The upcoming 2013/14 season marks the end of Paavo Järvi’s successful seven-year engagement as Music Director of the hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra). Fortunately he will continue to be closely associated with the orchestra as ‘Conductor Laureate’.
The Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi has been the Artistic Director of „Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen“ since 2004. In 2010 he was named Musical Director of the Orchestre de Paris, and in June 2012 he was also appointed Principal Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra starting in the 2015/16 season.
Prior to his departure from Frankfurt and the hr-Sinfonieorchester I had the chance to talk to him about his time working with my favorite orchestra and some other topics like twittering from concerts.
Maestro Järvi, what is so appealing about being chief conductor of so many orchestras?
I don’t have any conflict with this. I have a very clear path and a very clearly thought-out plan with each orchestra. And each orchestra is very different. For example, when in Frankfurt, we are concentrating on large Germanic repertoire: Mahler, Bruckner, we did Hans Rott here, we’re doing Franz Schmidt. We also did Nielsen Symphonies and some New Music. At Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen it’s all classical, and it’s all early romantic classical repertoire – Beethoven, Schumann. But it’s a different type of music making. The Kammerphilharmonie is a small orchestra with an entirely different mentality. And in France, of course, we concentrate mostly on music of colour, so to speak: Slavic music, Russian music, French music. For example, last week we did a recording of Poulenc, previously Fauré, before that Bizet. We have done a lot of music that belongs to the core of French orchestra repertoire, for example, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel and so on. So, there is no conflict. It just makes my life a little bit more difficult – but more interesting.
But you are with another orchestra every few weeks. Isn’t it difficult to adjust?
No, no. I’m so used to it. I can adjust from one to another. The most important thing for me is the repertoire. I’m a musician for only one reason: because I like and love the symphonic repertoire. If I was music director only in one orchestra, I would be here, let’s say, 14 or 15 weeks like I was here in Frankfurt now. In this 15 weeks you do 15 programmes, and to me that’s not enough. I need more variety. I need to have more interesting angles of repertoire. Besides, one of the things I don’t like very much is guest conducting. I don’t like being guest in an orchestra in a city where you come for four days and then you leave. I do not get very good results from the orchestras. Orchestras always know that the guest conductor has limited time and limited influence. To me that’s artistically not very interesting. I do very few guest conducting.
And when you are here in Frankfurt, for example, for how long you will work with the orchestra?
Well, we have rehearsals from Monday until Friday with concerts on Friday and Saturday. It’s standard everywhere. But I know this orchestra very well. Therefore I start from a much higher level. They know that I don’t leave next week. They know that I will be here, and they know what I expect. They know me like I know them. We have a relationship. We have been on tour together. We did many concerts together. We know each other. We start from a much higher level.
How big is your influence on the repertoire? Do you arrange with Andrea Zietzschmann [Head of hr Music Department and Manager of hr-Sinfonieorchester] about the programmes? What is your part in putting the programmes together?
Of course, I decide on the repertoire that I conduct. But the wonderful thing with Andrea Zietzschmann is that we discuss everything. Therefore, we had a very interesting longterm plan. My programmes were the ones that were first settled, and then the rest of the season was built around them. As music director you have the right to choose your programmes and your soloists, you have the first choice of tours – so, I prefer to be music director.
What’s the difference between working with the hr-Sinfonieorchester and an American or French orchestra?
There are differences in many ways. For example, the hr-Sinfonieorchester is a very versatile orchestra. They play Baroque very well, they play New Music very well, they play romantic music. There’s a lot of flexibility. They are a recording orchestra which means that when the microphone, the red light, goes on there is a level of concentration which is very hard to find in other orchestras.
In other German orchestras as well?
If you have a philharmonic orchestra, they don’t have the same versatility. They don’t do so many different programmes. They also don’t record so much. Well, every orchestra has it’s own personality. If you talk about American orchestras, that’s an entirely different world because they have very conservative programming, very strong, good musicians but not as much experience with New Music, not as much experience with live recordings like we do. So, every orchestra has a different personality.
Are you especially talented to conduct so many different orchestras?
As I said, you need to adjust to the situation that you are in. Certain things that work in America don’t work in Germany. A certain approach that works in France doesn’t work in England. Intuitively, you have to feel what the orchestra needs and how to talk to the orchestra. How far can you push the orchestra? How quickly can you rehearse? How intensive can the rehearsal be? It all depends on the personality of the orchestra. It’s not so much a matter of talent, it’s more a question of being sensitive to the environment that you are in at the moment.
What about the audiences? Does the subscriber audience here in Frankfurt differ from the audience at the Rheingau Music Festival or in Bremen?
Well, the public is different everywhere as well. The wonderful thing in Germany, especially here in Frankfurt, is that the people that come like the pieces. Many of them are subscribers, they are longterm music lovers. Maybe the applause is not very enthusiastic but it’s very long and very steady and very respectful. In France, for example, you have this immediate sort of big stormy ovation but when you’re offstage it stops. So, they are very temperamental but with a shorter attention span. And in Bremen, for example, I wouldn’t even call it public, it’s more like a fanclub. They just love the orchestra so much. They are always sold out. They would applaude for hours if they could. It’s an entirely different relationship because they are very proud of the Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen. They are very loved in the city. So, the audience is almost kind of a family. It’s different everywhere.
Can you name the highlights of your time as chief conductor of the hr-Sinfonieorchester?
Well, it’s hard to name single events, there were so many highlights: London Proms a couple of years ago, it’s also on YouTube if you want to see it, the last Asian tour was wonderful, Korea was fantastic. Suntory Hall (Tokio), just recently. One of the funny things I enjoyed and I will always remember is the concert with Paul van Dyk, the DJ, in the Music Discovery Project. This opening concert with Lang Lang was absolutely wonderful. There have been a lot of interesting, good concerts. Musikverein in Vienna – the Bruckner V at Musikverein that was a special concert. We have been at Concertgebouw a few times with this orchestra. So, there have been a lot of highlights.
The German radio station Deutschlandradio recently called you one of the most successful conductors. What do you think about that?
I don’t know what that means: successful. I enjoy what I am doing. I mean, how do you judge success? If you are happy with what you are doing, and if you have enough freedom to choose the programmes and the musicians you work with, and if you get good enough results, that’s the main thing. For me, that’s a success, that’s what I need. All the other stuff doesn’t really matter.
In April, you will conduct the Berlin Philharmonic. Is this the first time you work with them?
No, it’s the third time.
Is it something special to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic? Does it mean you have made it?
Of course, every time you conduct Berlin Philharmonic it’s special. On the other hand, every orchestra in every concert has to be special, you know. When I conduct my orchestra in Paris it’s special, here in Frankfurt it’s special. Of course, one cannot deny the special status of Berlin Philharmonic but on the other hand: concerts are concerts. You have to conduct well and you have to make music as well as you can.
Does it make a difference for you if you are conducting a concert at the Alte Oper Frankfurt or a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic, knowing the latter can be attended worldwide by a lot of people via Digital Concert Hall?
You don’t think about these things when you conduct. When you conduct you conduct. In Frankfurt, we also have transmissions via Arte Live Web and a lot of people around the world see it as well. But I don’t think about it when I conduct. You concentrate on the music.
Maestro Järvi, you are an active social network user, at least you’re making use of Twitter. Does this lead to a stronger connection with your audience? Do you talk with your audience on Twitter or do they make suggestions? Do you use Twitter professionally?
No, Twitter is just fun. You put in some funny things and some pictures. I don’t do any of this too pragmatically to kind of connect with the audience. It’s a kind of a curiosity of the 21st century to be able to connect with the audience or even with friends. I don’t necessarily try to sell anything on Twitter or somehow do anything special. It’s just a way to share information and sometimes – most of the time – a way to share something funny.
Do you think social media can provide an understanding for classical music? Or do you think that the future of classical concerts lies in the Digital Concert Hall?
I think that social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have and will become even more important, not only for classical music but for anybody because this will be the main form of actual sharing of any information. I have an official Facebook Page and a lot of people seem to find it. I don’t do anything special with it but it is a kind of a curious way to put out information. I find it fascinating that people can follow you. Or you can follow some other people. It is potentially very powerful. But in order for this to be very successful one has to work hard, and I don’t work hard on Facebook.
Last September, we organized a tweetup during a public rehearsal of hr-Sinfonieorchester. Did you hear about it?
What do you think about projects like this?
I think it’s fine. Any experiment is ok. I wouldn’t tweet during the concerts. For me, the concert is the music, nothing else. But if you want to, that’s fine.
In the US, the discussion about offering special “tweet seats” for concert- or theatre-goers arose just recently. What do you think about it?
I personally don’t see the point of it. If you go and see a concert then you have to enjoy the concert and experience the moment. Tweeting about it you can do after the concert. But if that’s what you want, you know, I’m not judging anybody. I think that many people have an entirely different understanding of music, a different need to share it. I think, it’s OK.
Thank you very much, Maestro Järvi!
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