There’s always a feeling of excitement when one is about to discover a new musical ensemble and a rather unfamiliar repertoire: it promises an evening of discovering previously unknown treasures. As outlined in the programme, the Baltic region is one rarely highlighted as a single cultural entity. United geographically by a vast expanse of water, composers from every Baltic country were here united musically by Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Youth Philharmonic (BYP), presenting works by composers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, and Sweden. Founded in 2008, their ideals are set on uniting these surrounding countries both through the music and through its own musicians. Add to this Kristjan Järvi, deemed one the most astute and innovative conductors today, and you may well have a winning combo. Last time I saw Kristjan Järvi, he was clapping alongside Steve Reich (rhythmically, mind, in Clapping Music – not just in applause). From his part-Estonian descent, here he was now in his element, able to flex his natural musical muscles. Above all, it must be said that any concert depends first and foremost on its programme: one without sense, logic or evolution will make any concert fall flat on its face. Fortunately, this concert was exemplary of an ideal concert programme, both playful and serious at the same time.

Kristjan Järvi © Peter Adamik
Kristjan Järvi
© Peter Adamik

Easing his audience into the Baltic Sea with the familiar, Järvi kicked off with Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus. Full of strength and orchestral balance, there was no hint of this being a “youth” orchestra lacking the maturity of a professional orchestra. Without any score whatsoever throughout the entire concert, Järvi was able to interact directly with the musicians, conducting meticulously and almost playfully drawing the sound from each section of the orchestra with his hands. After Beethoven, Sibelius’s Karelia Suite provided a strong contrast, displaying the orchestra’s sensitivity and emotional maturity. The orchestra then displayed its technical prowess through the Polish composer Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa. In a powerful and exciting work, one that I am happy to have discovered, the orchestra proved yet again that they were not to be underestimated, making short work of Kilar’s virtuosic composition. Then came Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Sången, displaying the programme’s excellent and careful structuring, following hot with cold, energetic with sensual, violent with passionate.

As the concert continued, one thing became clear: Järvi truly is a fascinating conductor, both musically and visually. Not afraid of occasionally looking a little silly, his wild leaps and gestures on the podium gave Nielsen’s Rhapsody Overture and Grieg’s Sigurd Jorsalfar a boost of unbridled energy, at its peak during Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol (Järvi almost looked like a flamenco dancer by this point). With impressive technique, the violin, clarinet, and flute solos were all perfectly executed, with clear motivation throughout the orchestra. Though notably outside of the “Baltic” spirit, the explosive Latin spirit emanating from the orchestra was nonetheless welcome. Like a shopping trolley barrelling down a hill, the breakneck-speed finale brought everyone in the audience to an adrenaline-fuelled high.

Then came the bells.

Arvo Pärt’s harrowing bells that open the Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten brought the audience back down as swiftly as it had risen. With blood still pumping and ears still ringing from the Rimsky-Korsakov, Pärt’s melancholic melodies provided a soothing  interlude before the concert’s final surprises, in the form of Lithuanian composer  Gediminas Gelgotas’s aptly named Never Ignore the Cosmic Ocean. An initially violent work, it nonetheless showed signs of jazz and pop influences, unsurprising considering its composer is only 28. With spontaneous shouting from the orchestra and even a random member of the strings standing up and wandering around on stage, it felt like a West End show rather than a Tuesday night concert in Paris. Final surprise, Imants Kalniņš’s Symphonie n° 4, also known as the "Rock Symphony » (the drum kit made the title very clear), proved once and for all the orchestra’s greatest asset: their youth. Clearly able to navigate their way through Beethoven’s ferocious orchestration, Sibelius’s melodies, Rimsky-Korsakov’s cheek, and Pärt’s intricacy, there is seemingly nothing this versatile orchestra can’t handle. Anyone who judges this orchestra by their age is a fool: the only thing youthful about this orchestra is their spirit and energy. I must admit I myself had my own prejudices regarding a “youth” orchestra and its maturity, or lack thereof: how wrong I was. Järvi makes us laugh whilst never ceasing to impress his audiences, and in the end any doubts as to the concert’s success were quickly dispelled as the audience continued to call Järvi back to the stage for three encores, finishing the concert with a bang. Järvi has raised my expectations to dizzying heights. Until we meet again, Captain Järvi.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to more music from the Baltic…

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