Best trumpet concerto in a long time
February 19, 2003
Fredrik Montelius

Håkan Hardenberger: Trumpet concertos by Rolf Martinsson, Pärt, Tamberg. Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra; Mus. Dir. Neeme Järvi (Bis)

The supremely gifted trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger is currently figuring frequently on disc. His latest includes three trumpet concertos.

The 1998 concerto from Rolf Martinsson (born in 1956) is called Bridge. A lot of present day works sound extremely forced when they have to try to sound modern while at the same time giving the listener melodic harmonies to associate pleasant feelings with. But Bridge is brilliantly composed!

Here, harmony and discordant tensions meet in a natural way. This makes the concerto interesting from start to finish. At the same time as you want to stop the flow and allow the wonderful sounds to melt in your mouth, you cannot wait to hear what will happen just around the corner. Definitely the best trumpet concerto for many years. And the tone of Hardenberger’s trumpet is quite simply wonderful.
Arvo Pärt’s mini concerto, merely just over seven minutes of playing time and named BACH, is also a pleasant acquaintance despite its slightly smaller stature. Its strength lies mainly in its huge amount of humour, something which you seldom otherwise associate with Pärt, even though his friend – singer Paul Hillier – is more than happy to point out how entertaining Pärt is in private.

This piece is a collage of known quotations from Bach interwoven with threads from the Baroque period and the Middle Ages. Hardenberger is said to have helped with the composition of the parts.
Another Estonian, Eino Tamberg (born in 1930), contributes his trumpet concerto from 1972. At that time it was unfashionable, with its retrospective musical idiom; strangely enough, it is better suited to the musical climate of today. In spite of the fact that it has a quite beautiful character, it is nonetheless a little expressionless, the least interesting piece on the disc. But for the umpteenth time: Hardenberger’s tone is…


Swedish Grammy Award for Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
and Neeme Järvi!

February 22, 2003
Press Release

Göteborgs Symfoniker (GSO), The National Orchestra of Sweden, and Neeme Järvi have been awarded a Swedish Grammy for Aurora, Music form the Far North (Deutsche Grammophon).
– I have done roughly 90 recordings with Göteborgs Symfoniker, but this is the first time we have received a Grammy. I am tremendously happy, says Neeme Järvi.

The double-CD Aurora includes all the popular favourites of the Nordic music treasure and has been called “the ultimate collection of Nordic orchestral favourites”. Probably no other conductor and orchestra are better suited to perform this music – many of the composers, including Sibelius, Nielsen, Stenhammar, Järnefelt and Alfvén, conducted Göteborgs Symfoniker in this music at the beginning of the 20th century.

Says Martin Hansson, head of communications of Göteborgs Symfoniker:
– The melodies of Grieg, Nielsen, Stenhammar, Alfvén and Sibelius have been popular ever since they were composed, and they still are – Aurora has sold very well in the Scandinavian countries.

After 20 years together, the Jubilee is celebrated this season, Göteborgs Symfoniker and Neeme Järvi are well established on the world arena. Next week they start a tour in Rotterdam on 3 March, with six further concerts in Germany, ending in Frankfurt on 12 March.

Aurora will be released internationally shortly. All tracks were recorded 1986-2002 by producer Lennart Dehn and balance engineer Mikael Bergek. Eight of the tracks are new recordings.


Spellbound by exotic range of sounds
February 22, 2003
Håkan Dahl

Musical Director: Neeme Järvi
Soloist: Anna Larsson
Stora Salen, Konserthuset, Thursday

What characterises great creative talent is that it does not take a lot to get the creative juices flowing. Anders Hillborg is a genuine creator who has obviously allowed himself to be inspired by Chinese oboes, sounas, to the extent that he has built his entire work entitled Dreaming River around the sounds that this remarkable instrument can produce.
Last Thursday, Björn, Bohlin and Mårten Larsson sat carefully positioned in the organ room in order to play the instrument in question. This made the strength endurable and the feeling of space enormous.

Because if no-one knew that this was a first-rate musician experimenting with sounds, one would initially think that this was the destruction of the world being announced by sirens.
But after a brief moment, one was entirely spellbound by the exotic range of sounds, particularly as the piano and percussion then added a little more spice in the form of Caribbean rhythms.

Why Dreaming River, one may ask? After all, the river was hardly dreamlike. It may possibly have flowed out, like Smetana’s Moldau, into a calm sea at the end.

We people of Gothenburg can proudly feel a bit more for the work, because Hillborg first met his sounas while on tour with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in China. Otherwise, the first performance of this work was at the composers’ festival in Stockholm in 1999.
The concert on Thursday had more water to offer, namely Gösta Nystroem’s Sånger vid Havet. Still unrivalled as depictions of all the changing expressions of the sea.

An exclusive band of singers have previously sung Nystroem’s songs at Konserthuset. And now it had another new member, Anna Larsson, who knew that her job was more to create a condition than to sing. Her voice was dark and mysterious, and yet quite weightless in the way that creates precisely this condition.

Neeme Järvi and the Symphony Orchestra then came up with real fireworks when they fired off Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances in a way that few of the world’s orchestras can. A dizzy journey that was gilded by one brilliant solo performance after another, and with Sara Trobäck’s violin solo as a wonderful exclamation mark.


A lively musical reason to come and live in Gothenburg
February 25, 2003
Svenska Dagbladet
Tony Lundman

Stockholms Konserthus

Neeme Järvi is now in his twentieth season as Head Musical Director for the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra guested at Stockholms Konserthus, and without a doubt we will be able to hear them play here again one day, but Järvi, dancing as he conducted – more vigorously than ever? – is in spite of everything about to wind up his long and enormously fruitful association with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra: he will be handing over his baton to a successor after next season.
One could not help but be reminded of the manner of his colleague Gennady Rozhdestvensky when Järvi occasionally allowed himself to go with the music: all we saw were the pleasure-filled jerks of his shoulders from behind. If Järvi had had an armchair close by, he could probably just have settled himself down while the orchestra played on. Very well rehearsed, and yet with an obviously inspired and truly living contact between orchestra and musical director. Just take the flirty, sweeping waltz in Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances”, which made the listeners in the choir stalls sway gently from side to side.

Anders Hillborg has revised (superfluous comment, actually - Hillborg always revises) his orchestral work “The Dreaming River”. During the first performance of this work by the Philharmonic Orchestra in 1999, I noted that the cannon-like string movement in the middle became a kind of waiting room between the rolling rhythms of the outer sections and sensually shrill Chinese oboes. Some of that feeling of two different worlds still remains, but to a lesser extent. And it is unclear as to whether this is due to adjustments to the movement and in transitions, or – which is also possible – to my own increased familiarity with the work.
In the case of the Hillborg – and in particular with the Rachmaninov – it was noticed how well the orchestra seems to be able to project the acoustic spectra of the music. The evenness of the various parts of the orchestra is exceptional, but above all one is struck by the meaty mid-range.
Being able to play precisely but without losing the liveliness is also one of the orchestra’s qualities, and perhaps closer to Järvi’s heart than just the actual sound. Getting a hundred or so musicians to all sway is an impossible art.

Just as obviously, the threads could not be found in the West Coast-linked “Sånger vid Havet” by Gösta Nystroem – this time with the wonderful mezzo soprano/alto Anna Larsson. In places the choice of tempo was quick and the dynamics insufficiently restrained; this would have demanded even greater sensitivity here so as not to cover up Larsson’s deep voice when she carefully, sometimes in a “hidden” way, conveyed Nystroem’s visions of the sea.
Margin notes in a varied, inspired and strong programme. I have never considered moving to Gothenburg, but sometimes I get the impression that if I did, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra would be one reason why.


Järvi’s enthusiasm infectious
March 1, 2003
Håkan Dahl

Sibelius: En saga, Chopin: Piano Concerto No 2, Sibelius: Symphony No 2
Musical Director: Neeme Järvi
Soloist: Mihaela Ursuleasa, piano
Konserthuset, Thursday

What drum major has one ever missed out on with Neeme Järvi in the context of military music?
Setting off at a march and then halting should go like clockwork: this is what we saw last Thursday when he even allowed his baton to elegantly fly away at the last moment.
This is typical for Järvi, as he so skilfully combines show features with in-depth musical inspiration. This allows him to reach the audience on almost all levels. His enthusiasm is infection both in front of and behind the footlights, and we all know this as if we were hearing the music for the first time.
But things are not always like this. They were not last Thursday, in any case. Quite the contrary: the programme that evening was really heavily linked with the tradition which Järvi has built together with our national orchestra over his twenty years with them.

Absolutely certain tour numbers
En Saga and Symphony No. 2 by Sibelius. Tour numbers which are absolutely certain and are performed almost best in the world when everything goes according to plan. Such as when Maestro Järvi manages to find that extra spark needed for a concert.
And the fantastic thing is that he almost always manages it. Even though the orchestra could play with their eyes closed, in the case of Sibelius’ “second”. 130 performances in total, of which 59 were tour performances. And of these 130 performances, Järvi himself was the musical director on 66 occasions!

Ursuleasa shines
Chopin’s second piano concerto is not as common, but it does not require any the less inspiration when it comes to performances. In spite of everything, Chopin is at his best when he works in smaller forms, and so both the orchestra and the soloist have to find ways into the work which allow them to emphasise the fine points and achieve some kind of inner unity.
Mihaela Ursuleasa showed once again that she knows how to polish a surface so that it shines, while at the same time that surface allows a complete insight into what lies beneath. Ursuleasa does not make any grand piano gestures. With her fastidious and quiet tone, she gives the impression that she is making products as if they were being sculpted from high-grade wood. A starting point which gave very beautiful results in the case of Chopin.


Pianist Grimaud brings DSO crowd to its feet
April 26, 2003
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

Nearly six decades after Bela Bartók’s death, the Hungarian composer’s generally lean, acerbic, not to say downright thorny music still doesn’t elicit what you’d call ripping ovations all that often. So it was almost an event in itself Friday afternoon when sustained cheering greeted Helene Grimaud’s performance of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. But it was also easy to understand what all the racket was about.

At age 32, the French-born Grimaud, a star since her teens, brings a rare portion of soul and penetrating intelligence to playing that seems to know no technical limits. The Bartók Third requires all of that.

On the surface, this work produced in the last months of Bartók’s life may seem like a throwback to early Rachmaninoff or even Brahms; big, virtuosic outer movements frame a gently introspective, almost prayerful adagio – a far cry from the aggressive rhythms and clashing harmonies of Bartók’s two previous piano concertos.

But in Grimaud’s hands, the Third Concerto’s outwardly tame character acquired a new bite as she gave spicy emphasis to jolting dissonances and sudden rhythmic twists. Yet the pianist generously indulged the music’s lyrical side as well, spinning out the luminous slow movement as if it were an accompanied soliloquy, wistful and yearning. Despite its seeming grandeur, the Bartók Third often digresses into the intimacy of chamber music, and Grimaud enjoyed that needed interplay from the DSO under conductor Neeme Järvi.

To set the stage for Bartók, Järvi and the band opened with a finely detailed, richly hued account of the “Peacock Variations” by Bartók’s countryman Zoltan Kodaly. And at the close came a work that’s probably better known by name than by encounter: Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor (“Scottish”) – dark foil to the composer’s vibrant and very popular Symphony No. 4 in A major (“Italian”). The DSO gave the “Scottish” an engaging go, catching its propulsive energy as well as its pervasive emotional turbulence.


DSO ends season on a high note
May 31, 2003
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, having chalked up a stellar season of performances at a world-class level, topped itself Thursday in closing out the year with a splendid pairing of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto and Sibelius’ Second Symphony.

At the start of next season, the DSO relocates temporarily to the Detroit Opera House while the last touches are put on a $65 million project to remodel Orchestra Hall and complete its new annex, all of which will be unveiled in October as the Max M. Fisher Music Center. If these splendid developments seem to belie the times, the prospect of an elegant new setting only befits an orchestra that in recent years has fairly sparkled.

The DSO now finishes its season in the hands of music director Neeme Järvi, whose 13-year tenure has defined a new golden age to match that of the Paul Paray era nearly half a century ago. What Järvi has meant to the DSO was emblazoned on every measure of Thursday’s program – starting with a jaunty, shining turn through Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture”.

For the Dvořák Cello Concerto, Järvi and company were joined by the Chinese cellist Jian Wang in a performance that was nothing less than chamber music writ large. This eloquent Dvořák gloried in a cello sound that could turn from majestic to exquisitely delicate. Wang’s sense of line and phrase was poetic in its every inflection.

Järvi concluded with a Sibelius Second Symphony that was at once luminous and expansive and yet breath-taking in its rhythmic drive, the strings’ fine-spun playing set off by warm washes of color from woodwinds and brasses.


DSO wins award for building American music
June 27, 2003
Free Press
Mark Stryker
If you’ve noticed a more pronounced American accent in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s recent programming, you’re not alone. The American Symphony Orchestra League has awarded the DSO and music director Neeme Järvi the prestigous John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music. It is one of the three top prizes for adventurous programming given annually by the orchestra league and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. The DSO receives a $3,000 prize, but more important is the recognition as an industry leader in nurturing homegrown composers and expanding the canon beyond the European masterworks repeated ad nauseam by most orchestras.

The DSO was recognized at the orchestra league’s conference last week in San Francisco. “We are championing America’s music, and this award shows our efforts are being heard around the world,” said DSO president Emil Kang. The Estonian-born Järvi has stumped for American music since coming to Detroit in 1990, with a bent for 19th- and 20th-Century romantics, Michigan composers and black composers. But recent seasons have seen more consistent adventure. The 2002-03 season included world premieres of resident composer Michael Daugherty’s “Fire and Blood” and Roberto Sierra’s Saxophone Concerto.

The DSO also played music by Adolphus Hailstork and four emerging composers as part of the DSO’s longstanding African-American initiatives. The orchestra league also recognized the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Nan Washburn, with a second-place award for programming contemporary music at orchestras with budgets of less than $385,000.


Järvi’s Estonian summer
July 27, 2003
Free Press
Mary Ellyn Hutton

Pärnu, Estonia -- It was a Neeme Järvi moment.
Clutching a bouquet of lilies in his left hand, the Detroit Symphony music director led the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the State Academic Choir of Latvia in an encore from Mozart’s Requiem. In his native Estonia, Järvi closed Pärnu’s annual David Oistrakh Festival a week ago to foot-stomping and rhythmic applause from a capacity audience at the sparkling new Kontserdimaja (concert hall). The mayor of Pärnu pinned a medal on Järvi’s jacket, drawing a playful thumbs-up from Järvi.

It was a similar scene three days earlier as Järvi conferred bear hugs and diplomas on the graduates of the Neeme Järvi Summer Academy for conductors, in its fourth year in conjunction with the festival. Järvi’s return each summer to Estonia opens a window on his post-DSO life. Though he will lay down his baton in Detroit at the end of the DSO’s 2004-05 season, there will be no grass growing under his feet. Järvi’s conducting program will expand next summer into a full-fledged international conducting competition, bringing the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic to Pärnu.

Järvi, who turned 66 in June, left Estonia in 1980, but retains enormous patriotic affection for it. Järvi’s word is magic in his home country, where he played a key role in inspiring the construction of the new Pärnu concert hall and a new opera house and concert hall scheduled to open in 2008 in Tallinn, the capital and Järvi’s hometown. He is an active participant in Estonian musical life, returning annually to conduct and teach at the academy that bears his name.

The Conducting Academy drew more than 100 applicants this year, from Great Britain, Japan, the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Finland and Estonia. The students took master classes with Järvi and Finnish teacher Jorma Panula and performed concerts with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the excellent Pärnu City Orchestra and the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra.

The work was intense and the standards high. “The conductors come with a lot of problems,” said Järvi. “Each one is different. One is very heavy, one very light. One is very good outside, empty inside. One is very rich inside and uninteresting outside. You have to shape them all. I like to establish a good relationship because shouting to each other doesn’t help very much. It depends on how you educate, but basically you have to be father-like and give good advice.” The students, some returning from previous years, praised Järvi’s artistic mastery and his ability to get inside the music. “He plays the orchestra like a piano,” said Nils Schweckendiek, 25, a freelance conductor based in Helsinki. “He unlocks your creativity.” Järvi is a conductor who shows more than tells. More than once he stepped to the podium and carved a moment of music out of the air for a struggling student. “The problem is you have to talk with your hands with the musicians. You have to explain with every gesture, like you’re breathing. If you’re not breathing, you’re not alive,” he said. “This kind of a relationship – always showing what you want – works so beautifully, and American orchestras are the best to be a conductor, because they are so professional. Just show them and it’s done. If you are not showing, nothing comes. You are just beating, no music.”

Järvi’s teaching style contrasted markedly with that of Panula, a retired master teacher at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, where his former students included today’s conducting stars Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Osmo Vanska. Panula, with his superb command of technique and musical detail, was on his feet constantly, stabbing the air with his finger to draw attention to balances, rhythm and ensemble.

Järvi was the artistic cajoler – “Mozart, it’s so beautiful, enjoy it” – and he often guided the students’ hands and arms for more expressive effect. He could also be severe – “Boring music-making! Do something with it!” he railed in one session – but he had a way of breaking the tension with a bit of wry humor or by snapping students with his digital camera. He was quick to encourage spontaneity, which every DSO subscriber – and musician – knows is a Järvi trademark; he is famous for changing tempos, dynamics or phrasing as the spirit moves him. “If you are in the middle of a piece and want to do something,” he told the students, “do it.” Järvi is watching his health since an aneurysm felled him at the 2001 conducting academy in Pärnu. “It was all overworking, stresses, flights,” he said. “I don’t feel I am old, but I feel overbooked, and that makes me worried. There’s no free space, and I have to give up something.” He is relinquishing his post as chief conductor of Sweden’s Gothenburg Symphony in 2004 after 22 years.

But he is still booked into 2008. He will lead his first Wagner “Ring” cycle, beginning with “Das Rheingold”, in 2005 in Stockholm with the Royal Swedish Opera. “Who does not once in (life) want to do “The Ring?”” Järvi asked. He will add one opera a year, ending with the complete four-opera cycle in 2008. He will open the new Tallinn concert and opera house in 2008 with Estonia’s first “Ring”, to be shipped across the Baltic from Stockholm. And he has ambitious plans for the conducting academy, with next year’s inaugural international conducting competition July 5-16. A jury will select four finalists during the first week; first- and second-place winners will receive cash awards and guest-conducting engagements. “It is a small place, Pärnu (population 45,040), but we are trying to be part of world culture,” he said. Järvi has a special bond with this idyllic resort town on Estonia’s coast, his parents’ hometown.

“We spent summer vacations here with the children, Paavo, Maarika and Kristjan. We had a small summer house just five, 10 minutes from the city on the riverside, a beautiful place. We came with car full of summer belongings for two, three months, a real vacation.” But after Detroit, home for Järvi will likely be in or near New York City, where he has an office. “If I want to be a conductor, all life is in New York, so I will stay there and see what experiences happen.” He has a special wish for his valedictory season with the DSO. “There are a lot of Järvis. I have the idea to invite them for my last concerts in Detroit.” Järvi and his late brother Vallo are the founders of a dynasty of musicians. Neeme’s sons Paavo and Kristjan are both conductors. Daughter Maarika is a flutist. All have been invited for his Detroit farewell in 2005.

Cellist Teet (Vallo’s son) has five children, including a pianist, violinist and cellist. To include them, Järvi would like to program the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2. “There is a big violin solo and cello solo. It’s a beautiful thing. Why not do it?”


Dvořák standby is Järvi thriller
August 1, 2003
The Inquirer
David Patrick Stearns

Conductors who champion obscure repertoire are often those who have little to say about the standard stuff. The exception, based on Wednesday’s Philadelphia Orchestra concert at the Mann Center, is definitely guest conductor Neeme Järvi.

Though the undisputed emperor of half-forgotten symphonies, Järvi delivered one of the Top 10 warhorses, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (“New World”), as though it needed the passionate pleading of something so unfamed as, say, Eduard Tubin’s Symphony No. 10. That meant Järvi took nothing for granted in a distinctively chiseled performance – different from the suave Wolfgang Sawallisch approach – that was legitimately thrilling.

Järvi’s concentration was remarkable throughout, but the second movement best encapsulated his approach. By maintaining relatively strict control of the rhythm, he refused to fall into the meditative nostalgia that can turn the famous English horn solo into sentimental soup and made the audience re-appreciate the music’s purely aesthetic qualities. As a result, the movement’s middle section emerged in a higher emotional relief, building with inward intensity that lifted the music out of its usual geniality and into something that could speak to whatever emotional state listeners were in. Bravo!

With music so well-known, you can wonder if there’s any wrong way to make audiences hear it anew. Of course, there are fine lines between originality and perversity, poetry and vulgarity, and German pianist Markus Groh, in his Philadelphia Orchestra debut, trafficked on all sides of them.

This winner of the 1995 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, Belgium, gave an interpretation of the Grieg Piano Concerto that eschewed the conventional view of the composer as a folk-influenced Norwegian nationalist. Groh preferred to emphasize the more demure, poetic side of the music, which is definitely there. His coloring was delicate, meticulous and exquisite, but more appropriate to Debussy preludes than to Grieg. The slow movement was an occasion for great existential probing; you wondered if the music has the emotional depths to support that. Groh convinced you that it did – momentarily.

Trouble awaited in the finale. Groh distended the concluding moments with a gravity that suggested nothing less than the end of the world was at stake. I swear I heard the music groaning in genteel agony. “Can we please wrap it up?” it seemed to say – as the final chords grew bigger and slower, and then even bigger and slower. In the face of such deadly earnest outrageousness, I giggled.

Basically, Groh’s performance was an indoor one. His use of silence made so little impact in the large performing space of the Mann Center that it wasn’t always clear what he was after. He made an already episodic piece seem all the more so. Such thoughtful originality, however, is to be treasured, and a more mature Groh may well be a major artist in the next decade.


Neeme Järvi’s Conducting Workshop, Part 1
August 4, 2003
Mary Ellyn Hutton

PÄRNU, Estonia – Where else in the world can one take a dip in the ocean at dawn, rehearse the Moscow Chamber Orchestra at noon, be critiqued by Neeme Järvi and Jorma Panula at high tea, and conduct Alfred Schnittke in a brand new, acoustically superior concert hall at night?

Pärnu is rapidly becoming a sought-after destination among young conductors. Long a music center – it hosts a three-week music festival in June and July named for its founder, David Oistrakh, who summered here – it is now also the site of the Neeme Järvi Summer Academy, a ten-day conducting workshop founded in 2000 as part of the Oistrakh Fest.

Over 100 young conductors applied for this year’s Academy (July 7-17), which consisted of master classes with Järvi and Panula and public concerts in which students tested their skills on various ensembles. Advertising was primarily word-of-mouth; the only notices appeared in the German music magazine “Das Orchester” and at the festival web site

The workshop accepted only 17 this year, 13 of whom completed the course – 12 men and one woman, Estonian Lilyan Kaiv, 29, a conductor and teacher based in Tallinn. They ranged in age from German-born Nils Schweckendiek, 25, who free-lances in Finland, to Vuk Sarcevich, 40, a native of Belgrade now working for the Royal Opera in Liège. Others came from the U.S., U.K., Japan, Italy, Germany, and Holland. All are active conductors or students with conducting experience. Several returned from previous years.

All agreed it is a rigorous program. “You have two weeks of really intensive study. It’s a bit of a bombardment,” said James Lowe, 27, conductor of England’s New Bristol Sinfonia and a 2001-2002 Zander Fellow with the Boston Philharmonic.

Students were asked to prepare Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 22; Honegger’s Symphony No. 2; Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5; Rossini’s Sonata for Strings in C; Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1; Mozart’s Concertone in C; and Heino Eller’s Five Pieces for Strings. (There would have been more, but Latvia’s Liepaja Chamber Orchestra cancelled). The works were performed on three Oistrakh Festival concerts led by Academy students.

Participating orchestras included the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the Pärnu City Orchestra, and the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra. Each student spent at least one session daily (usually 15 minutes) rehearsing the orchestra for its respective program.

Only one concert was competitive. As a kind of “prize”, Lowe, Chris Younghoon Kim, Lukas Groen, and Mark Heron were chosen by Järvi and Panula to conduct the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra in one movement each of the Tchaikovsky. All of the students were assigned portions of the other concerts.

Rehearsals and concerts took place in Pärnu’s lovely, baroque-styled Elizabeth Church (named for Russian Empress Elizabeth) and in the city’s new Concert Hall, a six-story, steel and glass, seashell-inspired structure at the estuary of the Pärnu River and the Baltic Sea. Acoustics are splendid in the 800-seat main hall (there is also a smaller chamber hall) and concerts were well-attended.

Pärnu’s population is 45,000, but swells in the summer with vacationers from Estonia, Finland, and Sweden who come for its unspoiled beaches and curative health spas (mud baths are a specialty). But this was no feel-good conducting seminar. “I’ve been to workshops where the teacher tries to be sort of, oh, this was very nice and, well, perhaps you could think about doing this, maybe,” said South Korea native Kim, 33, conductor of Boston’s Kalistos Chamber Orchestra. “They are a waste of time. Because you have literally ten seconds before an orchestra makes up its mind how good you are; an orchestra is tougher than any conducting teacher would ever be.” Kim and Alessandro Tortato, 34, of Venice, came directly to Pärnu from Maikop, Russia, where both won prizes in the new Maikop International Conducting Competition.

Järvi and Panula are exacting teachers and rarely minced words. “Boring music-making, DO something with it,” cried Järvi at one session. Panula, retired master teacher at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, often threw up his hands with an exasperated “Mamma mia!”

“When I came here, I felt like I didn’t know how to conduct anymore,” said Ken Selden, 33, a student of Gustav Meier at the Peabody Conservatory who is now assistant conductor of New York’s Eos Orchestra. “[Panula and Järvi] are very unusual kinds of conducting teachers that we don’t encounter so much in the U.S. It’s not always happy, but they make you think very deeply and consider more possibilities.”

The teachers were tough, but they were also supportive. Järvi, who emigrated from Estonia in 1980 and now conducts the Detroit Symphony and Sweden’s Gothenburg Orchestra, took students aside for private coaching. Panula, retired master teacher at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, spent hours going over videotaped sessions with them. Adding a bit of whimsy, Järvi also would snap photographs. “He’s a very gentle man,” said Brian Cole, 28, conducting assistant with the Cincinnati Symphony. “He just makes you think about what you’re doing. He wants you to get better right then.”

“He’s a great poker face,” said Demetrius Fuller, 26, conductor of Cincinnati’s Arc Chamber Ensemble and the Northwest Florida Symphony. “He has such a serious demeanor, then he would take out his camera, walk up and say, “Smile!””

Part 2, inclusive of a more in-depth discussion of the conductors’ techniques plus tuition and cost details, will be posted later in the week.


Järvi’s Conducting Workshop, Part 2
August 5, 2003
Mary Ellyn Hutton

PÄRNU, Estonia – Workshop leaders Neeme Järvi and Jorma Panula have complementary approaches.

“They’re both really aiming for the same thing,” said James Lowe, 27, conductor of England’s New Bristol Sinfonia and a 2001-2002 Zander Fellow with the Boston Philharmonic. “Panula’s big focus is clarity and helping an orchestra without getting in the way. Neeme is about connecting with the musicians and keeping that alive and fresh.” (“There was only one leaping conductor,” said Panula, of a student’s momentary exuberance. “Bernstein. No more.”)

“Panula knows everything about every technical problem,” said Slovenia-born Mirko Schipilliti, 29, a musical polymath (conductor, pianist, critic, and arranger) who is also a medical doctor. “He is able to understand at once the most important technical problem and to explain it immediately. He is, I think, the last great conducting teacher.”

“Järvi is all about music,” said Lukas Groen, 32, a finalist in the 1999 Besançon Competition now conducting in Holland. “And actually Panula is the same, but everything must be clear. Both are true. You must be really busy with the music, because that’s your job, but on the other hand, you need technique.”

Said Lowe: “I had a very good lesson with Neeme last year on how to control the inner beats when you’re conducting, which means that you can always be shaping something even if it is flowing. When you can do that, you can start to take things and put them in different places. This is where he’s a real genius.”

The teachers’ differences were apparent to an outside observer. Panula, whose stellar students include Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Sakari Oramo, and Osmo Vanska, was always on his feet, circling the orchestra and indicating aspects of the score that needed a conductor’s attention. Järvi would grasp the conductor’s arms and hands and guide him for more expressive effect. He also encouraged spontaneity: “If you are in the middle of a piece of music and feel like doing something, DO it,” he said at one point.

If there was an accepted star of the 2003 class, it was Lowe, who generated energy on the podium and connected smartly with each orchestra. Lowe, who expressed genuine interest in his colleagues’ lives and careers, was also well-liked by his peers – no small feat in a competitive field.

If there was a flaw in the program, it was the lack of opportunities for students to socialize. The experience was essentially all work and no play. A day off to visit one of the offshore islands (such as Kihnu, where the islanders routinely wear traditional clothing) would have provided a welcome break. There was no get-together after the final concert either, and students had to plan their own impromptu celebration (most gathered with Panula at the Aleksandri Pub near the Concert Hall).

The workshop is expensive: Tuition is 1500 euros (about $1700) plus the cost of scores and airfare to Pärnu. Total costs for an unsubsidized American exceeded $5,000 this year.

Fewer students would allow greater individual attention, but the Academy is not a moneymaker and all tuition goes toward meeting expenses, said Oistrakh Festival artistic director Allar Kaasik (nor do the instructors come to Pärnu to make money, he said). On the other hand, room and board in Pärnu are inexpensive. Rooms at the Concert Hall, where there are comfortable overnight accommodations, were about $50.

What is the outlook for young, promising conducting talent? Panula is “hopeful”, he said, but he would make no predictions for the 2003 Academy crop beyond saying it was “better than last year”.

Järvi was a bit more jaundiced. “To find a good conductor is a game of artistic management,” he said. “It’s not only art of conducting, it’s art of business. We are pushing the wrong people sometimes. In America especially, we are building your career and the word career is very wrong. Finally, you see in the newspapers one name everywhere. This is not right. There are a lot of others.”

He would like to see artistic management in Pärnu. “Something goes on here,” he said.


A New Conducting Competition
August 11, 2003
Mary Ellyn Hutton

PÄRNU, Estonia – A new international conducting competition is scheduled to take place here July 5-16, 2004, an extension of the Neeme Järvi Summer Academy, a 10-day conducting workshop founded in 2000 as part of Pärnu’s annual David Oistrakh Festival. [See “Järvi’s Conducting Workshop,” Part 1 and Part 2.]
Details are still being worked out, but the plan so far is for a jury to select four finalists during the first week of Järvi’s workshop. Conductors not chosen will continue with the workshop program. (This year there were 13 students.) Finals will be with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the two top winners will receive cash and guest-conducting engagements.

Hopes are that the competition will focus attention on the festival, a Pärnu institution since violinist Oistrakh summered there during the half-century Estonia belonged to the Soviet Union. “We want to have the Oistrakh Festival well known in Europe and internationally,” said artistic director Allar Kaasik, who revived it in 1997 after a break following Estonian independence in 1991.

In addition to the competition, next year’s festival features performances by the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Pärnu City Orchestra, Kremerata Baltica, “Latvija” choir, Estonian National Male Choir and soloists including violinist Gidon Kremer, violinist Baibe Skride (winner of the 2001 Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels), cellists Natalia Gutman and Jian Wang (Wang was a sensation with the Detroit Symphony in May), pianist Siirala, Baroque violinist Maya Homburger and double bassist Barry Guy.

Järvi, his sons Paavo and Kristjan, Sakari Oramo (successor to Simon Rattle at the City of Birmingham Orchestra), Constantine Orbelian of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, and Alexander Dmitriev of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic will conduct.


Symphony helps renew city, remakes itself for new audience

September 22, 2003
Free Press
Mark Stryker

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra was so close to going out of business in 1991 that even some of its best friends privately wished for a mercy killing. The DSO carried a $9-million deficit on a $17-million budget. Meeting payroll was a daily cliff-hanger. The DSO still played at Orchestra Hall, an acoustic miracle on Woodward Avenue, and new music director Neeme Järvi was charisma in tails. But the orchestra remained destitute and isolated in a decaying urban neighborhood. Worse, few cared beyond a band of classical-music loyalists. The DSO had become irrelevant to the lives of most Detroiters.

Times change.
The $60-million Max M. Fisher Music Center, which opens Oct. 11, puts an exclamation point on what experts say is one of the most improbable turnarounds in the history of U.S. orchestras. The DSO pulled itself up by its financial bootstraps, rebuilt its neighborhood, forged innovative civic partnerships and reinvented itself as a model 21st-Century arts institution. The DSO has woven itself deep enough into the fabric of the city that nearly everyone has a stake in its future. With the Max, as the DSO has dubbed the building, the DSO becomes a populist entertainment and educational hub that was once unimaginable. The DSO can now play Mahler at Orchestra Hall, while a second audience simultaneously snaps its fingers to bebop in a new 450-seat music box. Musicians can give master classes for students who will walk to the Max from a new performing arts high school next door.

“Orchestras are realizing that just sitting there and playing good concerts – while that is the core of what you do – is not enough,” said Henry Fogel, president and chief executive officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League. “We have to find ways to relate to a broader community. The Detroit Symphony figured that out earlier than almost anyone.”

The centerpiece
The key has been Orchestra Place, a sweeping, nearly $220-million urban renewal project that has created an arts, educational and commercial campus around Orchestra Hall. The DSO began buying land adjacent to its home in the mid-’90s, amassing 8 acres and erecting a $32-million office building and parking deck. The Detroit Medical Center signed on as the major tenant. The DSO donated land to the city to build the $122.5-million Detroit High School for the Fine, Performing and Communication Arts. When the school opens in 2005, it will cement the most extensive relationship between a symphony and public high school anywhere in the country. Then there is the Max, a 135,000-square-foot expansion of Orchestra Hall that includes the music box, education wing, four-story atrium lobby and new amenities – roomy lobbies, elevators, coat checks, more rest rooms, concession areas, kitchen facilities, musician dressing rooms and lockers and two retail spaces for DSO merchandise.

Orchestra Hall has been outfitted with new seats and a new heating and cooling system. Nothing has been done to tamper with the legendary acoustics, but the creature comforts that symphony audiences – and musicians – in other cities take for granted finally become standard in Detroit.

“Our audiences have been incredibly loyal considering how we treat them,” said DSO President Emil Kang. “Imagine what it means for us that we can now offer them a proper experience.” Other orchestras have created education, business and real estate alliances, but never on the scale of Orchestra Place. The scope of the project has galvanized donors, sparking 37 gifts of $1 million or more. Much of the money, including a critical $10-million donation from influential philanthropist Max Fisher, has come from parties less interested in classical music than in education or rebuilding Detroit. With Orchestra Place as the hook, the DSO has raised $110.5 million of its $125-million goal. The money has paid construction costs, boosted the endowment fund to $56 million and, in 1999, allowed the DSO to finally eliminate its crippling deficit.

Goals revisited
The DSO’s transformation transcends bricks and mortar and fund-raising success. External changes prompted a reassessment of artistic goals. Since launching Orchestra Place, outreach has become less a buzzword than a way of life. This means, for example, that the DSO has greatly expanded its education programs, increasing the number of student orchestras from one to four, introducing a summer training institute and carving out space in the Max for the Pincus Education Center.

With the Max, the drive to diversify programs and attract new audiences shifts into a higher gear. The music box is the linchpin. Outfitted with removable seats, the space can be configured for chamber music, jazz in a cabaret setting, poetry slams, world music, hip-hop, dances and corporate events. The music box becomes a second front door, an entry for those uninterested in classical music or uncomfortable in a European-style concert hall. While Orchestra Place has reversed the DSO’s fortunes, the risks remain enormous. The DSO is mortgaged up to its piccolos, carrying about $76 million in long-term debt and bond commitments on the Max and the office building. Annual interest charges are expected to be about $3 million. Being a landlord has its headaches. The Detroit Medical Center’s ongoing financial troubles could put its lease at risk, forcing the DSO to find another tenant.

Managing the range of activities at the Max will be more complicated than running a traditional symphony. The pressure to keep the budget balanced will be enormous; the margin for error has been reduced to almost nothing. Future downturns in the economy could be devastating, because the DSO is counting on income from endowment investments to pay for the $54-million bond that financed the Max. “For an organization like ours, this is one heck of a bet in real estate,” said Pam Ruthven, senior vice president for finance and development.

A turning point
By 1991, the DSO was drowning in red ink, the legacy of inept management, labor problems and sour economy. On the plus side, a new leadership team of Executive Director Mark Volpe and board chairman Al Glancy had regained the confidence of the business community and the musicians, and Järvi was a hit with everybody. The 20-year grassroots drive to save Orchestra Hall enabled the DSO to return to its historic home in 1989. Management launched a $40-million endowment campaign to stabilize finances, but it stalled at $20 million. The people, ideas and circumstances that would lead to Orchestra Place coalesced in 1993. Volpe said he knew the best shot to re-energize the endowment campaign was to tie it to the renaissance of Detroit. Meanwhile, Peter Cummings, a real estate developer, joined the board. Cummings had moved to Detroit to work for his father-in-law, Max Fisher, one of the wealthiest men in America.

Urbane, savvy and a recent convert to classical music, Cummings became the primary architect of Orchestra Place. Cummings said he knew the DSO was interested in exploiting his connection to Fisher; that’s the way the game is played. But when he was asked to approach Fisher for a gift, he remembers saying, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Max doesn’t like music.” But Cummings had also become smitten with Orchestra Hall and the DSO, and he began to apply his passion and imagination to the problems. “One characteristic about developers is that they can dream,” said Volpe, now managing director of the Boston Symphony. Cummings made a map of the DSO’s assets and saw that it already owned a large chunk of land around Orchestra Hall, including the vacant Winkelman’s warehouse. He also saw that the DSO’s future was tied to the viability of its neighborhood. And he saw an opportunity to create an oasis of culture.

Cummings and Volpe put together a modest proposal to spruce up Orchestra Hall with interior renovations, backstage facilities and landscaping. In June 1994, with then-Mayor Dennis Archer in tow for support, they met with Fisher to convince him the plan would be a boon for the city.

Fisher all but yawned
“You’re not thinking big enough,” he told them. “Max knew intuitively that to have an impact in Detroit, which was so devastated, the project needed a much larger critical mass,” said Cummings. “It was really a result of his prodding, probing and pushing that we made it a larger undertaking.” The ideas came quickly: Why not tear down the Winkelman’s warehouse and build an office building? Maybe the Detroit Medical Center needs office space? What if we donate land to the schools on the condition they build a performing arts high school? Negotiations began. Volpe started attending school board meetings. Sam Frankel – the Somerset Mall developer, who had given millions to save Orchestra Hall – helped Cummings, still an outsider, get approval from the DSO board. Glancy, who was then chairman of the DSO and DMC boards, brokered a deal between the two.

The DMC was profitable and there was a legitimate need to consolidate offices, said Glancy. He also notes that the conflict-of-interest concerns that shadow the DMC today did not exist. “These were nonprofits and nobody was paid and it was all aboveboard,” said Glancy. “But it could not have happened today.” A government oversight committee now bans the DMC from from entering into business relationships with companies affiliated with board members. With deals in place with the DMC and Detroit schools, the DSO still needed to acquire at least nine mostly empty parcels of land – an expensive proposition in most cities. The Chicago Symphony, for example, paid about $25 million for a tiny sliver in downtown Chicago in the 1990s. But Detroit’s depressed real estate market enabled the DSO to pay $1.5 million for 13 plots, totaling about 3 acres. The city sold the DSO the plot the Max stands on for $1.

Cummings kept Fisher in the loop, and in fall 1997, Fisher agreed to donate $5 million. (He has since doubled his contribution to $10 million.) DSO leaders say the support of the famously hard-to-impress Fisher was key to persuading other wealthy Detroiters to step up. “This is just part of the whole rebuilding of the city,” a 91-year-old Fisher told the Free Press in 2000, when the building was named in his honor. The benefits of the project became more pronounced after the office building opened in 1997 and tenants began paying rent. By borrowing $25 million to finance construction, the DSO reaped the same income this year – $1 million after paying its mortgage – as it would have by raising $20 million in endowment funds. (A 5-percent return is standard.) Real estate pros think this way every day; orchestras don’t.

While the basic outline of Orchestra Place has remained constant, specifics changed to meet new priorities. DSO leaders also sweated out tense moments when the management crisis in the Detroit schools put the high school project on hold in the late ’90s. Outreach became the orchestra’s mantra during the brief but influential tenure of Lou Spisto, who succeeded Volpe in 1998. Spisto spearheaded the blueprint specifics for the Max. Kang, who took over in 2000, has sharpened the artistic vision.

Given the sorry state the DSO found itself in a decade ago, the future looks remarkably bright. “We were in a situation where some bold moves needed to be made, and even though we’re doing things that are unconventional for an orchestra, we have momentum,” said Cummings. “We’re in that group of the 10 most viable orchestras in the country in one of the tougher cities to be viable in.”


The Max takes Detroit to a new musical high
October 6, 2003
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

From the old oval lobby at Orchestra Hall, Peter D. Cummings peers through a new corridor that leads into the Max M. Fisher Music Center. At the far end of that passageway, he can see the spacious atrium lobby that will be the public centerpiece of the Max. But Cummings, chairman of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra board, also glimpses something else. He sees a future in which the DSO is more meaningfully connected to its community.

“I really do see the Max as a place where the vision for a new Detroit becomes reality,” says Cummings. “I love the way the atrium lobby is walled in glass, so that people on the street can look in just as people on the inside can look out. It’s symbolic of the end of the fortress mentality in Detroit. The Max was created to be inclusive. There is no age group, no ethnic group that should not feel comfortable coming to the Max.” And there will be new reasons, both musical and nonmusical, for all kinds of people to visit the new $60 million enhancement and expansion of Orchestra Hall. Besides a range of concerts from classical and jazz to pop and rock, the Max and its various spaces will be available as a community gathering place for meetings, dinners, expos, even weddings.

That spirit of community engagement, of the symphony orchestra as a friendly, adaptable resource whose doors are open to all, reflects a strong trend among major American orchestras. Two of this country’s top orchestras, the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, redefined themselves in community terms in 1997, after multimillion renovations and expansions similar to the DSO’s development of the Max. “When we began to plan the renovation of Severance Hall in the mid-’90s, we put a high priority on finding new and better ways to serve the community at large,” says Gary Hanson, associate executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Hanson says that by presenting a wide range of classical and popular music events and by renting out spaces for social functions, the Cleveland Orchestra has made its home more “accessible, familiar and comfortable” for people who probably never set foot in the old hall in its earlier days. Urban minorities have shown an increased presence at concerts and other events in the world-famous Chicago Symphony’s new building since its $120 million revamping and expansion of its hall into a multiuse complex called the Symphony Center, says Synneve Carlino, the orchestra’s public relations director. “The opening of a new facility like yours in Detroit gives an orchestra the chance to show the public what they can gain by being involved with you,” Carlino says. “It was very important to us to demonstrate that we wanted to make Symphony Center relevant and useful to every demographic. Now we’ve had weddings here, and a lot of people have told us they’d never been in the building before.” Emil Kang, the DSO’s president and executive director, calls the Max “an investment we had to make to ensure our future prosperity.” “We certainly needed to provide better accommodations for both our musicians ... and our audiences, who have been wonderfully patient in the cramped spaces of Orchestra Hall for all these years. But the Max is not just the DSO. We wanted to be able to offer more broad-based uses. Now we can have several events going on at the same time, both musical and nonmusical. As this neighborhood develops, we want to be a part of its growth. We were operating in a cocoon. Now we’re looking outward.”

A key component of the versatile Max is the Jacob Bernard Pincus Education Center, which includes the Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall. For more than 300 Metro Detroit youngsters who play in four DSO-sponsored training ensembles, the acoustically tempered rehearsal hall will be a regular hangout. “The Pincus Center finally provides a place where all our education programs can call home,” says Charles Burke. Burke is the DSO’s education director and music director of its Civic Symphony for children ages 17-20, Sinfonia for ages 12-16 and Sinfonia Chamber Players for ages 15-16. Veteran Detroit jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave directs the Civic Jazz Orchestra for musicians between the ages of 14 and 20. Before the Max, says Burke, the youth ensembles squeezed in rehearsal time at Orchestra Hall when that space wasn’t being used by the DSO. Now the students will have six practice rooms, lockers, restrooms and their own entrance.

Paul Ganson, the 62-year-old DSO bassoonist who led the rescue of Orchestra Hall back in 1970, is nearly pinching himself at with excitement. “It’s worth far more than the cost,” he says of the Max. “We will be enjoying the rewards for far longer than it took to get to this point.” Along with Ganson, DSO chairman Cummings credits Mark Volpe, DSO executive director from 1991-97, and music director Neeme Järvi as unsung heroes of the Max miracle. Volpe, now executive director of the Boston Symphony, helped to formulate the idea of Orchestra Place – the office building immediately south of Orchestra Hall on Woodward that would be the first phase in the DSO’s grand development scenario.

“Neeme managed to elevate the image of the DSO as an orchestra of national importance,” says Cummings. “When we started the (development) campaign, the DSO brand was something people thought was worth investing in.” Replies Järvi: “The musicians deserve this. They are hard workers, and I appreciate what they have achieved under very bad conditions. They are heroes.” And yet, Cummings remains cautious. “We’ve built the Max, but we haven’t operated it yet. Now we face the challenge of showing that we can actually make this space come alive and fulfill the dreams of many people.”


Kristjan Järvi gab einen ordentlichen Einstand mit einem
außerordentlichen Programm.

Oktober 7, 2003
Die Presse

Das Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich hat einen neuen Chefdirigenten: Kristjan Järvi übernimmt 2004 die Orchesterleitung. Sozusagen seinen inoffiziellen Einstand gab Järvi im Wiener Musikverein mit einem für das Orchester eher ungewöhnlichen Programm: Strawinsky, Rachmaninow und der Zeitgenosse Daniel Schnyder (geb. 1961).

Dessen “Songbook”, ein Konzert für Saxofon und Orchester, stellt das Solo-Instrument - von Schnyder selbst gespielt – sowie einen Schlagwerker in den Vordergrund. Ein Stil-Konglomerat in fünf Sätzen: von Karibischem bis zu Klezmer. Dem Orchester kommt bis auf einige Soli die Funktion eines lamentierenden Tanzmusik-Orchesters zu – rhythmisch korrekt und durchaus mit Verve gespielt. Schnyder verliert sich dagegen in freier Improvisation und findet schwer in die vorgegebene Form zurück.

Kristjan Järvi konnte die Niederösterreicher geschickt animieren, ja sogar durchaus aus der Reserve locken. Strawinskys “Symphonie in drei Sätzen” ist ein expressives Werk zum Thema Krieg: Järvi legte sich mächtig ins Zeug, die Musiker zogen bereitwillig nach. Allein, mit weniger Lautstärke und mehr Differenzierung hätte das Ergebnis besser sein können. Wie bei Rachmaninows “Symphonischen Tänzen”: Hier überzeugten feine Modulationen, perfekte Bögen und eine Wolke aus berührender Emotion. Ein weiterer Beweis für die Vielseitigkeit dieses Orchesters.


Paavo Järvi to German Orchestra
October 9, 2003
Susan Elliott

BREMEN, Germany – Paavo Järvi has been named artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, effective January 2004, the orchestra announced yesterday. He succeeds Daniel Harding, who is stepping down after four years to take over the Gustav Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the professional touring ensemble founded by Claudio Abbado and former members of the Mahler Youth Orchestra in 1997.

The Estonia-born Järvi has been music director of the Cincinnati Symphony since Sept. 2001 and recently extended his contract through 2006-07. He is also artistic advisor to the Estonian National Symphony and onetime principal guest conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the City of Birmingham Symphony. Järvi, son of Neeme, is considered one of his generation’s most important conductors.
Of his new post, he comments: “The one difference and why I wanted to accept this position: I don’t feel like a conductor with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, I feel like a musical collaborator. I am one chamber musician here.”
The self-governing chamber orchestra which describes its modus operandi as a balance between self-determination and sub-ordination – was founded in 1980 by a group of music students. Initially known as the Kammerorchester der Jungen Deutschen Philharmonie, it established itself as a professional chamber orchestra in Frankfurt in 1987 and moved its home base in 1992 to the Freie Hansestadt Bremen. Järvi first conducted the ensemble in 1995 and established an immediate rapport. “In music there is always a question of chemistry,” he says. “You either click with somebody or you don’t.”

He has already recorded an all-Stravinsky disc with the orchestra for the Dutch PentaTone label, and plans are underway to record the complete Beethoven symphonies. The orchestra has recorded a broad range of repertoire for most of the major classical labels, including DG, BMG, and Decca.

Kammerphilharmonie is 40 per cent subsidized; the musicians raise the rest of its operating monies from sponsors and individual donors. One interesting income generator is a management training model, derived from the orchestra’s own organizational development and offered as the five-second model management training course to commercial businesses.


Järvi’s father opens new hall
October 10, 2003
Mary Ellyn Hutton

An historic hall undergoes renovation in an inner-city neighborhood. A school for the performing arts goes up next door. Cincinnati? No, Detroit, except it’s already in place in the Motor City. Stalled a decade ago under a mountain of debt and tepid leadership, the Detroit Symphony is rolling again in a big way.

Saturday night’s concert at Orchestra Hall in Detroit climaxed a week-long celebration marking the opening of the DSO’s $60 million Max M. Fisher Music Center.

Dubbed “Raise the Roof” in honor of the occasion and a world premiere by resident composer Michael Daugherty, the program also featured Duke Ellington’s “Harlem” Suite, Michigan composer Leslie Bassett’s Concerto for Orchestra and Detroit native James Carter performing Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones. On the podium was the man responsible for the DSO’s artistic rebirth, music director Neeme Järvi (father of Cincinnati Symphony music director Paavo Järvi).

“The Max”, a four-story, multi-purpose addition adjoining Orchestra Hall – a 2000-seat acoustical gem – was jumping, with a free weekend music marathon including everything from gospel to gamelan. Behind “The Max”, the new $122.5 million Detroit High School for the Fine, Performing and Communications Arts could be seen. To be completed in 2005, it and DSO-owned commercial space nearby are components of “Orchestra Place”, a visionary, $220 million urban renewal project engineered by DSO and community leaders.

The charismatic Järvi has made a point of performing American music since coming to Detroit in 1990, including many works by African American composers. A protean figure with over 350 recordings, Järvi has an insatiable musical appetite, including a remarkable affinity for jazz. It was worth the four-hour trip to hear him conduct “Harlem”, where he grooved physically with his players (as it turns out, Järvi’s older brother Vallo was leader of a jazz ensemble in Tartu, Estonia).

It was equally rewarding to hear and watch him work with Carter, a jazz phenom who can do anything with a sax and did, on both tenor and soprano. He was all over the instruments, smelling the roses in the lovely slow movement, shifting into high gear in the wild, improvised cadenza.

Daugherty’s “Raise the Roof” (infused with Gregorian chant to recall cathedral building) was a tour de force for DSO timpanist Brian Jones, who played melodies using the timpani pedals and addressed his five drums with mallets, brushes and bare hands. Bassett’s lavishly scored Concerto offered its own “building” analogy through use of a cell-like motif and columns of sound layered note by note.

Carter thrilled the crowd by returning for the encore, Ellington’s “Take the A Train”, where he jammed – to the max – with Järvi and the DSO.


The Max wows opening-night crowd
October 13, 2003
Free Press
Mark Stryker

They came. They saw. They swooned.

Which is, of course, what you would expect from 2,000 supporters of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, many of whom paid $250 to $2,500 for the privilege of sending their tuxedos to the dry cleaners, liberating the most elegant gown from their closets (or dropping a bundle on the latest fab couture creation) and attending Saturday’s opening-night concert and gala celebration of the $60-million Max M. Fisher Music Center. The evening was as flush with triumph as the finale of Mahler’s Second Symphony, whose subtitle, “Resurrection”, provides an apt metaphor for what the Fisher Music Center means not only to the DSO, but also to the city’s nascent renaissance. And so there was champagne, dinner, late-night dancing and talk of the symbolic way the sleekly modern architecture of the Max, with its burnished wood and copper finishes, merges effortlessly into historic Orchestra Hall, which was built in 1919.

And there was wide-eyed wonder on the faces of patrons as they explored the Music Box recital hall, elevators, CD store, rest rooms, four-story atrium lobby and other new amenities in the 135,000-square-foot addition to Orchestra Hall. “It’s barely recognizable,” John Ham of Clarkston said before the concert, as he shared a drink with his wife, Millie, in the renovated Greek Lounge on the second floor of Orchestra Hall. “The atrium is so light and lovely. It just invites you into the space,” said Millie Ham.

There was also a thrilling concert, including a syncopated world premiere called “Motor City Dance Mix” by the young Flint-born composer Jonathan Holland, an exquisite performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto by Itzhak Perlman, and a brash reading of Aaron Copland’s boldly optimistic Third Symphony that music director Neeme Järvi conducted with a chin-first swagger. But beyond the glitz and the glam, the music, the food, the $1.4 million the evening funneled into DSO coffers and the I-can’t-believe-this-is-Detroit buzz that picks up whenever the city decks its can’t-do reputation with a Joe Louis knockout punch, Saturday night was fundamentally about this:

The passion of DSO board chairman Peter Cummings, the primary visionary behind the DSO’s Orchestra Place redevelopment project, who poured his heart and soul into the orchestra to make the Max a reality. Cummings, a real estate developer by trade, fell so hard for classical music that he started taking piano lessons a few years back, until he found that the only time he had to practice was at 4 a.m. “I had to give up music for the DSO,” he said Saturday night. The passion of Paul Ganson, the veteran DSO bassoonist, who led the grass-roots effort to save Orchestra Hall from the wrecking ball 33 years ago, the first step in the epic journey that culminated Saturday. No Ganson, no Max. In a lovely moment, Ganson, 62, received the longest and loudest ovation among the dignitaries recognized from the stage before the concert.

The passion of 95-year-old financier and philanthropist Max Fisher, the building’s namesake, whose loyalty to Detroit is matched only by his loyalty to Republican presidents and politics. Fisher, who didn’t feel up to attending Saturday, gave $10 million to Orchestra Place, the largest personal gift in DSO history and a seal of approval that helped persuade other wealthy donors to open their wallets.

The passion of Mark Volpe, the former DSO executive director, who kept the DSO alive in the early ’90s, when a $9-million deficit hung like a noose around the orchestra’s neck. Volpe helped Cummings create Orchestra Place, which includes the Max, an office building and a public performing arts high school. The project has rebuilt the DSO’s neighborhood, rebuilt its relationship with the community and rebuilt its finances, eliminating the deficit and raising nearly $112 million of a $125-million goal. “It was an emotional moment for me walking in here tonight,” said Volpe, who left Detroit in 1997 to take the top executive job with the Boston Symphony. “Orchestras are challenged by the notion of: Are they still relevant? And this connects in ways that no other orchestra is doing. It’s a Detroit solution to a Detroit challenge.” The passion of Järvi, who has energized audiences and brought the DSO to a new peak of musical excellence, and the passion of the DSO musicians, who have lived out of trailers parked next to Orchestra Hall for 14 years and have finally been rewarded with the kind of dignified working conditions – lockers, dressing rooms, lounges – that a world-class orchestra demands and deserves.

And last, but by no means least, the passion of DSO audiences, who have flocked to Orchestra Hall for the quality of its acoustics and the quality of the orchestra but had to endure sardine lobbies, rest room lines as long as traffic backups on I-75 and the lack of such basic amenities as coat checks and a decent place to buy a drink and a sandwich. “This is just glorious,” Sally Pierce of Walled Lake said before the concert. Pierce, who has been coming to hear the DSO since 1971, stood near the railing on the mezzanine level and surveyed the partying mass below. “You can’t improve on Orchestra Hall, but they certainly could improve everything else. The entrance and atrium are just so wonderful. You know, when I was in the shop downstairs, somebody said to me, “Well, this isn’t Michigan Avenue in Chicago”, and I said to him, “No, but this is Woodward Avenue, and that should mean something.””


Kristjan Järvi to Austrian Orchestra
October 14, 2003
Susan Elliott

VIENNA. October is turning out to be quite a month for the Järvi clan. Last week, Paavo Järvi was named artistic director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, effective in January, succeeding Daniel Harding. Yesterday, his younger brother Kristjan, also a native of Estonia, was appointed chief conductor of the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria for three seasons, starting with 2004-05.

Paavo is music director of the Cincinnati Symphony and a popular guest on podiums worldwide; Kristjan, 31, is the founding music director of New York Absolute Ensemble, a self-proclaimed electro-acoustic classical band that performs in various guises, from rock group to chamber music ensemble. Their father, of course, is Neeme Järvi, music director of the Detroit Symphony, among other claims to fame.

The younger Järvi succeeds Carlos Kalmar, the newly appointed music director of the Oregon Symphony. Kalmar was in the Austrian post three years. Tonkünstler-Orchester Niedersterreich, founded in 1946, is the symphonic ensemble of the Austrian province of the same name. Its home base is the Festspielhaus in St. Pölten, but it also has a regular concert series at Vienna’s Musikverein and at least three neighboring cities, in addition to a rigorous local, national, and overseas touring schedule. It has made a number of recordings for the ORF label.

Järvi has led the orchestra in standard repertoire on several occasions, including at Vienna’s Musikverein and RadioKulturhaus.


All-American Program Rooted in the Popular
October 18, 2003
The New York Times
Bernard Holland

DETROIT. In cities like this one, classical music’s self-appointed mission to educate the public to its traditional standards of high art becomes more and more an unrealizable goal. Life has not been kind in recent years, pitting affluent suburbs against a devastated inner city. The Detroit Symphony, a creature of the first constituency but situated in the second, nearly went out of business 12 years ago, but now there is the new Max M. Fisher Music Center and the optimism it represents.

This $60 million renovation and expansion of the old Orchestra Hall is more than a victory for a distinguished but long-suffering orchestra. It is a civic embrace: a kind of magnet pulling at the polarized elements of Detroit, and maybe a step toward bringing suburbanites back to the city’s center while maintaining a user-friendly place for those who live there now. An adjacent high school for the arts is being built. The new hall aspires to be a community center of sorts and is available for weddings.

With the glamour and celebrity of last week’s formal opening out of the way, the orchestra under its longtime music director, Neeme Järvi, offered a metaphor of its own for depolarization on Thursday night. The program was all-American, and in every piece one found the elements of the American popular culture that have made this city such a potent musical force in recent years. They peeked in and out of Michael Daugherty’s new “Raise the Roof”, written for the occasion; provided a rhythm-and-blues finale for Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones; and dominated Duke Ellington’s “Harlem Suite” at the end.

Leslie Bassett’s Concerto for Orchestra added a touch of American anxiety to the bright lights and general festivity of the other music. Shrill, dense and unsettling in its outer movements, Mr. Bassett’s piece offers a pocket of calm at its center, defined by Robert deMaine’s elegant cello solos. “Raise the Roof” is more or less a small concerto for timpani, with Brian Jones’s virtuoso banging playing against syntheses of jazz, pop and big-band cultures.

James Carter’s elaborate saxophone solos in the Sierra piece added a hometown touch to the evening. They also created a cutting, almost antithetical voice working against an intermittent symphonic haze.

“Harlem Suite” is brass heavy enough to make string sections all but unnoticed and the symphony orchestra format irrelevant. For better or worse, Ellington aspired to the trappings and cachet of the classical music world, and here he feels the obligation to be big, pushing his natural refinement into uneasy overstatement.

The playing was first rate and sounded fine in its upgraded surroundings. The orchestra’s audience on Thursday, on the other hand, looked ripe for renovation: scatterings of young people and black listeners but overwhelmingly the familiar army of the white and elderly. Among the 2,000 seats, there were empty ones.


DSO celebrates the Max with a homegrown program
October 18, 2003
Free Press
Mark Stryker

There’s no other conductor and orchestra that could tackle the syncopated program that Neeme Järvi and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra roared through Thursday with anywhere near the home team’s infectious charisma and idiomatic command of jazz and vernacular rhythms.

But the more interesting point is that no other orchestra would try.
The DSO is giving its first subscription concerts at the $60 million Max M. Fisher Music Center, and the occasion has prompted DSO leaders to affirm a nascent aesthetic independence from its brethren among American orchestras. The program connects on a fundamental level with Järvi, the DSO and the cultural milieu of Detroit.

The music includes the world premiere of DSO resident composer Michael Daugherty’s “Raise the Roof” and revivals of two earlier commissions – Leslie Bassett’s Concerto for Orchestra and the Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones, with the Detroit-born James Carter as soloist. Both Daugherty and Bassett are connected with the University of Michigan. Sierra’s concerto and Duke Ellington’s “Harlem” underscore Detroit’s jazz legacy and Järvi’s affection for the idiom.

The symbolism is important: An all-American, mostly contemporary and Michigan-connected program makes an encouraging statement about the DSO’s willingness to engage the culture of its own time; let’s hope the orchestra delivers on the promise.

“Raise the Roof,” which closes Daugherty’s DSO tenure, is a 13-minute Timpani Concerto for the DSO’s Brian Jones, a virtuoso who had a field day Thursday with the raucous rolls, intemperate interjections and clever passages that employ the timpani’s tuning pedals.

Still, this isn’t Daugherty’s best piece. The melodic material is too slight to stand up to the many repetitions, and passages girded by Latin rhythms and a piano vamp suggest a moldy Stan Kenton arrangement. But there are entertainments – the raucous percussion, snappy riffs, primary colors and Pop Art clarity.

Bassett’s Concerto for Orchestra evokes the long shadow of Bartók in its evocatively chromatic melodies, imitative entrances, stealthy pizzicatos and night-music atmospherics. But Bassett, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966, speaks in an original voice of tactile orchestration, lucid abstraction and athletic dash. Järvi shaped a dynamic performance, alert to details and able to keep the argument taut whenever the composer slipped into academicism.
Bassett’s link to the modernist tradition was an important reminder that absolute music can be as relevant to Detroit audiences as jazz and pop-influenced scores or programmatic works tied to Detroit people and places.

Sierra’s Concerto, starring the irrepressible Carter, created the same rip-snorting impression as it did at last year’s premiere. Carter raced from the basement of the tenor sax into the stratosphere. The rollicking scherzo, nutty boogie-woogie and cadenzas left room for him to improvise gloriously.

Järvi, whose sense of swing is unparalleled among maestros, led a driving yet relaxed performance, and the DSO played like aces. Ellington’s prismatic “Harlem” swung even harder, and the encore – Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” – found Carter, on soprano sax, strolling back on stage to wail a few more choruses before saying goodnight.


Detroit symphony takes the A-Train to success at first series concert
in new center

October 18, 2003
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

DETROIT – Now that’s the way to rededicate an American concert hall to its purpose in the continuum of classical music. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s subscription concert Thursday night at Orchestra Hall, its first since the opening of the Max M. Fisher Music Center, was a thoroughly American affair with a distinctively Detroit twist. Indeed, the evening delivered all the things one hopes to experience in a symphony orchestra concert -- not in 1803, when Beethoven was a rising star, or in 1903, when Mahler and Strauss ruled, but in 2003 in the heartland of America and American culture.

Brilliant, fresh, stimulating, utterly unconventional in every way, the program devised by music director Neeme Järvi offered three works commissioned during the last decade by the DSO – with all three composers on hand – and an urban tone poem by one of this country’s greatest composers, Duke Ellington. That said, the concert opened in rather pedestrian fashion with the premiere of Michael Daugherty’s dedicatory “Raise the Roof”. Faculty composer at the University of Michigan and a former DSO resident composer, Daugherty is a gifted American original who has turned out a long string of imaginative and engaging works inspired by icons as diverse as Liberace and Rosa Parks.

But it was hard to find the inspiration in “Raise the Roof”, which for all its vibrant colors and rhythmic energy never evolved beyond the simplistic character of a spaghetti western movie soundtrack. One listened in vain for the typical counterpoint, the subtle textural layering, the edgy wit that have stamped Daugherty as one of the most important composers of our time and place. Those, however, were the very qualities that abounded in the Concerto for Orchestra by Leslie Bassett, a grey eminence of the U. of M. music faculty and winner of a Pulitzer Prize. Like Bartók’s famous Concerto for Orchestra, Bassett’s puts each section of the orchestra through formidable technical hoops while enchanting the ear with complex rhythms and delicately shifting colors.

Järvi guided a dazzling display of virtuosity that peaked in eloquent solo turns by English horn, bass clarinet, flute, cello and violin. Reprising a huge popular success from last season, Järvi put a Motown spin on the night with Roberto Sierra’s jazzy Concerto for Saxophones, featuring – no, starring – the young jazzlion and Detroit native James Carter on both tenor and soprano sax. And once again, Carter’s flamboyant turn through the concerto’s impulsive syncopations stood the house on its ear. Crowning the concert was the evocative cityscape, where jazz meets gospel, of Ellington’s “Harlem Suite”. When Järvi added a high-powered encore of the Duke’s “Take the A-Train”, who should wander onto the stage, in midperformance, but James Carter, wailing that indelible tune on his soprano sax. The crowd, this Motown crowd, went wild.


Neeme Järvi to NJ Symphony
October 28, 2003
Nicholas Beard

NEWARK – The New Jersey Symphony announced yesterday that Neeme Järvi, longtime music director of the Detroit Symphony, would succeed Zdenek Macal as its music director, effective with the 2005-06 season. Järvi, 66, suffered a vertebral artery aneurysm in 2001 but has apparently made a full recovery.

The announcement ends a two-and-a-half-year search, and promises to calm the NJ Symphony’s current disease, as it carries forward an accumulated deficit of $5.7 million and searches for a successor to executive director Lawrence Tamburri, who leaves in December for a similar post at the Pittsburgh Symphony. Järvi’s contract, which is for three years, stipulates that he have final say on Tamburri’s replacement.

“We saw a lot of very good guest conductors,” concertmaster Eric Wyrick tells the Star Ledger, “but we were looking for chemistry and with Järvi, I really think we found it. [The appointment is] a real morale booster.”

For his part, Järvi says he feels he is returning home, having lived in New Jersey when he first emigrated from his native Estonia in 1980. He and his wife are based in Manhattan. When his new appointment officially begins, Järvi will have been Detroit’s music director for 15 years. He is credited with transforming the orchestra into a world-class ensemble.

For the remainder of the current season and for 2004-05, Järvi will serve as principal conductor in New Jersey, while simultaneously residing at the helm in Detroit. Additionally, Järvi is first principal guest conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and the outgoing, longtime music director of Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.


N.J. Symphony Names New Conductor
28. October 2003

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – Neeme Järvi, music director of the Detroit Symphony, is moving to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, ending a long search for a director of the ensemble, which recently acquired a collection of rare Italian string instruments.

The appointment of Järvi, who held the post in Detroit for 14 years, was formally announced Tuesday at a ceremony in Newark. He succeeds Zdenek Macal, who announced his resignation in January 2001. NJSO officials declined to discuss Järvi’s salary and other contract details, but said he would immediately take over as principal conductor and music director designate. His first NJSO concert will be in April.

Next season – last in Detroit – Järvi will conduct six concerts with the NJSO, with guest conductors scheduled for the rest of the season. His three-year contract as music director will start with the 2005-2006 season.

Järvi, 66, 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.


Jersey Symphony lands a global star
October 28, 2003
Bradley Bambarger and Peggy McGlone

Detroit’s Järvi hired in dual role
Star-Ledger Staff In an artistic coup likely to raise its national profile, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has secured top-ranking international conductor Neeme Järvi as its new music director. The music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for the past 14 years, the Estonian-born Järvi will begin a three-year contract as the NJSO’s music director with the 2005-2006 season.

Effective immediately, however, the 66-year-old Järvi who has made more than 350 recordings, vying for the most of any living conductor – will function as the NJSO’s principal conductor and music director designate.

Järvi’s hiring ends a 2 1/2-year search for a successor to Zdenek Macal, who led the NJSO for nine seasons. While Järvi’s world-class stature and his enviable achievement in Detroit were undoubted attractions, the immediate connection he made with musicians at last March’s Young Artists Audition concert in New Brunswick led to the overture. “Järvi has this infectious enthusiasm for music-making, along with his famous command of an amazingly wide range of repertoire and impressive technical skills," said board chairman Victor Parsonnet, who will introduce Järvi at a ceremony this afternoon in Newark. “Each of our music directors has led to a step forward for us, and I think everyone would agree that this makes for one of the great moments in NJSO history.”

Interviewed in Detroit after a rehearsal with his current orchestra, the relaxed and good-humored Järvi summarized the allure of joining the NJSO, which is more modest in size and profile than Detroit. “At this point, I need to have room to create something,” Järvi said. “A lot has been achieved in New Jersey it is a professional organization, with many talented musicians and a nice new home, which is very important. But there is room to do more, with the orchestra, the repertoire and the community. That attracts me.”

The NJSO’s collection of 30 rare Italian string instruments acquired this year from collector and philanthropist Herbert Axelrod – also attracted him, although more for what they represent than for their sound, which he has yet to hear. “Buying these Stradivarius violins was a heroic undertaking it says much about the organization and those who support it,” he said. “No other orchestra thought of buying just a few of these instruments, and New Jersey buys 30. This Mr. Axelrod could have received more money selling them elsewhere, but he didn’t do that because he is a patriot of New Jersey and the orchestra. That is impressive to me.”

The New Jersey position makes for a homecoming of sorts for Järvi. After he emigrated to the U.S. from Estonia in 1980, the conductor and his family lived in Rumson and Shrewsbury, where he owned a house. While conducting at the Metropolitan Opera, he commuted by bus to Manhattan for rehearsals and performances. In off hours, he socialized with new friends in Lakewood’s Estonian community. “I have a warm feeling for New Jersey,” he said. Järvi’s appointment is welcome news for the NJSO. As the search for a music director entered its third year, the orchestra suddenly faced the impending departure of its productive executive director, Lawrence Tamburri. He leaves in December to take the top job at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra also posted an accumulated deficit of $5.7 million – the result of the still soft-economy and post-terrorism environment – in the same fiscal year that it went $18 million in debt to purchase the Golden Age string collection.

A rudderless NJSO could have spent the fall sleepwalking in the face of real challenges. Instead it’s made a leap forward. “We saw a lot of very good guest conductors, but we were looking for chemistry and with Järvi, I really think we found it,” said concertmaster Eric Wyrick, adding that the continuity promised by Järvi’s commitment “will not only help us improve sonically, it’s a real morale booster.”

Järvi’s first NJSO concert in his new role will be at an April 17 fund-raising event, followed by five performances in Newark, Englewood and Red Bank April 21-27. Those concerts feature programs ranging from Hindemith and Bartók to a new work by a Järvi compatriot, Estonian composer Eino Tamberg. Next season – his valedictory year in Detroit Järvi will conduct six concerts with the NJSO, with guest conductors scheduled for the rest. Beginning with the 2005-2006 season, he is contracted to conduct 10 weeks a year (out of an 18-week classical subscription season, roughly similar to Macal’s commitment). That doesn’t count special events, which the conductor already seems excited about developing.

Järvi studied in Estonia and at the Leningrad Conservatory. In addition to guest-conducting orchestras from Berlin to Chicago, he was principal conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, reinvigorating the group and making numerous recordings. As chief of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years, he built the ensemble into Sweden’s national orchestra. He steps down from that full-time commitment at the end of this season. Järvi’s tenure in Detroit was transformative. When he arrived, the orchestra’s endowment was down to virtually nothing, and the state cut its funding by $2 million. The endowment now stands at about $125 million, and the group has a beautifully refurbished hall. Peter Cummings, the Detroit Symphony’s board chairman, has gone on record to credit Järvi’s “unique combination of passion and humor” with inspiring the orchestra and its supporters to soldier forward.

Although Järvi remains first principal guest conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and has commitments to the Stockholm Royal Opera, he has scaled back his international guest spots. His schedule in recent years included 12 weeks of conducting in Detroit (out of a 26-week classical season), as well as 10 weeks in Sweden and two in Japan, plus several weeks as a guest with other U.S. and European orchestras. He suffered an aneurysm in July 2001, achieving a full recovery after surgery. The Järvi name has become something of a brand in classical music. His eldest son, Paavo, is music director of the Cincinnati Symphony and just took on a German orchestra; his daughter, Maarika, is a freelance solo flutist; and his son, Kristjan, leads chamber, orchestral and operatic groups in New York, Austria and Sweden. As American citizens, Järvi and his wife, Liilia, keep their main residence in Manhattan.

Parsonnet would not give details of Järvi’s compensation other than to say that the amount was not dissimilar to Macal’s salary. But Parsonnet did say that Järvi’s contract stipulates his input and approval on Tamburri’s successor, as well as oversight on the naming of any associate conductor down the line. Even with a new president to hire and much work to be done, the investment in Järvi obviously helps Parsonnet rest easier. Quick to point out Newark’s similarities to Detroit, the board chairman expects Järvi to have a catalytic role in the renewal of the NJSO. Echoing Wyrick, Järvi says chemistry is all: “The New Jersey players are really looking to make music, and that is my life’s purpose – so I think we can work well together.”


NJSO Announces Neeme Järvi as its next Music Director
October 28, 2003
NJSO Press Release

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra announced today that it has selected Neeme Järvi as the Orchestra’s next Music Director. Järvi will be Principal Conductor and Music Director Designate/The Jaqua Foundation Chair for the remainder of the 2003-04 season and the 2004-05 season, and will officially become the twelfth Music Director of the Orchestra beginning in the 2005-06 season. His contract extends through the 2007-08 season.

“After a thorough two-year search for our next artistic leader, we are thrilled to have engaged the esteemed Maestro Järvi as the Orchestra’s new music director,” notes NJSO Chairman Dr. Victor Parsonnet. “Our search committee, comprised of Board members, musicians, staff, and community leaders, was unanimous in its decision on who the top candidate was for this position. The entire membership of the NJSO is ecstatic over the opportunity to work with Maestro Järvi. His unbounded energy, encyclopedic knowledge of symphonic repertoire, and his superb musicianship will propel the NJSO into a new and exciting chapter of its history. This appointment is a quantum leap for the Orchestra.”

“New Jersey has a special place in my heart. It’s almost like returning home,” stated Neeme Järvi. (After leaving his homeland of Estonia in 1980, Järvi and his family lived in Rumson, NJ for several years). “The NJSO has a strong artistic and administrative reputation in the orchestral world. Their acquisition of 30 rare Italian string instruments this past spring is a tremendous plus for the Orchestra. I look forward to my new adventure with the NJSO, to building on the established artistic quality of the Orchestra, and to working with its dedicated musicians and Board.”

Järvi is scheduled to conduct the NJSO in April 2004, first at an exclusive Symphony Palace Ball: Palace of the Northern Lights on April 17, 2004 and then in a series of statewide performances on April 22-27 in Englewood, Red Bank and Newark. (Complete details available at 1-800-ALLEGRO or online at His new contract calls for him to conduct numerous weeks in the 2004-05 season, and ten weeks of concerts in each of the subsequent three years.

Järvi is currently Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Principal Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (National Orchestra of Sweden) since 1982, First Principal Guest Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Conductor Laureate of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He was born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1937, and is one of today’s busiest conductors, making frequent guest appearances with the major orchestras and opera houses of the world.

Members of the NJSO’s Artistic Leadership Search Committee included musicians Bart Feller, Mary Kay Robinson, Francine Storck & Eric Wyrick; NJSO Board Members Dr. Victor Bauer, Barbara Bell Coleman, Eli Hoffman, Victor Parsonnet (Chairman of the Board) & Lowell Weiner; and community leaders Lawrence Goldman (President and CEO of New Jersey Performing Arts Center), Peter Metz, & Judy Weston.

NJSO Artistic Leadership History:
Philip James Music Director 1922-1929
René Pollain Music Director 1929-1940
Dr. Frieder Weissman Music Director 1940-1947
Samuel Antek Music Director 1947-1959
Mathys Abas Music Director 1959-1961
Kenneth Schermerhorn Music Director 1962-1967
Henry Lewis Music Director 1968-1976
Max Rudolph Music Advisor 1976-1977
Thomas Michalek Music Director 1977-1983
George Manahan Interim Music Director 1983-1985
Hugh Wolff Music Director 1985-1992
Zdenek Macal Music Director 1992-2002
Music Director Emeritus 2002-2004
Neeme Järvi Principal Conductor and Music Director Designate 2003-2005
Music Director 2005 –


The joyful maestro: New Jersey Symphony’s new musical director is passionate about his work
October 29, 2003
Bradley Bambarger

Star-Ledger Staff DETROIT – Descriptions of conductor Neeme Järvi by guest soloists and orchestral players, as well as administrators and audience members, share a common vocabulary. “Charming”, “natural” and “spontaneous” are the words most often associated with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s new principal conductor and music director designate. Also heard is “musical”, a compliment not doled out to professional musicians as often as one might think.

After a relaxed afternoon in his company here, it can be verified that the Estonian-born Järvi is a rare creature; the 66-year-old is – as violin soloist Gil Shaham puts it – “a cheerful maestro”, the very opposite to the popular image of conductors as martinets.

A few minutes into a discussion of conducting, Järvi tells a joke that underlines his ironic insight into the conceit still typical of his profession. “Do you know what is the difference between God and a conductor?” he asks. “God doesn’t think he’s a conductor! Orchestral musicians are the true heroes,” Järvi insists. “They must study, rehearse and perform this music to such a high level every time, not just when they are in the mood. I can offer relief by helping them forget the difficulties and remember their love for music.”

“Technically – and a conductor must have technique above all – I always try to help musicians understand rhythm not as beats but as breathing,” Järvi says. “New Jersey’s new Stradivarius violins are wonderful, but they do not play themselves. The musicians must breathe their joy in the music – even in troubled music – through the instruments.”

Following a set of concerts and a special fund-raising event in April, Järvi will conduct six concerts with the NJSO in the 2004-2005 season. With 2005-2006 – following his 15th year as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra – he assumes the full title of NJSO music director, with a three-year contract and an annual conducting commitment of 10 weeks out of an 18-week classical season. Järvi has every claim to his high spirits, having decades of uncommon achievement under his cummerbund. Since escaping the Iron Curtain in 1980, he has transformed second-tier orchestras in Detroit, Sweden and Scotland into world-class ensembles. He has also made a significant mark in the recording world, with a vast, award-winning discography.

Then there is the mini-musical dynasty Järvi has spawned: His three children with wife Liilia are each making successful international careers. His eldest son, Paavo, is music director of the Cincinnati Symphony; daughter Maarika is a solo flutist; and son Kristjan is an up-and-coming conductor in the U.S. and Europe. Järvi’s avuncular nature belies a devotion to music that borders on “fanaticism”, one of his favorite words, which he uses as a synonym for idealistic passion. He remains intensely curious about music, constantly seeking out new repertoire and fresh ways to perform familiar scores. It is indicative of Järvi’s values that one of his heroes is Leonard Bernstein, not only as a musician but as a man with the drive “to give and give”.

Another of Bernstein’s traits that isn’t commonly mentioned in reference to Järvi is his expressiveness on the podium. A robust man, he hardly has the moves of the lithe Bernstein in his prime, but there is a subtle swing to Järvi’s manner. For musicians, his eyes and hands convey volumes about how to transform a black-and-white score into music of living color. “I’ve heard it said that Neeme could conduct the phone book and make wonderful music of it,” says pianist Hélène Grimaud, who has played virtually her entire concerto repertoire with Järvi. “I was on tour in Europe with him when he conducted the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. Even though it was a long tour, he made it seem like the first time every night. He has this contagious sense of joy in his music-making that’s not always a condition to what we do. Neeme truly enjoys himself.”

Järvi’s NJSO concerts in April feature a substantial program, including the Concertos for Orchestra by Hindemith and Bartók, as well as the new Flute Concerto by Estonian Eino Tamberg (whose music has long been championed by Järvi, along with that of such Estonian composers as Arvo Pärt and Eduard Tubin). These works will demand the most of the NJSO. Concertmaster Eric Wyrick thinks Järvi will bring out the best in the orchestra and broaden its palette. “As an institution, the NJSO has always been conservative,” Wyrick says. “My view is that people will enjoy new or unfamiliar music as long as you present it in a persuasive, passionate way that cannot be denied. That’s what Järvi does.”

In Detroit Järvi fell in love with American music, which he wants to include in his initial plans for the NJSO. “There is so much American music that American orchestras – American conductors – don’t perform. Take Samuel Barber – most people only know his Adagio for Strings. But then everything he wrote was a kind of masterpiece. I’m sure we will have some American evenings in the future.”

Up to the challenge
Beyond issues of programming and technique, there are multiple parallels between Newark and Detroit, as NJSO board chairman Victor Parsonnet points out. Both cities have their urban challenges, with ambitious new concert facilities built to unite the orchestra and the community. As with the Detroit Symphony before Järvi’s arrival, the NJSO faces fiscal hurdles. Järvi’s name and the quality of his music-making helped the Detroit garner recording work, increased ticket sales, and nationwide broadcast distribution.

“Järvi’s influence helped turn Detroit around,” Parsonnet says. “When he started there, they were worse off than we are. He has the power to do the same for us, not only musically but with the cultivation of the community and its financial support. For me, though, the key attraction to Neeme was the way his Detroit musicians feel about him. Three or four years in and the honeymoon is usually over for an orchestra and its conductor. But after more than a decade, they still love him. I’m not a musician, but I can see why.”

In many ways, Järvi’s ease and confidence stem naturally from his life experience, in which challenges have never blunted his enthusiastic nature. Growing up in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, Järvi and his elder brother, Vallo, were surrounded by the amateur music-making of their parents. After learning percussion instruments and choral conducting in Soviet-ruled Estonia, Järvi studied conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory. The musical circles there included some of the 20th century’s greatest artists, such as composer Dmitri Shostakovich and magnetic performers Yevgeni Mravinsky and David Oistrakh.

Back home, Järvi eventually led the Radio Estonia Symphony Orchestra and the Estonian Theater ensemble. He became a renowned figure in the country’s cultural life, with his travel allowances and other privileges the envy of others. As an artist, though, he chafed at the Soviet bit (which, among other restrictions, proscribed avant-garde and religious music). One aspect of life in Estonia was special, as Järvi remembers. “Music was very, very important to people in Estonia. Concerts were more than just concerts. They were a way to escape the pressure of the society and share feelings and ideas that you could not speak of in public.”

After being allowed to conduct at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1979, Järvi decided to emigrate to the U.S. with his family, even though the government would declare him persona non grata. (He would never see his mother again and lost many of his possessions.) New Jersey was the first stop. Järvi and his family stayed with friends in Rumson, then he bought a home in Shrewsbury, commuting by bus for work at the Met and spending time with Estonian friends in Lakewood. Järvi says that he and his wife have retained “warm feelings” for New Jersey ever since. Their main residence now is in Manhattan, near Lincoln Center. In the 1980s and ’90s, Järvi enjoyed a career as an international guest conductor, including formal relationships with England’s City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. From 1984-89, Järvi was principal conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, forging a long partnership with the independent British record label Chandos that yielded hundreds of recordings of often rare Russian, Czech and Scandinavian music.

Järvi has been principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years. He built the ensemble into Sweden’s national orchestra, making prize-winning recordings of Grieg and Sibelius with the group for Deutsche Grammophon and BIS.

He steps down from his full-time Gothenburg commitment at the end of this season, retaining a laureate title and continuing to pursue recording projects there. He remains first principal guest conductor of the Japan Philharmonic and has commitments to the Stockholm opera house for a Wagner cycle. He also has a conducting school in Estonia.

Henry Fogel, longtime Chicago Symphony Orchestra president and now head of the American Symphony Orchestra League, has described Järvi as being of the same stature musically as such top U.S. orchestra chiefs as Daniel Barenboim (Chicago Symphony) and Lorin Maazel (New York Philharmonic). Yet Fogel has also pointed, admiringly, to that enduring curiosity for uncommon music that, for Järvi, has taken precedence over more careerist or political concerns. The conductor’s eldest son, too, has said that if his father has a fault, it is that “he is too much of a musician”.

Having cut back on his schedule since undergoing surgery to repair damage from a vertebral artery aneurysm in 2001, Järvi says, “I don’t feel like I was born in 1937, although my body sometimes reminds me of this fact. But when I am excited about something, like a piece of music or my grandson, I feel very well. I can still act like a little boy.”

Indicative of his boyish eagerness is Järvi’s Detroit custom of rewarding an appreciative audience with orchestral encores. He has even recorded two albums of these popular miniatures, with a live disc incorporating the audience’s laughter and sighs. The conductor would like to institute this practice in New Jersey.

“We must retain the element of surprise for the audience,” Järvi says. “People love surprises and will come to concerts to make sure they hear these special things. Despite union rules about time and so on, musicians should always remember that we exist for the audience – we are playing for them, not ourselves.”

After a long concert with the Detroit Symphony in its Orchestra Hall on Friday, Järvi and company regaled their public with a Strauss dance, with the conductor’s slight shimmies and playful waves eliciting delight. As the last applause for the encore faded, a woman in the audience said, to no one in particular, “I’m going to miss him”. Detroit’s loss is definitely New Jersey’s gain.


Building on chemistry with the NJSO
November 9, 2003
Jim Beckerman

Musicians play instruments. But conductors play musicians, says the New Jersey Symphony’s eagerly awaited new music director, Neeme Järvi (pronounced NAME-eh YAIR-vee). The symphony, which he will lead beginning in April, is his instrument.

“If you don’t have proper technique in violin or piano, you can’t play,” Järvi says. “Same thing with conducting. If you have a good conducting technique, you play your orchestra.” And he does have good technique, according to musicians in the symphony, which he has conducted only once. But that one performance, at a young artists’ competition in New Brunswick in March, was such a good fit that Järvi eventually beat out two dozen competitors to fill the shoes vacated by conductor Zdenek Macal, who left the orchestra in 2002.

“If there is a chemistry between an orchestra and a conductor, you can see it in the first two minutes,” says the 66-year-old Järvi, originally from Estonia. Järvi’s first NJSO concert, apart from an April 17 fund-raiser (no venue announced yet) will be at Englewood’s John Harms Center, where he’ll conduct an April 22 performance of concertos by Bartók, Hindemith, Eino Tamberg, and others.
The NJSO has yet to find a successor to Lawrence J. Tamburri, the orchestra’s dynamic president, who is stepping down next month. But Järvi, who comes to New Jersey with an international reputation and a distinguished 14-year track record as conductor of the Detroit Symphony (he has well over 350 recordings to his credit) may be able to assist in that sphere as well. In addition to his musical expertise, Järvi also has a reputation as a hands-on fund-raiser. And for a symphony that is currently sagging under a $4 million deficit, that’s good news. Is it unseemly for a conductor to dirty his hands with money matters? Not as far as Järvi is concerned.

“It depends on the personality of the conductor,” he says. “If you’re an academic German maestro who is thinking only of Beethoven, Brahms, and God – and they are the most important things – that’s one thing. But we’re living in everyday life. And in America, art is not supported by the government. The orchestra and art has to be supported by somebody, and nobody just opens their pockets. You have to show first who you are and what you do.”

Järvi’s role in turning around the Detroit Symphony, a once-ailing arts institution that built a new subscriber base and a new concert hall under his leadership, impressed the NJSO board. Järvi, conversely, was impressed by the far-sighted leadership of the NJSO – especially its recent, much-publicized $18 million acquisition of 30 Italian stringed instruments of the 17th and 18th century, the so-called “golden age” collection. “That was very, very relevant to why I came to the orchestra,” Järvi says. “It was a wonderful vision of the management, the board of directors, to make these kinds of things happen. The New York Philharmonic is not doing these kind of things.”

Those 18th century instruments, he says, will come in handy when playing the works of 18th century composers like Mozart and Haydn – whose symphonies are sometimes neglected these days because they wrote for ensembles of 35 to 45, rather than the 70 or more musicians of a modern orchestra. “It will be fantastic to play Haydn and Mozart with those instruments,” he says.

Järvi will also give some attention to American composers like Ned Rorem, William Henry Fry, and Samuel Barber, as well as the Estonian and Scandinavian composers in whom he is steeped. All in all, he wants to be a little more venturesome than is usual in the classical music establishment, where the same core of a few hundred best-known works is relied upon to put bodies in the seats. “When you look at the repertoire of American orchestras, almost every orchestra is playing the same pieces, over and over again,” he says. “And there are so many other interesting things.”


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