‘I want to create transformational environments,’ says Kristjan Järvi. This mission is not confined to the concert hall and the way technology and visual art can transform the audience experience. It also extends to his vision of how an orchestra can enrich the lives of its players and embolden them to change the world around them. Kristjan’s ambition to make this a reality with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic has never wavered in nearly ten years as Music Director, yet the entrepreneurial drive and leadership needed to make it happen have been with him far longer.
In 1993, as a 21-year-old graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, Järvi founded the Absolute Ensemble, a band that brings together jazz, hip-hop, electro-acoustic, classical and other musical styles. This boundary-busting group, three members of which are joining the Baltic Sea Philharmonic on its ‘Waterworks’ tour, has created its own distinctive sound. And the band’s evolution has been driven not only by Kristjan’s omnivorous musical tastes, but also by his encouragement of the group’s members to improvise, arrange and compose.
Kristjan Järvi thrives on reshaping the orchestral experience for performers and audiences alike
The collective energy of the Absolute Ensemble carries through to the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, where Kristjan sees himself as part of the orchestra, and not an archetypal leader. ‘I don’t want to lead from outside and say “Follow me,”’ he says. ‘I’m someone who makes music with them, and it just happens to be my job to stand in front of them.’ Though there is no denying his dynamism as a conductor; the New York Times hailed him as ‘a kinetic force on the podium, like Leonard Bernstein reborn’.
For Kristjan, however, everybody in the Baltic Sea Philharmonic has an equal presence and importance. Instilling a feeling of true equality is liberating for the players, he says, and encourages an entrepreneurial spirit, the feeling that anything is possible. ‘I’m not preaching to them, but gently raising their consciousness. They are the ones taking the change to another level,’ he says. ‘The brilliance of music is that it’s not like religion or politics, where you have to tell people what to believe and what to do. Whether as performers or members of the audience, music is something that flips a switch in all of us.’