Sunday, October 1, 2000

CSO job offer persuaded Jarvi to 'settle down'

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Paavo Jarvi had not planned to become music director of a major American orchestra — at least, not this year.

        The Estonian-American maestro had just expanded his guest conducting to the United States when he made his Cincinnati debut in February 1999. Eventually, he thought, he would be experienced enough for a shot at an American orchestra.

[photo] Paavo Jarvi
        He wasn't betting on the intense competition for maestros as a dozen major orchestras searched for music directors.

        “In all the papers, everybody was speculating,” says Mr. Jarvi, 37, relaxing over champagne after a rehearsal with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra last month. “I went to all those orchestras, and they saw every conductor as a candidate! All of a sudden I was this hot candidate everywhere — without ever expressing the desire to be a candidate.”

        The fact that he will become the 12th music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in September 2001 is beginning to sink in. Mr. Jarvi will make his only Music Hall appearance with the CSO this season, Thursday through Saturday.

        The first time he conducted the CSO, the attraction was instant.

        “After the first concert, they said basically, we're not looking at anybody. We don't want anybody else. We only want you,” he says. “I was surprised, because my plan was not to become an American music director.”

        But the offer gave him pause. Instead of saying yes or no, he told the CSO he needed to come back. He had to try a spectrum of music, to see if the chemistry worked as well in Beethoven and Debussy as it had in Sibelius.

        “What often happens is that somebody goes in with the piece that they have done all their lives. They make a big impact, and the rest of the tenure is just a misery,” he says. “I didn't want them to go blindly.

        “Even then, I was not convinced that I was ready to do it. By the second performance, I had that seed in my brain a little more. By the third performance I said yes, I can see it.”

"Enjoyable to work with'

        “The CSO has somebody that they should be very happy with; it's something to look forward to,” said Indianapolis Symphony horn player Jerry Montgomery, after his first rehearsal with Mr. Jarvi. “He's enjoyable to work with. He works on things until they're good, and then he goes on.”

        The rehearsal of the final “gypsy” movement of Brahms' Piano Quartet in G Minor (orchestrated by Schoenberg) had been intense, but pleasant.

        “No self-respecting gypsy would take that in one bow,” Mr. Jarvi told the violinists. They laughed. The Hungarian-style music had to be free, almost improvisatory. He coaxed them to be spontaneous, often singing what he wanted.

        The music was unfamiliar to some. But soon it began to breathe, to hang together, and they began to listen to each other. The final performance a few days later was polished — and it had over-the-top excitement.

        “The biggest problem is that it becomes a job,” Mr. Jarvi says. “They're all musicians; they just need to be encouraged to get out of their routine. That's hard to do, week after week after week.”

A famous father
               He is dressed completely in black: polo shirt, sport coat, pants. His thinning blond hair, serious blue eyes and baritone voice make him seem older than 37, yet he flashes a boyish grin.

        Although he has a famous father — Neeme Jarvi, music director of the Detroit Symphony — he has never expected any help from Dad.

        “He said, I will give you as much as you want in terms of advice in music, but a career you have to make yourself,” the younger Jarvi recalls. “That was the most important thing that he did for me. ... The desire to be my own man has always been the one propelling force for me.”

    What: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Jarvi, music director-designate; Yoon Kwon, violinist
    When: 7:30 p.m. today; 11 a.m. Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday
    Where: Music Hall
    Tickets: $12-$49; $10 students. 381-3300 or at
    The program: Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique; “Love Scene” from Romeo et Juliette; Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5 in Major, Turkish.
    Preconcert: Free buffet 6:15 p.m. Thursday; classical conversations 10 a.m. Friday (Nancy Walker, chair of the search committee); and 7 p.m. Saturday (CSO associate conductor John Morris Russell).
    Post concert receptions: Meet Paavo Jarvi in the lobby after Thursday's and Saturday's concerts. Friday morning concert-goers can join Maestro Jarvi for a box lunch following the concert. Cost is $10. Deadline is Monday. Call 381-3300.
    On the Web: For more information about Mr. Jarvi, go to

        Born in Tallinn, Estonia, Mr. Jarvi immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 17. He became an American citizen and is a 1988 graduate of Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with former CSO music director Max Rudolf.

        He cut his teeth in Scandinavia, where he conducted myriad small symphony orchestras, youth orchestras and operas. His debut at age 19 was in Trondheim, Norway — where Zubin Mehta and Sir Simon Rattle also made their debuts.

        “It was my greenhouse,” he says. “A lot of people need to work their way up. They can only do it by conducting orchestras that are professional, but not the Philadelphia Orchestra.”

        Even before he stepped in for an ailing Riccardo Chailly to triumph with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 1998, he had become one of the world's busiest maestros.

        “If we can speak figuratively in this car-race city, I think it's going to be a farewell tour,” he says, glancing at the Formula One flags decorating his hotel lobby. “I am definitely going to cut down on my guest conducting, especially in America.”

Globetrotting conductor


        His own racing circuit recently included his BBC Proms debut, billed as the world's greatest music festival. More than 5,000 greeted his appearance with cheers at Royal Albert Hall in London — “an amazing thing, because it was packed.”

        In two visits to the Berlin Philharmonic last season, he introduced two works that the venerable orchestra had never played. Benjamin Britten's Piano Concerto, with Leif Ove Andsnes, “took down the roof,” he says.

        In November he'll be in Japan. In January, he'll lead nine concerts with the Israel Philharmonic. “When I went to Israel, it was sort of a love story,” he says. “Since then, I've been going back all the time. I'm very fond of Israel.”

        He often returns to Estonia. Recently, he turned down the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra's offer to be music director.

        “I was very close to taking it, because for me, it's home,” he says. “But it is something that I feel, right now, would not be right. The focus is Cincinnati; that has to be the priority.”

        He is considering the Estonian orchestra's offer to be musical adviser.

        Recently, he conducted at the Verbier (Switzerland) Festival, a youth orchestra, sharing the podium with James Levine, Zubin Mehta and Yuri Temirkanov. He will tour with the orchestra to major European capitals later this month.

        He feels strongly about working with students, remembering his own experiences at Curtis, when guest conductors from the Philadelphia Orchestra led rehearsals each Saturday.

        “We had (Riccardo) Muti, (Wolfgang) Sawallisch, Temirkanov, (Andre) Previn, (Rafael) Fruhbeck de Burgos — all those great conductors,” he says. “I remember when Muti did Beethoven's Fifth. Or when Temirkanov did Pictures (at an Exhibition). It changes your life, basically.”

"Real music making'
               As he prepares to conduct Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique in his first Cincinnati concert since accepting the CSO post, he knows “the honeymoon period is just that — it's the honeymoon. It's not the real world.

        “The real music making starts when the honeymoon is over,” he says. “A relationship is not just the high, it is also the co-existence. It is also working, preserving things, building things.”

        Mr. Jarvi's blend of musicianship, charm and charisma are every orchestra manager's dream. He fits the role because he is a people person.

        “The only reason I'm in music is because other people are involved. I could never be a solo pianist, because I could not imagine my life practicing alone in a room. It's the people that are interesting to me.

        “Music and people together, that's the kick.”

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