Paavo Järvi: the new music can start anywhere

Álvaro S. Teixeira: Which 20th century (not contemporaries) composers are the more interesting for you? And the more important?

Paavo Järvi: There is Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Nielsen, Prokofiev, Sibelius. Obviously there are representatives from other countries, such as Debussy, and Ravel. One can name others that have made major contributions to the 20th century repertoire. No two are more influential, for me, than Debussy and Stravinsky. There are two kinds of composers, one who creates new language, and one who creates something new by using the already established vocabulary. Take for example, Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.

But it is the composer who is able to create a new language that brings the music forward in the most influential way. There is no question that composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Nielsen, Debussy, are pioneers in this respect.

AT: What do you search when you play contemporary works?

PJ: I try keeping an open mind. In today's new music environment, one does not necessarily have to go in searching for one particular style or method of getting a message across. There is no limitation of how to express one's ideas and therefore it is a very good time for New Music. You can go from the traditional approach, to Schoenberg's approach, or one can start from minimalism. There are many varieties of possibilities in the middle, and mutations of these possibilities. Today the new music can start anywhere.

What's most important is to keep an open mind when one looks at the score.

What I am looking for ultimately is not how the work is put together, but rather what the work is able to communicate in the performance. In other words, I look for what is being communicated and how the work communicates with the listener. I am not interested in intellectual exercise just for the sake of it.

AT: Do you feel that it's good to play, in the first part, a classic or romantic work and, in a second one, a contemporary creation, or the opposite?

PJ: It all depends on a piece and the environment you play the piece in. In general, the opening work is short so one can continue with standard repertoire, which to me is not always ideal. It often diminishes the first piece to an opening fanfare role. On the other hand, in most cities, there is major difficulty programming a completely new piece in the second half, unless there is a good enough reason to keep the audience interested in staying. The current notion is that there is no use putting a new work in the second half if means losing the audience. Again, it ultimately depends on the environment and the work itself.

AT: Some heads of festivals and music halls they imagine that people don't come to contemporary music concerts. It's true, it's just a stupid idea, or can be true in some undeveloped countries?

PJ: There is some truth to all three that you suggest in your question. In many communities around the world it is difficult to program New Music because of audiences. This is certainly true in the US. In some cities in the US, it is absolutely mandatory to feature a new work, in other cities it is seen as too much of a risk which might translate into decreasing audiences. Ultimately, each city knows their audience and their own traditions. Each needs to be sensitive to the realities they face. Some older audiences fear the new music. Audiences in the 60s and 70s were so frightened of the New Music played at that time that they now distrust new music. We are, in essence, paying for our's parents sins ±. I notice that right now there is less fear associated with new music. Concert goers now are much more positive towards discovering new. Today the music that we play often gets better response than the standard repertoire because the audience can identify with it. The key is to keep programming New Music that the audience can connect with. In saying that, I don't mean we should program works that aren't difficult, but rather high quality music that challenges the audience.

AT: When you conduct the precision it's the most important?

PJ: It's always important to be clear, but it is obviously not the most important thing about conducting, to be manually clear. The most important part is to be able to communicate through your movements, what the music should sound like. A display of virtuosity, for virtuosity's sake is meaningless.

AT: Before start work with a orchestra how many days you need to know a new orchestral work?

PJ: It all depends on the piece. I always find that learning a piece, especially a completely new work, is just the beginning of the journey. No work can be completely understood before the first orchestra rehearsal; before the score comes to life for the first time, in real time. It is not unusual, even for exceptional composers to change many things in the score after or during the first rehearsal with orchestra. While studying the score is extremely important, it is only the beginning of a longer process.

AT: In your first lecture, alone, what do you search?

PJ: I have, over the years, developed an established system of approaching a score. I always start every score with same exact step-by-step approach. It's something that I do with each score, new or old.

AT: It's a good idea to be conductor and composer?

PJ: I think it is a very good idea. It is not absolutely necessary. But composers look at music in a different way than performers do. If the composer happens to take the art of conducting seriously then a conductor/composer combination can be a very powerful one. Conducting is an art and not a hobby. Many composers and soloist turned Conductors forget this. Often, great composers are weak conductors, and perhaps do more damage by conducting their own music than good. This was not the case, of course, with Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss and many other great composers and equally formidable conductors. For example Esa-Pekka Salonen is an excellent conductor and composer. So, if both art forms are treated equally, the combination can be powerful.

AT: Give us 10 contemporary pieces that you find very interesting, and, in your opinion, the world must to know.

PJ: I can give you 200 pieces that people should hear and it still would be meaningless. It is not always helpful to create a gradation of music you should hear. We need to establish a culture that encourages people hear new music. From Northern Europe, I can name many composers whose music should be heard. They are Saariaho, Tüür, Sumera, Salonen, and Lindberg, to name but a few. A similar list could be put together practically from each European country and certainly from the US. I never look a list of top 10 contemporary composers and grade them. I am more (...) piece¡± oriented. If there is a piece that is exceptional, it needs to be heard. It does not necessarily mean that the composer who wrote it is automatically the best. It is important to take things piece-by-piece and see what each has to offer. Only history will tell how correct our judgments were. I don't want to contemplate a ranking because that would be completely pointless.

August 2006