5 Questions to Kristjan Järvi (conductor, curator)

Conductor Kristjan Järvi has achieved acclaim for his innovative programming, thinking outside the boundaries of “contemporary classical music” both in live performance as well as in film soundtracks and other recording projects. His endless stream of accomplishments includes the Kristjan Järvi Sound Project, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, and the soundtrack to Cloud Atlas. On the more immediate horizons, he will conduct works by Gabriel Prokofiev and others at the 2016 Tallinn Music Week later this month. TMW is a yearly festival which this year features over 250 acts from countries all over the world, ranging from trap to avant-garde to hip-hop to blues to electronic.

You’ve been noted for “transcending the borders of classical music” with your forward-thinking approach to conducting and curating. What are some of the borders or boundaries you observe in the contemporary classical music scene, and what are some of the ways you think we can continue to transcend them?

Borders in the classical music scene are everywhere. They need to be transcended in the ways that we are presenting this particular concert at the Tallinn Music Week: With the fantastic soloists, ideas, and composers who think along the social fabric that exists outside of the realm of the regular concert halls and the contemporary new music “avant-garde”, and really connect with the people. The point of contact that is actually the most important to bring music to the people is alternative venues. But the performance approach is also very important. That people see that it’s a living being, this creation in front of them, that it happens only then and there and in the now, and these fantastic composers like Gabriel Prokofiev and Peeter Vähi that are writing music that really hits the audience right in the middle of their emotional center and sensibility. And of course you have to have the performers who believe in, not only execution, but actually living the music, being the best transporters of it, and of course the environment that a concert takes place in is paramount to that.

The “Kristjan Järvi Sound Experience” sounds like a powerful new means for garnering close listening and connection in the live concert experience. These programs likewise transcend the boundaries between popular, classical, and traditional musics. How did you develop this conceptual framework, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

The Kristjan Järvi Sound Project is something that I have just recently actually branded under this particular name with the releases of my record series called Kristjan Järvi Sound Project—the Sound Experience is the live version of that. This is an ongoing process which started when I was already studying in New York in the early 90’s, and the creation of my Absolute Ensemble, which is a band essentially. It’s kind of a hybrid between a rock band, chamber orchestra, and big band, and has the mentality that music is non-genre-oriented, that all music is actually an evolution: it started from the days of clapping and singing, which are still very inherent in our physiology and sensibility as human beings, but at the same time it has developed to such a fantastic scope of different types of music now, from Renaissance to rock to hip-hop and you name it. So basically it is the creation of concepts, the creation of those projects, and the production of those projects that create a new era in performance and presentation—which the Kristjan Järvi Experience is.

Your work with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic strives to set a new model for the modern-day orchestra. What are some of the aspects of this Orchestra that you see as fundamentally different from other philharmonic orchestras, and what are some of the ways you see this Orchestra as filling a new role in our current musical climate?

The Baltic Sea Philharmonic is taking that idea that started years and years ago with a multi-genre band, which Absolute is, and taking it to the orchestral level, but also creating a model for its work within the context of an orchestra. Approach is very very important: movement, breathing, and moving together, and basically being collectively one as an organism. A team, a real collective creative force that thinks the same, moves the same, breathes the same, articulates the same way, and is at the same time full of enjoyment and passion for what they do. They create an unbelievable space of possibilities that makes spontaneous music-making happen. Now, in order for this to happen within the rigorous context of institutionalized orchestras is almost impossible. I feel like the musicians have to be empowered into leadership positions within the organization, and they must be of the mind that this is their orchestra. Essentially this is setting up a new orchestral model, which in my opinion will also give a new meaning to the reason, the raison d’être, of being a musician and fulfilling it as a lifestyle and a passion that has no end and that has unlimited creative possibilities. It’s actually a band of creators, inventors, and leaders.

Kristjan Jarvi - Photo credit Franck Ferville

Kristjan Jarvi – Photo credit Franck Ferville

Your discography is intimidatingly impressive—film scores, orchestral commissions, hip hop, jazz, and so on. What are some of the projects you’ve been most surprised by in the past?

My greatest inspiration, and probably a turning point in my whole musical career, was working with Joe Zawinul, who really became my mentor, and my musical father in many ways. He didn’t only teach me about all of the things I mentioned before, which is rhythm and movement, but actually how to keep time, and to phrase within time, and actually make music that is not only a great visceral output of energy and discipline but at the same time draws on probably the biggest variety of resources and sources of musical language from Africa to Asia to American roots—Gospel music—all sorts of instruments which I had never encountered before, incredible musicians from all walks of life, and all types of lifestyles in every genre possible. It widened my spectrum to the point where I feel that we are limitless and, in fact, we are.

Similarly, what are some of the projects you are most excited about working on in the future? With Tallinn Music Week on the horizon, you’ll be conducting Gabriel Prokofiev’s “Turntable Concerto” and other intricate works at the end of this month. How did you become involved with the festival, and what is its potential role in the global new music scene?

The Tallinn Music Week already is and has the potential further to make itself a music industries connector, the integrator and facilitator, a meeting point of minds and souls and a general way of being. I think that great things happen with an open society, which Estonia is, and this is a reflection of the new energy, and the combination of tech, combination of roots, incredible inquisitiveness, integrity, and belief. And this is what gives everybody the light. As musicians we have to play everything with breadth and air, and as man—as mankind—we should all be enlightened to approach our life just as musicians do, and I feel like this is the perfect breeding ground for such a movement.

The Tallinn Music Week, March 28 – April 3. For more information, visit: