Handel with saxophone is music to conductor Jarvi's ears

Thu Jun 26, 2014 11:53am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Conductor Kristjan Jarvi sometimes imagines sitting in the audience for a concert and thinking that if he wasn't up on stage, he wouldn't want to be there.

That's when he brings on a saxophonist to play Handel, or a Balkan trio to jam along with his MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, where the Estonian-born Jarvi is music director.

"The more you discover, and the more you create, the more you realize that there are so many infinite possibilities, I mean that really are infinite - there is no such thing as concrete," Jarvi said.

The 42-year-old Jarvi has been breaking down "concrete barriers" between the audience and classical music pretty much since he became a conductor, starting off as an assistant to Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1998.

His father, the Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi, moved his family to the United States when Jarvi was seven. After deciding he wanted to be a musician - inspired in part by the late Leonard Bernstein - Jarvi went at it with gusto.

In addition to his conducting roles, he founded the classical-world-hip-hop-jazz group Absolute Ensemble, which has delved deep into crossover territory. He now hopes to break down more walls through his "Kristjan Jarvi Sound Project" to lure new audiences to classical music.

The "Sound Project" is a bit of a catchall term for a plan to produce recordings of works that excite him - and hopefully listeners - and reproduce that experience at live performances and a series of themed events, such as a Northern Lights Festival and a Spring Fever Festival. The first release, "Balkan Fever", featuring Balkan musicians, was released this month.

Classical music "should become completely integrated into society. In fact if we don't do this it's going to fade away," the energetic Jarvi said over tea in a London hotel where he occasionally launched into song to illustrate a musical point.   Continued...

Estonian-born conductor Kristjan Jarvi poses for a photograph during an interview with Reuters in London, June 10, 2014.  REUTERS/Mike Roddy