Thursday, January 16, 2003

Jarvi contemplates the mystery of Mahler


By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director Paavo Jarvi is back in town to lead Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in Music Hall this weekend. Over the holidays, he turned 40, had a new CD of the music of Arvo Part released in Europe (with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra on Virgin Classics) and coached a British punk rocker in the fine art of conducting for a British TV show (really).

Question: Why is Mahler's Sixth called "Tragic"? Is it really tragic?

What: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Jarvi, conductor; Radu Lupu, piano
When: 7:30 p.m. today; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Music Hall
Tickets: $13-$55; 381-3300 or Web site
Answer: It's a nickname, like a lot of other symphonies have nicknames. It does have a certain underlying feeling of fate, but it would be too one-dimensional to say the whole piece is tragic. There are a lot of other emotions and a lot of other layers in this piece.

Q: Mahler called his second melody the "Alma" theme, after his wife. How do you approach it?

A: I don't think Mahler means the "Alma" theme to be overly loving and lingering. I remembered an interesting conversation I had with the granddaughter of Mahler, Marina Mahler. We once sat until four in the morning in a Chinese restaurant in London and talked about Alma. She said everybody was afraid of her. She was a manipulator, and ice cold to people. I thought, wait a minute. We are trying to find such lyricism in that theme. Meanwhile, there is such ice running in this woman's veins, you know? It's probably something that Mahler puts into this piece.

Q: Mahler calls for a sledgehammer in the symphony's final moments. What do you believe is the meaning of the final three "blows of fate?"

A: Everyone tries to find historical significance: One was his firing from the Vienna State Opera, the second was the death of his child and the third one was when the doctor told him he had heart disease. I think the third blow has nothing to do with his heart; I think it has to do with Alma. He found out that Alma was having an affair.

Q: How would you advise the average person to take it all in?

A: They need to sit and let it drown them, rather than try to play Sherlock Holmes.

Q: What's this about you teaching the lead singer in the punk band the Dead Pets to conduct an orchestra?

A: I got a phone call from this television producer of a popular TV program in England, called Faking It. They take an unlikely person and try to make him into something else. For instance, they took this uneducated Cockney hotdog vendor and tried to make him into a high-class gourmet chef.

Now they took this punk rock guy with a mohawk, to make him into a conductor. But they needed someone to give him a real conducting lesson, so they called me.

I arranged for an hour with the (Estonian National) Orchestra. It was terrible. You can make a hotdog vendor into a chef, but you can't make someone who knows nothing about music into a conductor.


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