fantastic piece is a bad performance,” says the 35–year–old Finn, in response to my question about how the interpreter should balance objectivity and subjectivity. “And a fantastic performance of a bad piece is a fantastic performance. I want to be true to the work as an interpreter, but should I be so faithful as to reflect its weaknesses? If it’s not well written, do I change it in order that it sounds better? It’s a huge dilemma. The big taboo is to say there is such a thing as bad music. Composers think there are only bad performances.”

Most composers would agree there are no bad performances when Mälkki is around – and Mälkki is around a lot these days. Last night at Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Hall she conducted the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in three world premieres (by Stuart MacRae, Hugh Watkins and Luis Tinoco). Later this week the programme is repeated with modifications in Birmingham, before recording sessions for a CD of music by David Sawer. In April, after concerts in Oulu, Helsinki and Stavanger, Mälkki is back in the UK to conduct the Hallé and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras. Oh, and her first Beethoven 9 is imminent.

A former Sibelius Academy pupil of Jorma Panula, the mentor of so many distinguished Finnish conductors, Mälkki studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music and was principal cellist of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for three years before picking up the baton full–time in 1998.

Mälkki’s musical taste reflects those influences. After being raised in Finland’s “rigid” Sibelius tradition, he found Neeme Järvi’s spontaneous approach in Gothenburg “minsd–opening, creating ecstasies out of nothing”. But being of the Magnus Lindberg generation, she instinctively warms to his music more than that of older Finnish composers.
“To be able to perform Lindberg, you have to have a lot of understanding of tempo relationships: this is a mathematical process. It involves a different part of the brain from [Einojuhani] Rautavaara’s music, or [Arvo] Pärt. For me, if music is passive rhythmically, it feels one–sided. Rhythm is crucial to the energy of modern music: it reflects the speed of modern life, and we get a kick out of it.”

Mälkki acknowledges she has to be diplomatic about Rautavaara, the elder statesman of Finnish music. “The fact that he’s hugely popular... shows there’s a great need for something soothing. And maybe if I was working eight hours a day in an office with the phone ringing constantly, I wouldn’t be satisfied if I heard only hectic music. But I don’t believe in the ’new simplicity’. Music must also be intellectually challenging.”

Mälkki is an unashamed idealist, ready to “push people very hard” in order to do the best job possible for the composer. “The problem is: how big a price are you prepared to pay for your idealism? I remember being told that cellists should never choose the Schumann concerto as a competition piece: you could only win with the Dvořák because it urged people to applaud. I’d always choose the Schumann. One has to be true to what speaks to you and let the world go its own way.”

 

Ma lifts Singapore Symphony
Willa J. Conrad
www.nj.com
March 3, 2005

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra, which began its first U.S. tour Tuesday evening with a performance in New Brunswick, is clearly aiming to establish itself among the many fine Asian orchestras emerging today.

Slick promotional brochures, guest soloists of the magnitude of cellist Yo–Yo Ma and violinist Gil Shaham (who was to alternate as soloist for the orchestra’s Lincoln Center debut last night), and an aggressive touring program balancing newly commissioned works and repertoire staples all attest to this goal.

Tuesday’s performance, which featured fervent playing and a well thought out, if not always perfectly executed, interpretation by music director and conductor Lan Shui, seems to indicate the orchestra is ready. Certainly, the sold–out crowd at the State Theatre, which lavished applause on Ma and Shui at the conclusion of composer Chen Yi’s lovely and lyrical Ballad, Dance and Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra, embraced them as they would a major touring ensemble.

Of course, the presence of a superstar cellist is just the imprimatur any organization would want in these circumstances. Ma’s work with Yi’s beautifully integrated score, which was written in 2004 and sounds neither Eastern nor Western, but some new hybrid, was magnificently communicative.

Yi’s piece, which mixes Chinese and Mongolian folk material with Western symphonic writing, is just the kind of cultural melt that Ma has been promoting with his multi–year Silk Road Project. The opening movement gives the cellist a solo line inspired by an old Chinese mountain song –– willowy, winding and introverted –– against a backdrop of tremolo strings, softly whispered chant–like syllables spoken by the orchestra musicians, and a lovely interplay of soloist and low wind instruments.

Equally haunting, but in a more jovial mood, the second movement puts the cello side by side –– literally on stage –– with bongos and conga drum, juxtaposing a jaunty cello line with more Western–sounding seesaw rhythms and high winds used as accents. There’s a devilishly difficult cadenza, which had Ma sliding double stops, but also plucking strings and bending pitches –– very interesting and convincingly executed.

The final movement builds on this spirit, giving soloist and orchestra Western–style repeating motifs, but culminating in a soft, high return to the winsome folk tune with the solo cello getting the last, gentle musical word. In all, the work is inviting, colorful and relies as much on development of thematic material as it does on the pure aural sensation of layering orchestral texture. It’s unclear why Ma had a microphone setup with onstage speakers, as he didn’t need it, especially in this particular hall.

Shui, a former assistant to New Jersey Symphony Orchestra director Neeme Järvi, obviously enjoys exploiting the full emotional spectrum of orchestral performance. An opening performance of Mendelssohn’s Overture to “Ruy Blas” was aggressive and full–sounding, and Shui later led Strauss’ tone poem “Don Juan” and Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” with rocking abandon. The Strauss works highlighted an orchestra that plays loudly and with discipline and drama, but also revealed a lack of plushness in the string sound and an occasional lapse in intonation among the woodwinds.

The brass playing was quite good: crunchy, direct and heroic. The biggest disappointment was Shui’s tendency to let all sections play at equal volume, which created an undifferentiated, block–like interior to the sound.

Eric Korngold’s whimsical “Straussiana” was Shui’s witty choice for an encore, but it was more an intellectual success than a musical one. While it was a cute finish to a Strauss–heavy program, it was also long, labored and multi–sectioned, and threatened to knock the delicate balance of this East–West evening off–kilter.

 

Neeme Järvi to Hague Residentie Orchestra
March 22, 2005
MusicalAmerica.com
Susan Elliott

The Russian Information Agency is today reporting that Neeme Järvi has signed a four contract with the Hague Residentie Orchestra to be its main conductor. He leads four programs with the century–old orchestra this season and opens its 2005–?06 season next fall.

Järvi, 67, steps down in June after 15 years with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and becomes that ensemble’s music director emeritus; next season he assumes the helm of the New Jersey Symphony, of which he has been serving as principal guest this season. Additional permanent posts for the Estonian born conductor include first principal guest conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and music director emeritus of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

Järvi, who has made over 350 orchestral recordings, suffered a vertebral artery aneurysm in 2001 but has apparently made a full recovery.

 

Neeme Järvi Named Chief Conductor of The Hague’s Residentie Orchestra
March 24, 2005

Neeme Järvi, who is stepping down this year as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, has signed a four–year contract to be chief conductor of the Residentie Orchestra in the Hague.

Under an agreement announced this week at a news conference in the Netherlands, Järvi will conduct eight subscription weeks per season as well as tours and recordings. He plans to open the 2005–06 season on September 20. Järvi, who has spent 15 years in Detroit, gave the DSO a three–year notice of his plans to step down. He suffered a stroke in 2001 that caused him to miss some performances, but since has bounced back.

Last fall, Järvi became principal conductor and music director designate of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. And his three–year contract as music director starts with the 2005–2006 season.

Järvi, 67, a native of Estonia, studied at the Leningrad Conservatory and came to the United States in 1980. He has many recordings and has served for several years as principal conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

 

Young violinist’s brilliant debut caps outstanding Detroit Symphony concert
April 15, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

On paper, this weekend’s Detroit Symphony Orchestra program held promise as one of the most intriguing of the season. Music director Neeme Järvi was back to conduct Bruckner’s glorious Seventh Symphony, along with Shostakovich’s soulful and witty Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor.

Yet a question mark hung over that prospect: the concerto soloist, a little–known 24–year–old Latvian violinist named Baiba Skride. Shostakovich’s concerto, with its two slow movements of elegy and intensity contrasted with movements of blazing virtuosity and careening humor, demands a mature heart to go with agile fingers, sustained concentration as well as physical strength.

Hats off, then, to a true artist, a master beyond her years and one of the brightest young violinists to appear on the international scene in a decade. In her Detroit debut Friday morning at Orchestra Hall, Baiba Skride was absolutely magnetic in the Shostakovich A minor Concerto. Hers was a probing and original account that profited equally from the violinist’s unfailing sense of dramatic pace and from her evidently limitless technical command.

What’s more, the youthful marvel Skride enjoyed a perfect partner in the old master Järvi, a native Estonian who learned his craft in Russia and understands Shostakovich’s emotionally charged, often tormented music as if it were his native tongue. Together, Järvi, his young guest and a keenly responsive DSO made epic poetry.

Departing from the classical concerto scheme of two brisk movements framing a slower, more songful episode, Shostakovich laid out his First Violin Concerto in four–movement plan of slow–fast–slow–fast, giving each part not a tempo title but a characteristic name: Nocturne, Scherzo, Passacaglia, Burlesca. Without question, the expressive heart of the work resides in the shadowy, wistful Nocturne and tragedy–tinged Passacaglia, which closes with a long solo flight – a soliloquy of Shakespearean depth – for the violin as protagonist. While Skride brought sparkling facility to the Scherzo and Burlesca, it was in her ruminative and heated playing of the slow movements that she displayed the real measure of her musicianship.

Orchestra and audience joined in an extended ovation for Skride, and Järvi, having ceded the stage to her, returned to lead a final tribute of rhythmic clapping.

And yet nothing less was due Järvi himself after the Bruckner Seventh Symphony that followed. Running just over an hour, the Seventh’s four grand–scaled movements mount like some great cathedral framed in time and sound. It is music not only of its time and place, late 19th century Vienna, but also of its devoutly Catholic creator. Not least, in its harmonies and instrumentation, the Seventh also teems with obeisances to Bruckner’s deity here below, Richard Wagner.

Järvi allowed the Seventh its crucial expansiveness and spirituality, and still he found the earthly jubilation that connected Bruckner’s consciousness of this world with his aspirations for the next. At consistently restrained tempos, even in the scherzo, Järvi drew radiant playing from every voice of the DSO. The grand brass choir, including no fewer than nine French horns, piled up fanfares that towered and shone like golden clouds of sound.

The music director still has a few programs remaining this season before his 15–year tenure ends. He will be hard pressed to top this one as a farewell to remember.

 

Pretty good, considering it’s Bruckner
April 16, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

The monumental 19th–Century symphonies by Viennese romantic Anton Bruckner have been largely absent from the repertoire of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra during music director Neeme Järvi’s tenure. I can’t say that I’ve missed them.Bruckner inspires a religious devotion among his champions, who hear in his triadic melodies, glacial pacing, Olympian structures, luminosity and expansive vistas a vast cathedral of sublime beauty, spirituality and wisdom. I find the music plodding and prefer heading to the bar for a drink or two before catching up with everybody else at the scherzo.But the Seventh is the least oppressive and most serenely lyrical of Bruckner’s nine symphonies. It is Bruckner for those who don’t like Bruckner, and while the 64–minute reading that Järvi led Friday morning did not make me see God, it was pleasurable enough to inspire respect for the church.

Järvi’s easygoing interpretation helped. There was nobility without pretension. The broad opening cello and horn theme set a ruminative tone, but Järvi refused to let the music sag. The movement unfolded like a leisurely pastoral. Alert and responsive, the DSO produced a richly golden sound, focused and expressive.In the adagio, a lament inspired by Wagner’s death, Järvi played down the grief in favor of consolation, climaxing with a thrilling cymbal crash. Järvi’s conception expanded in the scherzo with the phrases stretching in the trio. The finale, buoyed by a wall of horns and Wagner tubas, closed the work on a note of extroverted cheer.Before intermission, the young Latvian violinist Baiba Skride gave Shostakovich’s brooding First Violin Concerto a strikingly intense reading, underlining the grotesqueries with high–keyed, seething restraint. Järvi and the DSO painted an evocatively murky and bleak landscape.

 

Järvi, Tubin are a perfect match
April 23, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

As Neeme Järvi’s valedictory season as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra marches toward its June conclusion, he’s summing up the defining priorities of his 15–year tenure.

He’s returned this week to Eduard Tubin (1905–82), a fellow Estonian, personal friend and major symphonist unknown in the West until Järvi recorded his 10 symphonies and championed his music in concert. Järvi has conducted at least a half–dozen of Tubin’s works in Detroit.

On Thursday Järvi led the war–inspired Fifth Symphony (1946), placing it thoughtfully along a northern axis with scores by Sibelius and Prokofiev, who both left their mark on Tubin. This was a quintessential Järvi–DSO collaboration in the offbeat flair of the program, the impassioned zeal and spontaneity of the conducting and the commitment of the playing. We will miss nights like these when Järvi says good–bye.You knew it would be a special concert from the very first sound –– an exceptionally fierce low brass attack and crescendo announcing the patriotic stirrings of Sibelius’ “Finlandia.” The music unfolded with high–pitched ardor. Deeply expressive strings held firm in the presence of sturdy brass and the lovely hymn carried by the winds.

The 29–year–old violinist Nikolaj Znaider joined Järvi and the DSO for a hair–raising account of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. The violinist brought laser precision and icy–hot sentiment to the virtuoso outer movements (shades of Heifitz), and he played cantabile theme of the slow movement with limpid elegance and beauty.Tubin’s Fifth Symphony, written in the wake of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, is a nationalist flare filled with existential angst, explosive violence, brooding pathos and a concluding swell of determined resolve. A stuttering march and eerie repetitions set a foreboding tone, with two timpani underscoring a constant rumble of brutality.

Tubin’s most inspired passages come in the slow movement where he weaves two Estonian folk melodies –– one carried by pizzicato cellos, the other by long–breathed violas –– into music of somber tragedy. In the finale, swirling flutes scamper up and down the scale as the march returns, at first ironic and cacophonous but eventually morphing into an polyphonic roar of optimism led by trumpets and timpani. The music is taut, tart and full of surprising detail, including an almost proto–minimalist pulse of violins.Järvi conducted with an inborn feel for the nobility of Tubin’s dark and personal expression. While you could hear echoes of many influences –– Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Bartók, Debussy –– when it was over you were left with the feeling of a profound composer who created his own voice and is now blessed with an insightful champion.

 

Eroica takes easy approach to Beethoven’s Triple Concerto
May 21, 2005
The Star–Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is not profound, written more as a technical showpiece for three soloists than to express a deeper musical urge. That makes the choice of trio all–important, and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra could not have made a more interesting selection than the Eroica Trio.

On Thursday at New Brunswick’s State Theatre, the trio –– pianist Erika Nickrenz, violinist Adela Peña and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio –– worked through the score with an easygoing, loose–limbed playing that offered pleasurable moments. Obviously, the three women enjoy being on stage together. They weave in and out of each other’s tonal texture with a confidence more common among jazz players. They toss thematic material back and forth in a sophisticated way.

As musicians, Sant’Ambrogio is the most interesting, with a cello tone that is dark, complex and warm all at once. Any time the cello came to the forefront, the music got more interesting. Peña tends toward a narrower, more brilliant tone, while Nickrenz can play with a chiseled, detailed sound or dissolve into piano playing that is sometimes too blurred to be effective. Nickrenz is married to principal clarinetist Karl Herman, and Thursday was the first time the two played together for the NJSO.

The women of Eroica are gorgeous. They obviously want us to notice this –– they dress in glam gowns, and yet they also want us to shut up about it already. It’s hard to have it all ways, though, particularly when you are the peacocks against a background of black–suited penguins. Since their musicality is assured and credible, there’s no need to dwell on the rest, though they also have stage personality, which became evident in a soft, slinky performance of a tango by Piazzolla, “Oblivion,” played as encore.

On the podium was Neeme Järvi, who is so close to beginning his tenure as music director here in the fall that we can drop the title “designate.” The age of Järvi has already begun, and one can hear it in an orchestra that is now more at ease in its sound, yet also plays with more clarity and detail.

How does he do that? For the Beethoven, the conductor was a minimalist, paying most attention to weaving the orchestra through and around the trio’s playing. They played with clarity and balance, a good start.

With Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, Järvi strode firmly into the territory once dominated by his predecessor, Zdenek Macal, who used to treat Mahler as apocalyptic vision. Järvi’s style is the opposite: He lingers over little details, seems to prefer it when musicians create their own emotional momentum, and actively looks for smaller moments to delight in while letting the big picture unfold on its own. In short, he’s more confident that the music will speak for itself if presented cleanly and the listener will get the emotional drift without his hand emphasizing each climactic moment.

The choice of Estonian soprano Kaia Urb to sing the final movement may have been a miscalculation; the voice is pretty and exact, but very, very small, and all of Järvi’s tamping down of orchestral volume couldn’t quite show her to best advantage.

The orchestra now seems ready for Järvi and his generosity toward the audience, which includes always providing an encore. On Thursday, it was a repeat of the final verse of the fourth movement, “Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freuden” (“We revel in heavenly pleasures”), a sweet and tender way to pave the road for his return in the fall.

 

PIED PIPER: The DSO has never been more relevant or exciting than under the guidance of its charismatic, beloved leader
May 22, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

A few days before the gala opening of the Max M. Fisher Music Center in October 2003, the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra assembled onstage at Orchestra Hall for their first rehearsal in their new $60 million digs. As music director Neeme Järvi made his way to the podium, the musicians welcomed him back, as they always do when he’s been away for a while, with warm applause.

When the ruckus died down, Järvi gestured broadly to the spruced–up surroundings of Orchestra Hall and the adjacent palatial glories of the Max. “We did this,” he said to the players. Then he said it again with even more force: “We did this.”

Järvi was not taking credit for the enlightened vision or fund–raising muscle that had made the Max a reality. But he was directly acknowledging that the fundamental platform on which those victories had been built was the artistic renaissance he had engineered in collaboration with the musicians since 1990. The catalyst was the music, the profound synergy between an Estonian–born conductor and an orchestra anchored in the heartland of America.

To put it another way: No Järvi, no Max.
Järvi, who steps down from his post as music director next month after 15 seasons, has led the DSO through a golden age. The 68–year–old has raised the artistry and international standing of the orchestra to the highest points in its history, surpassing the legendary Paul Paray (1952–63) and the shooting star but troubled era of Antal Dorati (1977–81). In sheer length, only Ossip Gabrilowitsch’s 18 years (1918–36) trumps Järvi.

An orchestra’s music director is the pied piper who inspires musicians, impresses critics, wows audiences and meshes with management and board members. Or not. The music director fulfills the orchestra’s destiny or damns it to irrelevance. Järvi’s tenure has not been without its missteps and missed opportunities, but after 15 years, he has earned a place in the pantheon of the most important musicians in Detroit history.

“I think the orchestra is the best now of any time that I’ve been here,” Järvi said in an interview last month at the Max. “It’s at a very high level. World–class. It’s the right time to give the orchestra to the next conductor.”

“Nobody like him”
When Järvi became the DSO’s 11th music director in 1990, he jolted the orchestra out of hibernation. He succeeded Gunther Herbig, a fastidious German in the kapellmeister tradition, whose dry style often left musicians uninspired and audiences cold. In the ’80s, attendance drooped, management floundered, deficits soared to suicidal levels and two work stoppages left relationships as sour as an–out–of–tune bassoon.

Then came Järvi, whose joyous and spontaneous music making, impish personality and enterprising programming fired the imagination of the musicians, inflamed the passions of concertgoers, galvanized critics and wooed the moneyed elite. Järvi’s infectious personality seeped into every corner of the DSO, from the board room to the box office. Even after 15 years –– an eternity in today’s orchestral world –– the relationship between Järvi and the musicians carries a honeymoon spark.

“He doesn’t hone in on something harshly because he wants to keep that good relationship with us,” said associate concertmaster Kimberly Kaloyanides Kennedy. “But he always keeps us on our toes because we don’t know what he’ll do next. He can make something so original out of any piece. That spontaneity is what keeps everything fun and lighthearted –– which is what we feed off. There is nobody like him.”

Ticket sales leaped a whopping 22 percent in Järvi’s first season and have held pace since. He still casts a spell over audiences, who hang on every animated gesture and won’t leave their seats until he unwraps one of his trademark encores.

“It’s not just charisma,” said subscriber Sterling C. Jones of Detroit. “It’s the ability to make people in the audience feel that that the music is being made just for them.”

Famously eclectic and curious, Järvi injected fresh blood into programming. By the end of his tenure, he will have introduced a mind–boggling 193 works to the orchestra’s repertoire. Järvi’s stature as one of the most recorded conductors in the world led to more than two dozen CDs with the DSO for the British label Chandos, including a landmark series of American music that garnered international praise and focused cognoscenti attention on Detroit.

On another front, Järvi bonded with Bill Davidson, billionaire owner of the Detroit Pistons and Guardian Industries, and soon Davidson was underwriting two European tours and a trip to Florida. With artistic matters on solid footing, new and visionary management whittled away the deficit that had peaked at $9 million in 1991. In the mid–’90s, DSO leaders hatched the Orchestra Place renewal project that would eventually pump $220 million into the neighborhood and lead to the opening of the Max as well as the adjacent Detroit School of Arts.

There have been setbacks. Although the orchestra has raised more than $110 million in the past decade to pay for construction, reduce debt and boost the endowment, an alarming $2.2 million spike in the deficit two years ago threatened to kill the recovery before it flowered. Executive director Emil Kang resigned, and the orchestra retreated into emergency measures, including rollbacks in musician and staff salaries.

But recent financial signs have been encouraging –– the orchestra balanced its budget in 2004 and secured a $1.5–million challenge grant for annual operating expenses –– and new executive director Anne Parsons has steered the ship back on course. Meanwhile, Järvi has lost nothing off his fastball, even after suffering a life–threatening aneurysm in 2001.

A finely tuned instrument
Whoever succeeds Järvi will inherit an orchestra as flexible as a gymnast, one trained to do musical back flips with little more than eye contact or a dip of the shoulder. Järvi is unusual in that he combines a virtuoso stick technique with a brilliantly intuitive musicianship and improvisatory freedom.

In his 15 seasons, Järvi has beefed up the tone of the orchestra, favoring a stout but warmly expressive blend, vocalized phrasing and visceral excitement. Many observers will tell you that the strings have never sounded richer or the winds, brass and percussion more robust. Yet his elastic sense of rhythm has also kept the orchestra light on its feet. Järvi has been most profound with the big–boned romantic scores of Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Strauss; with Nordic composers like Sibelius, Nielsen and Grieg; with American music; and with 20th–Century Russians Prokofiev, Stravinsky and especially Shostakovich, whom Järvi knew personally.

Järvi has been friendly to contemporary music, giving 19 world premieres and appointing Michael Daugherty as resident composer (1999–2003), performing his Day–Glo–colored, rock–and–jazz–inspired music at home and on tour –– an important statement of cultural affirmation given the Detroit–centric character of pieces like “Rosa Parks Boulevard.”

But Järvi hasn’t pushed forward so much as he’s stretched sideways. More than one out of four pieces he conducted were works the DSO had never played before, including pieces by Estonians like Arvo Part and Eduard Tubin and composers as diverse as Nielsen, Martinů and Roussel. There were a few duds along the way, but this was a small price to pay for the exploration lacking at many orchestras. Especially significant are the dozens of neglected American works Järvi rescued from musty corners of the library by romantics like Amy Beach, George Chadwick and Samuel Barber. And he championed black composers, from seminal figures like William Grant Still and Duke Ellington to contemporary voices like Olly Wilson. Järvi made a specialty of vernacular–influenced American scores, whose jazzy rhythms he translated with more authority that most homegrown conductors.

Of course, Järvi has weaknesses. The subtleties of the core Austro–Germanic repertoire –– Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms –– elude him, though he captures Haydn’s humor and charm. Järvi conducted just one Schubert symphony in Detroit (No. 3), and German critics took his idiosyncratic Schumann to task during the 1998 tour. Järvi’s multi–season traversal of the grandiloquent symphonies of Gustav Mahler became more persuasive as it progressed, but the overall impact was uneven.

The sweep of his conception sometimes blurred telling details, and Järvi’s deliberate strategy of not over–rehearsing could backfire into imprecision. When intuition failed, his interpretations could sound slick and willful. Still, if he wasn’t always profound, he was rarely dull.

More seriously, for all of Järvi’s charisma and skill, he has always been a more impressive conductor than music director. He never quite articulated an overarching vision for the DSO in the way that, say, Michael Tilson Thomas has in San Francisco or Esa–Pekka Salonen has in Los Angeles. The sheer breadth of Järvi’s enthusiasms had the unfortunate side effect of preventing him from keeping long–range goals in focus –– especially after the Chandos contract expired in 1996 and the recording agenda ceased to influence programming.
Temperament had an impact, too. Järvi is a fiercely intelligent man but not an intellectual organizer of music like Tilson Thomas, who bridges the distance between the American maverick tradition and the mainstream, or Salonen, an expert guide to modernism on both sides of the Atlantic. Järvi has stood for curiosity and adventure, but only rarely did he connect the dots between individual works, concerts and seasons. Järvi paid close attention to the programs he led but otherwise took a hands–off approach, leaving details of the rest of the season to management; some music directors approve every single program, soloist and guest conductor. Control freaks can create their own problems, but at least you know where they’re going.

In fairness, Järvi has had to work with five different executive directors and four artistic administrators. It is not easy to build relationships from scratch every time the management carousel turns, especially when you’re only in town 12 to 14 weeks a season. Järvi said last month that he probably should have tried harder, and he left the impression of someone who wanted to be more involved in long–range plans and daily details but never figured out how.

“The structure was not always clear to me, but I was also so fanatically busy with my music,” he said. Järvi leaves with a few frustrations. The musicians’ union–mandated fee structure that made recording the DSO prohibitively expensive later in his tenure irks him. He wishes he could have documented the orchestra on DVD. He wanted an organ installed at Orchestra Hall, an expensive idea with perhaps risky acoustic consequences. And he is sanguine that the money never materialized to take the DSO on a final valedictory overseas tour.

But he knows the unfinished business pales next to the accomplishments: the Max and the changing fortunes of the neighborhood, energized audiences, CDs, tours, the warm feelings and telepathy with the players, and leaving the orchestra at an artistic peak. He looks forward to returning as music director emeritus.

“This is my favorite American orchestra,” he said. “If I have a choice of going to Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Detroit, I’ll come to Detroit. Those other places are not my territory. My territory is here. My public is here, and my people are here.”

PIED PIPER: Keeping a full plate
Just because Neeme Järvi is laying down his baton in Detroit, don’t think for a moment that he’s retiring. Though he has substantially cut back on his globe–trotting in the wake of the aneurysm he suffered in 2001, his dance card remains plenty full.

Starting this fall, Järvi will become music director of the New Jersey Symphony in Newark and the chief conductor of the Hague Residentie Orchestra in the Netherlands. More immediately, the eminent Russian conductor Valery Gergiev has organized a multi–concert salute to Järvi next month in St. Petersburg, home of the former Leningrad Conservatory where Järvi was trained.

On another front, Järvi is preparing the four operas of Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” for the Royal Swedish Opera, one opera a year beginning in September and culminating with a complete “Ring Cycle” in 2008. And in addition to sundry guest–conducting and recording activities in Europe, he retains a bevy of honorary titles: principal conductor emeritus of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden, conductor laureate of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and first principal guest conductor of the Japan Philharmonic.
Finally, Järvi becomes the music director emeritus of the DSO beginning in September, returning to Orchestra Hall for two weeks next season to conduct concerts in November and May.

Meanwhile, the search for Järvi’s successor at the DSO could take as long as another two years. No clear front–runner has emerged. Potential candidates continue to parade through Orchestra Hall as guest conductors.

PIED PIPER: World premieres
World premieres are one way to measure a conductor’s willingness to engage the music of his own time. Sixten Erhling holds the DSO record for leading world premieres with 24 between 1963 and 1973. Järvi is a close second. He has led 19 with the DSO, plus an additional three North American premieres. Here they are in order.

1. Lawrence Rapchak, “Sinfonia Antiqua,” 1991.
2. Stanley Hollingsworth, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, 1991.
3. Leslie Bassett, Concerto for Orchestra, DSO commission, 1992.
4. George Walker, Sinfonia No. 2, DSO commission, 1993.
5. Sergei Rachmaninoff, “Concerto Elegiaque.” Orchestral premiere, arranged by Alan Kogosowski, 1993.
6. Jonathan Holland, “Fanfares and Flourishes on an Ostinato.” DSO commission, 1995.
7. Elaine Lebenbom, “Kaleidoscope Turning,” 1997.
8. Imant Kalnins, “Rock Symphony,” 1997.
9. Frederic Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 3. Reconstructed by Alan Kogosowski, 1999.
10. Stephen Rush, “Possessions for Orchestra,” 1999.
11. Michael Daugherty, “Motor City Triptych,” 2001. (The DSO premiered the first movement, “Rosa Parks Boulevard,” in 2000.)
12. James Campbell, Symphony, Op. 11, 2001.
13. Felix Mendelssohn, Octet in E Flat Major. Orchestral arrangement by Michael Daugherty, 2001.
14. Olly Wilson, Episodes for Orchestra. DSO commission, 2002.
15. Roberto Sierra, Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, 2002.
16. Michael Daugherty, “Fire and Blood for Violin and Orchestra,” 2003.
17. Jonathan Holland, “Motor City Dance Mix.” DSO commission, 2003.
18. Michael Daugherty, “Raise the Roof,” 2003.
19. Eino Tamberg, “Festive Music,” 2003.

North American Premieres
1. Tchaikovsky, “The Snow Maiden,” 1994.
2. Rolf Martinsson, “Bridge” (Trumpet Concerto No. 1), 2000.
3. Peeter Vähi, “Chant of the Celestial Lake” (Flute Concerto), 2002.
PIED PIPER: By the numbers
15 seasons
669 concerts (second all–time at the DSO to Sixten Ehrling)
703 different compositions performed (DSO record)
193 works never previously played by the DSO
650 encores (estimate)
197 composers performed
56 American composers performed
15 African–American composers performed
10 Estonian composers performed

 

DETROIT DISC: Hard Lessons fill up with “Gasoline”
May 22, 2005
Free Press
Brian McCollum

Talk about tossing fuel on a fire: “Gasoline” arrives at an ideal moment for the Hard Lessons, the Detroit three–piece whose stock has been rising faster than a ’90s dot–com. After half a year of buzz built largely on the colorful and often uproarious live shows, the young band’s full–length debut offers a glimpse into the craft behind the craze.

Gathering pieces of Kinks–styled British rock, Detroit garage and art–school pop, the group –– with studio assist from producers Zach Shipps and Jim Diamond –– has assembled an album with a cool bite. The full–on “Feedback Loop” and “Inspired/Admired” best display the Hard Lessons’ skills, dexterous musical trips that visit a host of sounds but faithfully return to the band’s blues–based launching pad.

While it’s clear that band leader Augie Visocchi, 22, is finding his songwriting chops, he’s concocted a batch of tunes that reveal a smart edge and a flair for the hook. Jazz–trained drummer Christophe Zajac–Denek is the engine, pushing the sound forward as Visocchi and organist Korin Louise Cox link up to swap vocals and slice through delirious riffs.

Cox enjoys a fair turn in the spotlight, putting an earthy shine to lower–key cuts such as “All Over This Town” and the closing “Love Gone Cold.” But for all the sharing of wealth, the show ultimately belongs to Visocchi, who attacks both guitar and vocals with charismatic abandon. Even when he allows the groove to step back –– as on the album’s best cut, the silky–psychedelic “Milk and Sugar” –– you can feel the tension pulling at its tether, ready to break loose.

The Hard Lessons represent a logical next step in the Detroit rock scene –– and one of the rare opportunities where, yes, you can believe the hype.

 

Neeme Järvi – lihtsalt väga hea, ERSO – erksam kui iial varem
30. mai 2005
Postimees
Evi Arujärv

Festival „Tubin ja tema aeg” pakub veel pool kuud orkestrite ja dirigentide paraadi. Seekord mängis Neeme Järvi käe all ERSO, solistiks rootsi pianist Per Tengstrand. Kui edev või algaja dirigent juhatab sageli käte ja jalgadega, siis Neeme Järvi on orkestri ees vägagi mõõdukas. Tema „atraktiivseim” žest on pisut tõstetud õlad. Juhatab autoriteediga. Või on juba enne asjad paika pannud.

Nõukogude eesti muusika ammuse esifiguuri Eugen Kapi eesti rahvamuusikal põhinev süit balletist „Kalevipoeg” (1947) kannab rõõmsat, naiivset ja heroilist elutunnet. Tundub, et „eestiaegse” kroonurahvusluse ja Stalini aja „rahvusliku vormi ja sotsialistliku sisu” muusikakontseptsiooni vahel väga suurt vahet ei olegi.

Hea maitse ja viimistlus
Muusikas ei pruugi see üldsegi midagi hirmsat tähendada. Neeme Järvi pani balletisüiti palju rõõmsat huumorit, rõhutades bassiregistrit, vetruvaid rütme ja muhedaid kõlasid. Esituse põhiväärtuseks ei olnud siiski rahvalikkus, vaid pigem hea maitse ja viimistlus: soolopillide pehmed ja loomulikud sisseastumised (Kalevipoja ja Saarepiiga tants, Tuule tants), ümarad lõpetused, rasketele rütmidele vastanduvad õhulised kõlamustrid (Karjalasoome tants). Just selles lapsemeelses teoses tuli esile Järvi esteetiline kõlatunnetus: ka kõlajõudu kasutades väldib ta tahumatust või ülepinget.

Erksam kui kunagi varem
Eduard Tubin kritiseeris oma 1956. aastal loodud „Kuuenda sümfooniaga” ühiskonna moraalset allakäiku. Muusikas kõlab moonutatud, groteskseid seltskonnatantsu– ja džässirütme. Õudne mõeldagi, kuidas paistaks heliloojale tänane elu... Dramaatilist ängi tulvil teose tegid kergemaks ja helgemaks esituse selge vorm ja ergas ning voolav rütmika. Iga osa lõpetus mõjus nagu päralejõudmine pärast pingelist rännakut. Kontserdi lõpetas rootsi helilooja Wilhelm Stenhammari „Esimene klaverikontsert” (1893) – teos, milles parasjagu laene (hilis)romantikutelt ja natuke tühja paatostki. Seda hinnatavam oli rootslase Per Tengstrandi esitus, mille tegi kordumatuks siirus. Tegelikult oli kontserdi kõikidest ettekannetest kollektiivset kohalolekut tunda. Ja enamik kiidusõnadest käib ka ERSO kohta, kes dirigendiga kaasa läks, kujundit lausa õhust haaras ja rolli tunnetas.

Tundub, et Sirbis orkestri arengut kaalunud Toomas Velmetil on õigus: „ERSO on erksam, täpsem ja loominguliselt avatum kui kunagi varem.”

 

DSO grows under maestro’s baton
June 2, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

Two more weekends and the run is over. Neeme Järvi’s 15–year stint as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will be in the books. The DSO won’t be his baby any more.

Järvi, who turns 68 on Tuesday, is moving on. But he takes a deep sense of accomplishment with him.
“Step by step, we have grown together for 15 years,” Järvi says on a quiet afternoon, in a rambling, expansive conversation. “We’re a really good team.”

That’s surely the understatement of the last decade and a half. The Estonian–born conductor and this mid–American orchestra have evolved into a championship team. They have changed together, flowered together, triumphed together. Especially over the last half–dozen seasons, they have turned what once were highlights into a lofty new standard of excellence at Orchestra Hall.

Hardly surprising from a conductor who has sustained a never–ending honeymoon with his musicians, Järvi talks about the art of conducting as “sharing the love.” That’s what it’s all about for him, pure and simple.

Ask him to summarize his legacy with the DSO, and he begins dutifully: “Oh, a long list of performances –– Nielsen, Sibelius, Mahler, pieces by many composers who wrote beautiful music...”

But in the flick of a baton, Järvi turns back to the sharing. “It doesn’t seem like 15 years,” he says, breaking off his recitation. “For me, the highlights are in the quality of the relationship, the mutual understanding. What have we achieved? Look at the spaces around the Max. It was the ugliest place when I came here –– empty. But now we have the Max and the music school and many other new buildings going up. The DSO has achieved this. The vision was right.”

Among the greats
The Max M. Fisher Music Center, the Detroit School for the Arts, the more than 20 recordings for Chandos, season after season of concerts that delivered high–octane adventure even in seemingly familiar works (and many were not) –– that’s the stuff of a golden age. It’s all those things taken together that put the Järvi era in a league with Paul Paray, the Frenchman who raised the DSO’s bar for elegance in the 1950s, and Antal Dorati, the Hungarian who brought an electric mix of brilliance and adventure in the late ’70s.

Yet in fairness, Järvi more than matched those distinguished predecessors. He trumped them. He stayed longer and delivered more. He elevated the orchestra, charmed the public, and, in the process of both, he provided the engendering spirit for the Max itself. His directorship has been historic, and to find its parallel you have to go all the way back to the patriarch of DSO music directors, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, who willed Orchestra Hall into existence in 1919 and whose tenure (1918–36) even exceeded Järvi’s by three seasons.

As for the magic he has worked on the orchestra itself, Järvi readily gets down to cases. He managed to weed out “some weak players,” he says.

He now has a solid cello section, regards the violas as “especially improved” and declares personal confidence in “the dominant group, the violins –– all of them.” He might have added to that shining list the French horns and a fine collection of principal wind players.

A risk taker
However, Järvi did more than assemble a stellar band. He taught this ensemble to be quick and adaptable. At any given performance, the musician who does not pay attention to the man up front may well find himself out of sync if he simply assumes the music flying by will go just the way Järvi did it in rehearsal or even in the previous performance.

“There’s always the element of the unexpected with Neeme, which is wonderful in a concert,” says cellist Haden McKay, a 21–year veteran of the DSO. “Of course, that kind of risk–taking can also be scary, knowing we have to follow on the spot in front of an audience. But that’s Neeme. He can bring out something we didn’t even know was there. It’s not intellectualized. It’s just a force of character that comes out in the music.”

Harpist Patty Masri–Fletcher, who has played with the DSO since the year before Järvi began his directorship, puts him on a special pedestal. “In my career he will always be my maestro,” she says. “I’m going to miss him terribly. He urged the community to value the orchestra. He’s always been on the side of very good music played by world–class musicians.

“He also has a unique ability to bridge the gap between audience and musicians through personal rapport, programming and his conducting style. He brings so much joy to it. His whole body gets involved –– even his tummy.”

Although he didn’t mention that particular part, Järvi did acknowledge his whole–body approach to indicating beat and expression. “The eyes, the fingers, the elbows,” he says, as that familiar mischievous grin comes over his face. His glance falls southerly. “The hips.”

Stephen Millen, who once played clarinet as a DSO intern under Järvi and now serves as the orchestra’s vice president and general manager, says the engaging character audiences see on the podium is the real Järvi.“He puts aside all the cares of the world and focuses on making the art of music joyful,” Millen says. “Now that I work with him in a different capacity, I still see that joy all the time. Neeme is nurturing, supportive and positive all the time.”

Looking ahead
While he may be serious about music, Järvi never seems to take himself too seriously. “The difference between God and a conductor,” he says, “is that some conductors want to be God. But these days, a chief conductor can’t behave like Toscanini. There is no place for such tyrants any more.”

And yet, he adds, a helmsman is essential. As an aggregation of high–intensity creative souls, an orchestra needs to be accountable to someone with a musical sophistication that’s at least equal to its own. In short, an orchestra needs a music director, which the DSO will not have next season and well may not have the season after that.

Many conductors will stand on the podium as the search for a new music director hovers in the exploratory phase. Järvi called the prospect of two seasons with nothing but guest conductors “a dangerous situation.”

A symphony orchestra, he says, needs a clear, consistent artistic vision.

“The music director brings that by making the same demands every day, over and over. We have become accustomed to each other. Now, I can make just a little demonstration of a string bowing and they’ve got it. We don’t even have to stop. They just make the adjustment, and we keep going.

“That sort of daily training is important, even for the Berlin Philharmonic. It’s not an easy thing for an orchestra to be completely confident, to keep good intonation, to stay on its toes. A guest conductor can never achieve that. The chief conductor is the person who says we’re good but we need to be better. That’s not a guest conductor’s job. It isn’t a matter of philosophy but of detailed work. If that’s missing too many years, the orchestra suffers.”

“I agree with Neeme,” says Anne Parson, the DSO’s president and executive director. “I also believe in the strength of this institution. The plan for the transition from Neeme’s incredible tenure to the new artistic leadership has to be executed carefully and thoughtfully. And our plan calls for going a year or two without a music director.

“I feel very good about the way we’re pursuing this goal. We can’t do it publicly. We can’t get involved in a game of who’s going to be the next music director. But I have promised everybody –– the orchestra, the board, the staff –– that we will come to a decision together. And meanwhile, I can assure our community that the DSO will be there in good form as we sort this out.”

So what’s the departing maestro’s recipe for his best possible successor?
“He –– or she –– must be a human being first of all, someone with good technique but also a skillful communicator. In the first two minutes, an orchestra knows what a conductor is made of. That’s why orchestra players must be at the center of any search for a music director.”

Järvi, who now takes on simultaneous directorships with the New Jersey Symphony and the Hague Resident Orchestra, leaves the DSO with the lifetime title of music director emeritus. He’ll be back as a guest next season and says he’s counting on many a visit after that.

“Detroit is a great musical city, and Orchestra Hall is one of the very best places in the world to create music,” he says. “It is always such a pleasure to hear that sound open up. I really don’t want to go to the so–called Big Five (Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York) as a guest conductor because I can’t get that result. I would rather come back here. This is a truly great orchestra.”

 

Maarika Järvi reflects on growing up under the maestro’s musical influence
June 2, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

Maarika Järvi listens patiently, if a bit quizzically, to the exclamation on the other end of the phone line. How can so much musical talent be concentrated in one family?

The children of conductor Neeme Järvi represent a musical dynasty with few precedents in the history of music. One thinks of the Bach family. Then there’s, well, who? Not even the Mozarts populated the world with such a spray of talent.

“For us, it’s normal,” Maarika Järvi replies, and she might have been suppressing a yawn. “We’re all just trying to make our music and live our lives. There are many examples of people who go into the family business.”

The only Järvi offspring not involved in the three–week festival marking Dad’s exit after 15 seasons as DSO music director is Kristjan Järvi. Him? Oh, at age 33, he’s just been appointed chief conductor of the Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra.

“We all grew up with music in the air,” Maarika Järvi says by phone from her home in Geneva, Switzerland. “We listened to music all day long. And I don’t mean background music. We listened seriously with my father, who always loved recordings. We would also accompany him to concerts, operas, rehearsals.

“But it wasn’t just the exposure to so much music. My father was always so full of enthusiasm for music. He had such deep love for it. As a child, you couldn’t help being infected.”

And yet, Järvi insists, Dad’s enthusiasm never turned into pressure on the children to take up his profession. “Perhaps we were gently nudged, but each of us made the choice for ourselves. For a brief time, I considered doing something else. And I know Kristjan did the same thing. But it all ends up where your heart is.”

While Paavo Järvi followed his father’s example not only as a conductor but also as a percussionist, and Kristjan pursued the piano as his instrument, Maarika Järvi found her personal voice in the flute. She spent several seasons as principal of the Madrid Radio and Television Orchestra in Spain before venturing into a solo career.

“In a way, I miss all the wonderful works you get to play in an orchestra,” she says, “but there’s also a positive side to performing as a soloist. You have opportunities.”

Limited ones, given the modest classical repertoire –– unless you set about to create a whole new repertoire, which is exactly what Järvi has done in commissioning composers to write works for her to perform around the world.

Here, however, she will play Mozart. She says it will be just like the old days back home in Tallinn, Estonia.

“It’s always been so easy performing with my father. I watched him conduct during my whole childhood. There’s never any pressure. We just seem to agree.”

 

Ood Neeme Järvile ja ERSOle
3. juuni 2005
Sirp
Toomas Velmet

2 x USA, Rootsi, Hollandi ja Jaapani peadirigendi, Eesti dirigendi Neeme Järvi kavad on alati põnevalt ootamatud. Neljas festivalikontsert ja maestro Järvi oma esimese orkestri (1960 – 1979) ees, tõsi, 28. mail. Lugesin laval kokku kaheksa orkestranti sajast tolleaegsest ERSO koosseisust. Aeg teeb oma töö orkestrantidega, aga orkester jääb ja on täie tervise juures nagu maestrogi.

Kava alustati Eugen Kapi süidiga balletist “Kalevipoeg”. See kuueosaline tantsusüit kõlab suure orkestriga kontserdilaval Järvi esituses hästi mahedana kõlaliselt ja vaimukana. Need helikeelelt lihtsakoelised, aga karakteersed kujundid on väga meisterlikult orkestreeritud ja kõrgtasemele viimistletud esitus tõstis süidi hoopis teisele ja kõrgemale hinnangutasemele allakirjutanu kõrvus, kui varasemast kivistunud standard. Kui vastab tõele asjaolu, et Eugen Kapp ei orkestreerinud oma lavateoseid ise, siis vääriks küll nimetamist ka teose partituuri tegija, olgu see siis Paul Karp või Kirill Raudsepp – tänapäeval vääriks tegu avalikustamist.

Väga mõjuv oli ka Eduard Tubina VI sümfoonia asetamine Eugen Kapi taustale. See restaureeris väga täpselt 1950. aastate Eesti muusikalise tausta, kuhu ootamatult ilmus Tubin oma V ja VI sümfooniaga. Eriti V esmaesitus Eestis 1956. aastal Sergei Prohhorovi juhatusel Raadio SOga oli absoluutselt positiivne šokk ja minusugune 14aastane poisike ei saanud sellelegi pihta. VI esituse ajaks (1959, Prohhorov) oli taust juba mõnevõrra muutunud tänu Tambergile, Tormisele ja Räätsale, aga ka Tubin ise oli paljus muutunud. Arvan teadvat, et Eesti Raadio arhiivis on olemas nii V kui VI tolleaegsed salvestised ja naudin ette võimalust võrdlevalt kuulata, kas või Neeme Järvi 1961. ja 2005. aasta VI–ga. See sümfoonia on nii orkestrile kui dirigendile meisterlikkuse kool – esimesele ansambli tugevusproov ja teisele käsitöö efektiivsuse ja filosoofilise vaimsuse proovikivi.

Järvi pani ennast maksma proovides (mida õnnestus jälgida) äärmiselt ökonoomse ja tulemusrikka tööga, teades oma suure kogemuse baasilt täpselt, kus on karid peidus ja kus neid pole. Kontserdil jäi vaid üle imestada, kuivõrd lihtsate ja minimaalsete manuaalsete vahenditega on võimalik saavutada vapustav muusikaline tulemus.

ERSO–le oli sellesarnase tulemuse saavutamisel oluline, et mitte öelda otsustav roll, ja see teostati dirigendi tasemele vastavalt. Loodan, et maestro ei tagane oma sõnadest, mida ta kontserdijärgselt ütles hinnanguna ERSO–le: “Sellisel professionaalsel tasemel, noore ja loominguliselt erksa orkestriga olen valmis minema ükskõik millisele maailmalavale.”

ERSO on viimastel hooaegadel tõestanud oma valmidust suurteks tegudeks ja on viimane aeg riigil investeerida ja leida investeerijaid sellesse loomingulisse üksusesse, sest nagu teada – töö õilistab inimest (orkestranti), aga võib ka temas kõik ilusa tappa.

Kontserdi nn rootsi poole täitis helilooja, pianisti ja dirigendi Wilhelm Stenhammari (1871 – 1927) Klaverikontsert nr 1 b–moll op. 1 (1893). Lausromantilise, 50 minutit kestva neljaosalise mammutkontserdi esmaesituste seas ülemöödunud sajandi lõpus domineerib ja seisab rahnuna 1894. aastal autori esitus Berliini Filharmoonikutega Richard Straussi juhatusel. Kirjutatud on, et teoses on tunda Wagneri, Liszti, Brahmsi ja Griegi mõjusid, aga kuskil ei ole ma lugenud Tšaikovski mõjudest. Ometi on eriti orkestratsioon ja ka muusikaline materjal hästi Tšaikovski–pärane, kuigi mitte tsiteeriv, aga helistikki sama kui viimasel op. 23 (Esimene klaverikontsert).

Olgu sellega, kuidas on, kuid huvitav oli teose esitus kindlasti. Päris täpselt ei saanudki teada, kas kontsert esitati Kurt Atterbergi orkestratsioonis (1946) või 1990. aastal professor Allan Ho leitud originaalis. Aga nagu tavaks öelda, mis tähtsust sellelgi on: peaasi et kõlas hästi. Pianist Per Tengstrand on võtnud oma raudrepertuaari kogu Stenhammari klaveriloomingu ning seda väga täpselt iseloomustanud: “Kurb, aga ilus”. Tengstrandi interpretatsioonis torkas kõrva haruldane vertikaalne kõla ja päris erilise saavutusena kontserdisaali mitte esimeses nooruses Steinway kalliks mängimine. Tähtsaim on asjaolu, et Tengstrand, Järvi ja ERSO (muide keelpillide täiskoosseisuga) saavutasid ka selles teoses absoluutse ühismeele ja ettekanne oli kõik 50 minutit põnevusega jälgitav.

Festival sai sel nädalal esimese poolega hakkama ning palju põnevat on veel ees.

 

Second half of program makes DSO a winner
June 4, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

In the spirit of “Järvi Fest,” as proclaimed on posters placed around the lobby and inside Orchestra Hall, this weekend’s Detroit Symphony Orchestra classical subscription program might be viewed sympathetically as a family affair.

Neeme Järvi was on hand Thursday night to lead his next to last series of concerts as music director, and daughter Maarika Järvi had flown in from her home in Geneva, Switzerland, as flute soloist.

On the other hand, this slight, brief program evoked a sense of DSO Lite. A really jaundiced observer simply might have dismissed the evening as cheap and cheerful. Roughly a quarter of the program’s scant 95–minute duration was occupied by the intermission.

Now, an hour and a half can provide a profoundly satisfying concert experience. For instance, that’s about the length of Mahler’s Third Symphony. Indeed, I wouldn’t feel cheated by nothing more than the 65 minutes of the Beethoven Ninth. Yet, Thursday night, when intermission popped up ever so quickly, I was still waiting for something that mattered.

Järvi had just led the DSO through the 13 minutes of Liszt’s dolorous, dark (and yet lite) “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5,” and Maarika Järvi had chipped in an agreeable turn through Mozart’s lyrical Andante in C (5 minutes) and Busoni’s chirpy Divertimento for Flute and Orchestra (8 minutes) as well as the 3–minute encore of Faure’s “Morceau de Concours.” Why, one wondered, couldn’t she have consolidated her effort in something more ambitious, like Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto?

Not that these 29 minutes together didn’t largely justify, say, $120 for a pair of tickets plus the cost of a baby sitter, dinner out, parking and two drinks at intermission. Happily, 34 minutes remained on the far side of intermission, and what was to come almost made the entire night worthwhile.

That balance embraced a suite from Prokofiev’s magnificent ballet “Romeo and Juliet,” nine movements Järvi himself had selected and somewhat re–ordered for good dramatic effect.

Now here was the DSO at full bore and brilliance, its low string glowing, the violins glistening, the winds and brasses by turns edgy, witty and songful. As Järvi worked his way through Prokofiev’s richly hued scenes of merriment, conflict and tragic loss, his band paraded all the virtues it has cultivated under his 15 years of leadership. It was a heady, delicious exhibition.

 

Järvi’s verve elicits spirited playing
June 4, 2005
Free Press Music Critic
Mark Stryker

Neeme Järvi’s final two weeks of subscription concerts as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra began Thursday with a memorable if quirky party–piece program, some father–daughter bonding and an electric performance of a Suite from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” that revealed just how simpatico the relationship between Järvi and his troops has become after nearly 670 concerts.

Thursday inaugurated the three–week “Järvi Fest!” celebration that is turning the Max M. Fisher Music Center into a playground for the Järvi clan. Maarika Järvi, a fine flutist, is the soloist this week, essaying two miniatures: Mozart’s delicate Andante in C for Flute and Orchestra and Ferruccio Busoni’s Divertimento, Op. 52, whose scurrying impetuosity brought out her best playing Thursday. There was an encore, too, by Gabriel Faure, followed by a hug from a proud papa.

(Järvi’s eldest son, Paavo, will conduct the DSO’s season–ending concerts June 17–19; No. 2 son, Kristjan, Maarika and Paavo will join their father at a June 16 gala.)

Elsewhere on Thursday, Järvi turned what could have been a throwaway opener, Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5” (orchestrated by Franz Doppler), into a deliriously lyrical expression of the Hungarian soul, investing the music with Strauss–like weight and spaciousness and drawing evocatively somber colors from the low strings.

Prokofiev’s familiar ballet score was rendered in nine movements selected by Järvi, opening with a fiercely dramatic “Montagues and Capulets.” The plot unfolded in beautifully detailed playing. Järvi captured the shifting moods of conflict, charm, humor, eroticism, violence and tragedy with thrilling panache, and the orchestra, led by a blaze of horns, kicked butt.

 

Järvi’s vibrant “Rite” wins 7 curtain calls
June 11, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

The premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in 1913 famously started a riot. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s performance of it Thursday ignited a love fest with the most sustained cheers and exuberant roars I have heard in my 10 years at Orchestra Hall.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Thursday, Orchestra Hall
Max M. Fisher Music Center
3711 Woodward, Detroit

Yes, it was a rip–snorting reading, and, yes, Stravinsky’s radicalism long ago morphed into a mainstream thrill ride. But this was about music director Neeme Järvi, whose historic 15–year tenure has reached its end. The charismatic maestro, who turned 68 on Tuesday, has elevated the DSO to its highest artistic peak. The sheer joy he has brought to music–making laid the foundation for an era of unprecedented growth and good feelings.

The public was saying thanks. And so were the musicians, who clapped or tapped their bows through seven curtain calls that followed the “Rite” and two passes through a zippy, south–of–the–border encore, “Malambo” by Alberto Ginastera.
Ole!

The blockbuster program –– not only “The Rite” but Alexander Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy” and Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” –– was designed to send Järvi out with a bang. (Fate had other plans: Järvi’s son Paavo, who was to conduct the DSO next week, withdrew because of injury. Järvi will step in, giving audiences an unexpected encore.)

Meanwhile, this week’s program is a doozy: Three splashy 20th–Century landmarks pulsating with thematic and formal connections. Each explores a flank of the life force: erotic love (Scriabin); romantic love and mortality (Strauss); pagan ritual and fertility (Stravinsky).

On Thursday, Järvi invested Scriabin’s sensuous textures, unmoored harmony and heaving episodes with impetuous surges of tempo and dynamics. In the key solo role, principal trumpet Ramon Parcells had a strong night, and the DSO’s luscious sound and brilliant but controlled climaxes spoke of the telepathic link between the players and conductor.

Soprano Inger Dam–Jensen sang the “Four Last Songs” with a meltingly sweet tone and subtle phrasing that got at the emotional core of the text, though the hefty accompaniment sometimes swallowed her medium–weight voice.

Stravinsky’s “Rite” came alive on the wings of Järvi’s rhythmic virtuosity and improvisatory flair. This was a more kinetically violent performance than the blue–flame smolder of the version he conducted here in 2001. Still, he captured the nascent backbeats in Stravinsky’s pummeling rhythm, and the orchestra, as usual, gave him everything it had.

 

Järvi’s “farewell” plays to his every strength
June 11, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Thursday, Orchestra Hall
Max M. Fisher Music Center
3711 Woodward, Detroit

This was supposed to be Neeme Järvi’s farewell concert program as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The boisterous greeting he received when he first walked on stage, before he had conducted a note, was just that sort of thanks–for–the–memories ovation. Järvi then gave his adoring public one more thriller to remember him by. But, for those who didn’t get the memo, it was not the maestro’s exit event after all.

Järvi will be back next week for the DSO’s season finale, filling in for the scheduled conductor, his son Paavo Järvi, who is receiving treatment for a hand ailment. That will absolutely and for sure end Järvi’s 15–year DSO directorship.

But conductor and orchestra would be hard pressed to top Thursday night’s “farewell” affair, which began with a feverish performance of Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy” and ended with a spectacular turn through Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” that neatly summed up Järvi’s contribution to this orchestra and the distance it has come with him.

And yet those two triumphs were matched by a third, the rare treat of Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” sung by Danish soprano Inger Dam–Jensen. Rare on two counts: The DSO too seldom programs vocalists in solo roles, and Dam–Jensen’s collaboration with Järvi left little to wish for in one of the most glorious works ever penned for voice and orchestra.

Strauss was in his 80s when he wrote these luminous, ruminative pieces that focus largely on life’s autumn, its twilight, its long farewell by whatever name. Dam–Jensen indulged each song with an expansive reflection suggestive of a point in life when its ending and its meaning transcend the constraint of time. Her warm, supple voice embraced the music’s great range with disarming ease. And the DSO dispatched its likewise virtuoso role with equal aplomb.

As prelude to this radiant Strauss came Scriabin’s hot–house “Poem of Ecstasy,” a fervent, fragile and pointedly sensual essay written in the first decade of the 20th century. Imagine Wagner retouched with the pastel palette of Debussy and you have a fair idea of the “Poem.” And no small debt is owed this music by the first of Stravinsky’s great ballets, “The Firebird” (1910). Järvi and the DSO delivered a shimmering performance, as precise as it was impassioned.

But “The Rite of Spring” was the prize, in every fiber the definition of Järvi’s legacy that he doubtless intended it to be. The DSO solved the music’s defiantly complex rhythms to supercharged effect, while capturing the full spectrum of Stravinsky’s vibrant colors. What an exit for Järvi.

Or it would have been. Now the maestro must rise to that high bar one more week

 

Neeme Järvi and the DSO
June 12, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

Surprise! Neeme Järvi is back on the podium at Orchestra Hall this week to close out his 15–year tenure with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Järvi’s son Paavo was originally scheduled to lead the final concerts of the season as part of the Järvi Fest! celebration to honor his father. But when a minor hand injury forced him to the sidelines, Neeme Järvi, logically, agreed to step back into the spotlight. Fate is funny –– Järvi’s final DSO concert now comes on Father’s Day.

The program remains the same: Mozart’s “Overture to the La clemenza di Tito,” Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 and the world premiere of Estonian Erkki–Sven Tüür’s “Concerto for Violin, Clarinet and Orchestra” with violinist Isabelle van Kuelen and clarinetist Michael Collins.

 

Neeme Järvi leaves DSO and Detroit richer
June 16, 2005
Detroit News

Neeme Järvi conducts his final concerts this weekend as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. After 15 years, the maestro will leave behind a stronger, more versatile orchestra, a concert hall that is now among the world’s finest, and a support network that has carried the symphony through some extremely challenging times.

Musically, Järvi is virtually unmatched as a conductor. His leadership has expanded the classical music audience in Metro Detroit and brought the orchestra world acclaim for its range and energy.

Järvi’s presence was also critical to the drive to build the Max M. Fisher Music Center, which encompasses Orchestra Hall and provides one of the nation’s most exciting cultural facilities. The center is serving as a catalyst for other development in its Woodward Avenue neighborhood.

And Järvi helped the DSO move into a new era for cultural institutions. Government support of the arts has dwindled, and arts groups must rely solely on ticket sales and donors to stay afloat.

This final series of concerts, for example, is sponsored by Guardian Industries. Guardian and other corporate supporters get the connection between a vibrant business environment and a thriving cultural scene. That scene in Detroit is richer because of Järvi’s tenure.It is a fine thing for leaders to be able to say, as Neeme Järvi can, that they leave an organization stronger than when they arrived.

Järvi’s “farewell” plays to his every strength
June 16, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

If you liked Neeme Järvi’s first “final” concerts as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra last weekend, you probably already have your tickets for his next –– and very last –– final appearances Friday through Sunday.

It wasn’t planned this way. But when Järvi’s son Paavo, music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, became indisposed with a hand ailment, he bowed out of his scheduled guest conducting date with the DSO this weekend. The elder Järvi, who, of course, was sticking around to enjoy his son’s labors, agreed to pick up the stick one more time.

Headlining the program, which remains unchanged, is the world premiere of Estonian composer Erkki–Sven Tüür’s “Noesis,” a concerto for clarinet, violin and orchestra. The title comes from the Greek for the process of recognition and understanding, says Tüür, who subscribes to the idea that music enhances perception, learning and reasoning.

Also on the program is Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E–flat (“Rhenish”).

When Järvi, 68, has beat his absolutely last measure after 15 years as DSO music director (and we know these will be final because the DSO season ends here), he trundles off to begin simultaneous directorships of the New Jersey Symphony and The Hague (Netherlands) Resident Orchestra.

 

Järvi is mostly upbeat as final concerts arrive
June 18, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

Neeme Järvi will lead his final concerts as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra today and Sunday –– 672 and 673 for those keeping score.

In an age in which conductors tend to wear out their welcome at the seven–year itch milestone, the DSO’s collaboration with its ebullient 68–year–old Estonian maestro represents a landmark era of good feelings.

Järvi’s 15–year tenure is the second–longest in DSO history, after the 18 years of Ossip Gabrilowitsch from 1918 to 1936.

“It’s fantastic to be leaving this post with such joy and love and not be pushed away in an atmosphere of bad feelings,” said Järvi, relaxing in the green room at the Max M. Fisher Music Center after Friday morning’s coffee concert.

“We have such a mutual understanding here and built such a great relationship with the musicians and the audience.”

Järvi’s joyful music–making, spontaneous style and wide–ranging repertoire have energized musicians, elated audiences and reclaimed the orchestra’s international reputation.

But the victories transcend the hermetic confines of classical music. The DSO has been on the front lines of rebuilding Detroit during the Järvi era, erecting the $60–million cultural palace nicknamed the Max and a $32–million office building, as well as donating the land and vision for the adjacent Detroit School of Arts, a public high school.

“Neeme deserves an enormous amount of credit,” said Mark Volpe, former DSO executive director and now managing director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Volpe spoke at Thursday’s black–tie gala honoring Järvi and his family.

“He took a plunge with an orchestra that had severe financial issues and he gave it an energy and enthusiasm that was contagious. He made the orchestra an important part of the community in a way that some of his predecessors were not able to do. That’s special.”

June at the Max has been devoted to Järvi Fest!, a three–week celebration sending the maestro off on a wave of familial warmth, electric performances, packed houses, spirited encores and what has seemed like one long standing ovation. But there also has been a bittersweet haze in the air.

“I feel like we’re losing something very precious,” Rosetta Creed of Novi said Friday. “The man has such charisma and personality.”

Emotions are running high backstage. Though Järvi, smiling Friday, said he had “no time to be sad,” some musicians have sensed the melancholy in their beloved maestro.

“He’s really unique in his ability to capture a spirit and energy and put that across to musicians,” violist Caroline Coade said after the morning concert as she shed a tear. “He brings each piece alive with its own character, color and personality.”

Patrons got a final glimpse of Järvi’s charm Friday when, as he walked off stage after the final Schumann symphony, he spied a photographer and stopped to pose for a split second. Yes, Järvi will return regularly to Detroit as music director emeritus. But if you want a snapshot of the end of an era, this is the weekend to get it.

 

Tale of 2 symphonies begins for Järvi
September 25, 2005
The Star–Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

This past week, Neeme Järvi led his first performances as chief conductor of the Hague Residentie Orchestra in the Netherlands. The programs included large, beefy works by Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky, and a modern Dutch piece. As part of its season opening week of concerts, the state–supported ensemble of about 100 full–time players officially opened the Dutch parliament. Queen Beatrix and parliament members attended.

On Thursday, the Estonian–born Järvi will lead his first performances as the new music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, a 36–week ensemble with about 70 players. The program is lighter and leaner: a Haydn symphony, Rachmaninoff’s frothy “Symphonic Dances,” Saint–Säens’ Piano Concerto with pianist Marc–André Hamelin. No state or national dignitaries are expected, and the performance will be in New Brunswick, not the orchestra’s flagship hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

The contrast could not be more striking.

There will be no gala to welcome Neeme Järvi (pronounced NAY–meh YAIR–vee). Instead, the NJSO, which has done poorly on its fund–raising galas in recent seasons, has joined forces with NJPAC to play for the hall’s annual Spotlight Gala on Saturday. It will be a $1,000–a–ticket fund–raiser that will feature Broadway singer Audra McDonald and the NJSO as backup band in a program of American and jazz–influenced music.

Järvi says he cares little about the absence of a welcoming party. “It doesn’t mean that much to me. Better to join with NJPAC than to spend lots of money to eat and drink at (our own) opening gala.”

The Dutch orchestra operates in a country famous for its taste for contemporary music and government support of the arts. It plans to program works by Dutch composers, both contemporary and historic, as well as a mix of larger 20th–century and late Romantic works to satisfy Järvi’s wide–ranging tastes. Recording contracts and radio broadcasts are in the works.

The NJSO, struggling under a $19.5 million debt and trying to stop a pattern of annual deficits, is a second–tier American ensemble with a two–decade–long history of artistic growth and a modest list of past recordings. During the three–year search it took to secure Järvi’s services, concert attendance sagged as audiences tired of a revolving door of guest conductors. It has, in the past, presented premieres of new works, but this year settles back into a mix of modern and older repertoire, sandwiching a mid–season Mozart Festival.

“Things are always interesting with American orchestras; we’ll see what happens,” says Järvi, 68, in a phone interview from the Hague just before his performances last week. “There are good people in New Jersey. My job is to make music, as well as I can, and I’ll have to go to the people, to build a relationship with the community.”

There is no question that Järvi, one of the most recorded conductors working and a proven international conducting star, is the biggest catch the NJSO has ever made. Järvi, though modest in person, is keenly aware of the contrasts between his two new orchestras. But because he has had a solid year of guest conducting with the New Jerseyans already, he comes with high hopes.

He speaks glowingly of the strong team spirit that permeates the NJSO ranks, and admires the musicians’ professionalism and tenacity, even in the face of ongoing negotiations for a new, one–year contract that’s likely to result in pay cuts.

“I understand that, with a pay cut, no one is happy,” Järvi says. But, he points out, with the closing of the much larger Montreal Symphony Orchestra and recent strikes in St. Louis and other locations, American musicians are facing tough times everywhere.

“Every American orchestra depends on its community, and we must not forget (larger) problems right now, like rebuilding New Orleans, or the war in Iraq. We have to be careful now not to demand things if there is no way to provide them,” Järvi says.

Still, his wish list is clear. He has spoken openly and often about the need for any orchestra, and particularly the New Jersey ensemble, to tour for recognition, play live for radio broadcasts to develop an audience, and make recordings for posterity. This is how he gave the once sagging Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which he led for 15 years ending this past June, a new image, a new morale and a new, deeply supportive, audience base.

“We have to make ourselves known as a good team and good orchestra, make New Jersey better known for its music,” Järvi says.

Another possible outcome of the contract talks is a reduction in the number of salaried musicians, now 70. Järvi still says he is focused on the music, not the math.

“I need a bigger string section, especially violins,” Järvi says. Unlike his New Jersey predecessor, Zdenek Macal, who pushed the NJSO into larger repertoire by Mahler and Strauss, Järvi clearly plans to focus on earlier classical works that better fit the leaner, more translucent sound of New Jersey’s strings.

“We’ve had to cut big Romantic masterpieces to go more classical, but I like the great classics like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven –– that’s the size New Jersey can do well.”

The NJSO’s purchase in 2003 of 30 rare, Italian–made string instruments for its players –– including 12 Stradivarius violins –– remains a big draw for Järvi, who admires the risks the orchestra took to make the historic purchase. But he is aware of the drawbacks as well.

“It makes the orchestra members much happier people to hold in their hand a Stradivarius cello, which gives a special color to the string sound. But in some ways, it makes the orchestra weaker, because these are not very powerful instruments. They are beautiful sounding, but to play louder, as in Tchaikovsky symphonies, they are not made for that.”

It will be Järvi’s task, and he clearly counts it as a pleasurable one, to guide the musicians to a smoother blend and to maximize the use of the purchased instruments in his programming.

One issue Järvi may never make his peace with is the orchestra’s schedule of traveling to seven venues around the state. Besides the superior acoustics of NJPAC, two of the other halls –– New Brunswick’s State Theatre and Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium –– he describes as “wonderful.” But, he says, “It’s a very big difference for me to jump every day to a different hall, a different place.” His comfort level will depend on how well the programming accommodates the lesser capabilities of some of the smaller halls, he says.

Järvi seems to consider this first season a chance to discover what he might accomplish on the podium here. It’s also a chance for local audiences to get a better feeling for the infectious blend of joy and skill Järvi brings. There’s not a lot of time to cement the relationship. “A year doesn’t count for much; that’s why I was hired for three years,” Järvi points out.

Now, the question is, can New Jersey keep the best and most accomplished conductor it has ever attracted beyond his first three–year commitment?

“It’s difficult to say at this point,” Järvi says. “We’ll see how things go. We just need to spend time together. I need to concentrate on the music–making. And we need to change things –– and I hope change things for the better.”

 

Järvi steps to podium for start of NJSO season
October 1, 2005
The Star–Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

It was a gradual buildup to Thursday evening’s season–opening performance at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, which officially introduced Neeme Järvi as the 12th music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. There was no long media blitz, no cluster of radio and print interviews, no billboards or broadcast ads announcing the arrival of the 83–year–old orchestra’s most important conductor.

The appearance of the Estonian maestro, an international recording star and former reviver of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and several major European orchestras four times the NJSO’s size, represents a watershed moment for the NJSO –– and its No. 1 hope to re–focus attention on the music. Looking relaxed and unaware of any weight on his shoulders, Järvi, 68, simply walked on stage and struck up the band in a stirring rendition of “The Star–Spangled Banner,” adding enough animated gestures to make the shyest sing louder.

Next up was a marvelously clean rendering of Haydn’s Symphony No. 94, which exhibited an orchestra already accustomed to a maestro it saw as a frequent guest last season. Musicians played with an eagerness that was fetching. Since the NJSO adjourns for the summer, early fall performances often have more of a pre–game feeling than something for the scoreboards. But this was the real thing: a cohesive string section with a melded tone, attentive ensemble work from woodwinds and brass and, later in the program, punctuating work by the percussion section.

So begins the era of Järvi, and the evening bode well, with a relative calm to the proceedings and buoyant good humor emanating from the podium and players alike. When it came time for pianist Marc–André Hamelin to sit at the keyboard for Saint–Säens’ Piano Concerto No. 2, the feeling continued.

Hamelin is a remarkably polished pianist, with pearly, even tone production and a command of both loud double octaves and puckish passages in the score. His simmering, translucent style of playing suited well the orchestra’s sound personality, and Järvi kept tempos lively, almost doubling the speed near the end.

Was it pure spontaneity, or has Järvi already trained New Jersey audiences to expect and ask for encores? Either way, rhythmic clapping brought Hamelin back for a solo encore, a short, passionate early etude in C–sharp minor by Scriabin (Op. 2, No. 1).

Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” might rightly be considered the heart of the evening. It was sturdily presented, with clean textures and some lovely solos by principal players. This was not transcendent playing; for that, it required more muscle and more flowing ensemble virtuosity. Järvi never lets his audiences go without stuffing their ears with dessert, in this case, “Vocalise” by Rachmaninoff, calculated to show off the ensemble’s strings as principal melodists.

The orchestra’s collection of 30 Golden Age instruments, which includes Stradivarius violins and a cello, were present and accounted for in the silkier tone of the strings, though the evening had a sense of contained focus. This wasn’t a program for all–out, unbuttoned expression. Rather, it had the feeling of a conductor probing his new ensemble to find the point where it sounds its best.

NJSO board president Victor Parsonnet closed the evening with an onstage champagne toast.
Already, Järvi has made a difference. He is attracting reviewers from major newspapers and was behind a first–ever radio broadcast agreement with WQXR in New York. Can the mid–size orchestra catch up to its new maestro? It has the rest of the season to find out.

 

Haydn, Rachmaninoff and Lots of Smiles
October 1, 2005
The New York Times
Anne Midgette

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., Sept. 29 – Neeme Järvi seems pleased with himself, but in a generous sort of way that invites those around him to be pleased as well. At once warm, engaging and phlegmatic on the conductor’s podium, he seems a bit of a showoff, but one who won’t be really happy unless you enjoy the experience as much as he does.

You could say he works the room; he certainly works the orchestra, lavishing attention on the first violins, flicking the flutes into line with a finger.

All of this set a good tone on Thursday evening at his first official concert as music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, here at the State Theater.

The orchestra is certainly pleased with itself. Mr. Järvi, a renowned and extensively recorded conductor, represents quite a catch for an institution accustomed to being overshadowed by the New York music scene. And after a difficult period chiefly noted in the press for the to–do about a set of rare but evidently overvalued string instruments that it acquired from the collector Herbert Axelrod, since indicted for tax evasion, the orchestra is eager to turn over a new leaf. “New Leader, New Sound, New Era,” trumpets a slogan on the front of the program, with a picture of Mr. Järvi looking particularly cuddly.

There is reason to be pleased. Mr. Järvi has appeared with the orchestra on several occasions since his appointment was announced, so this was hardly a first voyage; and the group and its new conductor work well together.

The orchestra’s sound is open and full, and the woodwinds and brasses seemed in better shape this year, more in line with the richness of the strings (which all those lovely instruments only help). But Mr. Järvi is slightly too phlegmatic; the full sound can seem a little sluggish. Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony, which opened the program, had a slightly ponderous quality where tautness might have served better.

The enjoyable program featured pieces that are solid yet go down easily, not unlike Mr. Järvi himself. Saint–Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto was played with fluid, articulate ease by Marc–André Hamelin, whom Mr. Järvi, in his participatory zeal, actively conducted as well. Mr. Järvi is hardly the type to embrace the subordinate role of accompanist, even in a concerto. But there were times when he and Mr. Hamelin seemed not quite together, Mr. Hamelin’s rhythms being slightly crisper.

Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances,” the composer’s last piece and not an easy one, received a warm and solid performance. This wasn’t a concert that had you at the edge of your seat, but it was a substantial one that showed evidence of strong leadership: something the orchestra is only too happy to welcome.

 

Getting acquainted
October 10, 2005
The Star–Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

The theme of this past weekend’s New Jersey Symphony Orchestra program was dance–inspired works, with entries from Estonia, Sweden and France on the bill. But the actual dance performed on stage Friday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark was that of a new music director, Neeme Järvi, getting to know his orchestra, step by tenuous step.

There were some clumsy turns and toes trod upon in this dance. Like any new partners, learning how to lead or to follow is not yet instinctual. Yet there is a natural flow between conductor and orchestra, and this bright and interesting program –– vintage Järvi in its mixture of lesser known Estonian and Swedish composers and three exhaustively familiar pieces by Ravel (“La Valse,” “Tzigane,” “Boléro”) –– highlighted some of the positives of this new partnership.

And those postives would include a lack of perceptible tension between conductor and players, a conductor who already has identified the orchestra’s core lean, translucent string sound as an asset in need of burnishing, and an orchestra that seems to be trying to follow Järvi with enough precision of response to indulge his habit of whimsical shifts in meter and tempo. In fact, there was so much rubato throughout the evening that at times it felt one was witnessing a pop quiz for musicians –– and they could not always follow his lead in matters of tempo and attack.

On the dark side, there were moments, like the opening measures of “La Valse,” that sounded downright disorganized, and brass and low strings have not yet figured out their place in this newly re–ordered priority of orchestral sound.

Guest soloist for the evening was NJSO’s concertmaster Eric Wyrick, in his annual subscription solo appearance, this time in two drastically contrasting works: Estonian composer Eduard Tubin’s “Suite on Estonian Dance Tunes” for Violin and Orchestra, and Ravel’s “Tzigane,” a famous showpiece with gypsy–like rhythms and flashy fingerwork.

Wyrick played as he has always played –– with great consistency in phrasing, a pure, warm tone, and a self–effacing, almost introverted solo sound that does not always stand out stridently against the orchestral texture. In Tubin’s colorful piece, with its extra woodwinds, straightforward melodies and bracing directness of emotions, there was plenty to work with, and Järvi offered a frank, if not fancy, reading of the work. Audience applause led Järvi to signal Wyrick to repeat a movement of the work as encore –– not a bad idea with such a delightful yet unfamiliar work.

“Tzigane” was more predictably rendered; far more appealing was the program’s opening work, “Swedish Rhapsody No. 3” by Hugo Alfvén, which opened with a magical, offstage soprano saxophone solo and wove its way through several lightly textured sections with fast–shifting moods. These were not hard works to listen to –– 20th century classics whose lineage just off mainstream European musical history was evident.

Since Järvi guest conducted frequently here last season, perhaps it’s pushing things to call the partnership “new,” though in this program he was clearly asking NJSO musicians to be more facile and fleet, where his predecessor, the Czech conductor Zdenek Macal, had drilled this group into a more pressured, saturated sound. Certainly, the Estonian maestro, with his relaxed podium style and ever–present smile, has already got local audiences trained: they clapped in unison to call up the encore he’s coached them to expect. A breezy, lighthearted version of “American Patrol” by F. W. Meacham, while seemingly incongruous with its snappy rhythms and quotes from American military songs, was an excellent companion to Ravel.

 

Comments from an NJSO subscriber regarding concert in New Brunswick

I have never written like this before in my life. I’m 74, have lived in New Jersey for nearly 42 years and I never heard such music from a New Jersey Symphony. For the first time I feel you can honestly use the honorific “Maestro” for your conductor.

On Thursday my day had been horrible and I was not in a good mood when I sat down at the State Theater. Well, from Haydn through the encore Rachmaninoff my spirit really soared into the clouds. Both my wife and I have to work so, regrettably, we could not stay for the champagne reception.

I should explain, I graduated from Lawrence Conservatory of music in 1953, took private graduate work in composition, in New York was Director of Music for 10 years at the Park Avenue Methodist Church, I got into the film world scoring moving pictures, eventually moved on the directing, producing and forming my own company where I wrote a directed all my own film/video scores.

The repertoire the Maestro Järvi put together for the 29th was superb. It absolutely brought me back to life. I have been raving about the concert to my friends ever since that night. The Saint–Saens was unbelievable and Marc–Andre Hamelin was one of the best kept secrets I have ever discovered. The clarity, feeling and virtuosity of Mr. Hamelin blew me away. I was a great fan of Horowitz. Mr. Hamelin had the technique equal to that but he added nuance that Horowitz only gained in his later years. The Symphonic Dances, particularly the Andante con moto, where Maestro Järvi’s rubato conducting and the orchestra’s response was absolutely transforming.

If I had a million dollars to spare, it would go to Maestro Järvi. Unfortunately, our fortunes were nearly destroyed about thirteen years ago. That is why both my wife and I are still working. The subscription this year was a stretch, but the very first concert made it all worthwhile.

My best wishes to Maestro Järvi and the newly revived New Jersey Symphony. The New Jersey Symphony has finally arrived!

What a thrilling, delightful evening it was last night! The performance of the orchestra along with the amazing soloist was fantastic! Your affect on the orchestra and soloists is obvious. I’ve been a subscriber for many years at the State Theater, and have appreciated the talents that each of the conductors has brought to the orchestra. However, I must say that you are bringing something to the NJSO that is taking it to a whole new level.

We are so fortunate to have you with us.

 

Jubilee concert with tradition and joyful music–making
October 17, 2005
Göteborgs Posten
Håkan Dahl

If the first of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra’s jubilee concerts wasn’t connected to the orchestra’s tradition, then we hade more of that goods in the second. Sibelius, Nielsen, Stenhammar and some Alfvén, and, furthermore, Neeme Järvi on the podium. A Järvi in excellent musical mood, and thus a splendid inspirer.

What happened on the Friday when all pieces fell into place, was that the symbol of the orchestra’s successes the last 20 years, the orchestral sound with its many shades, made a jubilant re–entrance.

It wasn’t only about nostalgia, but a very tangible difference of quality.

This of course brings the matter of tradition and renewal at its head.

How does one bring the best from the tradition into the future?

Sibelius, Nielsen and Stenhammar give, as composers, in my mind, splendid answers. Even though these works are performed quite often, more than once one was almost chocked by how “modern“ they are, despite the fact that they are 80–90 years old.

It was probably most obvious in Stenhammar’s second symphony. The broad story–telling, so rich with fantasy and ideas. And yet one felt like being part of a bigger context when the symphony had reached its end.

Maybe that’s where the secret lies. To know why one creates, and to do it with that eagerness that follows delight. The members of the Gothenburg Symphony have, anyhow, no difficulties what so ever to follow under these conditions.

If one is to celebrate a jubilee, it is quite natural to make the framework especially festive as well. One such element that felt quite justified, was the tribute (with the grandchildren as deputies) to Stenhammar. Because if anyone made an imprint on the orchestra during its first decades, it was him. And it was just as logical that Neeme Järvi, after the concert, joined the row of predecessors and celebrities by unveiling a bust of himself in the foyer.

Two encores and standing ovations was quite telling of the atmosphere.

 

Barbara Bonney with silvery voice
October 21, 2005
Göteborgs Posten
Magnus Haglund

Sometimes one is mistaken. Like in the third and final encore of this magnificent concert. It sounds like Handel but turns out to be a movement from The Song by Stenhammar. Which, of course, is a worthy way of summing up the orchestra’s 100 year history, where Stenhammar played an important part in the mission of classical music. It has to do with love, and that’s also what characterizes the orchestra’s performances at this concert.

Barbara Bonney as the soloist in a suite of Grieg songs – it can’t get much better. So simple and natural, with such a precision in the colouring and such an intimacy of expression. One may think that songs like Spring and Solveig’s Song are worn out by now, but its all so fresh, close to the folksong, with a clean and soft voice. At the end of Spring, when the piano changes to pianissimo, the voice turns into a kind of silvery sound, and all the drem–colours appear. It’s the Nordic lyric quality, but now as a spirit of community across the borders. Then we are treated to an encore, Richard Strauss’s Morgen, where Barbara Bonney duets with Per Enoksson’s shimmering violin in an amazing way.

Among the most beautiful things in the concert are the final chords of the various pieces. They really project in the hall, and one is aware of the outstanding acoustic sensitivity of the concert hall, designed by architect Nils Einar Eriksson.

Neeme Järvi is, as should be, really in a good musical mood. The concert’s first piece, Tubin’s 10th Symphony, is a declaration of love to the warm, romantic sound of the orchestra, and Rolf Martinsson’s evocation of the mystical colours of early Schönberg in A. S. in Memoriam, receives a fiery performance.

But the great sense of relief appears in Sibelius’ 5th Symphony, in a near–Mendelssohn, intoxicated tempo. Light and fast, the opposite of Nordic melancholy. It’s difficult not to sing along when the horn theme in the final movement mixes with the woodwinds and the brass. And, once again, the music was invented anew.

 

Success is in the lineup at NJSO concert
November 7, 2005
The Star–Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Haydn, for all his prodigious dexterity in writing symphonies and chamber music, is not the most theatrical or gripping of composers. At least not when heard in a modern concert hall, where modern ears are more accustomed to the emotional immediacy of, say, Mahler, than Haydn’s more noble restraint.

Perhaps that’s why the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s new music director, Neeme Järvi, who is just finishing up his first sequence of programs in his inaugural year, chose Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 to precede Mahler’s First Symphony Friday evening at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The Haydn, which the orchestra played with clarity and a warm, round ensemble sound, served as a kind of palate cleanser for what was to follow.

In fact, Järvi has been using Haydn’s symphonies as a way to re–establish and clean up this orchestra’s core sound since he arrived. Some pianists play Bach every morning to focus their ear and clarify their technique for the day; Järvi appears to be using Haydn, with scores that call for focused string tone and clarity of ensemble articulation and use winds and brass peripherally, as an orchestral tuning fork. He seems to be polishing up each section’s tone, working on readjusting balance away from brass toward a more mediated, central string presence, and asking for players to trust him more as he plays around with small tempo fluctuations.

This latter habit of messing around with tempi in Mozart and Haydn is not always a strong point for Järvi; sometimes his work with these composers can sound frivolous and improvised. Not so Friday, when the Haydn had a squeaky clean flow to it. The work also provided for some excellent solos by timpanist Randall Hicks and concertmaster Eric Wyrick.

Then it was on to the Mahler, reportorial territory previously owned by Järvi’s predecessor, Zdenek Macal. Järvi’s approach is entirely different. Rather than focus and emphasize the score’s many baldly declamatory themes, he wove them into the overall texture with a relaxed and confident air. The brass played –– particularly the horn section expanded to eight players by Mahler –– but did not dominate. The NJSO players have not forgotten how to play “heroically,” as was Macal’s legacy, but Järvi softens them, does not make so much over them, instead weaving a much looser sound.

Looser does not mean inaccurate, though. Rather, Järvi seems to demand more accuracy and less tension. The entire fabric of this Mahler’s First Symphony had a more airy, inevitable flow to it. The extra “Blumine” movement, which Mahler discarded after his first edition, was added back as the second movement in this performance, and Järvi and the NJSO offered it as gently as a prayer.

So there was punch to this Mahler, and integrity, but not a huge psychological wallop. Some conductors treat Mahler as onstage therapy, kind of like a public session with Freud in music. Not Järvi. One gets the idea that he is like a judge who treats murder cases and property disputes with the same evenhandedness in his court.

But here is where Järvi differs from any other conductor: He insists on playing encores, no matter what the program, and he is frankly brilliant at programming them. I can’t think of a single other conductor who would dare to append an apotheosis to Mahler, who himself considered his symphonic scores to contain the whole world. But there it was: an obscure little string work, Sibelius’ “Scene with Cranes,” Op. 44, No. 2 (a revision of an extract from his incidental music to Kuolema), which Järvi and the musicians played with a simple directness that balanced perfectly the excess of expression of Mahler.

 

Järvi pulling the right strings
October 29, 2005
The Star–Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Here’s a bit of musical housekeeping going on at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and the person running the detail is newly arrived music director Neeme Järvi. It seems to be the maestro’s style to ease in gradually –– so far, his touch on the orchestra’s sound personality has been more a light feather dusting than a spring cleaning.

On Thursday’s program of Haydn and Schubert at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, that meant a more polished string ensemble, a more burnished overall orchestral balance and a disciplined, graceful flow. All these developments are gratifying to a decent regional orchestra whose identity has, in the three leaderless years before Järvi was hired, been somewhat blurred.

Järvi has said he believes the heart of this orchestra’s sound lies in flexibility and transparency of its string playing –– not in sheer emotional wallop or volume –– and that early composers like Haydn and Mozart suit it best. Thursday’s program, which included Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in a perfectly respectable reading and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 delivered with an appropriate, song–like linear quality, was first evidence that his theory is correct.

Anyone listening to this orchestra over the past decade could make the same prognosis. The NJSO has always been an excellent Mozart orchestra, though, by adding extra freelance players and asking the strings to play with a more pressured, expansive sound, previous music director Zdenek Macal squeezed some mighty impressive Mahler performances from them. In that context, it will be interesting to see what Järvi does with Mahler’s First Symphony, scheduled for programs Friday through Nov. 6 in Newark and New Brunswick.

On Thursday, though, the focus was on smaller–scale works, and particularly on bright pianist Jie Chen, just 19 years old, who was the featured Curtis Institute student on the orchestra’s annual program endowed by now–disgraced philanthropist Herbert Axelrod.

Chen, born in Guang Dong, China, and apparently largely self–taught, is a natural talent then, not one created in the hothouse of parental discipline and early rigorous practicing. Whether that explains the calm at the heart of her piano playing is pure conjecture, but certainly in Chopin’s First Piano Concerto it was gratifying to hear such an unforced, cool confidence in the lovely center movement.

Sure, her lacy, flowery scale work in the more demanding outer movements made an impression. But most young pianists her age have a kind of coiled–up, heated tension calculated to touch an audience. This was a pleasingly fresh, gracefully unfolding musicality, in which Chen showed she is still grappling with some minor details of her technique, but has the soul intact.

Järvi found an appropriately calculated, clear yet expressive orchestral texture to weave around her. Chen will make her Lincoln Center solo recital debut on Nov. 18.

Järvi is displaying a knack for programming seemingly unlike works next to each other and finding the connecting musical threads. Glinka’s “Kamarinskaya,” a robust yet simply designed orchestral soliloquy on Russian folk themes, riled things up slightly before the nice crunch and flow of the Schubert.

For an encore, Järvi played “guess the composer’s nationality” with the audience, offering the last two movements of Hubert Parry’s “English Suite,” which prominently featured concertmaster Eric Wyrick.

 

Neeme Järvi hooaja teine kontsert
November 4, 2005
Eesti Elu
Raul Pettai

7. ja 9. oktoobril toimus Newarkis, NJPAC kontserdihoones selle hooaja teine sümfooniakontsert. Kava oli huvitav juba selle poolest, et esitati Eduard Tubina „Süit eesti tantsuviisidest” viiulile ja orkestrile. Teosel on neli osa — „Vana valss”, „Külakarjase sarvelugu”, „Kanneldaja” ja „Sikusarve lood“. Viiulisoolot mängis NJSO kontsertmeister Eric Wyrick. Parimad nendest olid kaks keskmist osa, eriti aga „Külakarjane“, mida lõpus suure aplausi peale korrati. Olgu märgitud, et kordamisel õnnestus ta veel paremini kui esimesel korral!

Avanumbriks mängiti rootsi helilooja Hugo Alfvéni „Rootsi rapsoodia nr. 3 (Dalarapsodi)”. See on mõjuv helitöö ja Järvi tõlgitses teda kaunilt. Teos algab pika, müstilise saksofoni soologa, saateks vaiksed vioolad. Sama on tema lõpp. Helitöö vorm on — vastavalt rapsoodia iseloomule — vaba. Esinevad mitmesugused rütmid, tempod, kõlavärvid, rahvatantsud ning erinevad meeleolud. Lüürilised osad jäid eriliselt meelde, sest nad hõljusid mööda otsekui kauge mälestus — et nagu oleks midagi, kuid ei tea, mis.

Kava teine pool oli pühendatud Maurice Raveli muusikale: populaarsed orkestripalad „La valse”, „Bolero” ning sooloviiuliga „Tzigane” (Eric Wyrick). „La valse” on valsitaktist ja –meeleolust inspireeritud heliteos, mis laias laastus nagu rõõmus tantsupidu kuulajast mööda lendab, kohati lembe, kohati robustne. On aga tähelepanuväärne, et peaaegu alati on näiliselt muretu valsimeloodia segatud dissonantlike helidega, mis hõljuvad tagaplaanil nagu halb aimus. Ja nii ongi: ängistav meeleolu suureneb aeglaselt, kuni teos lõpeb surmatantsu keerisega. Tegemist on niisiis sügavama sümbolistikaga. „La valse” juures oleksin soovinud selgemat kontinuiteeti alguse muretusest lõpu katastroofini.

„Bolero” on üldtuntud pala oma korduva teema, rütmi ning aeglaselt kasvava intensiivsusega. Teose võlu peitub selle stimuleerivas rütmis ning orkestraalses värvis; pidevalt esinevad uued instrumendid või instrumentide grupid.

„Tzigane” sai inspiratsiooni mustlasmuusikast. Seda avab viiul üksi, alles hiljem siseneb ka orkester. Ehkki Wyrick mängis meeldivalt (toon oleks võinud olla suurem), kõlas esitatu nagu klassikaline viiulikontsert. Oleks tahtnud kuulda enam tulihingelist, mustlasliku improvisatsiooni kõla.

Lisapalaks esitas Järvi F. W. Meacham’i „American Patrol” — hoogne põimik traditsioonilisi ameerika marsimeloodiaid, millele publik rütmis plaksutades kaasa elas.

Oktoobri lõpus (27. okt —1. nov.) toimus järjekordne NJSO kontsertseeria Englewoodis, Newarkis, Princetonis ja Morristownis. Kavas Haydn, Chopin, Glinka ja Schubert.

 

Järvi returns, and shows off “his” colorful DSO
November 11, 2005
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

It was like he’d never left, like the tape had been rewound and Neeme Järvi was still music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. All those other conductors who have paraded before the DSO this season – who were they? Candidates to succeed The Man at The Max? Well, Thursday night the man was back. And the crowd went wild.

When Järvi left the DSO last June, after 15 years at its artistic helm, he took with him the lifetime title of music director emeritus. And off he went, this hip–swinging, mugging, droll maestro, to induce other audiences to eat out of his hand, as music director of both the New Jersey Symphony and the Resident Orchestra in The Hague, Netherlands.

On this, his first visit “home," Järvi brought a program of more flash than substance –largely a collection of showpieces, punctuated by the last and most touchingly intimate of Mozart’s 27 piano concertos, with the young Finnish soloist Antti Siirala. The program list – Ravel’s “La Valse” and “Bolero,” Ibert’s “Ports of Call” and the Mozart concerto – suggested a sort of musical quiz item: Which one of these works doesn’t belong with the others?

That and a second, all too familiar Järvi question: Why had he come from Jersey or The Hague or wherever to conduct an evening of quasi–pops fare?

Perhaps I was the only listener in Orchestra Hall wishing for a symphony of Carl Nielsen or Jean Sibelius, in whose music Järvi is a modern master. (Next weekend, on a second program, he offers Sibelius’ powerful “Lemminkäinen” Suite, inspired by Finland’s epic myth the “Kalevala.” That should be a DSO season highlight.)

What Järvi offered here was music more for kicking back than engagement To give him his due, he brought a fetching sensuality to Ravel’s “La Valse,” which the DSO dispatched with style and precise ensemble. Ibert’s colorful little three–movement travelogue is, well, what it is, and Järvi brought off that, too, with a flair. Ravel’s numbingly repetitive “Bolero” has always charmed audiences, as this yeomanly performance did. I’ve always thought of it as a screamer: Around the 20th restatement of its simple tune I want to dash screaming into the night.

But Mozart’s 27th piano concerto, so hopelessly out of place, was a thorough, serious pleasure. The 26–year–old Siirala displayed great technical finesse; but beyond that, in tapping the music’s palpable sadness, he showed a sensibility that seemed to reach beyond his years.

And in support of his eloquent young soloist, Järvi reminded everyone of the conductor who over the last 15 seasons brought the DSO to its present peak of excellence.

 

Järvi steps up to the DSO with a light heart
November 12, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

Neeme Järvi is back on the podium at Orchestra Hall for the first time as music director emeritus, conducting a program of mostly high–class French bonbons with all of the joie de vivre and impish spontaneity that highlighted his 15–year tenure as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which ended in June.

If this weekend’s program is not the most profound –– Ravel’s “La Valse” and “Bolero,” Ibert’s “Ports of Call” and, the one bit of levity, Mozart’s sublime final piano concerto with soloist Antti Siirala –– there is the promise of next week: Järvi will conduct a weighty but alluring program of Nordic music, including orchestral songs by Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius’ epic “Lemminkäinen Suite.

Meanwhile, there was Thursday’s extravagant showcase of orchestral color and spirited playing by the DSO, which remains telepathically plugged into every wink, shoulder shrug and turn–on–a–dime phrasing maneuver that their former conductor happens to pull out of thin air. The audience lapped up it up like ice cream, roaring its approval and even falling into some unison clapping before the encore.

Järvi whipped the DSO into a hallucinatory frenzy in “La Valse,” the murky opening giving way to fun–house reflections of Johann Strauss and a final dash of violence. The engine beneath the glitter was the improvisation of Järvi’s pulse.

Siirala’s elegantly proportioned account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 calmed the waters, as the pianist whispered autumnal secrets with a pearly tone of delicate firmness and a liquid phrasing that managed to convey languid beauty and clarified poetry.

Ibert’s “Ports of Call” was highlighted by Don Baker’s sinuous oboe and the “Bolero” eschewed lock–step rigor for dynamic extremes for rollicking fun, as Järvi lent the parade of soloists unusual freedom. What else to say, except that no one can make classical music seem as much fun as Järvi.

Party on, maestro.

 

Detroiti emeriitdirigent: Neeme Järvi
14. november 2005
SL Õhtuleht
Tiina Kõrtsini

Detroiti sümfooniaorkester, mida Neeme Järvi juhatas 15 aastat, andis armastatud dirigendile emeriitdirigendi tiitli.

Ajalehe Detroit Free Press teatel tähistavad Detroiti sümfoonikud ja sealt alles mõni kuu tagasi lahkunud Neeme Järvi viimasele antud music director emeritus’e tiitlit uue ühise kontserdiseeriaga. Kahel järgmisel nädalal tulevad ettekandele dirigendi lemmikteoseid Jean Sibeliusest Edvard Griegini välja.

Neeme Järvi lahkus Detroiti orkestri peadirigendi kohalt neli kuud tagasi, et üle võtta New Jersey sümfoonikute juhatamine. Peale New Jersey orkestri on Järvi veel Hollandis Hague Residentia orkestri dirigent. Ajalehe andmetel jõuab Detroitis taga igatsetud Järvi seda kõike teha perekonna kõrvalt, kellele pühendab enamiku oma ajast.

Järvi läks Detroitist New Jersey orkestrisse seetõttu, et vajas ruumi uue loomiseks. „Ma näen, et orkestri ja repertuaariga annab siin palju ära teha,” ütles ta väljaandele The Star–Ledger oma lahkumise põhjuseks.

Ameerikas elav Neeme Järvi on venelase Ossip Gabrilovitši järel teine dirigent, kes Detroiti sümfoonikuid nii kaua juhatanud – Gabrilovitš oli Detroiti orkestri eesotsas 18 aastat.

Järvi on öelnud, et Eestis ta varem kontserte juhatama ei hakka, kui uus ooperiteater on valmis.

 

Devoted DSO fans rewarded with “Nordic Legends”
November 19, 2005
Free Press
Mark Stryker

Music played a vital role in the wave of nationalism that swept through Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with composers becoming symbols of national pride and unity and their music helping to forge, to paraphrase James Joyce, the uncreated conscience of a race.

Think of Verdi in Italy, Bedrich Smetana and Dvořák in the Czech lands, Edvard Grieg in Norway or Jean Sibelius in Finland. It is these latter two composers that form the basis of this weekend’s “Nordic Legends“ program by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by music director emeritus Neeme Järvi.

This is a program that hardcore symphony fans have been looking forward to since the season was announced some 10 months ago. Järvi feels the music of Grieg and Sibelius in the deepest recesses of his soul, the conductor’s native Estonia located along the same northern axis as Norway and Finland.

The specifics, too, are alluring: A connoisseur’s program with an intriguing theme, including ravishing orchestral songs by Grieg sung by the spectacular soprano Barbara Bonney, and Sibelius’ “Lemminkäinen Suite,” a set of four thrill–ride tone poems based on the “Kalevala,” the epic national myth of Finland.

A more familiar opener, three excerpts from Grieg’s beloved “Peer Gynt,” proved ideal on Friday. They introduced the concert’s narrative thread –– the music was inspired by Ibsen’s fanciful play about a rapscallion –– while perfectly balancing the more exotic fare to come. “Ase’s Death,” came first, the hushed string choir vibrating with intense melancholy. Järvi’s dancing beat in “Anitra’s Dance” was thrillingly alive, and the severe accents he brought off during “In the Hall of the Mountain King” gave the music a beautiful nightmarish edge.

The six Grieg songs –– on texts by Ibsen, Bjornsterne Bjornson and Aasmund Olavason Vinje –– were a diverse lot, alluding to Norse mythology, the Italian landscape and the promise of the brief Norwegian spring, all wrapped in the composer’s deliriously lyrical melodies and lush orchestration. Bonney’s beautifully articulated and communicative soprano glowed with clarity and heartfelt warmth.

For Sibelius, the “Kalevala” was a sacred text: the collected folklore and mythology of his people. The “Lemminkäinen Suite” follows the adventures an amorous hero. The music is pure Sibelius, alternating between brooding expressiveness and magical passages of shimmering atmosphere. Treva Womble’s dulcet English horn highlighted “The Swan of Tuonela,” and the orchestra, guided by Järvi’s intuitive phrasing and imaginative turns, played with tensile strength and tender nuance.

This music may not have been familiar to listeners without deep CD collections, and while Orchestra Hall was noticeably less filled than for last weekend’s party–program (“Bolero,” “La Valse,” “Ports of Call” and a Mozart piano concerto), it’s worth noting that those in attendance Friday went bonkers. I don’t blame them.

 

Substance behind her style
December 5, 2005
The Star–Ledger
Bradley Bambarger

Violinist Janine Jansen has the looks of a 1940s screen siren, which the 27–year–old’s album covers amply display. But the Dutch performer isn’t just a pretty face, as she proved in a set of concerts over the weekend with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi.

On Friday at NJPAC’s Prudential Hall, Jansen played Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto with bravura abandon, her hair whipping around and the strands flying off her bow. Just hitting the myriad notes of Britten’s challenging score in tune and in time wasn’t enough for this risk–taking soloist. She maximized the expressivity of every one, making those notes whisper and sing, caress and sear.

Britten’s Violin Concerto of 1940 has only belatedly been recognized as a masterpiece, with several fine recordings to up its profile in recent years. It’s an absorbing experience, from the rumbling timpani invocation and the violin’s initial garland of lyricism to the gutsy, Prokofiev–like solo cadenza and grand, very English contrapuntal climax. The NJSO has never sounded more majestic than in those latter pages.

With Järvi and company producing some profoundly calm accompaniment, Jansen was free to play half–tones that sounded like a finger running along the rim of a glass. But she also showed spectacular rhythmic vitality, engaging with the orchestra as if playing chamber music. Jansen’s record company, Decca/Universal, should be documenting her in more serious repertoire than the miniatures and “Four Seasons” of her first discs. From the enthusiasm of the NJSO players and Järvi, her peers agree.

The Britten concerto was prefaced thoughtfully by Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.” Like much of Pärt’s music, the “Cantus” has an almost primal ability to touch the heart; framed by a tolling bell, the string lines well like grief in the throat. Järvi led the score with almost stoic restraint; the strings played beautifully.

Working closely with Pärt in their Estonian days, Järvi premiered many of the composer’s early works. The NJSO should perform all of Pärt’s orchestral repertoire now that Järvi’s on board, maybe even play an all–Pärt program. His pieces are simultaneously as affecting and accessible as contemporary music gets.

Järvi’s way with Beethoven’s ebullient Seventh Symphony is perhaps a bit stately, at least in light of lithe, modernist interpretations by David Zinman, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and, of late, Claudio Abbado. (The first movement’s pauses even had hints of Bruckner to come.) Yet the NJSO revealed the virtues increasingly evident since Järvi took the helm –– robust sonority, rhythmic muscle, enhanced dynamic range.

The Seventh’s famous Allegretto –– a moving funeral march –– featured some truly quiet playing at Järvi’s behest, which meant the orchestra had somewhere to go as the dynamic rose. For the finale, Järvi wound up the pace in fizzing style. The encore was “Anitra’s Dance” from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt,” a chiming piece that the orchestra played with easy charm. Throughout the night, the NJSO gave a sense of not being on the edge of its limits (as sometimes in the past), but of having sound to spare.

 

Märkmeid muusikaelust
16. detsember 2005
Eesti Elu
Raul Pettai

Muusikatandril juhtub järjest uut ja huvitavat. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) on esitanud Neeme Järvi juhatuse all sel hooajal juba neli kontserdikava. Esimesest kahest olen ma kirjutanud. Oktoobri lõpus toimus kolmas ja nädal hiljem neljas.

Kolmanda kontserdi kava oli vaheldusrikas. Esimesena mängiti F. J. Haydni sümfoonia nr. 96, hüüdnimega „The Miracle” (Ime). Miks selline nimi? Kui 1791. a. toimus Londonis sümfoonia esiettekanne, olevat laest langenud suur kroonlühter. See kukkus aga momendil, mil rahvas lava suunas tormas et maestrot õnnitleda. Nii ei saanud keegi vigastada — täielik ime! Hiljem on küll selgitatud, et õnnetus juhtus hoopis sümfoonia nr. 102 esiettekandel, aastaid hiljem. Nimi aga jäi eelmise teose külge.

On märkimisväärne, et Järvi on alustanud neljast kontserdist kolme Haydn’i sümfooniatega (nr. 94, 96 ja 103). Arvustaja arvates kasutab Järvi Haydn’i läbipaistva koega teoseid muu hulgas selleks, et viimistleda orkestri mängulist täpsust. Võib-olla. Seekordsel ettekandel kõlasid siiski keelpillid veidi karedalt, ragged, nagu inglise keeles öeldakse. Aga — Mihhail Glinka (1804–1857) orkestrifantaasia „Kamarinskaya” mängiti seevastu haruldaselt hästi. Suur nauding oli kuulata. Just nagu oleks orkestreid vahetatud. Teos põhineb kahel vene rahvamuusika meloodial, mida Glinka huvitavalt varieerib.

Kontserdi peanumbrina esitas 19–aastane pianist Jie Chen F. Chopini klaverikontserdi nr. 1 ( op. 11, e–moll). Noor daam mängis erakordse tehnilise puhtusega. Ühtegi nooti Chopini sillerdavatest passaazhidest ei läinud kaduma. Tänu mängija heale toonile kõlas klaver kogu aeg selgelt üle orkestri. Siin tuleb tunnustada Järvi osa, et koosmäng selliselt õnnestus. Kui midagi solistilt soovida, siis ehk suuremat isikupära, kuid see on kunstilise küpsuse küsimus, mis areneb ajaga. Tehnilised vahendid on kunstnikul juba olemas. Kava lõppes F. Schuberti sümfooniaga nr. 5, millele järgnevalt N. Järvi andis kaks lisapala.

Neljandat kontserti ma isiklikult ei saanud minna kuulama. Arvustus selle kohta oli aga hea. Kanti ette kaks teost: Haydni sümfoonia nr. 103 ning G. Mahleri monumentaalne sümfoonia nr. 1, hüüdnimega „Titaan”. Nagu ikka, esitas Järvi ka sel korral lisapala, mida arvustus eriliselt esile tõstis — Sibeliuse helitöö keelpillidele „Stseen luikedega”, op. 44.

Kui juba on juttu Neeme Järvist, olgu märgitud, et New Jersey ajalehe The Star–Ledger klassikaliste CD–de veerus anti kõrge hinnang Järvi poolt salvestatud Sibeliuse sümfooniatele (nr. 1–7, Göteborgi Sümfooniaorkestriga). Neljast plaadist koosnev seeria on saadaval Deutsche Grammophon firmamärgi all. Sama kõrgelt hinnati Järvi salvestust (Scottish National Orchestra) eesti muusikast: „Music From Estonia, Eller, Pärt etc.”. Selle CD andis välja Chandos.

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