Sunday, March 07, 2010
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 5. First movement. Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Paavo Järvi. Sony BMG 88697 33835 2.
Giuseppe Verdi La Traviata [excerpt]. Bavarian State Opera Orchestra. Carlos Kleiber. Illeana Cotrubas and Placido Domingo. DG 00289 477 0772.
Franz Joseph Haydn Symphony No. 104. Fourth movement. Royal Philharmonic. Sir Thomas Beecham. EMI 7243 5 85513 2 7.
Richard Rodgers “Younger than Springtime”. Oscar Peterson. Pablo Live PACD-2308-224-2.
Erkki-Sven Tüür Symphony No. 4 “Magma” [excerpt]. Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. Paavo Järvi. Evelyn Glennie. Virgin Classics 0946 3 85785 2 9.
Johann Sebastian Bach Mass in B-minor [excerpt]. Concentus Musicus Wien. Arnold Schoenberg Chorus. Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Teldec 8573-81149-2.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” with my guest conductor Paavo Järvi.
KAPLAN: He serves as music director of no fewer than four orchestras – the Cincinnati Symphony, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, and later this year L'Orchestre de Paris. Along with acclaimed concerts, he has won many awards for his recordings – not bad for someone who started out as a drummer in a rock band. Paavo Järvi, welcome to “Mad About Music”.
JARVI: Thank you, nice to be here.
KAPLAN: Now we are sitting here in Carnegie Hall where last night, Cincinnati – with you – returned to the stage after I think it was about five years. It was an extraordinarily rich and unusual program. How did it feel?
JARVI: It felt wonderful actually. When one comes to Carnegie Hall, one always wonders what to bring because this city has such an amazing variety of music. So yesterday what we tried to do is to sort of put together 20th century pieces, a 20th century program, from a very varied point of view: from Ravel to Bartok to Webern to Lutosławski. It shows you how rich the 20th century actually is in music.
KAPLAN: All right, but what about the late 20th century and now the 21st century? You must admit that it is extremely hard to find a beautiful melody.
JARVI: Melody, yes, melody is something that even the composers who write now -- and let’s face it the music has come back to completely tonal, completely understandable rhythmically, very logical place now. But I hardly know any composer who writes a real melody, even today.
KAPLAN: Do you have a theory about that? Why is it almost illegal today to write a beautiful melody with the kind of harmony we’ve grown up with?
JARVI: Well, because it’s not new. Let’s put it this way, the composers used to be concerned with with writing good music. Today composers are concerned with writing new music. Of course we assume that they also want to write good music and good composers do achieve that goal. But it is more important to be new.
KAPLAN: All right. We are going to come back to this new music a bit later in the show. But we start off with your list today and it’s not new music at all -- it’s Beethoven, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. But I gather you feel you bring something new and rather fresh to it.
JARVI: Well, it’s one of those narcissistic traits that conductors have. They will always think that they bring something new to a piece. What I think is interesting about today’s view of Beethoven is the fact that we have gone away from the type of massive, epic view of Beethoven, and, of course, with this whole advent of historically informed performance practice, or “hip” as we call it, we consider ourselves very hip. There is enough evidence that music can and should be played in much more delicate and more chamber. But the Beethoven Symphony in this particular case is done with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and they are really, really at home -- not theoretically just at home but they really are at home with all the historically informed performance practice. And as a result there is a performance that has a little bit less fat on it, it’s a bit leaner, it has more agility, it has masculinity without the kind of a pompous, heavy, late romantic feeling.
KAPLAN: The opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie led by my guest today on “Mad About Music”, conductor Paavo Järvi. You know, you were talking before about how you characterize what you are trying to do with Beethoven and I wonder if you can go further than that about yourself. How would you characterize yourself as a conductor? I’m speaking in general terms, of course. Now, take someone like Pierre Boulez, for example, is often described as an intellectual, unemotional conductor. Leonard Bernstein as being at the extremes of emotion. What about you?
JARVI: Well, it’s actually very difficult to talk about oneself, it’s difficult to be objective. I think at the end of the day, it’s just a question of personality, just a question of what kind of material you’re made out of and where you come from and so on. The persons who you’ve mentioned before, I think that you are right. Boulez is known for his super intellectual approach to music as a composer, and Lenny is, was somebody who brought everything on the surface and had an amazing emotional impact. I don’t think that I can say very clearly where I belong. I do identify very closely with the type of thinking that Bernstein represented. I remember Lenny telling us in a master class, he said, you know, you have to do your homework. You have to know everything there is to know about the score. But when you step on the podium, he said, throw it all out of your head and feel, you know. And there is something so true about it because there is nothing worse than a kind of a intellectually perfect, a good dress rehearsal basically that actually people are selling for a performance. It’s not really what people pay money to listen for. I think it is something more. Performance has to be something that really emotionally connects.
KAPLAN: Well who historically would you admire as a conductor? You mentioned Bernstein. Go back, go back further.
JARVI: I grew up in a conductor’s family. My father’s a conductor, my father’s brother was a conductor, my brother is a conductor. There are four of us in the family and nobody knows more about the history of conducting than my father. I mean, he literally is obsessed. I grew up in a house where we had recordings of George Szell and Knappertsbusch, but also people aside from the famous conductors, like Toscaninis and Bruno Walters and so on, we had people like, you know, and all kinds of Italian opera conductors, and you name it, you name it, and a lot of Russians who nobody here knows about. And so there’s a kind of a childhood growing up learning, not necessarily sitting with a book and learning, but sort of by osmosis, if you will, about conductors. I’ve always identified with performances of Furtwängler because there is something wild about his performances, something unpredictable. His Brahms Fourth Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic when they came to London the first time after the war, you have this feeling that literally it’s going to just fly off the hook, it’s going to stop because it is so out of control -- but in the most controlled, wonderful way. And so emotional and so unbelievably passionate, you feel that he’s saying something, he’s trying to say something to you and you cannot but listen to it.
KAPLAN: Well, I see that, for example, you have Kleiber on your list...
JARVI: I love Carlos Kleiber.
KAPLAN: …to play today. And in talking about him and the work you are going to play, see if you can help me understand better what it is about Carlos Kleiber that virtually every famous conductor is willing to recognize he might have been better than they are.
JARVI: Well, without any question he was one of the giants, without any question. And you know, for better or for worse, it’s kind of a hard thing in conducting. Conducting is such a strange and unclear profession. It’s very hard to know because the criteria is so unclear.
KAPLAN: Well, I was talking about what other conductors would say which is quite amazing.
JARVI: Sure, sure but with Carlos Kleiber the one thing that you immediately notice when he conducts, he’s not conducting in an academic sense of what we think of conducting, kind of organizing things. He is conveying characters and only characters. And it’s so difficult to really put your finger on why is it so different from others. But he has also a technical vocabulary that is so individual and yet so expressive. He is able to show certain things with his eyes and with his hands and with his, you know movements, physical movements, that leave no doubt of what has to happen. He is the piece and one cannot possibly do it any other way than what he shows.
KAPLAN: So talk then about Traviata which is the work you’d like to play conducted by him today. Why have you selected that?
JARVI: Traviata, well, I have a very personal -- I don’t know if that’s the right to say it -- relationship, to this opera because it’s an opera that I loved most when I grew up, and I was growing up basically in an opera house. My father was an opera conductor and I spent, basically my youth was spent in the rehearsals of the opera and running around with my sister backstage knowing all the hidden passages and so on of the opera house in Estonia. Traviata was something that I always loved, I loved the music. I also was very touched by the story, the Violetta’s death at the end and not maybe only because it is a sad story, but because all the people on stage were actually very frequent visitors to our house. So when Violetta died and I was five years old, I saw that she was in our house last night. And I knew those people personally and so there is something about that music that just communicates. And I love it from the point of view of just growing up and being a child and it has remained with me, this music. When I was living in New York, more than ten years ago, I remember a friend of mine who had subscriptions to Metropolitan Opera, called me up and said, Paavo, would you like to come? I have a ticket for Traviata. Carlos Kleiber is conducting. And what was interesting was that Carlos Kleiber showed up and he, as he was walking in, he got a standing ovation from the audience. I mean, the ovation was longer than most performances had after the opera is over. I mean, it was just amazing. You saw that there was something really, something really great that people were anticipating. What was interesting about this opera was that behind me, just as the house went dark and just as this amazing opening of the first overture starts, somebody came down the aisle and was speaking quite loudly and everybody looked back and there was a seat right behind me that was empty -- it was Bernstein. And Bernstein, of course, he liked to make an entrance and then I remember when there was an amazing, one of the really high notes when Violetta was singing, one of those amazing diminuendos on a high note, and you could hear a pin drop, literally. It was the quietest moment I remember. Then Lenny behind me said, “Wow, man.” I will never forget that and it was quite loud
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Verdi’s Traviata, the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra with soloist Illeana Cotrubas and Placido Domingo with the legendary Carlos Kleiber on the podium – music chosen by my guest today, conductor Paavo Järvi. When we return, we’ll talk about the difference between being a music director in Europe compared to America.
KAPLAN: This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad about Music”, conductor Paavo Järvi. Now you currently serve as music director for three orchestras – soon to be four. Three of them are in Europe and one is here in America in Cincinnati where you just conducted. What is the difference between being a music director in the United States and doing the same job in Europe?
JARVI: A music director job in America is very specific and very, very unusual position, actually, because it has a lot to do with music, one would assume.
KAPLAN: I should hope so.
JARVI: Well, yes, the thing is that it has more to do with everything else. A music director in America is an executive, like one would have an executive in a company, which is in one way really a tedious experience. On the other hand, it is something that simply you have to agree and want to do if you are music director because that is the way things run here.
KAPLAN: What would those things be?
JARVI: Well, if I would introduce myself in a gathering, and jokingly I have introduced myself very often as part of the development rather than artistic. Because I spend more time raising money, dealing with sponsors, donors, auditions, all kinds of labor issues, enormous amount of marketing and PR, post concert and pre concert activities that have very little to do with actual music. Music is like an oasis that you feel you can do something that you actually want to do. And American orchestras are basically thinking about only one thing -- and that’s money.
JARVI: Yes, survival. So money is the number one thing and, you know, it’s clear money is something that makes the world go round. But at the same time, as a music director are now so involved and expected to be so unbelievably connected to every single person who gives money, every organization that possibly could give you money, and so on, that it becomes a full time job actually.
KAPLAN: Now you will soon become a music director again, this time in Paris. Now, you are beyond the point where you would ever audition for such a position, but as a hypothetical question to get an idea of how you regard yourself as a conductor, if you had to audition, what piece would you pick that could best show your skill?
JARVI: It’s a very hard thing to answer because, you know, on one hand, I’d like to think and I’m not sure how true it is or not because of my Nordic origin there is a certain affinity obviously with Nordic music, and I must say I really Sibelius and Nielsen, particularly Neilson. On the other hand, for some reason and maybe because of the Beethoven cycle now, we just finished all nine symphonies, people sometimes regard me as some sort of a Beethoven specialist and I don’t believe in any of that. I don’t think I’m a specialist in anything. I think it’s dangerous to start even thinking in these terms. I do a lot of new music, I do a lot of old music, I do a lot of music in between. It’s very, very difficult to actually truly say well this is what my strength is this is what my weakness is. This is also something that maybe somebody else is more qualified to say.
KAPLAN: Alright, then let’s turn back to your list of music and I see your next composer is Haydn and you pick his very last Symphony No. 104.
JARVI: I love Haydn. If one would have to choose a sort of a favorite composer, and again it’s difficult to choose because there is so much out there, Haydn probably would be at the very top of the list, I think a lot of the things that I have chosen here on this list somehow are related to my childhood and my childhood obviously growing up at home or with my father being sort of obsessively in love with music. And Haydn was one of the big loves for him as well. So what we used to do, we used to always play four hand from score with my father and he, while sitting next to him, whenever there was a harmony change or something interesting he would always poke me with his elbow because he was playing, and I was playing. So there was this, always this elbow feeling or whatever we had this nickname, well this is that elbow feeling, you know, that elbow moment. And in Haydn there are these amazing surprises and ridiculous almost absurd turns if one recognizes them and truly enjoys them, and one can have a good laugh.
KAPLAN: The finale from Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 – his last symphony, the Royal Philharmonic led by Sir Thomas Beecham, a selection by conductor Paavo Järvi, my guest today on “Mad About Music”. And as he just revealed, Haydn is his favorite composer.
Now, you know, you have mentioned your father Neeme Järvi many times on the show as an inspiration and as a source of information. Today, when you are of course a conductor of, shall we say, considerable stature yourself, does your father ever say to you after a performance, you know, this could have been better or this wasn’t as good as you should have done?
JARVI: Of course, I mean we talk about things all the time and in fact it’s the first person I will always ask for an opinion and for guidance and so on. It’s very open the relationship, it’s very easy and I can honestly say he’s one of the most important sources of not only inspiration but also information and support.
KAPLAN: And criticism?
JARVI: Often, very often. I play often my last performances to him if we are together and he will very clearly and very objectively will say, oh, see that section here, that’s stuck, that's stuck. You have to get from here to here, you have to make sure that this section, that’s how you need to move it here. You need to unnoticeably get from this place, otherwise this section is stuck here. He’s extremely intuitive and that is something that you can’t learn.
KAPLAN: Well, I suspect your father didn’t influence your next choice, because we now come to that part of the show we call the "wildcard", where you can pick some music that’s not classical, not opera, it can be anything. So what did you bring us today?
JARVI: I was thinking, what would I bring because, you know, I used to be a rock drummer when I was a kid and I used to play in a band, you know, where we would play Black Sabbath and all kinds of heavy metal stuff. So I thought that might be a little bit too far off the subject here so I decided to bring something that I love. This is jazz, something that I’m still a big fan of and I still spend a lot of time listening to and Oscar Peterson has been a real sort of inspiration to me because I loved listening to his, just the way his dexterity. Already from that point of view of how well can one play piano. And there was, I don’t know if there is anybody who, hardly anybody who can really play with such amazing dexterity and also beauty of the sound and just capacity to just piano singing it all the time when he was playing. He recently passed, but Oscar Peterson has always been my hero since I was a small boy. In fact, my teacher, my piano teacher tried to, since I was horribly lazy and I never wanted to practice piano as a kid, he always promised that if I learned whatever I had to learn, an etude or whatever, then he will give me a handwritten little jazz etude by Oscar Peterson. So and it gave me an incentive to practice the other stuff so I could get to this Oscar Peterson stuff quicker. So what we are about to hear is one of the tracks from an album called “Digital at Montreux”, which is a live album and it is unbelievable how exciting it can get in a sort of a live jam session situation when you have everybody in the band who is a master.
KAPLAN: Oscar Peterson playing “Younger than Springtime”, from the album “Digital at Montreux”, the wildcard selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, conductor Paavo Järvi. When we return, we’ll explore the repertoire that Paavo Järvi has yet to conduct and composers he’d be happy to avoid.
KAPLAN; This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music”, conductor Paavo Järvi. Okay, now let’s talk about repertoire. You conduct a wide range of pieces but I wonder if there are any major works by major composers you have not yet conducted.
JARVI: Oh my god, yes, I mean, there are so many pieces. The repertoire is so vast and there are so many pieces that I haven't conducted.
KAPLAN: What would be an example of a really well know piece you haven’t yet conducted?
JARVI: Well, Gurre-Lieder, for example.
JARVI: Or Mahler Eight I haven’t conducted yet. I haven’t conducted Bruckner’s First Symphony, for example. Oh, the list goes on and on and on. I mean, I conduct maybe ten new pieces every year, but really new, new pieces to me that are standard repertoire to everybody else.
KAPLAN: I see. Well, you know, I wonder if there are any composers though by this time you’ve decided, hmm, not really for me. His music is fine but I don’t quite connect to that. I’ll conduct it if I have to but it wouldn’t be high on my list.
JARVI: Absolutely. I grew up loving Richard Strauss. As I get older I am less and less inclined to conduct Richard Strauss because the music that I really love is the opera and vocal music of Richard Strauss. I can live easily without ever conducting Alpine Symphony or Symphony Domestica or Heldenleben. I think that is a very personal view of course and people don’t need to agree with me, but for me I find his music empty. I find that it lacks substance.
KAPLAN: Well, that could be certainly a long conversation we could have.
JARVI: Of course, absolutely.
KAPLAN: But let’s then turn to someone who most people don’t know, is a composer you do know and highly regard. It’s a contemporary composer. Tüür is his last name from your old country Estonia. You’d like to play him today. Tell us about him and the work we are going to hear.
JARVI: Erkki-Sven Tüür I think is one of the most interesting voices today. He’s young -- young is a relative term, but he’s in his forties, and he’s to me a composer in the same, sort of the same period, the same league as Magnus Lindberg, for example, a Finnish composer. But the interesting thing about Tüür is that first of all, of course, I know him since we were kids. We played together in a rock band and he was a very well known rock musician in Estonia. That’s why he became a composer because he kept writing for his band and it was at the time it was kind of art rock. It was something where, it was really kind of a legitimate form of art music that’s happened to use a rock band as a way of expressing it rather than, let's say a chamber ensemble, whatever. And so from that he went to a conservatory and became really important to me, one of the more important composers of his generation. What is interesting about his music to me is that he, because of his rock origin he is very, very influenced by the popular culture. By that I don’t mean his music sounds like pop music or rock music, not at all. It is just that he is in touch with a kind of visceral energy that music can and I think should create in order to be truly communicative.
KAPLAN: And what is the piece we are going to hear?
JARVI: The piece that we are going to hear is from the CD we’ve made in Estonia. The CD is called "Magma". But "Magma" actually is a Fourth Symphony, also, known as a percussion concerto. It’s a symphony for the percussion and the orchestra and it’s played by Evelyn Glennie. It’s written for Evelyn Glennie too.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Fourth Symphony called “Magma”, with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and percussionist Evelyn Glennie all under the baton of fellow Estonian and my guest today on “Mad About Music”, conductor Paavo Järvi. All right, from music written today, we turn way back to Bach for the final selection on your music list. And everybody seems to wind up with Bach sooner or later. Earlier, you talked about historically informed music, the role of original instruments. Now I’ve always wondered whether Bach, who of course composed for the harpsichord, would have forgotten about the instrument if he had ever heard a great Steinway Grand piano. What do you think about that?
JARVI: By the way, I agree completely with you because with all the historic information, and knowledge we have, the one area where I just cannot listen to Bach personally is harpsichord. I love Bach being played on the piano.
KAPLAN: And don’t you think he would have liked it?
JARVI: Well, it's hard to know what he would have and would have not, but I think that it’s very likely. I know that the recording that got me through my Curtis years, literally every single night I fell asleep to it, was Goldberg Variations, the last one with Glenn Gould. Not the first one which I also had, but, and I don’t know there is something so powerful and so unbelievably profound about the music of Bach. But coming back to the whole historically informed performance practice, the hip, hip subject. I remember sitting as a small boy sitting on my father’s lap listening to B Minor Mass and thinking that something sounds so strange, something very interesting. But somehow the flute sounds different and the strings sound different , everything sounds just different from what I’m used to. Because what I was used to is a normal sounding symphony orchestra where everybody’s vibrating, everybody’s playing for, you know, with a lot of expressive, sort of romantic, expressive gestures and all of a sudden you heard this rather anemic sounding, but something rather attractive and transparent sound. And it was Bach B-minor Mass. Everything sounds all right but somehow completely different from what we're used to and I remember it having a really great impact.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Bach’s B-minor Mass, performed by Consentus Musicas Wien with the Arnold Schoenberg Chorus and conducted by the early music specialist Nicholas Harnoncourt, the final selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music” conductor Paavo Jarvi. Well as we head toward the end of the show, we come to a section called “fantasyland” where you are asked to reveal your fantasies, at least your musical fantasies. Now if you could be a star in classical music in some field you're not already involved, what would it be? A composer? Opera director? A soprano? What is your fantasy?
JARVI: A soprano I think would not be the first choice, but I would think either a pianist or a composer.
KAPLAN: Have you tried composing at all?
JARVI: Yes, when I was at school.
KAPLAN: That is not a fantasy then, this has to be fantasies. I mean, you'd like to be a great composer.
JARVI: Composing, I mean for real, is a mindset that I think practically doesn’t allow for anything else. There are few very successful composers who also conduct, in history of course there have been a lot of them, but to really dedicate completely to writing music, that in a way, I don’t think I could really do it because I would probably miss too much of that actual physical satisfaction that comes from conducting an orchestra -- that physical energy, not to mention the mental and every other possible impulse that you get while you are actually in front of the orchestra. But that’s something that I have been thinking about, how would it be to be a composer full time.
KAPLAN: All right, Paavo Järvi, you've been great fun as a guest today. You bring us fresh insights into the world of conducting, your ideas about music that you're conducting yourself, and that you now informed us that you're not conducting. Thank you for appearing today. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music”.
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
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Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
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