Paavo Jãrvi – Conducting Electricity

April 13, 2007 12:00 AM
It could be argued that the Estonian capital of Tallinn should evoke the same response in music lovers as Prague or Vienna. The Tallinn Conservatory gave the world at least one famous living composer, Arvo Pãrt. The city also produced the musical Jãrvi family, including Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conductor Paavo Jãrvi, who brings his baton to the Arlington Theatre on Tuesday night, in an event sponsored by CAMA.

Conducting runs in the Jãrvi family. Paavo’s father, Neeme, helped launch Pãrt’s reputation in the West. Paavo’s brother, Kristjan, leads Vienna’s Tonkũnstler Orchestra. His sister, Maarika, broke family tradition and became a flutist.
Jãrvi’s father educated him early in all kinds of music.
“I think natural curiosity can be taught,” he says. “My interest came from my father’s belief in the infinite possibility of music.”
Early on, Paavo learned to read scores through his father’s eyes.
“He would point out the melody to me and say, ‘This is the melody, but listen to what is going on underneath.’ ”
The family took in operas and symphonies, while Paavo joined various rock and jazz bands. He still professes a love of British prog rock, such as Genesis and Yes. His childhood friend, Erkki-Sven Tũũr, now a composer, formed one of Estonia’s best known prog outfits, In Spe.
After attending the Tallinn School of Music, Paavo moved to the United States with his family, and studied under Leonard Bernstein at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.
Bernstein was the first conductor to really popularize the music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen, whose Symphony No. 4 — “The Inextinguishable,” Jãrvi is conducting Tuesday.
“Nielsen is not well known here yet,” Jãrvi says. “But it will come. America is a bit conservative in these matters. Nielsen has a unique, recognizable language, it’s unlike any other. His processes, but not his sound, are similar to Prokofiev, in that his work is immediately recognizable.”
Also on the program is Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” a favorite of Jãrvi’s and his first recording after joining the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s so over-the-top,” he says. “It was written only six years after Beethoven’s death, but that made me realize how forward-looking and out-of-this-world it is.”
Jãrvi is often quoted as saying that one doesn’t really become a conductor until 50. Now 44, he still believes he is learning.
“I know I haven’t reached that point,” he says, adding that 50 is just a number, a temporary dividing line. “It’s a clear point. I listen to myself 10 years ago and hear the difference. I hear somebody who is preoccupied in making things sound right, perfecting the surface. And I thought at the time I knew what I was doing.”
That time spent learning a broad range of composers and works comes back later in life, Jãrvi believes, as refinement.
“If you only conduct one Bruckner symphony, you don’t know Bruckner. Knowing the others will add to your experience. I can tell when I’m auditioning a violinist, for example, whether they know all of Sibelius when they are playing a solo, or just that piece. That’s the level of understanding I am after.”

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