The Unconventional

Paavo Järvi conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker

Paavo Järvi
(Photo: Julia Baier)

“I grew up with recordings of the Berliner Philharmoniker. We listened to them almost every day,” says Paavo Järvi in an interview with at the Digital Concert Hall. It is no surprise that the native Estonian comes from a famous family of musicians. Both father Neeme and brother Kristjan are conductors. He grew up in the profession, so to speak. And not only that: thanks to his father’s profession, he met many great musicians and composers of the Soviet Union as a child in his parents’ house: Dmitri Shostakovich, David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, Gennady Rozhdestvensky ... Estonia, especially the resort Pärnu, where the Järvi family went on holiday, was a favourite destination for artists of the former Soviet Union. Paavo’s childhood and youth were marked by the strict rules and rituals of Soviet everyday life. “I’m definitely a Soviet kid, if you can say that,” he says. In 1980, the family left Estonia and emigrated to the United States. The then 17-year-old consequently had the opportunity to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and to attend summer courses with Leonard Bernstein.

Offspring of a family of conductors

In 2004, he became head of the Kammerphilharmonie Bremen where he caused a sensation with his fresh, unconventional approach to the standard repertoire – and enchanted audiences with his interpretations of Beethoven at first, then later of Brahms. Järvi, who is also head of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo and the Estonia Festival Orchestra and principal conductor and artistic director designate of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2000 at the age of 38. “If I had known then what I know today, I would not have agreed,” he confides with a smile. In recent years, the collaboration between orchestra and conductor has intensified. In the 2017/2018 season, he conducted the traditional European concert on 1 May, which took place in the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth. To be able to conduct the orchestra at this event was a great honour: “I’m a big fan of the European concerts, I’ve actually been watching it throughout years, and always look where the next location is.” He then gave a guest performance in Berlin which included Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvili as the soloist.

Two times in Berlin

In this season too, Paavo Järvi makes two guest appearances with the orchestra: in October 2018, he conducts Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, and the Second Symphony by Johannes Brahms. At the end of May 2019, he returns to conduct Johann Sebastian Bach’s Musical Offering in a transcription by Anton Webern, Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs with Hanna-Elisabeth Müller as the soloist, and Anton Bruckner’s Second Symphony. He enjoys his time with the Berliner Philharmoniker – as he also revealed in the Digital Concert Hall – because every single member of this orchestra is a master of their craft.