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Interview mit Neeme Järvi

Köln, 5.11.1999

Von Oliver Kautny

Neeme Järvi zählt fraglos zu den führenden Dirigenten unserer Zeit. Seit 18 Jahren ist der gebürtige Este (*1937) Chefdirigent der Göteborger Symphoniker. Im Frühjahr dieses Jahres ging Järvi mit seinem Stammorchester auf Welttournee und gastierte in China, Großbritannien und im Baltikum. Anfang November führte ihn die Konzertreise schließlich auch nach Deutschland. Ich sprach mit ihm im Köln.

OMM: Mr. Järvi, what is your ideal of musical interpretation? Is it either to express, what the composer wanted to say, or is it your personal understanding of a work?

NJ: The composer has written down music. It is wonderful material. When an interpreter, a conductor or whoever comes to interpret it, he always has his own approach. And when there are many approaches, it is better. This can`t be copied from one perfomance to another. There are as many interpretations as there are performances. Conductors can't be machines. They are all individual. The more persuasive a perfomance is, the better it is. That is a good interpretation. There is no law. It has to be very interesting, a new approach. When we approach the period in which a piece was originally written, we must never forget that people today are very different. All old music must be interpreted with a kind of fresh approach. The worst thing is to hear a traditional perfomance by different kind of maestros. That means, that you are already on the way copying something, because you definitely come to like something of these great maestros: "Oh, like that, I like doing it in the same way". It is better to have your own way to find what kind of idea the composer had.

OMM: What about modern music? Which composers do you prefer?

NJ: All music is music. What is modern music? Do we have to consider Bartok as modern music? Or do we have to consider Schoenberg as modern music? Or a contemporary composer? Or is it Philip Glass? Or Arvo Pärt? This is a big question! Arvo Pärt writes a medieval music, but in a modern way. And every composer has to show his ability to make music for our time, which finds it way to the people. They are writing music for people, who are listening to their music. We have a variety of modern music. We can't exactly say what modern music is. But when I feel that there is a talented composer, I am happy to perform his music.

OMM: You are one of the most famous interpreters of Arvo Pärt. What does this music mean to you?

NJ: Arvo Pärt is like my brother in some ways, because we have grown up together. And I was the first perfomer of all his music, especially the first part of his music, when he was young and I was young. I was chief conductor of the Estonian Radio Symphony Orchestra and he was a 'Tonmeister' - he was mixing the music. And he wrote music. Every time he had a new idea, a new piece, I performed it. I performed all the premieres, e.g. the 1st, 2nd or 3rd Symphony. And that is why I perform this music. He was at that time a very advanced composer. It was a difficult time, a politically difficult time. He was a religious man. But religion was forbidden. He just tried to come out somehow, to express his feelings. He was also a very - let's say - modern composer. He was much more advanced than other composers. Like Schnittke in Russia there was a tendency to try to do something different. In Estonia there were a lot of good, young people, that wrote advanced music. I was the perfomer of all of their music. And Arvo Pärt was one of them.

OMM: What difficulties did you have with the authorities when performing premieres of Pärt's music?

NJ: Firstly it was too modern. Secondly he was religious. An example of a religious piece was Credo. There he uses Johann Sebastian Bachs 1st Prelude No.1. In the middle it gets very modern. He uses a religious text. That was immediatly a problem with the Communist Party. And when I performed it with my authority - without asking the Union of Composers -, it was such a big success that we played it twice. And next morning it was big scandal with the Communist Party and the Minister of Culture. The director of the Philharmonia was sacked. That means, we have to fight. Music and art are always subjects to fight for. If it is great, you have to fight for music.

OMM: What kind of approach is necessary for Pärt's music?

NJ: Now he has a very different approach: He is very religious and writes a mixture of medieval music. As he writes now a lot of choral music, my possibilty is to play up to the 3rd Symphony. This is already a turning point from the very modern style to the medieval music. It is dedicated to me, as a friend. He had a lot of dedications for different people. It is the biggest symphony he has ever written: it takes over 20 minutes. The others are much shorter. That is way I perform it from time to time. I enjoy it much better than when I performed it before, when I was young. I understand it much better now, his feelings, why he wrote the symphony. He is very religious, he has written a lot of chorals. I try to do it more slowly. We just talked about interpretation. From the early days of a piece to the present interpretations can change. Every day you find new things in a piece.

OMM: Do you talk with Pärt about the interpretation of his music?

NJ:Yes. And we recorded it with Deutsche Grammophon with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. I have recorded it before for BIS. And now Pärt says: "Now you are right. It is a great perfomance. Now I like the symphony." I performed it just the day before yesterday in the Berliner Philharmonie. I was very well received. He was at the concert and was extremely happy. And we performed Tabula rasa as well. We recorded it also with Gil Shaham. But he did not come to the perfomance. But it was beautiful. Pärt said to me: "The record is too quick. Don't do the second movement too quickly. Do it like this: Järvi sings slowly like 'Haa - Haa')." And this 'Haa-Haa' takes twenty five minutes, only the second movement, and nothing happened. Just go..., go...and go! And don't rush please, don't rush, it is so beautifull! And finally at the end of the piece there are five bars. The 'Kontrabaß is playing the lowest note. It is d-minor, but it doesn't go to d, only to e. And finally I was conducting alone five bars and nothing happens in the orchestra. There was such a silence. Another five, four bars, and then three, two bars. And I was conducting without music. The audience was looking: "Is it over?" They were trying to hear something! It was a very beautiful moment. Finally I put my hands down and it was over. It is such a beautiful thing, which he had thought of a long time ago, which we - perfomers and artists - must understand now. It seems too slow to us. We think: "It is boring. Let's do it quicker."

OMM: Most people think, that Pärt is a very religious man, almost a musical monk. Do you agree?

NJ: Yes. Finnish and Estonian composers are very close. But the Finnish call the Estonian composers 'monks'. Pärt looks a little bit like a monk. But actually this kind of composer is difficult to find in this world. He is a very special personality. But people must understand his nature.

OMM: Pärt and you are something like national heros in Estonia. How do you cope with it?

NJ: We are Estonians. And we are proud to be Estonians. We tried to do a lot for Estonia through our names. But we are living abroad from Estonia. Estonia is a very highly cultural country. We had a lot of invasions. We had a German period of 700 years, a Swedish period of 300 years, all the rest was a Russian period, then was a Soviet period. And still two million people speaking the Estonian language and holding their song festivals, where 33000 people sing together at the same time. There are 200000 or 300000 people in the audience. That doesn't happen anywhere else. We are very proud of it. Art, music and singing helped us to develop the spirit of survival without using weapons, without killing each other like a lot of people did. We are free. But we sung ourselves free. And Arvo Pärt and I tried to free ourselves and to make for Estonains as much as possible worldwide.

OMM: Thank you very much!

Die OMM-Redaktion bedankt sich herzlich für die sprachliche Beratung von Dr. Gillian Pye (Dublin).

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