Creative freedom, risk-taking and innovation are at the heart of Kristjan Järvi’s work with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic. He is a musician who thrives on pushing boundaries and challenging established ideas about the role of an orchestra. ‘We are building a new orchestral model,’ he says. ‘Too many orchestras today are focused on economic survival, with musicians reduced to factory-like productivity at the expense of creativity. But creativity is absolutely essential for any form of society to thrive, not just survive. As orchestras are microcosms of society, we have to ask ourselves what we are here for. It must be to create, uplift, inspire and innovate. And you cannot have innovation without taking risks.’
Kristjan’s mission to empower both players and audiences has never wavered in nearly ten years as the Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s 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, he founded the Absolute Ensemble, a band that brings together jazz, hip-hop, electroacoustic, classical and other musical styles. This boundary-busting group 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.
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.’
For Kristjan, 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. 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.’