The Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich have announced that they have appointed Paavo Järvi as their new Chief Conductor and Artistic Director as from the start of the 2019/2020 season.
Järvi replaces the outgoing Lionel Bringuier. Next January Järvi brings his Estonian Festival Orchestra to Zurich; he is not however scheduled to conduct the Tonhalle Orchestra next season, but in the season 2018/2019 he is expected to be in Zurich for three weeks.
There was only one question at the hastily convened press conference, at which the contract was actually signed. It came from one of the music critics at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Peter Hagmann. He asked what percentage of time Järvi would commit to the Tonhalle and whether he would come to live in the city, given all his other musical commitments. Järvi is Chief Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, Founder of the Parnu Music Festival in Estonia (his country of origin), Principal of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and a regular guest conductor with the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Philharmonia in London and the Dresdner Staatskapelle. He has committed to devote 9 weeks to the Tonhalle in his first season, and 14 weeks thereafter, which apparently is par for the course. Järvi said the question was a good one, but was then non-committal, promising simply to give “everything he has” to the orchestra. These are days when there are not many top-flight Big Name conductors around and they can afford to spread their favours thinly.
Zurich music-lovers can however now look forward to a musical diet that should include Bruckner, Shostakovich, Nielsen and Sibelius, all composers who were neglected under the reigns of David Zinman and Lionel Bringuier.
Järvi told the gathering that he cannot wait to make music together with the orchestra. He last conducted them in a performance which included Schumann’s Third Symphony, which was a highlight for him, and he thought, as he left the stage, how good it would be if he could return on a more permanent basis. Järvi commented that he is not, of course, new to the musical scene and has been watching the comings and goings on the musical chairs for some while; he has always kept an eye on the Tonhalle and jumped at the chance of the top job. Ilona Schmiel, the Intendantin of the Orchestra, whom Järvi has known well for some time and whom he described as both dynamic and talented, told us that there were originally 70 names on the list of possible contenders, but it was soon whittled down – with the assistance of some senior members of the orchestra (this is not the Berlin Philharmonic where all players have a say and actually take the decision) and with someone from the London Symphony Orchestra management – to a second round of candidates, and then – surprisingly quickly – they were left with just one.
Järvi, who has immense charm and charisma, speaking in Baltic-intoned English, told us that there are great orchestras with miserable concert halls, miserable orchestras with great halls; but the Tonhalle is fortunate to be a great hall and a great orchestra. Now it has a great Chief Conductor to boot.