Järvi and NJSO pop into masterworks
January 14, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Ah yes, nothing like a visit from the boss to make an orchestra pop back into form just as it opens a major Mozart festival. When guest conductor Gilbert Varga canceled his scheduled, festival-opening appearances with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra this week, it turned out that music director Neeme Järvi was available.

Järvi, who a year ago thought he’d have too many commitments this month to participate, was obviously equally pleased to fly in to conduct “my orchestra, and to wish my audience a happy new year,” he said in post-concert comments.

All told, the reunion made for a cohesive and cheery opening night for “The Many Faces of Mozart,” a three-week NJSO festival that is to explore various masterworks and oddities by the Austrian composer in the 250th anniversary year of his birth.

At the State Theatre in New Brunswick on Thursday, a program dedicated to works penned in Mozart’s final years began with a sprightly reading of the Overture to “La Clemenza di Tito.” Principal clarinetist Karl Herman was next, featured as soloist in the famous Clarinet Concerto, a work he has played, by his own estimation, in pre-concert talks about a dozen times.

Here, though, was the work of a mature and sophisticated player who sounded relaxed and in control of his technique. Tonal textures were smooth and even, articulation was never pinched or forced, and the many rolling flourishes of notes that Mozart gave the instrument to show off its range came across as naturally as one could ask.

In the more inward-looking second movement, though, Herman really displayed his depth, gently probing the score’s more soulful moments. Järvi, for his part, kept the orchestra loose and softly integrated behind Herman’s mellow, yet accurate, style of playing.

We know Haydn, Gluck and Beethoven all wrote for various mechanical instruments of their day. Mozart also wrote a few on commission, including the Fantasia in F minor for mechanical organ or organ clock, a precursor perhaps to the modern jukebox in which a tiny pipe organ played pre-punched music on a scroll in its cabinet. The orchestra played a modern orchestral arrangement by Matyas Seiber, one that accentuated how complex and masterful a fugue-writer and contrapuntalist Mozart was.

Järvi seems to bring focus to the podium each time he visits here. After the Baroque-like Fantasia, an exercise in orchestral clarity, he led a warm and elegant version of the Symphony No. 41. This may not have been the most authoritative view of the work, but it was articulate, flowing and succinct.

Järvi always brings an encore, and in this case he chose another very late unknown Mozart work, the third of Three German Dances (K. 605), complete with sleigh bells and vein-bulging high notes in the trumpet. This was no heavy lifting – sometimes, there’s a reason we don’t know Mozart’s lesser works. Taken as a whole, though, the evening effectively portrayed the humanity, melodiousness and inventiveness of Mozart’s later years.

 

Classical season features classic conductor
January 18, 2006

One of the world’s leading conductors will be at the helm of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra for much of its 17-week classical season, which kicks off next month. Maestro Neeme Järvi, who has been the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s music director for the last two years, will conduct 10 weeks of its season. His first concert will take place March 23. Järvi, 68, who was born in Tallinn, Estonia, led the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for 15 years, and has conducted some of the world’s most prestigious orchestra and opera companies. The orchestra begins its new season in October with two of Beethoven’s symphonies: his first and his last, the “Choral” symphony.

“The transformed sound and heightened artistry of the orchestra under Neeme Järvi’s absolutely incredible,” said NJSO chairman Victor Parsonnet. “The new season will build enthusiasm and will create an emotionally charged experience for our audiences.” The orchestra during the season will also perform John Adam’s Shaker Loops and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Järvi will lead NJSO’s winter festival with the works of Russian romantic composers, including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Borodin. The season also offers another master when Andrew Litton returns to the New Jersey stage in August. Litton, 59, will lead performances of William Schuman’s Symphony for Strings, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5.

 

Roll over, Beethoven: Orchestra season will focus on symphonies and introduce some new faces
January 19, 2006
Willa J. Conrad

WHO NEEDS another Beethoven cycle? Apparently the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, which has announced that a complete survey of Beethoven’s nine symphonies will be the core of its 2006-2007 season, slated to open in Newark on Oct. 20. Music director Neeme Järvi will conduct five of the nine, while a slew of guest conductors will take the rest, including Peter Oundjian (in his NJSO debut), Gerard Schwarz, Andrew Litton and George Manahan.

“It’s always nice for a music director to put his stamp on an orchestra with the core repertoire,” said NJSO’s Melissa Anchan, manager of artists and programs, about what will be Järvi’s second full year as music director here. Haydn’s late “London” symphonies and a mid-winter Russian Romantics Festival next January will round out a season that includes very few American works but two U.S. premieres, one by British composer Gavin Bryars, another by the Swede Rolf Martinsson. Järvi will continue to introduce local audiences to repertoire and artists from or near his native Estonia, whom we know little about: He has scheduled a return of the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and a work, “Distant Light,” by Latvian composer Peter Vasks. Among the highlights of Järvi’s East European finds will be the NJSO debut of 25-year-old Latvian violinst Baiba Skride, who attracted rave reviews when Järvi introduced her in Detroit last year.

“There are lots of traditions and musical values from Eastern Europe that are important to introduce here,” Järvi said, adding he regretted the relatively low number of American works, but hoped to make up for it the following year. Beethoven, though, will be his focus, and Järvi made it clear he has programmed the symphonies not so much to stamp his ego on another interpretation, but as a kind of “school” for his new orchestra. “Beethoven is an education,” Järvi said. “We go through these scores from scratch, discussing how everything should be played. I’m not sure yet that the orchestra knows completely the best bowings for the Beethoven symphonies, for instance; to have this done in the library, with proper markings, is important.”

Beethoven may be good for the orchestra, but it’s also a safe box-office bet. Partly compensating for a conservative season will be the import of several remarkable young conductors with much buzz about them: German-born Jun Märkl, Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit and Englishman Harry Bicket (in a Bach and Handel program). The mid-winter Russian Romantics Festival, which Järvi intends to conduct himself, will contain some of the juicier repertoire of the year, from Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky symphonies to less-often-played composers like Cui, Balakirev and Borodin. Järvi’s sense of humor, always evident from the stage, is also present in his choice to program the mysterious Symphony No. 21 by Ovsyankov-Kulikovsky as part of the festival. The work, actually written by 20th century Ukrainian composer Mikhail Emmanuilovich Goldstein, is a famous fake musical antique: Goldstein, offended by a critic’s comments that his Jewishness prevented him from feeling authentic Ukrainian music, penned a symphony on Ukrainian themes under the name of an early 19th century landowner. As such, it was lauded and recorded by the Soviet hierarchy, and the hoax persisted for years. In all, Järvi said, the season was as much about securing the discipline and attention of his orchestra members as it is about giving good value to the audience. “I care about the orchestra, I need to give good quality to them,” Järvi said. “We will work together to get the results.”

 

Conductors head DSO guest list as search continues
February 16, 2006
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

A s the Detroit Symphony Orchestra pushes ahead in its search for a new music director, its 2006-07 season will showcase an array of high-profile conductors while also spotlighting music by contemporary American composers, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth and drawing audiences into the creative process by opening rehearsals to the public.

One red-letter date on the new season, announced today, is the world premiere of Michael Torke’s Tap Concerto, Jan. 11-14, with all-world tap master Savion Glover hoofing the solo part. Another leading American composer, John Adams, who will conduct two of his own works, March 29-April 1, 2007 – the Violin Concerto, with Leila Josefowicz as soloist, and a remembrance of the victims of September 11, “On the Transmigration of Souls.”

Three returning guest conductors make two appearances each. Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony, leads Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in the opening program, Sept. 7-10 at Orchestra Hall, with pianist Lang Lang as soloist in Chopin’s “Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise” and Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Oundjian also conducts May 24-26, 2007, with pianist Yefim Bronfman playing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto.

Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos begins a double engagement Dec. 8-9 with Brahms’ Third Symphony and Respighi’s evergreen “Pines of Rome” and “Fountains of Rome,” followed May 10-12, 2007, by Mahler’s evening-length “Resurrection” Symphony. And English conductor Mark Wigglesworth, by now a DSO regular, takes the podium Jan. 26-28 (with DSO principal cellist Robert deMaine playing the Dvořák concerto) and again March 22-24, 2007, for Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony.

But note who else has been invited to the party twice: Hans Graf, the highly regarded 56-year-old Austrian-born music director of the Houston Symphony. He conducts Stravinsky’s complete ballet “The Firebird” Oct. 6-8, then Brahms’ First Symphony Feb. 8-10.

Other prominent conductors next season include Sir Neville Marriner, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Sir Andrew Davis, Matthias Bamert, Edo De Waart and Leonard Slatkin. Neeme Järvi, the DSO’s music director emeritus, also pays three visits to his old turf. In November, he offers Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole” with violinist Vadim Gluzman and Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony; in March 2007, it’s Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto with soloist Lynn Harrell, and in April 2007, Liszt’s First Piano Concerto with Yundi Li as soloist, plus Bohuslav Martinu’s Fourth Symphony.

A two-week tribute to Mozart begins Nov. 24-26 as Jerzy Semkow conducts the 40th Symphony and the Sinfonia Concertante with violinist Elmar Oliveira and DSO principal violist Alexander Mishnaevski. Then Helmuth Rilling leads a completed performing version of Mozart’s unfinished Mass in C minor with the University of Michigan Chamber Choir Nov. 30-Dec.3.

The DSO also announced that saxophonist Branford Marsalis will hold the Erb Jazz Chair as performer, teacher and consultant for 2006-07.

Again next season, the DSO will trick out four of its subscription concerts with up-close-and-personal videos during performance in a series called “Classics Unmasked.” And four classical rehearsals will be opened, for an admission of $25 each, to subscribers to any series of classical, pops or jazz concerts.

 

DSO goes American next season
February 16, 2006
Free Press
Mark Stryker

With no replacement for former music director Neeme Järvi on the immediate horizon, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has added a new organizing principle for 2006-07, the orchestra’s second season without a music director.

Four guest conductors who have been developing strong relationships with the DSO in recent years will spend two weeks each with the orchestra. The conductors – Peter Oundjian, Hans Graf, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and Mark Wigglesworth – bring a variety of strengths, styles and repertoire specialties to the podium, though it would be a mistake to consider these four names a short list for the music director post. Not all are suitable for the job, but all have revealed chemistry with the DSO worth nurturing.

Järvi will return to conduct for three weeks as music director emeritus.

Beyond podium mysteries, the 2006-07 season represents a far stronger commitment to American music than the current season. Of special note, the DSO will give the world premiere of Michael Torke’s Tap Concerto for dancer Savion Glover (a DSO co-commission) and a program led by composer-conductor John Adams that includes Adams’ Violin Concerto and his monumental post-9/11 work, “On the Transmigration of Souls.”

In a nod to Mozart’s 250th birthday, the DSO also will perform a gaggle of the Viennese master’s works next fall. A two-week Mozart Festival will culminate with the composer’s “C Minor Mass.”

 

Music director, broader audience share space on orchestra’s agenda
February 20, 2006
Detroit News
Lawrence B. Johnson

The next music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will have it easy. All he has to wield is a little stick he can flick with the fingers of one hand.

Not for him the long pole Anne Parsons warily shifts in her balancing act as the DSO’s president and executive director. In her second year as chief administrator, Parsons is the central figure in the orchestra’s quest to move beyond the glow of Neeme Järvi’s 15-year directorship, not only to find his successor but also to adjust the orchestra’s fare and profile to entice a younger following – without alienating its long-faithful core audience.

And in Parsons’ view, tweaking the product is more urgent than signing a new music director. All in good time, she says, the DSO will find its man (or woman). Meanwhile, the band is relishing the experience of working with a wide range of guest conductors.

Even as ticket sales seem to be rebounding from a slump two seasons back, Parsons insists the orchestra must find ways to connect with the next wave of potential supporters. Plans for the 2006-07 season, announced last week, show clearly where the president and her artistic advisers are headed: to the here (American music ) and now ( by breathing composers).

Amid a wealth of beloved masterworks by the usual suspects from Mozart to Beethoven, Brahms and Dvořák on tap for next season, Parsons singles out two concerts as particularly close to her heart. One is the world premiere of Michael Torke’s “Tap Concerto” – yes, a concerto for orchestra and tap dancer, and not just any hoofer but the matchless Savion Glover, who instigated the work’s joint commissioning by the DSO and the Baltimore Symphony.

Parsons’ other peak program brings composer John Adams to the DSO podium to lead his Violin Concerto (with soloist Leila Josefowicz) and his remembrance of the victims of September 11, “On the Transmigration of Souls.”

“We asked every guest conductor for next season to think American,” Parsons says in a sometimes soul-searching interview that encompassed two long conversations. “When Savion Glover came to us seeking a commission for the “Tap Concerto”, I said yes instantly. We should be playing the music of our own culture.”

But isn’t the eternal risk still there: Program modern music and watch the core audience, notoriously resistant to new sounds, bolt for the exits?

“I don’t see that happening,” Parsons says. “We had a great response to Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Musica Celestis”, an ethereal 1992 work which the DSO played earlier this month. But I also believe we need to make this change with caution. It must be made without losing the trust of our audience.”

Pushing, pulling, coaxing audiences into the 21st century must be the creative task of everyone at the DSO, and not a burden to be dumped on the next music director, Parsons says.

“The thing about the music director search that I find so fascinating is how we’ve all come to redefine the job. We’ve made it a lot harder than it used to be. We have perhaps come to expect too much.

Every music director brings his own agenda, his own interests. They are all conductors first. Thirty years ago, that was enough. Now we expect them to be ambassadors as well, and in many different ways, raising money, speaking before concerts, meeting the public after performances. We have to realize that a conductor is a human being with his own strengths and weaknesses.”

 

A matter of chemistry
Parsons, who serves on the search committee with DSO board member Clyde Wu, former board chairman Peter D. Cummings and three members of the orchestra, insists that a conductor’s programming interests will not be a primary consideration. More important by far, she says, is the intangible of chemistry.

“You can have the greatest conductor, but if he leaves the musicians cold, it’s never going to work,” she says. “And he has to be able to turn around and face the audience. Let’s call it engagement. How that’s accomplished is up for grabs, but it is vital.”

That increased effort to engage the audience, to make the concert-going experience more vibrant and more personal, saw its first big push this season in the DSO’s “Classics Unmasked” programs, which added close-up videos of the musicians on big screens at the front of Orchestra Hall.

Next season, the DSO augments that experiment with selected open rehearsals offered to subscribers for $25 each.

“It’s a new world, and younger audiences have a different set of expectations,” says Parsons. “Today, it isn’t satisfying enough for people if they feel we’re not touchable or approachable.”

Ticket sales strong
So far, the DSO’s audience seems to rolling with the adventure, sharing both the musicians’ patience and their pleasure in the search for a new music director. Any fears that Järvi’s departure, without a charming successor in place, would depress ticket sales apparently have been allayed.

Over Järvi’s last three years as music director, ticket sales tumbled from just over 116,000 (70 percent of capacity) in 2003-04 before leveling off at 110,000 last season. This season, if sales projections hold up, the DSO could again play to 70 percent capacity, says Ross Binnie, vice president of sales and service.

“This orchestra has a solid tradition,” Parsons says. “It comes to this transition with pride and strength. Without a music director at the helm, we’ve seen the musicians draw on their experience as a team. We’re on a winning streak as a team.

Our only sense of urgency comes from striving for excellence and wanting to be successful – to attract the right music director. This process takes time, and we’re OK with that. People on the outside ask, ’What are you going to do?’ Just what we’re doing. We’re trying to be as smart as we can be.”

Welcoming guests
Before a music director is named, the DSO well may establish special relationships with a few conductors, Parsons says. In next season’s guest lineup, four plausible candidates – Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, Peter Oundjian, Mark Wigglesworth and Hans Graf – will spend two weeks each with the orchestra. “Look at the example of (conductor) Jerzy Semkow, who comes to us annually, and everybody expects certain results. There is continuity. Other conductors may visit us just once, and it’s a great moment – but it’s only that.”

Does that spotlighted foursome constitute front-runners? Don’t even ask. Orchestras rarely conduct such a search in public. It simply isn’t politic. No conductor wants to be known as a guy who didn’t get the job.

Besides, any number of factors, chemistry and availability among them, might cause the orchestra to pass over a seemingly attractive candidate for the high post. What will not be allowed to prevent the DSO from plucking the apple of its eye, says Parsons, is the price.

“Obviously, cost is always a consideration. But at a certain point you have to be able to say, “Yes, we can”. If it’s someone we want, we will strive to make it happen, then figure out how to balance the budget. That’s the team again. We must all be behind whatever decision we make.”

The search committee will convene next month with other DSO staff members to review the great quest, then meet again in June. But there is no deadline, the president says. There’s a strong season ahead and some highly regarded conductors to be seen. Eventually, a consensus will come.

“It can’t be about what I think – what happens here,” Parsons says. “We want to feel as an organization that we’re all on the same page. Then it’s my job to take everyone’s temperature, and know when we’re ready to make a choice. When that time comes, I’ll be ready to jump in.”

 

Strings stand out for NJSO
February 27, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Once again, music director Neeme Järvi subbed for a scheduled guest conductor, and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s new habit of perking up whenever the maestro comes home continued.

Friday evening at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was supposed to be the local debut of Trinidad conductor Kwamé Ryan, but Ryan, a much talked about up-and-comer, canceled to take an audition with a European orchestra. Hence, it was Järvi who walked onstage Friday, this time to lead – without any introduction – an unscheduled performance of Mozart’s minute-long Contradanse (K. 609).

This shimmering, clean rendition set the tone for a first half of repertoire for strings only. Throughout Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the orchestra’s string players were at their best, offering clean articulation and a luminous body of sound. Järvi seemed unusually attentive to the legato line and internal balances. The Tchaikovsky in particular had several strong moments, with the string sound layered in rich textures.

Of course, this was yet another program calculated to show off the orchestra’s collection of 30 Golden Age fine string instruments, which includes several Stradivarius and one Guarneri del Gesu instruments. They’ve attempted this before, but only with Järvi on the podium have they been able to combine clear ensemble playing with luxurious sound.

Principal bassoonist Robert Wagner continued the orchestra’s new practice of having a musician “emcee” a performance with a mid-concert discussion from the stage. While the format seems to work well for New Jersey audiences, the onstage patter and practice of interviewing soloists (this time it was pianist Emanuel Ax) needs a little more forethought and planning.

Ax played Brahms’ First Piano Concerto in the second half of the evening, and here the ensemble balance suffered. Järvi never found the right adjustment of orchestral to solo sound, with the result that the orchestra tended to overplay, putting Ax’s immensely refined playing somewhat in its shadow.

But what a performance he gave. Modest in demeanor, always looking a little bit like one’s brainy uncle or a college professor, Ax is a piano superstar who doesn’t look or act the part. It’s not just that his technique is immaculate. His gauging of the emotional temperature of a passionate work like this was exact, his pacing secure, and his ability to vary the piano tone just enough to suggest the difference between sorrow and homage in the second movement was stirring.

Never one to leave an audience unworked for applause, Järvi led Ax back to the keyboard for a solo encore of Chopin’s Nocturne in D-Flat (Op. 27, No. 2), which he played with much attention to the subtler shades of delicate melancholy. Truly, things should have been left there, but the conductor had other plans, adding a second orchestral encore, Elgar’s simple “Salut d’Amor.” It was lovely, but next time, when a soloist of the caliber of Ax yields to a call for encore, the final mood should be left to them.

 

Bridging the old and new worlds
March 17, 2006
The Times

The conductor Kristjan Järvi is bringing a bracing blast of Bernstein to Cardiff. Neil Fisher tracked him down in Vienna.

Inside the Vienna Konzerthaus something close to a riot is breaking out. The electric guitar and drums of a rock band are screaming out over the heads of the venerable Tonkünstler Orchestra. Jazz, blues and pop singers are fighting for prominence at the front. Somewhere in the cacophony a boys’ choir soars off gamely into the stratosphere. It’s all intended, of course: this is the coruscating finale of Bernstein’s chaotic Mass, and at the centre of it all is the thrusting young conductor Kristjan Järvi, revelling in one of Bernstein’s most hybrid works. And Vienna’s famously conservative public is lapping it up.

Not that Järvi is surprised. The 34-year-old conductor, who brings an all-American programme of works to a BBC National Orchestra of Wales concert next month, is an unequivocal devotee of Bernstein. “He was a great individual, totally unafraid to take risks. And largely misunderstood because people didn’t see his universality.”

Universality is what Järvi is all about. He was recently appointed chief conductor of the Tonkünstler, but he’s also here to lead his contemporary music group, the Absolute Ensemble, in a programme devoted entirely to Frank Zappa. “They keep asking me here if I’m some kind of American ambassador,” he says. “I’m not, but America has done so much in the 20th century for music, and people don’t recognise it as much as they should. For me, Bernstein and Zappa are our Beethoven and Haydn.”

An American by upbringing, he is now based in Vienna with his second wife (his first marriage, to the violinist Leila Josefowicz, ended in divorce), and he seems to be relishing the chance to take on the Old World.

Järvi’s father, Neeme, is an Estonian national hero — a conductor who championed the music of Arvo Pärt before Soviet oppression forced him and his family to leave for the US in the 1970s. There, his offspring all entered music: the eldest, Paavo, is chief conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, Kristjan’s sister, Maarika, is an internationally acclaimed flautist. Kristjan, the youngest, was only 7 when he left Estonia, and he was the one who most embraced his host country. When his debut on the podium came, it was for new music, composed by some college friends. “They were writing funk beats and rhythm and blues into their music. It was music that really moved you and that was the kernel that led to the creation of Absolute Ensemble.”

The impulse behind the zany ensemble may be all-American, but that doesn’t mean the American establishment has accepted Järvi’s magpie tendencies. “My father said that Absolute was preventing me from conducting the major American orchestras. But I said, why do I need the major American orchestras if I can conduct the major European orchestras? It’s more important for me to have established myself in places that aren’t only hung up on selling as many tickets as possible. His anger against musical conservatism doesn’t stop there. Real creativity in music is happening right now in pop and rock,” he insists. “If classical musicians only gave the other 99 per cent of the musical world a bit of credit then classical music would be in a different situation. The way that Mozart and Haydn can be performed now, with such energy and power and precision, these things are only possible because of pop and rock: it’s based on groove; it’s based on energy and super tightness.” Not period style at all, then? “We can be intellectual about it, but the fact is: play music as you feel it.”

 

Coaxing the vibrance out of old masters
March 20, 2006
Newsday
Daniel Schlosberg

In the battle between two London orchestras at the Tilles Center this season, the London Philharmonic has came out on top, judging by its energetic and wholly sympathetic performance under guest conductor Neeme Järvi Saturday night.

Comparing the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic, which swung by Tilles with Charles Dutoit in January, works on many levels. Besides the obvious point of both groups being mainstays of the London musical scene, their Tilles concerts featured veteran guest conductors – neither orchestra’s music director – and both programs contained famous, great Tchaikovsky symphonies. Whereas Dutoit and the Royal’s reading of the Sixth symphony came off tired and reticent, Järvi – filling in at the last minute for an ailing Kurt Masur – and the London Philharmonic offered a sweeping, heartfelt account of the Fifth Symphony that addressed the intellect as much as the heart – an uncommon quality in this overtly passionate work.

Järvi paced the large musical structures ever judiciously, and his economical podium movements elevated the work’s heated moments to the climaxes they deserve to be.

This was not gushy Tchaikovsky, but still full of enormous range, from tender to galvanizing to noble. While the violin section displayed the irksome habit of breaking up melodies rather than going for the long line, it also displayed uniformity of purpose and an admirable commitment to the printed page.

Järvi opened the program with Britten’s Simple Symphony, a youthful work composed at 21 from ideas that date to his earliest sketches as a 9-year-old in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England. What an amusing, unintended programming concept to bring music from Suffolk, England, to Long Island counties – Nassau and nearby Suffolk. One wonders how much play our East End composers get on the English east coast.

It was a joy to hear this charming work – a staple of youth orchestras around the globe - performed by a world-class ensemble. The London players treated it with great respect and relish in each alliterative movement, from Boisterous Bourrée to Frolicsome Finale. The Sentimental Sarabande fit its description in the best way possible, eschewing maudlin whining for an almost Mahler-like reflection on the loss of youth.

The featured soloist for the evening was 24-year-old Arabella Steinbacher of Munich, who is making a significant career in Europe and Japan. Her vehicle on this tour, the concerto by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, also happens to be her calling card; she has recorded the work in addition to using it for her debuts in major musical centers.

As a violinist, Steinbacher has appealing qualities - a sweet, penetrating tone, an assured technique, and a wide range of emotional responses and tone colors. She’s also a natural and radiant stage performer, one who seems to enjoy the spotlight – not always the case for young classical performers. The Khachaturian is at best an uneven, meandering curiosity, and Steinbacher played it for much more than it’s worth.

LONDON PHILHARMONIC; Neeme Järvi, conductor; Arabella Steinbacher, violin; Tilles Center. Seen Saturday night.

 

Electric violinist
March 21, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Bradley Bambarger

The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s latest tour of the U.S. has had its share of challenges. The group’s principal conductor, Kurt Masur, was to lead the tour, but had to pull out due to a viral infection.

Neeme Järvi, music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, was one of several conductors enlisted to cover the tour. But, having fallen ill, too, Järvi pulled out of the March 12 date in San Francisco, which Roberto Minczuk covered (as he did yesterday’s Lincoln Center concert).

But Järvi was in Newark with the London Philharmonic at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon, having also led the orchestra in Greenvale, Calif., the day before. Fit as a fiddle, he seemed to relish conducting such a sleekly powerful ensemble in one of his “home“ halls. Although the players looked a bit glum, Järvi managed to elicit some smiles with his enthusiastic gestures and occasional hoochie-coochie swaying.

Veterans in the LPO are familiar with Järvi from’90s’ recording ses sions of Medtner, Bruckner and Reger. The repertoire wasn’t so imposing at Prudential Hall, starting with Britten’s Simple Symphony, the composer’s buoyant recasting of sketches from his youth. This neo-Baroque suite for strings isn’t all light as air, though. In the Sara bande section, the London violins had not only surface sheen, but a crying depth of feeling. The Sara bande’s ideally soft ending belied what little experience Järvi and the orchestra had together in the score.

For all the charms of the Brit ten, the day belonged to Aram Khachaturian’s 1940 Violin Concerto – and the soloist for the piece, a 21-year-old fellow Armenian and near-namesake, Sergey Khachatryan. That this is a sorely undervalued score might be apparent to those who have heard the pioneering recordings by David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan. But Khachatryan’s electric performance made a case for a work that would be hard for any music lover to deny.

Frequenters of NJPAC have had the chance to hear exceptional young violinists in recent seasons, including the Georgian Elisabeth Batiashvili (in Sibelius) and the Dutch Janine Jansen (Britten). Khachatryan was their equal – and he needed to be, as Khachaturian’s concerto demands that the soloist spin out one long-breathed melody after another. The violinist’s face was as expressionless and dark as his playing was expressive and colorful; his visage only softened as he communed with the more reflective tunes, many derived from Armenian folk tradition.

Khachatryan, who made a fine recording of this concerto in 2003, pushed the first movement at a boldly exciting pace (as did Oistrakh). But he was lyrically ruminative in the solo cadenza – that is, until its finish, where his double- stopping vibrated white-hot. After the violinist caressed the slow movement like a cradle song and surged through the rondo finale, the full house’s ovation wrested a shy smile from him that grew as Järvi led the applause for a fourth curtain call.

Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, which Järvi recently recorded with Sweden’s Gothenburg Symphony, was the afternoon’s closer. Doleful and balletic by turns, this music can be performed more viscerally, but it would be rare to hear it played more romantically. In the autumnal slow movement, the cellos sang out with proto-Hollywood sweep, and the orchestra’s brass had their beautifully tuned say in the finale.

Surprisingly, given Järvi’s pen chant and the convention for touring ensembles, there was no en core. But he was obviously pleased, making a show of eliciting applause for every section of the orchestra, even wading back to shake hands with the double-bassists.

 

NJSO seeks, and finds, balance
March 25, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s program this weekend is a balance between new and old, tension and release, the familiar and the unknown. The balm that makes the evening work is violinist Gil Shaham’s silky-smooth approach to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, which is wedged between the world premiere performances of Charles Coleman’s “Red Oak Dawn” and Shostakovich’s petite Sixth Symphony.

On Thursday at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, Shaham played the Mendelssohn with a sweet, confident tone and thoughtful pacing. Older soloists sometimes phone in the emotional content of an old warhorse like this concerto, but Shaham gave it its due, while conductor Neeme Järvi seemed particularly attuned to the violinist’s tempi and dynamic shaping.

Coleman’s “Red Oak Dawn” is the NJSO’s only commission this year, in honor of Järvi’s first season as music director. The title is only vaguely related to the content; there is the sense of tension building and grand release at the close, but that’s about it for evocation of dawn or anything in nature.

The 20-minute work is well-crafted, though, with a three-part format that alternates tension-building with strings, then a jazz-inflected middle movement, and finally a joyously bombastic finale. Coleman’s greatest accomplishment is not in the grand sweep, but in small, imaginative details: the opening slithering duet for two flutes, a sexy trumpet solo announcing the jazz section, a riotous timpani solo and feathery, upward pealing finale for the NJSO’s triumphant, all-female horn section. Järvi prepared the orchestra fairly well, but there were several unkempt moments, particularly in the transition into the finale.

This being maestro Järvi’s year to be honored, he’s opted to share the mood with Mozart, whose 250th birthday is being celebrated, and Shostakovich, whose centennial is also in progress. So Järvi marched on stage and led two unannounced contredances by Mozart to open the concert – nicely sculpted, sweetly toned little poetic moments in which the orchestra’s string section sounded at its best.

“Optimism” and “Shostakovich” are two words not often strung together, but the Sixth Symphony is among his most joyous works, and Järvi led confidently, drawing pungent rhythms and colorful playing from the orchestra. For an encore, he chose the little known, goofy side of the Russian composer, the polka from his ballet “The Golden Age,” a cheerful little piece that seemed a natural extension of the symphony’s more upbeat mood.

 

Symphony extends reach to radio, web, iPods
March 25, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has released details of its first weekly radio broadcasts on New York classical radio station WQXR (96.3 FM), to commence April 13.

Something of a showcase for newly-arrived music director Neeme Järvi, the NJSO’s partnership is a way for the ensemble to increase its audience and satisfy part of Järvi’s three-pronged plan to build the orchestra through broadcasts, recordings and touring. Järvi put his previous orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, on the map with regular national radio broadcasts.

“It’s a huge deal for us,” interim executive director Stephen Sichak said yesterday. “We’re really excited because of the exposure it gives us in the metropolitan area.” The program is expected to reach hundreds of thousands of listeners.

This new 13-week series will be broadcast locally on Thursday nights at 9 through July 6, and will feature performances of the orchestra from the current season and the 2004-2005 season (previously recorded off live concerts). WQXR’s Clayelle Dalferes will host the series, to be released nationally via WFMT in Chicago, which has 700 commercial and public radio affiliates.

For WQXR, the partnership furthers a mission of “promoting classical music energetically by creating relationships with key area institutions,” said Tom Bartunek, president of New York Times Radio and general manager of WQXR. The NJSO joins the New York Philharmonic, which the station broadcasts each Tuesday night, as its only other regularly featured area orchestra.

Bartunek said that Järvi, an internationally known recording and broadcast artist, was an attraction, but the orchestra’s artistic progress over the past decade made it a “key potential partner” for the station. “It might be argued we’re even a little late in recognizing that,” he said. “This isn’t an act of charity; they warrant this exposure.”

The orchestra has already recorded 13 programs with Järvi conducting at its own cost and is looking for underwriting to continue. WQXR will absorb the production costs and is looking for extra sponsorship. Both partners said they plan to continue next season.

In another initiative aimed at extending the orchestra’s reach, the NJSO is debuting podcast previews, beginning this week, to familiarize listeners with material from upcoming NJSO programs in April and May. The first podcast, available for download at www.njsymphony.org under the April 2 and 4 calendar listing, can be played on either computer or iPod. The first segment features an audio version of the program notes for the evening and an interview with Järvi, with sound engineering by NJSO violinist Darryl Kubian.

 

Exciting Developments at the NJSO
March 27, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra announced today that its weekly radio broadcasts with Maestro Neeme Järvi on the New York City-based radio station WQXR 96.3 will commence on Thursday, April 13th. This 13-week series will be broadcast locally on Thursday evenings at 9:00pm through July 6th, and will feature live performances of the Orchestra from the current and 2004-05 seasons. WQXR personality Clayelle Dalferes will host the series. In addition, the NJSO performances will be broadcast nationally via WFMT in Chicago and its 700+ NPR affiliates. (Audiences outside the NYC area should check the schedules of their local public radio stations for exact airing details.)

“The opportunities these broadcasts present to bringing the artistry and ingenious programming of our New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to the people of New Jersey and the entire United States is overwhelming,” notes NJSO Chairman Victor Parsonnet. “We are extremely pleased to share the talents of Maestro Järvi and the NJSO with the world. We’re breaking out of New Jersey’s borders in a big way!”

The Orchestra also announced that it is debuting its podcast preview in March for the concerts it will be presenting in early April, a program featuring Maestro Järvi and the NJSO in familiar and famous works that have fallen out of the symphonic repertoire and are rarely performed these days, including works by Bizet, Offenbach, Suppé, and many others. This downloadable segment features an audio version of the program notes for the evening and an interview with Maestro Järvi. The podcast is available for download at www.njsymphony.org under “News and Specials” and can be played on one’s computer or iPod. It is expected this service will be expanded in the 2006-07 season.

In addition, the NJSO reported that its audiences have responded enthusiastically to the various initiatives the Orchestra has implemented this season to becoming more accessible and meaningful. These initiatives have included conversations from the stage at each of its concerts (hosted by NJSO Principal bassoon, Robert Wagner and featuring interviews with the guest artists and Maestro Järvi) and the phenomenally-popular intermission feature “Ask a Musician” through which audience members are able to speak one-on-one with NJSO musicians in the lobby. Based on the positive feedback received to these initiatives, additional engagement opportunities are being planned for the 2006-07 season.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 − “Resurrection”
March 29, 2006
Riverside News

On Tuesday of Holy Week, April 11, 2006, The Riverside Church will host a gala performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”. Maestro Neeme Järvi, internationally renowned as a Mahler expert, will conduct an orchestra composed of principal players from the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony and the New Jersey Symphony who are volunteering to perform this piece under the beloved maestro in this beautiful space. Kathleen Battle, lyric soprano, has agreed to serve as Honorary Chair for the event.

The concert is expected to be an event of great musical and spiritual significance, and will have special importance in the life of one of America’s premier churches. It is especially appropriate that Gustav Mahler’s musical exploration of resurrection should complement Riverside’s Easter celebration in 2006 and serve as a 75th anniversary fund-raising event.

The performance will also serve as a tribute to Maestro Järvi, who believes this concert will be one of the crowning glories of his long career. Joseph Robinson, concert presenter and former principal oboist for the New York Philharmonic, is assembling the performers for this event–“the orchestra of Neeme Järvi’s dreams”–and renowned soloists, including Twyla Robinson, soprano. The great mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer has agreed to sing her important solo role without fee.

Award-winning filmmaker Jason Starr will create a documentary film from this event to be distributed around the world. The film, produced through Cultural Media Collaborative Inc., will focus on the philosophical, historical and biographical context of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and will include interviews with many of the greatest living Mahler experts. A DVD release of both the documentary and the complete Riverside performance will be forthcoming from Video Artists International, Inc.

The Riverside Church is becoming known as a desirable venue for the performance of orchestral works with spiritual significance. For several years, the New York Philharmonic has chosen Riverside as the site for the performance of its Christmastime Messiah concerts. The church was built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1929 with many gothic features modeled after the Cathedral of Chartres.

Proceeds from the concert will benefit the ministries of The Riverside Church, whose food pantry and other social outreach programs serve thousands of New Yorkers annually.

 

Järvi goes straight for the dessert
April 1, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

No one loves an encore more than the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s new music director, Neeme Järvi, who has scheduled one for each performance he’s led here this year. The flexibility to program encores was one of his requirements, worked out with orchestra administrators and union officials, before he arrived.

So, what could be more natural than a program composed entirely of orchestral encores? This was Järvi’s essential concept in introducing his “Light Classics” evening, which opened Thursday evening at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood and continues through Tuesday. Works like Mascagni’s well known Intermezzo from “Cavalleria rusticana”, excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and Suite No. 1 from Bizet’s “Carmen” are not lightweight pieces.

It was the context in which the most stirring, boisterous or moving moments were extracted that created one continuous, upward emotional trajectory for the audience, which obviously loved to be stirred up this way. The sole serious moment was an inserted prelude, a repeat of a Mozart Contredanse, which Järvi has been adding to every performance this year in honor of the Austrian composer’s 250th anniversary.

To make it more fun, the musicians concocted a scheme whereby the trombone section kept track of the volume of audience applause to works such as Ferdinand Herold’s now forgotten overture to his 1831 opera “Zampa”, or Hungarian composer Leo Weiner’s folk-influenced “Old Hungarian Dances”, or to “A Native Tune” by Estonian composer Heino Eller (of whom Järvi has been a particular champion). The highest response was supposed to forecast which piece would be played again, this time as a true encore. But Järvi nixed that process, instead tacking on Johann Strauss’ “Pizzicato Polka.”

This was no pops concert; Järvi’s selections all had something interesting about their construction or origins. But the effect was that of creating a constant high for the audience, which could be argued is more a pops than main subscription concept of programming. Think of it as an evening in which Järvi and the orchestra skimmed the cream off a dozen weightier, or once popular works, seemed to have a lot of fun playing it, and gave a fairly clean performance besides. With the exception of several prominent woodwind and brass solos, there was no heavy lifting involved for the players, though this could hardly qualify as a night off.

Instead, it was an evening of high spirits, sentimentality, and, for Järvi, some old-fashioned showmanship on the podium, a further episode in this year of getting to know the many sides of the new maestro’s personality. He is every bit the relaxed entertainer that his predecessor, Zdenek Macal, was, but he is so much more loose-jointed and trusting of his musicians that a night of frothy fun like this seemed all the more endearing.

 

A musical favor returned
April 9, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Mahler’s symphonies have had a 40-year run of popularity, ever since Leonard Bernstein single-handedly rescued them from the history bin. Mahler’s Second, popularly known as the “Resurrection“ Symphony because its text deals with death, judgment and the vision of a forgiving afterlife, is among his longest and most probing, requiring a large orchestra, chorus and soloists.

In small ways, the symphony has come to be associated with Easter week, but Mahler, who was Jewish, had no Judeo-Christian tenets in mind as much as a personal statement of the triumph of love – and his own rebirth as a composer after a successful run as a conductor. The tag “Resurrection” is not his, but the spirit is.

Because of the expense of producing it, even large institutions don’t present the work often, and when they do, it is always an event. So Tuesday’s performance of Mahler’s Second at Riverside Church in Manhattan, styled as both a tribute to Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi (the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra music director, who will lead the performance) and a benefit for the church’s 75th anniversary, will be a happening.

Even more interesting is how the performance came to be, and why a collection of more than 100 top musicians from the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and area freelancers, are giving up their spring vacation to play for free (as are mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, soprano Twyla Robinson and Järvi himself).

“This has turned into a kind of career tribute to Neeme,” says Joseph Robinson, the retired New York Philharmonic principal oboist, who organized Tuesday’s performance.

What began as a chance conversation with filmmaker Jason Starr, who will be filming the concert for a documentary about the work, quickly blossomed into an entrepreneurial project, involving hundreds of phone calls and favors called in.

“I had seen Jason’s recent documentary about Mahler’s Third Symphony, and he told me he was hoping to do a follow-up examining the Second. I told him, ’If you like Neeme Järvi’s work, I can get him for Mahler,” Robinson recalls.

How could a mere union musician pull a major, international conductor out of his pocket – for free? Simple, Robinson says: “I could offer him a chance to pick the orchestra of his dreams.”

Robinson’s confidence dates back to November 1996, when Järvi was the only conductor willing to cross political lines and conduct a joint concert of Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic musicians at Camden’s Sony Blockbuster Entertainment Center (now the Tweeter Center at the Waterfront). Deep into a bitter strike against management, the Philadelphia musicians had called up to the New York Philharmonic players – also members of the American Federation of Musicians – to give a concert of solidarity on their behalf.

“That was too much like strike-breaking,” says Robinson, “but we offered to collaborate.” Critic Ralph Blumenthal called the result, in which Järvi conducted the Philadelphia musicians in one half and the New York Philharmonic musicians in the second half, a classic “Battle of the Bands.” It generated attention for the Philadelphia musicians, though it’s unclear whether it influenced the settlement of the strike, which came a few weeks later.

The upshot is that Järvi, then the much-respected conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, endeared himself not only to Philadelphians, but American orchestral musicians in general.

“Everywhere I go, on the streets of Cologne, or of San Francisco, or wherever I am, I see American orchestra musicians, and they always greet me with, “Ah, Järvi is here!”,” says Järvi, who believes his American career was affected some time afterward by fewer offers and fewer high-level guest conducting spots. “I am still very proud of that concert. In America, the (musicians’) connection with the conductor is as with management – it becomes political. You cannot conduct properly in this environment. I hate this enemy situation between management and orchestra members.”

Indeed, Järvi has a national reputation as a musicians’ conductor. His low-octane conducting style relies more on trust of musicians than ego-driven browbeating. “He doesn’t overconduct or micromanage you,” says Roberto Diaz, the principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. “It’s a very spontaneous relationship.”

A question remains as to whether Järvi’s career took a hit after his decision to conduct the Camden concert, which likely offended orchestra administrators across the country, who tend to support each other in contentious union issues. Although he is one of the most recorded conductors alive, it is primarily with European orchestras, where he has obtained important posts and has been long affiliated with top ensembles like the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam.

In the U.S., he has in the past five years guest conducted most of the country’s major orchestras, particularly Philadelphia and Chicago, but has never been in the running for a chief conductor’s post. After 15 years in Detroit, he landed this season in New Jersey, a second-tier orchestra, rather than moving upward.

“What is a career, actually?” Järvi asks. “Nobody can destroy my career. Only I can destroy my career, if I am a bad conductor. I’ve gone to lesser known orchestras in Scotland and Sweden, Detroit, but I have enjoyed the places I’ve been, and had success. I like the close community relations, and to solve problems.”

Diaz, who will soon become director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, recalls that back in 1996, “People really appreciated him crossing the picket line. I remember a lot of conductors backed out, out of fear of getting blacklisted by orchestra management across the U.S. It was a very exciting, very emotional concert – I remember there was unbelievable intensity that night, and afterward, we were grateful to him.”

So grateful that, 10 years later, Robinson could call up Diaz and enlist his immediate support for a performance that involves using vacation days, for no pay, and one day of rehearsals. In fact, Diaz was slated to play principal chair, but because he couldn’t make rehearsals, asked to be put in the last seat of the viola section seat.

“It’s about playing, not about being principal,” Diaz says.

That attitude seems to have prevailed among the impressive collection of musicians for this performance. Järvi began by requesting his inner circle of principal players from Detroit. Thus Detroit’s concertmaster, Emmanuelle Boisvert, will play concertmaster, with Detroit’s Kimberly Kennedy as her second. Jennifer Haas, Philadelphia’s assistant concertmaster, will sit as third assistant, while Eric Wyrick, New Jersey’s concertmaster, will sit fourth.

A similar shuffling of egos and hierarchy occurs elsewhere. Ricardo Morales, Philadelphia’s principal clarinet, will play principal; his No. 2 will be Jessica Phillips, third clarinetist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, while New Jersey’s Andrew Lamy, who normally sits second, will play fourth clarinet.

“I told Joe, “You had me at let’s thank Neeme Järvi”,” Lamy says of his participation, “then he said the repertoire was Mahler’s Second, and it was a slam-dunk.”

Robinson himself will not play – Philadelphia’s Richard Woodhams will play principal oboe – but his wife, Mary Kay, a retired violinist from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, will be a section violinist.

With no time or money for extended rehearsal, Robinson is relying on the caliber and familiarity of players with the repertoire to streamline the process. “Nobody’s really tried to do this, assemble a dream orchestra, since Toscanini,” Robinson says. “Over the years, I’ve only heard that musicians love Järvi. I invited people I thought would be kindred spirits in this kind of venture. It’s kind of my dream orchestra, too.”

Robinson, who has previously staged two large fundraising concerts (including one to purchase a piano for his daughter’s school in Demarest, where he lived for decades before retiring to Washington State), still has some nail-biting ahead. While Starr raised his $500,000 documentary budget from the Pennsylvania-based Dietrich Foundation, Robinson raised most of the $90,000 for travel and hotel bills from Detroit and New York board members, even kicking in $5,000 of his retirement savings. But he’s still short $15,000.

Riverside Church, which is providing the venue but retaining ticket revenue, will possibly contribute something once it has covered its costs and fundraising goal. But Robinson might, in the end, be left holding the bag.

“It’s been tough; I’ve been pretty much the lone wolf on fundraising,” says Robinson, who is an artist in residence at Duke University this spring. “I’ve never been involved in a project like this, where I didn’t have direct institutional support.”

Mostly, though, Robinson has enjoyed mining a deep vein of emotional support for Järvi among the country’s best players. “Given the skeptical view we musicians often have of those on the podium, the impression over the years of Järvi as having this great musical integrity is reassuring,” Robinson says.

For Järvi, who often talks of his allegiance to music first, musicians second, the nature of this tribute is reward in itself. He still has posters of that Camden event, signed by all participating musicians, on the walls of his den.

“I’m very touched that they are willing to do this for me, especially those coming from a long distance,” Järvi says. “I’m doing music – this is my life, my passion. If I see my side as with musicians, that’s only natural.”

 

NJSO getting more in tune with Järvi
April 10, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Friday evening’s performance by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in Newark marked a benchmark in the developing relationship between newly arrived music director Neeme Järvi and the players. So far this year, there have been high points and low points, with whole sections of a program frequently coming into focus during this, Järvi’s first year here.

But Friday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was the first time a listener could hear a balanced, evenly paced performance that did not lag in clarity of ensemble or concept for an entire evening. Glinka’s rousing overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla” opened the evening with a burst of energy, Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto with guest soloist Julian Rachlin was a beautifully paced duet, and Brahms’ First Symphony received a calmly disciplined performance.

In short, this orchestra, which can take an entire season to wind up to its best playing, is finally performing at or near its expressive potential and, apparently, beginning to follow Järvi’s light-handed conducting style more instinctively. One begins, then, to hear that what Järvi is after is more clarity, fleetness and flexibility. For the first time since his arrival, there was a sense the players were in complete agreement.

That doesn’t mean that all was happiness and joy. Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto is a sad and lonely work, whose opening movement is a long, melancholic, constant legato line for the soloist. Rachlin, who made his NJSO debut with this weekend’s performances, is a much talked about Austrian player often considered in the top few of his young generation (he is 32). Hearing the confidence with which he played this emotionally complex piece, the clarity of his technique and his sheer stamina, one could understand the reputation.

This work is for the violinist roughly the equivalent of a soprano singing “Madama Butterfly” – the solo work is constant and draining and ever evolving emotionally, and the work’s entire dramatic message (in this case the composer’s desire to narrate the vulnerability of Jews during World War II) rests on the soloist’s shoulders. Järvi was particularly sensitive in leading the orchestra around, not through, Rachlin’s impressively consistent and sturdy playing, which was marked by a disciplined avoidance of excessive rubato or overplayed emotional texture. Particularly in the lovely Passacaglia movement, with Rachlin’s buttery delicate tone, the partnership was quite effective.

The orchestra played well for Brahms’ First Symphony, maintaining the clear architecture Järvi laid out. This was not Brahms in angst, or Brahms as an academic study; rather, it was Brahms tinged with a slight darkness of tone in both string and brass playing. As usual, the NJSO did not offer a luxurious or fat sound, but its trademark transparency of textures.

Speaking of trademarks, having bassoonist Robert Wagner speak informally from the stage at each concert’s beginning seems to be evolving into a feature that works particularly well with New Jersey audiences. He introduced the unprogrammed prelude, two more of Mozart’s Contredanses (K. 609), Nos. 4 & 5, which have become a sweet little habit this year. He also introduced in advance an encore. Question: Is it truly, by definition, an encore, if it is pre-programmed and not dependent on audience applause?

In any case, this encore was an inspired hoot: Violinist Darryl Kubian played the now old-fashioned electronic instrument, a theremin, in solo line against the orchestra’s cello section in Heitor Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. It wasn’t perfect, there were some unintended otherworldly pitches from the otherworldly instrument, but this was the kind of pretty yet goofy moment that would never go over in Philadelphia or New York but which the NJSO can bring off quite well.

 

From the Merging of Talents, a Polished Mahler at Riverside Church
April 13, 2006
Classical Music Review
Allan Kozinn

A truly Mahlerian surfeit of agendas were at play at Riverside Church on Tuesday evening, when Neeme Järvi led a huge ensemble in Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony. The concert was, for one, a benefit for the church, and part of its celebration of its 75th anniversary. It was also part of the church’s Holy Week celebration, and it was described as a tribute to Mr. Järvi for reasons not given.

Perhaps most crucial, the concert was staged to be filmed. The performance will be part of “The Resurrection of Gustav Mahler”, a documentary about this work, the second of Mahler’s nine completed symphonies.

Mr. Järvi’s orchestra included members of the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the Detroit Symphony and the Met Orchestra as well as scattered representatives of other ensembles, who donated their services to the project. It sounded dangerous, actually: an ad hoc ensemble is the last thing you might want for a gargantuan work like a Mahler Symphony.

But it worked. For whatever reasons — the presence of the cameras, the sense of occasion, the love of the work and who knows what else — this orchestra gave a richer, more finely polished performance than some full-time orchestras have in recent years. In the wrenching opening “Todtenfeier” movement, the strings had a lush, velvety tone, and the woodwinds throughout produced the bite that gave Mahler’s writing much of its distinctive character. The difficult, exposed brass writing was unimpeachable. It resonated vibrantly in the church, and the acoustics gave the percussion a thunderous heft in the finale.

Probably the most striking element of Mr. Järvi’s reading was the ease with which he moved between Mahler’s extremes of hugeness and delicacy, a journey that often occurs abruptly. He also gave a tightly focused, courtly reading of the Andante moderato, making it sound almost Schubertian.

In the finale, the New York Choral Artists and the Riverside Choir contributed a beautifully sculptured sound, and the soloists — Susanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano, and Twyla Robinson, soprano — sang Mahler’s meditations on the afterlife (by way of “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock) with abiding gracefulness.

The five-minute pause Mahler calls for at the end of the first movement went unobserved. Worse things might have befallen this work, and Mr. Järvi is hardly alone in ignoring that quaint direction. Still, it seemed a lost opportunity: if an audience can’t be expected to spare a few moments for quiet meditation in a church, where might it?

 

Leader of the pack
April 13, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Willa J. Conrad

Any conductor would love a chance to assemble an orchestra of his favorite players. Through a curious path, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra music director Neeme Järvi was able to do precisely that Tuesday evening, when he led a collection of Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and NJSO players in Mahler’s Second Symphony at Riverside Church.

This was an evening of lucky confluences, in which filmmaker Jason Starr needed an orchestra playing Mahler’s sprawling masterwork for a documentary; Riverside needed a marquee performance to celebrate its 75th anniversary during Holy Week (hence the “Resurrection” Symphony), and retired New York Philharmonic oboist Joseph Robinson, an entrepreneur by nature, had the connections to put it all together as a tribute to Järvi. All the instrumentalists, vocal soloists and Järvi himself performed for free; the professional New York Choral Artists worked for a reduced fee.

So, here’s what the fairly large audience saw as it filed into Riverside’s massive Gothic nave: instrumentalists and singers (two choirs, including the church’s choir) stuffed into every nook around the altar, four elevated platforms with cameramen and two roving cameras, an outer space-looking microphone globe, and Järvi himself obviously loving every second of the opportunity.

Meanwhile, the elongated stone statues of saints and holy figures gazed on benignly while Mahler’s texts for mezzo-soprano, soprano (Suzanne Mentzer and Twyla Robinson, respectively) and chorus explored the mysteries of the afterlife. Mentzer and Robinson delivered their sermon-like parts from the pulpit.

The lessons learned were both obvious and surprising. First, one can assemble top-notch players from anywhere and, even with just a day’s rehearsal, get a reasonably decent and clean performance of a complicated work. But good players do not automatically make a fluid ensemble. Though the performance was generally stimulating, Järvi either did not have or did not take the time to smooth out some rough terrain in the second and third movements.

This was also an experiment in playing style. Järvi requested and got most of his principal players from Detroit (where he recently stepped down), with whom he has a happy communion. The string section, though, was dominated heavily by Philadelphia Orchestra players, gathering in homage to Järvi, who crossed political lines by conducting them in a strike-easing performance in 1996. So, though mediated by Detroit concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert’s more linear playing and large sectors of NJSO players, there was the body of Philadelphia’s nappy, velvety string sound present, and the woodwinds, also dominated by Philadelphia players, likewise had more of a rounded, Philadelphia projection.

The brass, on the other hand, were predominantly Philharmonic players or area freelancers, and they produced a heady, muscular sound – particularly in canon with each other as off-stage (or, off-balcony in this case) trumpets and horns volleyed across the cavernous expanse. The combined choirs, in their brief but key role in the finale, sang with dark and complex texture and sounded properly mysterious.

The extra reverberation time in this cathedral turned sound into an appropriately glowering, dramatic cloud, but also obscured much of the detail of Mahler’s colorful orchestration. Järvi, much more hands-on with cues and hand gestures than usual, worked to shape this juicy, occasionally unordered sound coming at him. These were players working on emotion, not paychecks, and he wisely capitalized on this for a solid, though hardly authoritative, performance.

Visibly moved, Järvi embarked on his own lovefest afterward, signaling each subsection of the orchestra and choir to stand for applause before acknowledging soloists. He wandered their ranks, pointing to players for recognition, grabbing hands to pull them upward.

This “pickup” group of orchestral stars was intriguing enough to make one wish for more. Alas, the night will live on only in Starr’s film and DVD, “The Resurrection of Gustav Mahler”, which is to be produced by his company, Cultural Media Collaborative. Scheduled for release as a double DVD, including a complete film of this performance, the documentary will likely be distributed by Tapestry, International.

 

Avalik kiri EV peaminister Andrus Ansipile
New Yorgis, 22. aprillil 2006.

Lp. hr. Andrus Ansip,

Tänavu möödub 100 aastat XX sajandi väljapaistva vene helilooja Dmitri Šostakovitši sünnist, mida tähistatakse kogu maailmas. Möödunud aastal tähistati mitmel pool maailmas ka teise XX saj. suure sümfooniku, eestlase Eduard Tubina 100ndat sünniaastapäeva. Eestis toimus sel puhul festival „Tubin ja tema aeg”. Šostakovitši  juubelit tähistatakse sel aastal Peterburis festivaliga „Šostakovitš ja tema aeg”. Miks ei võiks need festivalid ühendada üheks tervikuks, mis toimuks nii Tallinnas kui Peterburis pealkirjaga „Šostakovitši ja Tubina aeg”? See aitaks kaasa nii eesti kui vene muusika tutvustamisele ja kahe riigi vaheliste kultuurikontaktide arendamisele ning oleks Eesti jaoks väga oluline ka poliitilises mõttes. Olen mõlemaid neid heliloojaid isiklikult tundnud ja juhatan pidevalt nende helitöid mitmel pool maailmas. Tean, et nad hindasid kõrgelt teineteise loomingut. Saksa muusikaajakiri „Fono-Forum” nimetas 1989.a. novembris Tubinat „Šostakovitši teisikuks”. Kahjuks ei ole Eesti Kultuuriministeerium märganud, et ka meil, eestlastel on olemas selline helilooja, keda võrreldakse tihti XX saj. suurte sümfoonikutega nagu J. Sibelius, C. Nielsen või D. Šostakovitš.

Eesti muusikaelu areng on tihedalt seotud Peterburiga, kus on saanud oma muusikalise hariduse paljud eesti heliloojad ja interpreetid. Kuigi E. Tubin ei ole otseselt õppinud Peterburi konservatooriumis on Rimski-Korsakovi kool ühendanud nii R. Tobiast, H. Ellerit, E. Tubinat ja D. Šostakovitšit. Selletõttu on D. Šostakovitši juubel ka meie jaoks tähtis ja oluline. Ka selleks aastaks planeeritud festival “Tubin ja tema aeg” oli pühendatud Šostakovitši juubelile.

Mulle on täiesti arusaamatu ja vastuvõtmatu see, et Kultuurimnisteerium ei ole aru saanud, millist tähtsust omavad Eestis kaks suurt muusikafestivali “Tubin ja tema aeg” Tallinnas ning D. Oistrahhi festival Pärnus. Need festivalid ühendavad eesti ja vene muusikuid Eestist ja Peterburist nii kultuuriliselt kui poliitiliselt. Miks püütakse nende festivalide tegevust pidevalt takistada ja neid välja suretada?

Leian, et Eesti valitsus ja Kultuuriministeerium peaksid pöörama palju suuremat tähelepanu Eesti muusikale, mida kuulavad igal aastal miljonid inimesed nii kontsertidel kui heliplaatidelt. Meie väikesel rahval ei saa olla suuremat eesmärki, kui arendada oma muusikakultuuri ja tutvustada seda maailmale. Peaksime püstitama endale palju suuremaid ja kõrgemaid eesmärke kui seni. Selleks on vaja asjatundlikke ja kompetentseid inimesi, kellel jätkub tahet ja missioonitunnet nende eesmärkide saavutamiseks. Kahjuks olen sunnitud tõdema, et meil puudub selline kultuuripoliitika, mis hindaks eelkõige professionaaset muusikakultuuri ja väärtustaks muusikute tööd, nende võimeid, teadmisi ja oskuseid. On kahetsusväärne, et tihti juhivad meie kultuurielu ebakompetentsed inimesed. Sellepärast olen tõsiselt mures muusika ja muusikute olukorra üle Eestis.

Tahaksin alljärgnevalt juhtida tähelepanu mõningatele olulistele probleemidele meie muusikaelus.

1) Festivali „Tubin ja tema aeg” ärajätmine on kahetsusväärne viga. Mina kui Rahvusvahelise Eduard Tubina Ühingu president ei saa sellega leppida ning protesteerin tõsiselt sellise ebajärjekindla ja ebakompetentse kultuuripoliitika vastu, mis takistab normaalset tööd. Eestis on kaks tõeliselt suurt ja olulist rahvusvahelist festivali, mis vajavad pidevat riigipoolset tähelepanu ja iga-aastast stabiiliset rahastamist – festival „Tubin ja tema aeg” Tallinnas ning D.Oistrahhi nim. festival Pärnus. Ei saa pidada normaalseks, et vaatamata kõigile lubadustele teatab kultuuriministeerium pärast aasta aega kestnud ettevalmistusi alles aprillikuus, kas nad toetavad festivali või mitte. Selleks ajaks peavad kõik kokkulepped olema juba tehtud. Kuid ma ei tea siiani, kas Oistrahhi festival Pärnus sel suvel toimub, või öeldakse ka seal kuu aega enne algust, et seda ei toetata.

2) Mul on kahju, et eesti muusikute palgad on allpool igasugust arvestust, need olid nõukogude ajal häbematult madalad ja on ka praegu. Eesti sümfooniaorkester teeb väga head tööd ja võiks esineda vabalt tähtsamates Euroopa kontserdisaalides ning esitada eesti parimate heliloojate teoseid. Kuid selleks on vaja teha tõsist tööd ja selleks on vaja seda tööd ka korralikult tasustada. Klassikaline muusika on kogu maailmas väga kallis. Näiteks Venemaa president Vladimir Putin tõstis Venemaa parimate orkestrite palgad 10-kordseks, et säilitada muusikute töökohad Venemaal. Rohkem kui ühe sümfooniaorkestri jagu häid mängijad on Eestist lahkunud, ja peavad endale leiba teenima välismaal. Kas see on normaalne? Milleks me neid koolitame? Mida kavatseb Kultuuriministeerium selle probleemi lahendamiseks ette võtta?

3) Eesti muusikud on tihti pälvinud suurt tunnustust laias maailmas. Kuid miks ei osata seda hinnata Eestis? Kui ERSO pälvib Ameerikas Grammy auhinna või Inglismaal BBC Music Magazine’i auhinna, siis on see ju sama tähtis kui Olümpiavõit. Kuidas reageeris sellele kultuuriministeerium? Kui kümme aastat tagasi esitasime Põhjamaades Tobiase „Joonase lähetamist” ja selle plaadistasime, siis ilmus mitmel pool maailmas hulgaliselt ülivõrdelisi arvustusi, kus seda nimetati sajandi muusikaliseks avastuseks ja võrreldi maailma suurimate muusikaklassikutega. See kõik oli teoks saanud ühe mehe aastatepikkusele tööle, kes oli selle teose restaureerinud ja lõpetanud ning käsitsi selle partituuri imepisikestes nootides suure vaevaga paberile kirja pannud. Kui seejärel lasti tuulde visata 2,8 milj. kr., siis unustati see tohutu eeltöö, tänu millele see kõik oli teoks saanud. Kultuuriministeeriumil ei jätkunud niipalju arusaamist, et osata seda tööd vääriliselt hinnata. Nüüd on maailmas esinenud suure eduga mitmed dirigendid nagu Anu Tali, Olari Elts, Paavo ja Kristjan Järvi. Kas keegi neist on pälvinud Kultuuriministeeriumi tähelepanu?

4) Sel aastal tähistatakse meil „Estonia” teatri 100ndat juubelit. Aga Eestis pole veel kunagi ehitatud ooperiteatrit. Miks? Oleme uhked oma „Estonia” teatri üle. Kuid see pole ooperiteater. Sinna pole võimalik kutsuda esinema maailmatasemel soliste, ja seal pole võimalik teha tõeliselt kaasaegseid lavastusi. Seal pole normaalseid töötingimusi ei solistidele ega orkestrile ka pärast remonti. Suur osa ooperirepertuaarist jääb esitamata, sest nii väikeses teatris pole võimalik selliseid oopereid lavastada. Miks? Sest Eesti kultuuri juhivad sellised inimesed, kes ei ole aru saanud, et Eesti suudab maailmas tähelepanu saavutada midagi ainult tänu oma muusikale ja muusikutele.

5) Kes vastutab noorte muusikalise kasvatuse eest? Kas Hariduse- ja Teadusministeerium on koos Kultuuriministeeriumiga arutanud muusikalise kasvatuse olukorda koolides? On kahetsusväärne, et noored inimesed ei tunne maailma tähtsamate heliloojate teoseid, mille tõttu vaid vähesed oskavad hinnata sümfoonilist, samuti ooperi- ja kammermuusikat. Kui mina õppisin, siis olid kõigis koolides oma orkestrid ja laulukoorid. Nüüd hulguvad noored tegevusetult mööda tänavaid ja ei tea, mida tegema hakata. Eestis levib narkomaania ja kuritegevus. Kes vastutab sellise olukorra eest? See on eesti rahvale väga ohtlik olukord. Eestisse tuuakse esinema ameerika ansambleid ja popmuusikuid, kellel pole midagi pistmist eesti muusikaga ega muusikalise kasvatusega, nende abil teenitakse ainult raha. Juba Richard Wagner näitas oma ooperites, kuidas raha võim hävitab rahva. Meil peaksid olema kõrgemad vaimsed eesmärgid kui ainult see, kuidas rohkem raha teenida. On häbiväärne, kui Kultuuriministeerium jagab toetusi kommertsmuusikale. Tegelikult oleks vaja see valdkond maksustada, et suunata rohkem noori tõelise muusika – suure kunsti juurde.

6) Meil toetatakse palju sporti, ja me oleme õigusega uhked oma sportlaste saavutuste peale maailmas. Kuid seda ei tohi teha kultuuri arvelt. Kui meil on olemas Kultuuriministeerim, siis peab meil olema ka kõrgkultuur. Meil on vaja rohkem trükkida noote ja raamatuid oma muusika kohta. Kõik eesti muusika paremikku kuuluvad teosed peaksid olema trükitud, samuti orkestrihääled. Eriti oleks vaja anda välja raamatuid inglise keeles, et tutvustada maailmale meie heliloojaid. Selliseid raamatuid on kirjutatud, kuid miks ei taheta neid välja anda?

7) Olen veendunud et Eduard Tubin on eesti suurim ja tähtsaim helilooja, kelle loomingut peaks eesti interpreedid rohkem maailmas esitama. Meie perekond on Tubinat palju tutvustanud ja oleme alati saanud suurepäraseid vastuvõtte publiku poolt. Meie rahvas peaks olema uhke, et meil on olemas selline suur maailma helilooja. Kuid mul on piinlik kuulda, et Eestis ei osata selle suurkuju loomingut vääriliselt hinnata ja tuntakse „Tubina-häbi”. Ometigi on meil Eestis olemas inimesed, kes on teinud fanaatilist tööd Tubina loomingu tutvustamisel nii kodu- kui välismaal ja kes tegelevad tõsiselt tema loomingu uurimise ja esitamisega. Neid oleks vaja palju rohkem abistada ja toetada, et selle suurmehe looming Eestist välja viia. Meil on palju häid heliloojaid, kes kirjutavad uut muusikat, kuid me ei tohi unustada ka neid heliloojaid, kes on sellest maailmast juba lahkunud, kuid kelle looming elab igavesti edasi. Kes peaks nende loominguga tegelema? See on meie kultuuri alusmüür ja kui me seda ei oska hinnata, siis ei suuda me maailmas püsima jääda. Meil on vaja rohkem mõistust ja head tahet, et säilitada oma rahvuskultuuri. Kõikide nende probleemide lahendamine vajab kompetentsust ja otsustamiskindlust. Selleks on vaja kaasata inimesi, kes tõesti tunnevad muusikat ja oskavad seda väärtustada. Neid asju ei saa lahendada ebakompetentse kultuuriministriga, kellel puudub huvi ja arusaamine muusikakultuurist. Muuseas, kahjuks pean nentima, et tegelikult on mul kogu oma elu jooksul olnud tegemist ebakompetentsete kultuuriministritega ja neid on olnud palju!

Neeme Järvi

 

Striking the right balance
May 15, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Bradley Bambarger

Balancing the fresh with the familiar has long been the trick for symphony orchestras, but it’s never been more essential than in these days of fiscally beleaguered ensembles, with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra no exception.

The NJSO’s program for concerts in Trenton and Newark this weekend (and to repeat tomorrow in Newark) was an instance of the orchestra getting the mix right. A warhorse was the marquee attraction – Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto – but the soul of the show was something novel, the Fourth Symphony by Eduard Tubin (1905-82).

Moreover, Tubin’s work exemplified what can make the NJSO under Neeme Järvi a unique draw. No one knows this undervalued music – a tough-minded, tender-hearted symphony in the vein of mid-period Vaughan Williams – more intimately than the orchestra’s music director.

Järvi worked with Tubin in their native Estonia and in their new common ground of Sweden; by the mid-’80s, Järvi recorded the first complete set of Tubin’s 10 symphonies. The composer had mentally filed away the Fourth, although he still had the singed copy rescued from the Estonian Theatre after it was ruined by Russian bombs in 1944. Prodded for the score by Järvi, Tubin instead thoroughly revised the work for him.

Despite composing the Fourth in “a difficult wartime situation”, as Järvi explained in comments before the concert, Tubin was a man happy with his young family and wrote a radiant sunrise of a symphony, subtitled “Sinfonia Lirica”. Järvi and the orchestra obviously communed over this life-affirming piece; spruce and subtle, the performance underpinned the cascade of pastoral melodies with a tensile strength.

Principal flute Bart Feller shone with several lambent solos, underlining the symphony’s lyrical nature. There were hints of Sibelius in the third movement’s arching string songs and terraces of pure-toned brass, although concertmaster Eric Wyrick’s beautiful closing violin soliloquy brought to mind Richard Strauss. If there could have been even more heft to the dawn-like finale, the overall effect was still majestic, driven by flaring horns and resounding timpani.

The next NJSO season – one dismayingly heavy on warhorses and repeats from recent seasons – will feature all nine Beethoven symphonies. Matching them with Tubin’s 10 would’ve been interesting (and you could never hear that across the Hudson).

The program led off with another novelty, Samuel Barber’s Overture to “The School for Scandal”. The piece shows that Barber’s catalog has far more to offer than just the “Adagio for Strings” and overplayed Violin Concerto, with the composer channeling Sheridan’s comedy of manners via a cornucopia of witty tunes. The piece seemed as much fun to play as it was to hear, with the NJSO spinning the music out with infectious verve.

The best classical performers can make even a hackneyed virtuoso showpiece such as Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto come alive in the moment. Experienced as partners, Järvi and pianist Yefim Bronfman managed to come close by trading empty flash for something darker and more ruminative. The 48-year-old, Soviet-born Bronfman has a big-boned sound, and the way he dug into the piano seemed sure to leave fingerprints on the keys.

By the end, though, there was razzle-dazzle aplenty, and the full house in NJPAC’s Prudential Hall rewarded Bronfman’s exertions. The encore was an excerpt from Mozart’s E-flat Major Piano Concerto K. 482. Bronfman filed down his sonority strikingly, and the spontaneous, light-hearted interplay between pianist and conductor tickled the crowd.

 

Walk of Fame salutes top performing artists
May 18, 2006
The Star-Ledger

A Walk of Fame honoring the lives and achievements of extraordinary performing artists who are associated with the Garden State and/or its institutions will be un veiled at a public ceremony today at 5 p.m. on the Symphony Lawn in front of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, adjacent to the new NJ Transit light rail station.

Those scheduled to take part in the ceremony are Gov. Jon S. Corzine, Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells, George D. Warring ton, executive director of NJ Transit, representatives of the Women’s Association of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and several of the Walk of Fame honorees or their representatives including Savion Glover, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Maestro Neeme Järvi, Broadway’s Ben Vereen, Queen Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens, and Omer Padillo representing the Estate of Celia Cruz.

Thirty artists from an original list of more than 125 candidates were selected to be represented in the inaugural installation of the New Jersey Walk of Fame. They are: Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, Tony Bennett, Celia Cruz, Danny DeVito, Savion Glover, Celeste Holm, Whitney Houston, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Maestro Neeme Järvi, Ernie Kovacs, Nathan Lane, Queen Latifah, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep, John Travolta, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Sarah Vaughan, Ben Vereen, Frederica Von Stade, and Dionne Warwick.

A special plaque dedicated to major artists with longstanding affiliation with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center will include Kathleen Battle, Judith Jamison, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis and Itzhak Perlman.

While artists from anywhere in the world were eligible, special consideration was given to those artists born in New Jersey or who have spent formative and/or creative years in the State.

Commencing at the easternmost end of Theater Square, the public plaza in front of NJPAC, the New Jersey Walk of Fame continues past the new light rail station alongside of McCarter Highway, culminating at the corner of McCarter Highway and Center Street. Walk of Fame Selection Committee members envision future expansion throughout Newark city streets and similar initiatives to be undertaken honoring outstanding figures in science and technology, sports, literature, visual arts and government.

 

Conductor’s connection
May 20, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Bradley Bambarger

The bond between the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra audience and the group’s music director, Neeme Järvi, has grown steadily – and become audible. There were “aahhs” of affection as soon as he walked onto the State Theatre stage in New Brunswick on Thursday.

Järvi immediately showed why he has earned the appreciation by playfully launching the orchestra into an unbilled excerpt from the opening to Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”. The conductor’s joy in spontaneity was on display, much to the crowd’s delight, in this first concert of the last weekend to the NJSO season.

The surprise prelude led to principal bassoonist Robert Wagner’s customary pre-concert comments. He invited listeners to approach the clarinet and bassoon players in the lobby during intermission, as it was their turn in the NJSO’s “Ask a Musician” spotlight. Wagner also encouraged newcomers to make donations toward the $1 million challenge grant established by Prudential; he noted that an audience member sent in a $5,000 check after his appeal last week.

Wagner also took time out to solicit best wishes for assistant principal cellist Carole Whitney, a 30-year veteran of the orchestra – and a devoted member of its artistic-planning and community outreach committees – who is leaving New Jersey (where she grew up) for Colorado.

Järvi resumed the stage for the “English Suite for Strings” by Hubert Parry (1848-1918), the sort of piece likely unfamiliar to all but dedicated BBC listeners. Järvi – no doubt familiar with this score from his days at the head of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra – secured quiet and lilting sounds from the NJSO, this genially tuneful music being at the center of the group’s comfort zone.

This season’s series of Haydn’s symphonies culminated in the final and greatest of them, No. 104, “London”. This symphony measures up to any by Mozart or Beethoven, and Järvi struck the right note of gravitas in the slow introduction, the drums tolling and the strings pleading. In the wonderful Minuet, the rhythms would’ve been more ideally “sprung” by a period-minded ensemble; yet the music still danced, irresistibly.

Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, in Ravel’s arrangement, is a piece of standard repertoire that never seems dusty. First of all, there are the composer’s visionary notes, earthy and seraphic by turns; then there is Ravel’s ingenious translation of those notes into virtuoso orchestral sound. In a first-class performance, as this was, the effect can be kaleidoscopic.

The Mussorgsky/Ravel sequence of vignettes is a virtual concerto for orchestra, with a host of magical instrumental opportunities. In “The Old Castle”, bassoon and saxophone threaded together for a haunted sound; the brass made for a deep, stentorian choir in “The Catacombs”. With the finale, “The Great Gate of Kiev”, Järvi’s patient tempo allowed the music to ring out gloriously.

By now, there’s a sense of anticipation in NJSO audiences over Järvi’s beloved encores. The Mozart prelude was a nod to this year’s 250th anniversary of his birth; in a matching gesture toward the centennial of Shostakovich’s birth, this evening’s encore was his arrangement of the Vincent Youmans tune “Tea for Two”, the wit of which tickled the crowd.

For those feeling bereft until the start of next season, WQXR radio (96.3 FM) is broadcasting highlights of the NJSO’s past two seasons under Järvi. Through July 6, the station airs the NJSO at 9 p.m. Thursdays.

 

Neeme Järvi goes bust for DSO
May 30, 2006
Detroit News
Chuck Bennett

A proud Neeme Järvi stood before a crowd of 100 people and movingly thanked them for years of support.

“And now,” he said gazing across the Paradise Café on the second floor of Orchestra Hall, “I am here even when I’m not here.”

He was referring to the remarkable likeness that had been sculpted of him by Swedish artist Britt-Marie Jern in recognition of his amazing career as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s music director.

DSO board members, musicians and fans were all invited to witness the historic occasion in Detroit music – the unveiling of the bronze bust of Neeme Järvi on Wednesday. Fresh fruit, cookies and soft drinks were served, while a film crew captured special moments for a soon-to-be-released documentary about the maestro’s life.

During his 15 illustrious years at the helm of the DSO, Järvi led the orchestra to new artistic heights, attracting audiences in record numbers. He is currently the music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, as well as music director emeritus for the DSO.

The sculpture of Järvi will join a bust of the DSO’s first music director, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, currently on display in the Paradise Café.

Neeme Järvi: vajame ooperiteatrit ja uut juhti
15. september 2006
Eesti Päevaleht
Kätlin Kaldmaa

Jutustage mõni tore mälestus ajast, mil te olite ERSO ja Estonia peadirigent ühekorraga.
See, kui me mängisime siin kahe orkestri ja kahe kooriga Verdi „Reekviemi”. See oli siis, kui ma tulin Itaaliast tagasi esimese preemiaga (1971 võitis Järvi Roomas Santa Cecilia akadeemia rahvusvahelisel dirigeerimisvõistlusel I preemia). Siis mängiti marssi Verdi „Aidast” ja kaks orkestrit olid lennujaamas vastas. Mati Palm ja Teo Maiste tassisid mind lennukist alla. Ma olin nii palju Itaalia kööki nautinud, et nad ei jõudnud mind tõsta. Olin kahe kollektiivi peadirigent, meil olid ühised ettevõtmised, ühised tegemised. Verdi „Reekviemi” jaoks panime kaks orkestrit kokku.

Meil oli Rossini ooper „Türklane Itaalias”. Seal laulsid Margarita Voites, Anu Kaal ja Mati Palm. See ooper on erakordne lehekülg ooperiliteratuuris ja seda peaks mängima igas ooperiteatris. See toob rahvale nii palju rõõmu, naeru ja nalja. Üldse – elu peab olema lõbus, õnnelik ja tore. Traagilisi asju on väga palju kirjutatud ja need on väga head, aga vahekord peab olema õige. Kui tuju on ikka alati hea, siis ununevad probleemid.

Eesti probleem kaoks siis, kui siia Estonia otsa ehitataks kiiresti üks suur kolossaalne ooperimaja, kuhu saaks tuua maailma suuri oopereid ja sümfooniaorkestreid. Meil ei ole ühtegi suurt saali, Eestis ei ole ooperiteatrit. Estonia on ju draamateater. See on tore sümbol, aga siia Pärnu maantee poolsesse otsa tuleks ehitada üks suur ja ilus ooperimaja, kus ERSO ja Estonia saaksid end vabalt tunda. Siis saaks siia tuua suuri kollektiive. Kui me 2011 oleme kultuuripealinn, siis me ei lähe Tartusse Eesti Rahva Muuseumisse seda tähistama, vaid peame seda Tallinnas pühitsema. Eesti kultuuripealinn on ju Tallinn. Mul ei ole midagi muuseumi vastu, ka muuseum peab olema. Aga siin peab kohe midagi ümber mõtlema, et 2011 oleks ehitus valmis. Sellest on vaja kogu aeg rääkida. Kõik need presidendid ja värgid, mida me valime siin praegu, peaksid olema sellest teadlikud. Hea kultuur ja kunst on see, mida Eesti saab maailmale pakkuda. Kõrgemal tasemel. Ja eestlaste jaoks saab siis kõrgemal tasemel kollektiive sisse tuua.

Kuidas sujub koostöö orkestriga?
Haruldaselt. See on maailmaorkester. Selle orkestriga võib rahulikult minna igale poole maailma esinema. Ainult on vaja asju ajada. Vaja on orkestrile staatus anda. ERSO on fantastiline, väga rahvuslik kollektiiv. Siia on vaja ainult häid muusikuid ja selle orkestriga saab imet teha. Orkester on juba kaks korda maailmas imet teinud. ERSO on ainuke orkester Eestis, mis on toonud Grammy. See on kõige suurem auhind, mis üldse olemas. Sellest räägiti väga vähe. Ja BBC Music Magazine, mis eelmisel aastal tõstis esile Sibeliuse kantaadid ja sel aastal Griegi muusika. See on üks suuremaid asju Inglismaal. Eesti orkester on kogu aeg ilma teinud.

Ma tahtsin kontserdil esitada Artur Kapi kantaati „Päikesele”, mis on pühendatud eesti keele taastamisele ja Estonia teatri avamisele. Ma ei saanud seda teha, sest ei olnud koori. Leidsin ainult Gerli Padari, kes laulab ühe Sally laulu. Ja kuus meest anti meeskoorist. Raadio peab endale muretsema korraliku segakoori. Meil on ju koorivabariik. Kuidas meil ei ole segakoori?

Unustage igasugused poliitilised võitlused ja tehke ilusaid asju. Mõtelge ilule. Kogu aeg peab mõtlema ilule.

Te olete ka ühiskondlikult väga aktiivne ja kirjutasite sel nädalal alla „80 kirjale”.
Poliitikas ei aita see midagi, kirjutad alla või ei kirjuta alla, lihtsalt meie valimissüsteem on vale. Inimeste käed on kinni seotud ja nad ei saa midagi teha. Värsket verd on vaja. Rüütel on ajalooline inimene. Väga hea, et ta nii kaugele on jõudnud, aga nüüd on vaja vahetust.

Ega kõik kandidaadid ei ole õiged, võiks olla hoopis mingi aateline inimene.

Kõige paremad olid ikka Eesti esimene president ja esimene peaminister, kes panid asjad paika. Praegu me eksisteerime selle rasva peal.

Eesti keelt tuleb hoida nii palju kui võimalik. Šotimaal küsiti mu käest: me oleme 300 aastat inglaste all olnud, ega me oma keelt ja kultuuri nüüd enam tagasi ei saa? Ma ütlesin, et eestlased on 700 aastat olnud kõikvõimalike kultuuride all ja ikka räägitakse eesti keelt. See on eestlaste jonn ja tahe olla eestlane – me ei tohi seda käest lasta. Kõik inimesed, kes siin on, peavad teadma eesti keelt.

 

Järvi leads NJSO in spirited programs
October 23, 2006
The Star Ledger
Bradley Bambarger

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra doled out champagne after Friday’s season opener at NJPAC, with the full house and an impressive start to a year-long Beethoven cycle worthy of bubbly spirits all around.

That isn’t to say that the NJSO, like most other American orchestras, doesn’t have nagging worries, fiscal and executive, as its 84th season gets under way. Yet the group’s most important investment of the past few years – music director Neeme Järvi – has paid off richly.

Järvi’s influence has been seen in thoughtful programming, even if this season looks more conservative than it needs to be. He has also refined the NJSO’s sound and expanded its range. Moreover, the conductor’s musical personality has resonated with listeners, subscription sales are reportedly up, and the orchestra has gained nationwide distribution for its radio broadcasts (with microphones up to capture the weekend’s concerts for future airing).

One special quality that Järvi brings to the NJSO can only partially be divined on the radio, though, and that’s charm. This conductor is spontaneous and entertaining, an august presence without solemnity. On Friday, Järvi – sporting a snazzy three-quarter-length jacket, with a blue handkerchief to match the jacket’s lining – didn’t only beat time and reinforce cues; the 69-year-old performed, with his gestures, shimmies and winking, as much for the audience as for the musicians.

When latecomer seating for the concert’s second half kept Järvi from launching the hour-plus drama that is Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony, he didn’t lose his cool, as a more self-serious conductor of his station might. Järvi made a joke out of it, milking the moment with a grandfatherly glare, his impish grin draining the wrong kind of tension out of the air.

If the orchestra’s incoming executive director (promised soon) brings as much new juice organizationally as Järvi has on the rostrum, days ahead could be rosier for the NJSO. Certainly, this weekend made for a splash.

Along with performing Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 9 on Friday at NJPAC and yesterday at New Brunswick’s State Theatre (a program that repeats tomorrow afternoon at NJPAC), Järvi and company teamed with the world’s most popular cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, for a sold-out concert at NJPAC on Saturday. That program – Chabrier, Fauré, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvořák – was designed to show off the NJSO’s ability to dance and sing, priorities for Järvi.

The conductor has also aimed to strengthen the weakest link in the NJSO’s stylistic chain – Classical-era repertoire. The orchestra’s ongoing traversal of Haydn’s “London” Symphonies no doubt helped the orchestra engage with the subtleties and humor of Beethoven’s Haydn-esque First Symphony. After the heart-easing lyricism of the First’s slow introduction, it was high spirits from then on.

Järvi has said that he wants to perform Beethoven symphonies faster than he has before, because “time moves faster now – life is quicker”. The First still didn’t seem to move fast enough on Friday for 21st-century Beethoven, although it wasn’t just a question of speed; there were tentative wind solos in the first movement, and rhythms could’ve been sharper, especially in the Minuet. But the blandness disappeared by the finale, the orchestra working up to a fizz.

That momentum carried over to the NJSO’s spectacular performance of the Ninth. This symphony’s full-blown Romanticism may be better suited to this group’s sound and sensibility, but the Ninth remains an enormous challenge of technical/emotional stamina for any orchestra.

NJSO principal bassoonist Robert Wagner had begun the evening with his customary introduction. Always avuncular as he invites audience members to approach orchestral players at intermission for the “Ask a Musician” feature, Wagner was more emotional on Friday as he framed the import of Beethoven’s Ninth. He was surely right when suggesting that one of the most moving aspects of the composer’s call for universal “joy and freedom” is that its fulfillment can feel as elusive as ever.

If Järvi has plenty of prance in his pants when appropriate, he can also focus huge forces to an epic end. He was inspiring – as well as perspiring – in the Ninth, marshaling an expanded orchestra plus a vibrant Montclair State University Chorale (prepared by Heather J. Buchanan) and four soloists (soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, mezzo-soprano Christine Abraham, tenor Richard Clement and, especially good, bass Kevin Langan).

One could hear why this vast statement so intimidated subsequent composers into thinking of Beethoven’s Ninth as the symphonic last word. Even Brahms met the test only after many years of soul-searching and burned manuscripts; no major figure until Mahler dared write a choral symphony. From the first movement’s churning intensity to the beatific hymn of the Adagio, the NJSO played with taut concentration, the apparent difficulties of the score only adding to its human impact.

The famous “Ode to Joy” finale was often beautiful in detail (such as magical pauses that so easily could’ve been blurred), as well as exciting in cumulative effect. To cap several curtain calls, Järvi led a true encore, reprising a bit of the finale. Having been handed a glass of champagne by a sponsor, Järvi guzzled it down after he struck up the music, his infectious sense of fun auguring well for the coming season.

 

NJSO and violinist ignite Brahms concerto
October 28, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Bradley Bambarger

The stage at the Bergen Performing Arts Center is surely too small for symphonic concerts, with even a mid-sized orchestra shoe-horned on to where it looks as if back-desk string players are in danger of falling off.

That said, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has given some excellent concerts in the Englewood venue. One of the most thrilling NJSO performances in memory took place in this hall a couple of seasons ago – with the building’s heat broken in the depths of winter, both audience and artists in coats. Against the odds, violinist Gil Shaham, conductor Vassily Sinaisky and the orchestra raised the temperature with a blazing account of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto.

The heat was fine at BergenPAC on Thursday, but the night’s NJSO concert evoked those memories because violinist Sarah Chang, conductor Neeme Järvi and company gave a similarly fiery, fulfilling performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto.

The most symphonic – and exciting – of all 19th-century violin concertos, the Brahms demands that the orchestra pull its weight as much as the soloist. If a reduced NJSO seemed a bit light to start, Chang’s intensity soon sparked a synergistic atmosphere.

Chang, a 25-year-old Philly native, is a world-class talent, known far and wide for her series of EMI recordings with top marquee partners. In Englewood, she seemed to play as much for Järvi as for the audience, leaning in so close to the conductor that it looked as if their arms would touch. It was the sort of symbiosis usually seen in chamber music.

With a sexy red dress to match her burning assurance, Chang dealt easily with the ensemble balance problems behind her initial entry. So confident and driving was she that mere prettiness was not on her agenda. Her in-your-face tone had real grit, the fingerboard popping as she dug in hard. In the first movement’s initial climactic run, Chang spun the plangent notes out with dynamic precision, stamping a foot and whipping her bow to punctuate the drama.

From then on, the NJSO was fully attuned to the soloist. When Chang finished the Joachim cadenza – every phrase concentrated, double-stops pure but tangy – the orchestra came in behind her delicate high notes perfectly, beautifully. The Adagio began with an ideally blended wind choir, the solo oboe rising above with its heart-melting tune. By the work’s bravura finish, the horsehair was flying off Chang’s bow, the violinist and conductor barely able to contain their smiles.

Although a tentative spin through Weber’s “Oberon” Overture had begun the program, the whisking delight of a few Brahms “Hungarian Dances” capped the night with the NJSO in fully warm form. In between, there was also Haydn’s Symphony No. 93, the latest in the orchestra’s survey of his career-crowning “London” Symphonies. Järvi’s Haydn is in the Leonard Bernstein mold – joyously buoyant but full-bodied, strong. No. 93 – the first of the “London” 12 – isn’t played as often as some of the others (lacking a catchy nickname), but it pulses with that amazing imagination of the sexagenarian composer.

Järvi relished Haydn’s wit, raising chuckles as he acted out the score’s funky dynamics with deadpan gestures and cocked eyebrows. The conductor seemed to be composing the music on the fly, something Bernstein always held as the ideal. It was natural that the audience seemed to see (and appreciate) the humor of Haydn and the humor of Järvi as one and the same.

 

Järvi takes Muti’s place stylishly
November 4, 2006
The Inquirer
Peter Dobrin

Man: “Well, you sure didn’t miss Mr. Muti.”

Woman: “I wanted to see him. I wanted to see his hair. He’s charismatic.”

Riccardo Muti’s hair and the volcanic talent beneath it may not have materialized for Philadelphia Orchestra performances this week and next, but as the couple near me Thursday night in Verizon Hall so beautifully showed in their impromptu audience study, they all come out for something different.

The conductor who performed in Muti’s stead may not have been as volcanic. He clearly was not as glamorous. And it is a crying shame that we will not know - for now at least - what Muti would have made of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.

Neeme Järvi, however, is adored by this orchestra, which counts for a lot when it comes to rapport. This is not the first time the Estonian-born conductor has come to the aid of the Philadelphians. He became a friend for life when, 10 years ago, he agreed to lead the musicians in a strike concert.

But gratitude explains only part of why the partnership works as well as it does. Järvi, who took over mostly the same program Muti assembled, is an elegant and authoritative conductor. His gestures are smooth, and the combination of confidence and gliding movement gets a lovely sound from the ensemble. No jerky changes in direction, no harsh sounds. He gives the exhilarating impression that the orchestra is acting on its own, with no strings tugging from the puppet master.

Sometimes Järvi all but stops conducting. He puts his arms by his sides (in the same way Sergiu Comissiona used to do) and lets the musicians unfold a phrase by themselves. Only the smartest conductors know when all the parts are moving in tandem perfectly enough to let go.

Järvi’s technique is also detailed enough to elicit some quite subtle phrase-shaping, as he did in Schubert’s Overture to Rosamunde. I had hoped for some deeper interpretive ideas in Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor (“Tragic”). But when the entire ensemble is unified in an idea, no matter what it is, at least one can feel pleasure in hearing a convincing argument.

Järvi was an anti-sentimentalist in Death and Transfiguration. Quick tempos didn’t do much for the drama of the work’s famously moving chord change. Can transcendence possibly be so matter-of-fact? Still, Järvi’s request for extremely quiet playing and a glowing string sound came off gorgeously.

Given recent personnel changes, Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber is one of those pieces that sounds better this season than it would have at any other time in a decade. The brass took up a highly evolved philosophy: that enormous volume and high polish need not cancel each other out.

 

Järvi, DSO add a brilliant coda to Shostakovich’s 100th birthday party
November 11, 2006
Free Press
Mark Stryker

Less than half of the 15 symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich are played regularly, but the centenary of his birth this year has encouraged a wider sampling.

Metro Detroit already witnessed five compelling all-Shostakovich concerts by conductor Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra, including three concerts last month highlighted by his late works, the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th symphonies.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and its beloved music director emeritus Neeme Järvi offer a substantial coda this week by tackling Shostakovich’s final symphony. The composer spent his life falling in and out of favor with Soviet authorities, but by the 1960s he’d stopped worrying about balancing more sardonic works with publicly optimistic pieces aimed at keeping communist hierarchy off his back.

His late symphonies are unrelentingly dark, brooding, quizzical and profound. They lash out against political repression (11th), anti-Semitism (13th) and death (14th). The 15th is sphinx-like, opening with an ironic dance that could be the theme for the island of misfit toys. Quirky glockenspiel, nutty flute, icy violins and trumpets crunch into the weird harmony – and each other. Quotes from Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” (“Lone Ranger”) cap the satire. This music suggests a private, tragic retreat.

The rest turns bleaker and ruminative. An erie brass chorale borrowed from Shostakovich’s 11th symphony alternates with a tense cello lamentation solo of devastating impact, played with cathartic emotion by DSO principal Robert deMaine. In the finale, Wagner’s “Annunciation of Death” appears, and chattering percussion finishes off the music with hollow emptiness.

Järvi conducted Friday with extraordinary intuition for integrating the episodic fragments into a unified conception. Much of the music is chamber-like in its sparseness, and all of the DSO soloists sounded in peak form.

If the Shostakovich was worth the price of admission, the concert was a winner from the get-go. Järvi led a brilliant “William Tell Overture” whose lyrical landscape was beautifully painted by deMaine before the conductor shifted into a ripsnorting and spontaneous gallop. Lord, it was great fun to have Järvi back in the saddle.

Violinist Vadim Gluzman brought a hot-wired sound and Russian-inspired intensity to a show-stopping performance of Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole”. His sweet encore was from Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice”, but the night’s most memorable encore came following the Shostakovich. Järvi generously turned the spotlight again on deMaine, who played Tchaikovsky’s “Andante Cantabile” with the robust beauty of a Cezanne still-life.

 

Teen displays fine fiddle at NJSO
November 30, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Bradley Bambager

A weekday afternoon may not seem like an ideal time for a classical concert, but for nearly 1,500 people at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark this Tuesday, it was just that.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, in its second of four Tuesday afternoon events this season, wrapped up a four-concert series with a performance that balanced strength with charm. Led by music director Neeme Järvi, the concert featured guest violinist Betty Zhou, a 16-year-old Edison native and winner of the NJSO’s latest Young Artists Auditions.

Many classical organizations talk about the importance of “outreach,” but the NJSO puts its money (and logistical wherewithal) behind the rhetoric by organizing bus transportation for seniors, students and tour groups to attend its concerts, particularly the Tuesday afternoon series. More than 400 traveled to this week’s performance on a dozen buses arranged by the NJSO from such far-flung points as Red Bank and Monroe Township.

Many of the people on those buses might not to attend an NJSO concert without the transit being made easy. The orchestra hopes to make up the shortfall between transportation costs and the nominal bus charge by gaining extra subscriptions from those inspired by the experience, according to NJSO audience development manager Kris Hartley.

There was plenty of buzz from pleased concertgoers during intermission at Tuesday’s concert. Järvi and company opened with the Suite No. 1 from Grieg’s epic “Peer Gynt”, the four-movement collection featuring some of the composer’s best music (the deeply moving adagio “Ase’s Death”) and most famous (“In the Hall of the Mountain King”, familiar from countless movies and cartoons).

There are few conductors who know Grieg’s music like Järvi, who recorded the complete “Peer Gynt” in the late ’80s for Deutsche Grammophon, along with the rest of the composer’s orchestral music. Järvi was in his best crowd-pleasing mode for the galumphing rhythms of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

Also on the program was Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, the latest installment in the NJSO’s season-long cycle of his nine symphonies. Played with such big-hearted vigor, the first movement sounded as theatrical as a Mozart opera overture; the highlight of the piece, a dark episode in the otherwise calm Adagio, surged as powerfully as one could wish. There was more Beethoven for an encore, the rarely heard “Creatures of Prometheus” Overture, the starter for his early ballet. The composer’s 11 overtures are some of his most exciting music, and for this one, the NJSO – strings buzzing, timpani tolling – was in top form.

The day, though, belonged to Zhou. Cutting a serene figure in a sun-bright yellow dress, she played Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”, a four-movement violin concerto colored by the harp and reeling tunes of Celtic folk song. Although a bit demure in her stage presence, the violinist – who attends J.P. Stevens High School and is in Juilliard’s pre-college program – sounded stylish and sure.

Zhou phrased the bittersweet melodies of Bruch’s opening beautifully, with the orchestra glowing darkly behind her. If the second-movement Allegro can be played hotter and with more abandon, there was little missing elsewhere, with Zhou’s every rhapsodic trill and liquid scale in note-perfect flow, the quiet playing as expressive as the bold.

At the end, Zhou could barely hold all the flowers brought up to her. Here’s to hoping the violinist’s concerts with the NJSO are just the start of a career full of such memories.

 

A playful NJSO toys with Haydn
December 2, 2006
The Star-Ledger
Bradley Bambager

The sheer emotional range of classical music is what makes it so great. The darkest passions are there to be had, so are lighter feelings. But as in theater, the tragic is often easier to pull off in music than fun.

Neeme Järvi’s sense of play, though, can make New Jersey Symphony Orchestra concerts irresistibly exuberant, as on Thursday at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood.

The program led off with the latest installment in the orchestra’s survey of Haydn’s 12 “London” Symphonies. The NJSO sounds better in Haydn all the time, and the Symphony No. 101 (nicknamed “The Clock” for its reoccurring tick-tock motif) is one of the best in his career-capping set.

It was easy to hear the sexagenarian Haydn reveling in his powers of invention as the orchestra moved from the sly misdirection of the slow opening to the rhythmic spring and tune-rich ebullience of the symphony proper. It was obvious, too, that this late-career enthusiasm of Järvi’s gives the conductor enormous pleasure; his every shimmy and wink mirrored the playful drive of the score.

Although the BergenPAC’s small stage keeps an orchestra in cramped quarters, the hall’s intimacy is a worthy trade, with every gesture registering. Even in a cavernous hall, it would’ve been hard to miss the camaraderie between Järvi and guest violinist Vadim Gluzman, 33. The Ukrainian-born Israeli shared the conductor’s flair for merry spontaneity as they spun out the retro-Romanticism of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto.

The Viennese Korngold was music’s most amazing prodigy after Mozart (with Mahler anointing the prepubescent boy “a genius”). He would’ve likely kept fulfilling his destiny as one of Europe’s top opera composers if the Nazis hadn’t forced him to resettle in Los Angeles. He ended up inventing the sound of Hollywood with scores to a string of Errol Flynn films.

Incorporating several of his film themes, Korngold’s 1947 Violin Concerto was premiered by Jascha Heifetz, but it suffered a critic’s famously funny cheap shot of being “more corn than gold”. The whiff of Hollywood is there – this listener half-expected an MGM logo to come up at the start – but a more generous description of the piece is the one Gluzman gave in pre-concert comments: “shamelessly beautiful”.

Certainly, Korngold’s concerto deserves to be heard every bit as often as those by Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky – at least if his long, rapturous melodies and technical derring-do are brought to life as vividly as Gluzman managed. He gave a swashbuckling performance, grinning at Järvi as he made hay of every virtuoso hurdle.

Järvi egged Gluzman on to a gorgeous encore: an arrangement of Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” that served as an object lesson in golden violin tone. Where the orchestra provided epic sweep in the Korngold, the Gluck accompaniment was the epitome of subtlety on the fly, with Järvi virtually painting the sound with his hands.

The concert’s second half felt like a rare miscalculation on Järvi’s part. Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dances” (Op. 46) are ideal encore material individually, but the eight bounding pieces are a bit much all in a go, leaving one feeling as if led to a jig by the hair. Still, the E Minor dance had a shade of welcome wistfulness, and by the time Järvi reprised another for an encore, it would’ve been a grump that disagreed with the whooping in the crowd.

 

A tour de force of musicianship
December 18, 2006
Glasgow Herald
Michael Tumelty

It’s tempting to devote the review space for the RSNO’s concert on Saturday night with Neeme Järvi to the powerhouse, incandescent performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony.

This occupied the second half of an evening that attracted a massive turnout for the long-awaited return of the renowned former principal conductor of the orchestra.

To do so, however, would risk understating the memorable opening performance of one of Sibelius’s four Lemminkainen Legends ? The Maidens of Saari ? which featured a superb demonstration of Järvi’s great strengths and an instant rekindling of the extraordinary rapport that, 20 years ago, characterised the relationship between the Estonian and his Scottish orchestra.

Järvi’s infinitely flexible and fluid sense of tempo, which changes from breath to breath, has an unimpeachable integrity, informed every nuance of Sibelius’s magical work, and provided a seamless, organic flow of music.

Simultaneously, he drew great breadth and intensity from the music; and few conductors could have conjured such magnetically focused playing of the long-range climax, which, on Saturday, appeared to go on for ever while being flawlessly sustained.

In all, a tour de force of musicianship and performance from a remarkable team.

All these elements figured, too, in the mighty Shostakovich performance, with some stupendous orchestral playing in response to Järvi’s unforced and utterly musical direction.

(For aficionados, Järvi’s interpretation has become more sophisticated over the years, while losing none of its juggernaut power, abrasive edge or thunderously immediate impact.)

Young Dutch violinist Frederieke Saeijs gave a fine account of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, despite some technical uncertainties and a constant dichotomy between her measured approach and Järvi’s buccaneering pacing of the orchestral sections.

 

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
December 18, 2006
The Scotsman Edinburg
Kenneth Walton

JUST watching Neeme Järvi’s economic style was enough to appreciate the masterfulness of his presence and its electrifying inspiration.

Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari - a piercing landscape of Sibelian imagination - was delivered with definition and luminescence.

Järvi held the performance together with an iron will, gleaning levels of brilliance from the orchestra only the best conductors elicit.

What a pity the tense soloist, violinist Frederieke Saeijs, failed to match the mood.

 

RSNO/Järvi
December 18, 2006
Guardian Unlimited
Rowena Smith

Neeme Järvi’s four-year tenure as chief conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra in the mid-1980s may have been short, but it was a golden period for the orchestra. Even in the RSNO’s darkest days, it could still deliver a Shostakovich symphony the equal of most, as evinced by a series of remarkable performances with Järvi. Of the many recordings made by Järvi and his Scottish orchestra, that of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony has been one of the most consistently acclaimed, and it seemed fitting that it was with this work that the conductor should return to Scotland after an absence of nine years.

Shostakovich also featured frequently on the RSNO’s programmes during Alexander Lazarev’s recent tenure as chief conductor. However, the two conductors’ approaches were strikingly different. Where Lazarev would have used the 10th’s frantic scherzo as an opportunity to drive the music ruthlessly forward, Järvi kept it on a tight leash, with the timbre hard-edged but, unlike Lazarev’s, never brutal. Instead, it was the shadowy, Mahlerian expanses of the outer movements that carried the most weight, Järvi’s attention to detail adding unusual clarity to the orchestral writing. In similar vein was the pulsing account of Sibelius’s tone poem Lemminkper thousandinen and the Maidens of Saari that opened the concert; a long, slow build-up bursting into spring-like vigour. The concert delivered all that Järvi’s much-anticipated return had promised, except for one disappointment: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which was given a charisma-free performance by Frederieke Saeijs, who seemed barely on top of the notes. Even here, Järvi did what he could in terms of shaping the phrases and injecting momentum in the orchestral tuttis, but he deserved better from his soloist.

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