Preview: Kristjan Järvi, the not-so-typical conductor

One of music's most exciting programmers is coming to Shanghai

Few conductors would consider fusing Pablo de Sarasate’s virtuosic violin piece Zigeunerweisen with Psy’s 'Gangnam Style'. But then, Kristjan Järvi isn’t your typical conductor. Born in Estonia into musical royalty – namely, conductors Naeem (father) and Paavo (brother) – his pedigree suggests a more classic approach to, well, classical music. But to Järvi, music is only good or bad; genre is immaterial. This innovative approach has made him arguably the most creative curator around.

The Järvi family emigrated from Estonia to New York City when Kristjan was only seven. While at the Manhattan School of Music, he formed the award-winning Absolute Ensemble, an 18-member electro-acoustic group that he calls part big band, part chamber ensemble, and part rock group, which blends old and new in extraordinary fashion. Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel is arranged only for eight players, while a mere 12 musicians – one on synthesiser – perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. His Plugged-In Series joined global, non-classical artists with the Tonkünstler Orchestra. To him, music has no borders.

This goes for nations too. Many youth orchestras are formed partly to mitigate regional tensions, such as the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (Arabs and Israelis) and the Asian Youth Orchestra. Järvi’s Baltic Sea Youth Orchestra seeks to build a community among Baltic nations – including Estonia’s noisy, heavily militarised neighbour. But first, Järvi looks to nature to heal. When his programme included Arvo Pärt’s Swansong, Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela, and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Järvi took the musicians to a rugged coastline for a closer look, wanting them to feel and breathe, rather than read the music. Similarly, he told The Guardian that he doesn’t sing in the shower because he loves the sound of water. His immersive Waterworks concert joins multimedia projections and lighting effects with Handel’s Water Music and Philip Glass’ Aguas de Amazonas.

The Programme

In terms of adventurous programming – particularly by China standards – Järvi leaves it all on the field, opening with Jaques Ibert’s Flute Concerto. The eclectic Ibert seems a natural Järvi match, having stated that ‘all [musical] systems are valid’ and having produced a broad range of choral and chamber works, operas, ballets and incidental music for plays and films – even Orson Welles’ Macbeth. During World War II, the Vichy government banned his music, but Charles de Gaulle soon recalled him from his self-imposed exile in Switzerland. Its technical requirements saw his flute concerto neglected for years, but today, the challenging finale is a Paris Conservatoire exam piece.

Things get more colourful still with Estonian composer Peeter’s Vähi oratorio, In the Mystical Land of Kaydara, a musical interpretation of the West African Fula people’s national epic. The story tells of three friends in the mysterious realm of knowledge and gold, ruled by invisible god Kaydara. Vähi found inspiration while travelling in Africa, and brought back instruments to complement his percussion section, as well as the accompanying video. This concert is perfect for those who want something more than the same old thing.

See full event details below.