Recovered Järvi Changes Keys: DSO conductor cuts back work schedule
But make no mistake: Four months after Neeme Järvi suffered an aneurysm that could have ended not only his career but his life, the music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra says he is a profoundly changed man. He has pledged to pay attention to his health and reduce his famously rigorous schedule.
He remains a globe-trotting maestro, but, after decades of saying yes to nearly every opportunity, Järvi is learning to say no.
“If I really try to do everything on my schedule, it’s too much,“ Järvi, 64, said in his first interview since collapsing in Pärnu, Estonia, July 9. “It’s stupid. There has to be free time between groups of performances; do less but do better, prepare better, and then the rest of the time just relax – not run overseas immediately.”
On the cusp of resuming his career, Järvi spoke this week in his spacious 26th-floor apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Järvi and his wife, Liilia, leave today for Sweden, where he is principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony. He’ll return for three concerts in Detroit Thanksgiving weekend. Järvi guest-conducts the New York Philharmonic for a week before taking off the final four weeks of the year. He has already canceled Paris appearances and concerts with the BBC Philharmonic. After 20 seasons in Gothenburg, Järvi is scaling back there, too.
On this afternoon, Järvi is dressed in black pants and shirt, and the sleek look accentuates the 20 pounds he’s lost since July. He fields a compliment about his trim waistline by pointing to a mirror and saying with mock seriousness, “Yes, I am beautiful.”
Often during interviews, he gives the impression his mind is racing ahead to the next rehearsal or concert. But today he is relaxed and focused, answering questions in a manner that suggests a man who has been thinking about his priorities. He touches on many topics, among them his future with the DSO, with which he is starting his 12th season.
“Detroit is the most important place for me,” he says. “We have the possibility for such great performances with the musicians, and we have wonderful audiences and filled houses. I’m very proud of that.”
Under these conditions, he says, “we can make music together as long as possible.”
Järvi has averaged about 11 weeks a season with the DSO, plus two summer weeks at Meadow Brook and Interlochen. As part of his overall schedule reduction, he says he might want to conduct only 10 weeks and end his summer obligations, a schedule still in line with those of other major orchestra conductors.
Järvi remembers little about his collapse. He was in Pärnu to teach at a music festival. He and his daughter Maarika, a flutist, had returned from an afternoon concert and were in separate hotel rooms. He felt a sudden, intense headache. Before losing consciousness, he managed to hit a button on his cell phone to call Maarika, who rushed in and summoned help.
He woke the next day in a hospital in Tallinn, his hometown: “I was surrounded by nice people. They bring me food, and I was like in heaven. There was pain, and there was a doctor. I am lucky.”
The diagnosis was a subarachnoidal hemorrhage, a stroke in which a weakened blood vessel bursts, spreading blood over the brain. Dr. Brian Silver, a neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital, says that 25 percent of victims die from such a rupture but 25 to 50 percent recover well. If no brain tissue is destroyed, a recovery like Järvi’s, with no physical or neurological damage, is not uncommon.
Järvi was moved to Helsinki, Finland, where surgery was done to repair the broken vessel. He soon moved to a rural retreat in Kuopio, Finland, where he began physical therapy, learning to walk again. In two weeks he could stroll through the woods himself.
In mid-August, Järvi and his wife flew to their home near West Palm Beach, Fla., where he began swimming and treadmill workouts. He has also sworn off all alcohol and midnight meals.
Järvi says that only in the last few weeks has he begun to feel 100 percent, but that he was frustrated with being unable to lead the DSO on its 18-day European tour in October. Järvi says he watched the calendar every day, noting the cities in which the orchestra was performing.
Members of the DSO are as excited as Järvi is about his return.
“It’ll be the return of the joy of music-making,“ says principal clarinetist Ted Oien. “It’s not a scholarly approach. It’s making the music sing. We see a lot of conductors, but there’s nobody like Neeme.”
Järvi’s brush with mortality seems to have clarified his understanding that the DSO represents his brass ring. He built his reputation with the attitude that every concert was an audition for the next job, in a steady climb up the ladder to ever-more-prestigious orchestras. But he says he’s reached his pinnacle, and the view looks better than he once imagined.
“What we are doing is not less important than at the Big Five,” he says, referring to the traditional ranking of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia. “We have same big results. We are building a house (Orchestra Place), and that shows our success. I’m quite happy with what I have. We have a fantastic orchestra in Detroit and an excellent team.”
Venue: Gothenburg Concert Hall
This was an evening when both orchestra and audience could have stayed on their feet. That’s how charged the atmosphere was for Neeme Järvi’s comeback at the Gothenburg Concert Hall on Wednesday evening - four months after his serious collapse in July. The programme included Sibelius’ Second Symphony, in which Järvi, in his 19 years as principal conductor, has led the orchestra no fewer than 58 (!) times. A symbolic piece for the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, ever since its premiere performance in January 1908, with Stenhammar on the podium, to be followed by successors including Sibelius himself, Tor Mann, Sixten Ehrling and Herbert Blomstedt. The tension was accentuated by the fact that Deutsche Grammophon was recording the concert for the upcoming Sibelius box set. In terms of interpretation, it was more restrained and less “Russian” than the recording made in the 80s (Bis), yet with a simmering energy; for those of us who were there, however, it felt just like one long, booming fanfare.
Further adding to this atmosphere was the Georgian composer Gija Kantjeli, whose piece “…al niente” (a musical term used when something should be played “fading”) received its Swedish premiere. A piece that was one of the commissions from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra together with the Oslo Philharmonic and the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Kantjeli was present himself, and was able to receive the audience’s ovation, given in relief that it was not at all “incomprehensible”, but rather sounded like a half-hour medley of hyper-sentimentality for a Georgian sequel to the film “Sleepless in Seattle” – a sort of “Traumatised in Tbilisi”. The fact that this piece would not even serve as an entrance test for a Swedish composition class, but would usually be condemned as “home-made, cobbled-together kitsch”, is a matter for reflection.
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
It was difficult to be a critical listener last Wednesday. Neeme Järvi’s return meant that the main hall resonated with warmth even before a single note had been played. And with justification.
To produce an objective review of what was played against the background of that atmosphere was virtually impossible. Not least of all because the evening’s first piece was so far removed from the familiar path.
Perhaps “…al niente” is overly modest as the title of a major orchestral piece. But that is the title given by Gija Kantjeli to his Scandinavian commission. Towards nothingness is one possible translation, but hardly a fair description of what the score actually contained.
Can sound better
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, ladies’ choir, children’s choir from Brunnsbo music classes
One of the Symphony Orchestra’s more memorable concerts of the last decade was conductor Kent Nagano’s guest appearance in 1993 for Mahler’s Third Symphony. A daring, experimental interpretation that emphasised the fragmentary accents in Mahler’s tone language, the hubbub of events, the constant shifts of the music’s centre of energy.
It is an interpretation that is gripping in all respects, so loving and balanced, with such a delightful sound of chamber music, and with a fascinating depth in the silences, not only between the various movements, but also in the midst of the flow of melodic interludes. This is true not least of all of the third movement, with its commands for Comodo, Scherzando, Ohne Hast, and with a transparent cornet solo (excellently played by Paul Spjuth) above a calm background of shimmering strings. In the fourth movement the contralto Birgitta Svendén performs an impressive solo.
Mahler is music of the memory, but here I have a strong sense that we also experience reminiscences of the orchestra’s own history, as though it were Stenhammar himself conducting, and the lingering echoes from the old vid Heden concert hall had found their way up to Götaplatsen. Old and new in the same framework. A true, classical thing of beauty. And not in the least bit sentimentalised.
It would be easy to exaggerate this expansive music. But instead of dominant, resounding tones, it is an intimate tone that dominates. Järvi places his faith in the power of the notes themselves, and draws out a sweetness in Mahler’s instrumentation that is difficult to resist.
How do orchestra musicians size up the men (and women) standing on the podium before them? What do players expect from a conductor? Are they all the same?
“Conductors can be very helpful,” he said. “You start with the basics, with the traffic cop duties. You expect them to keep it together, to set the pace, to adjust the balances and to highlight the musical line so that it can emerge.”
“A lot of things are purely technical,” he continued. “Marking a score, for example, is fundamental. Some conductors have studied basic conducting and others have not. But there’s something of the black arts about conducting. The devil is in the details. The conductors who are really good are those who grow from the technical level.” /---/
Lest one think orchestra personnel are helpless in such situations, they voice their complaints and compliments to management through a music advisory committee. “We can be quite vocal, pro and con, about a conductor or a soloist whom we’d like to see return,” he said. “Ideally, we would like to establish lasting relationships with conductors before their careers get too big.”
What do players respect in conductors? “I appreciate someone who can tune and voice a chord, and I appreciate someone who can get the best from the player in a solo line.” The rumor that the real performance happens in rehearsal isn’t true. Some conductors constantly keep players on the edge of their seat, and they love it.
“Neeme Järvi is a master of spontaneity,” he said. “He seems to get a charge out of almost losing control. He pushes it, he takes incredible chances with rubato. You never know where he is going, but he has an excellent stick technique. You have to watch Järvi every minute. It’s a thrill to play under him.”
Neeme Järvi’s hands move through the air with lyrical grace, a visual likeness of the music coming back from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. To judge from the instinctive rapport between the orchestra and its 12th-year music director, you would never guess Järvi has been absent for four months -- much less that he has endured a life-threatening stroke.
“This is a great orchestra,” Järvi says in a soft, even voice shortly after Tuesday afternoon’s reunion rehearsal has ended. “We have a wonderful relationship, a closeness that comes from working together for all these years. It’s a special chemistry.” Nothing less will be required for Järvi’s homecoming concerts this weekend. The centerpiece is Stravinsky’s formidably difficult ballet The Rite of Spring, a work Järvi programed before a hemorrhagic stroke imperiled his life last summer. He just smiles at the idea that Stravinsky might be a bit much to take on quite yet.
“I’ve already conducted Mahler’s Third Symphony in Gothenburg -- 100 minutes, a big work like The Rite of Spring,” says Järvi, referring to concerts earlier this month with his other orchestra in Sweden.
“And we did Sibelius’ Second Symphony, which we also recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, the beginning of a new project to record all the (Sibelius) symphonies.”
No, replies Järvi, his life is nothing like it was. The brush with death has chastened him. He says he remembers nothing of the stroke that felled him in Estonia on July 9. “All I remember is waking up in a hospital. But then I had wonderful care.” After surgery to repair the burst blood vessel in the base of his skull, Järvi underwent extensive physical therapy. Now, under the watchful eye of his wife, Liilia, he approaches life with new caution and a new serenity. He has cut back his grinding schedule of guest appearances. He’s resting more, eating better, smelling the roses. “It has always been hard to say no,” Järvi muses, “but now I’ve learned. I won’t be hoping around the world so much. Artists don’t really think about taking care of themselves. Their work is everything.”
“But the problem isn’t just the hard work. You come to the end of the day, the end of a night of conducting a performance – and you have to deal with the social demands. You eat late dinners and food that’s maybe not so good for you. Your body can only take that for so long. So now I’ve had to change many things.” One evident change is the conductor’s girth. At ease in charcoal slacks and sweater, Järvi looks downright svelte. Proudly – and repeatedly – he points out his diminished waistline.
The maestro would get no argument from DSO violinist Marguerite Deslippe-Dene.
French horn player Bryan Kennedy says everybody’s been anticipating the reunion of conductor and orchestra.
Important, too, and personally symbolic has been Järvi’s reconnection with his residence in Grosse Pointe. There, this insatiable record collector and tireless pursuer of out-of-the-way music could rummage through his scores and revisit his treasury of LPs, CDs and tapes.
DETROIT -- A vigorous Neeme Järvi, looking fully recovered from a stroke in July, reclaimed his place at the head of the Detroit Symphony in emotionally charged concerts this weekend at Orchestra Hall.
The instant Järvi appeared from the right stage entrance for the first time Friday night, the audience of 2,200 rose and cheered “Bravo, maestro!” and “Bravo, Neeme!” After barely a minute, he turned to the orchestra and lifted his baton. By the time this concert was over, any lingering doubt of Järvi’s recovery was gone, exorcised by the pounding, intricate rhythms of The Rite of Spring in an edge-of-the-seat thriller of a performance.
Stravinsky’s music, as deceptively elegant as it is fearsomely complex, provided an indisputable litmus test of Järvi’s restored competence. The hemorrhagic stroke he suffered, while visiting his Estonian homeland for a music festival, had forced him to cancel season-opening concerts with the DSO and kept him on the sidelines as his orchestra toured Europe in October.
The joyful ovation that greeted Järvi gave way to the grinding, primordial racket of Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite. Written in 1914, the year after The Rite of Spring (which created a scandal at its Paris premiere), the suite baldly trades on Stravinsky’s primitivism without its invention or finesse. Still, the DSO’s furious sound sparked hearty applause from listeners eager to laud Järvi’s first offering.
The next salvo of appreciation, which felt more earnest and lasted far longer, rewarded an effortlessly lyrical reading of Eduard Tubin’s Violin Concerto No. 1 by the young Chinese virtuoso Xiang Gao. His arching phrases and velvety tone exactly fit the untroubled surfaces of Tubin’s ruminative music.
Then came the real test. From the start, Järvi had Stravinsky’s ballet fully in hand – its ferocity, its mystery, its unsuspected lyricism. The DSO’s crackling, masterly effort won a sustained ovation.
Järvi, by now in familiar form, replied with an encore – a broadly humorous little movement from Stravinsky’s later ballet, Pucinella. When he couldn’t find a place to deposit a large bouquet he’d received from DSO President Emil Kang, Järvi simply stuck the flowers under his left arm and conducted with his free hand – mugging all the while.
Backstage after Friday’s concert, the conductor – looking unfazed – greeted well-wishers. How did he feel?
The first standing ovation errupted as soon as Neeme Järvi entered from the wing of Orchestra Hall at the start of Friday’s concert. The cheers lasted about a minute, but there’s no telling how long the crowd might have continued if Järvi hadn’t cut it off by spinning around on the podium and picking up his baton.
The maestro was finally home, and all was right with the world of classical music.
The music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra returned to the podium at Orchestra Hall this weekend four months after an aneurysm that could have killed him. Surgery and convalescence kept Järvi sidelined through the opening of his 12th DSO season, including a European tour in October.
Friday’s initial cheers, a thunderous outpouring of affection, were a striking reminder of how beloved a figure Järvi has become in Detroit. The music-making then catalogued the reasons, beginning with the symbiotic connection Järvi has forged with the DSO musicians. The energy, passion and in-the-moment excitement they brought to Prokofiev’s “Scythian” Suite, Eduard Tubin’s First Violin Concerto and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was a marvel.
“Rite” was vintage Järvi. Here is music whose revolutionary edge has been dulled through repetition. Conductors often resort to jacked-up tempos and exaggerated violence to rediscover the shock of the new. But Järvi chose surprisingly moderate tempos, cueing accents with his shoulders and establishing a relaxed intensity in which the pulsating ostinatos burned with the smoldering heat of a deep blue flame.
The effect was very much like a modern jazz band striking a groove, and, in fact, the spontaneous sway of Järvi’s rhythms and phrasing italicized an overlooked aspect of Stravinsky’s innovative rhythm – the nascent backbeats and syncopated perfume of swing.
Completely at ease, the orchestra could dig in with greater authority, even adding an extra dash of vinegar to Stravinsky’s astringent sonorities.
Tubin’s 1942 displayed Järvi’s gift for rescuing neglected music, this one by an Estonian countryman. The work, played with muscular lyricism by Xiang Gao, is redolent of late romantic warmth. If it doesn’t belong in the canon, it deserves to be heard.
Järvi’s rapport with DSO audiences found its final symbol in the the flowers given to him at the concert’s close by DSO president Emil Kang. In a typically hammy gesture, Järvi conducted an encore with one hand wrapped around the bouquet. There’s no telling how long the ovation might have lasted if Järvi had not finally waved good-bye and led his troops offstage.
The New York Philharmonic welcomed back a frequent and favorite guest conductor for the week: Neeme Järvi, who suffered a serious illness only last July. However, one would never have suspected it from this performance. His energy, vigor and fiery temperament, his intellectual and emotional concentration never flagged; his deep involvement with the music and rapport with the orchestra was sustained from first note to last.
Only a conductor with great faith in his players would dare begin a program with the Oberon Overture, a real bravura piece for a virtuoso orchestra. Järvi’s trust was fully justified: Philip Myers played the magical opening horn solo with a beautiful, floating sound; the other wind soloists matched him splendidly and the strings swept through their cascading runs with cumulative excitement but perfect clarity and control.
The soloist was another favorite: violinist Gil Shaham, who made his debut with the orchestra in 1985 at the age of fourteen. A brilliant player with an effortless, natural technique and a gorgeous tone that shimmers on the upper strings and glows warmly on the lower ones, he has firmly established himself as one of the best young violinists now before the public. In the Brahms Concerto, his playing as always radiated charm, exuberance, intensity and genuine personal expressiveness. However, he seemed less than entirely comfortable in his collaboration with the conductor and gave the impression of feeling hemmed in and inhibited; their conception of the tempo was not always unanimous, the orchestra was often too loud and there was an unsettled air about the performance. One might suspect a lack of adequate rehearsal: the Concerto is a staple of the orchestra’s repertoire, so most of the available time may have been devoted to the program’s novelty, the Taneyev Symphony, which was probably as unfamiliar to the musicians as to their listeners. Indeed, Philharmonic audiences being known for their generally conservative tastes, it was hardly surprising that there were many more empty seats after intermission than before.
Taneyev’s Fourth Symphony displays his famous mastery of structure and complex counterpoint to fine advantage. A large-scale, weighty piece, it is solemn and grand to the point of bombast, and though in dramatic C minor, ends in emphatically triumphant C major. The orchestration is heavy, with lots of brass and percussion; the opening is a vigorous burst of fortissimo , the end a veritable timpani cannonade that shakes the walls; the slow movement is lovely. The performance was admirable: communicating his own love for the music to the players and through them to the audience, Järvi held the sprawling work together by the sheer power of his personality and conviction.
Novembri kahel viimasel päeval ja 1. detsembril juhatas eesti dirigent Neeme Järvi järjekordselt New Yorgi Filharmooniat, Lincoln Center’i Avery Fisher Hall’is. Kontserdi kava sisaldas kolm tuntud 19. sajandi heliteost. Avapalana esitati Carl Maria von Weberi (1786-1826) ooperi „Oberon” avamäng. Seda populaarset pala saab sageli kuulda. Liigitaksin Järvi tõlgitsuse parimate hulka mida olen kuulnud. Kui välja arvata puupuhkpillide stakkato soovida jättev koosmäng algtaktides, siis ülejäänud ettekanne oli väga nauditav. Mul oli sama tunne nagu 1995. aastal, kui Järvi esitas Lincoln Center’is Tšaikovski „Romeo ja Julia” avamängu. Mõlema paljukuuldud teose juures võiks arvata, et raske on midagi uut leida. Ometi oli siis ja oli ka nüüd Järvi peenetundeline nüansside väljatöötlus tähelepanuvääriv ja köitev.
Kava keskpunkti moodustas Johannes Brahmsi viiulikontsert. Solistina esines noorema generatsiooni tuntumaid virtuoose Gil Shaham (sünd. 1971). Tema kohta ütleb Neeme Järvi, et Shaham on nagu perekonna solist, olles esinenud kõigi kolme Järvi taktikepi all. Brahmsi kontsert on viiuliliteratuuri üks absoluutseid tippe. Grandioosne muusika, samal ajal filigraanselt läbipaistev ja delikaatne - nagu Brahmsi looming üldiselt. Virtuoositehnikat ta nõuab, kuid pole virtuooskontsert à la Liszt. Seevastu on muusikaline tõlgendus solisti poolt teose A ja O, sest Brahmsi kontsertid (nii viiulile kui klaverile) hõljuvad kusagil kontsertvormi ja sümfoonia vahemaal, s.t. solist ja orkester on eriline tervik, mitte solist saadetud anonüümse orkestri poolt. Seetõttu on juba kontserdi esimese osa eelmäng võrratu muusika. Seda oskas Järvi kaunilt esile tuua.
Gil Shaham sukeldus teosesse suure energia ja pingega, ehk lihtsas keeles väljendatult: sundis kuulaja kohe tooli servale istuma. Viiuli sisseaste peale orkestri sissejuhatust on dramaatiline, üle kahe oktaavi viskuv jooks kõrgusesse, nagu lõhkev tulevärk. Selles passaažis peab iga noot olema selgelt eraldatav, sest ta on teose nimekaardiks. Shaham mängis seda veidi liiga suure hoo ja kiirusega, mis mattis detailid. Samuti juhtus esimeses osas paaril korral, et sooloviiul jäi orkestri varju. Need on aga mu ainuke kriitika. Muu osa oli ülim nauding - peen poognatehnika, intonatsioon, kaunilt välja töötatud fraasid ning laitmatu musikaalsus; küll pulbitsev energia, ometi rangelt ohjeldatud. Pinget ja teda kontrollivat distsipliini võis eriti selgelt jälgida kontserdi bravuurses kolmandas osas. Koosmängus jälgisid solist ja dirigent teineteist piinliku täpsusega ning orkestri vastused viiuli kõnele olid seetõttu omaette nauding.
Kontserdi teise suurvormina esitas Järvi vene helilooja Sergei Taneyevi (1856-1915)