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‘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

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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.’


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Emirati singer Jasim Mohamed Abdullah joins the Baltic Sea Philharmonic for its concert at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Making his debut with the orchestra, he will perform the traditional song ‘Sayyidi ya sayyed saddati’.

Jasim Mohamed Abdullah is the Director of the Music Center at the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development. He studied at the Higher Institute of Musical Arts in Kuwait, and did his masters in Jordan. He has more than 20 years’ experience in singing and composition, and represents the UAE in the Arab Music Society. He performs a range of special songs, and holds many national- level posts both in and outside the UAE.

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Mikhail Simonyan’s career has taken some exciting turns since 2011, when he last toured with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, or the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic as it was then. As well as performing concertos with leading orchestras around the world, he has created and led a youth orchestra in Russia, and become president of a new international cultural and educational foundation. For an artist still in his early thirties, such entrepreneurial credentials say a lot about his character and charisma. ‘Some musicians are happy just playing in an orchestra, or travelling the globe as soloists,’ he says, ‘but if you want to create your own team, and build an army of great people around you, you just have to go ahead and do it.’

Mikhail shares a natural talent for leadership with Kristjan Järvi, one of his closest friends and collaborators. The two have worked together often since meeting in 1999, notably partnering for the violinist’s 2011 Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Khachaturian and Barber concertos. ‘Kristjan is like no other conductor,’ says Mikhail. ‘There is a freedom about his way of making music that I love. The whole process of rehearsing and performing is so alive with him.’

Violinist Mikhail Simonyan combines life as an international soloist with a talent for spearheading cultural and social projects

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The violinist finds a special freedom too in Glass’s Violin Concerto No.2. The music’s repetition of themes and phrases offers huge opportunities to create a singular interpretation, he says, but that same freedom makes the piece challenging: ‘In a way it makes your soul quite naked, because people can judge what kind of person you are by how you shape the music and play the phrases.’

As he reunites with Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Mikhail is acutely conscious that the orchestra’s message of unity and international cooperation remains a vital one: ‘Political bridges have been burned across the Baltic region, but we will always be neighbours. The cultural bond between our countries can never be broken, and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic is making that bond stronger.’ The healing power of music is something Mikhail has seen first-hand, when he set up a project to support the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in battle-scarred Kabul. He would like to see more young musicians taking up social, educational and charitable initiatives. ‘These kinds of projects are far more important than signing a record deal or working for a big agency,’ he says. ‘You’re investing your talent, time and passion to reach a much broader range of society, an audience that will never judge you for what you’re doing, but will love you for doing it.’


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Violinist Mikhail Simonyan’s career has taken some exciting turns since 2011, when he last toured with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, or the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic as it was then. As well as performing concertos with leading orchestras around the world, he has created and led a youth orchestra in Kaluga, Russia, and become president of the Moscow-based cultural and educational foundation Open Sea. For an artist still in his early thirties, such entrepreneurial credentials say a lot about his character and charisma.

 

Mikhail shares a natural talent for leadership with Kristjan Järvi, one of his closest friends and collaborators. The two have worked together often since meeting in 1999, notably partnering for the violinist’s 2011 Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Khachaturian and Barber concertos. ‘Kristjan is like no other conductor,’ says Mikhail. ‘There is a freedom about his way of making music that I love. The whole process of rehearsing and performing is so alive with him.’

 

The violinist finds a special freedom too in Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2. The music’s repetition of themes and phrases offers huge opportunities to create a singular interpretation, he says, but that same freedom makes the piece challenging: ‘In a way it makes your soul quite naked, because people can judge what kind of person you are by how you shape the music and play the phrases.’


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