The Substitute

Neeme Järvi has no title with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and never has. But if anyone were deserving of an honorific, it’s this conductor. Something like Substitute In Chief would do.

Järvi, 71, is stepping in for an ailing Emmanuel Krivine at the orchestra this week. It is the fifth time Järvi has taken over at the orchestra’s podium while apparently feeling healthy and able when others were not.

In fact, Järvi has appeared here slight more as a substitute than as an originally scheduled conductor, five times to four respectively.

Maybe he takes some comfort in his chummy rapport with the orchestra, and perhaps also in knowing that he has replaced only the best in the business: Riccardo Muti, Riccardo Chailly and Yuri Temirkanov, among them.

An additional appearance in 1996, though, was neither as a substitute nor as the originally scheduled conductor, since no one really saw that concert coming at all. Järvi led musicians in a strike concert for that program, and technically speaking, he was working for players.

Maybe his substitute-ness was in the cards.

This is how his bio read in the program for his first Philadelphia Orchestra appearance in 1980 – his first with any U.S. orchestra: “Neeme Järvi was one of the last artists to receive permission to leave the Soviet Union before the recent freeze on cultural exchanges. He has departed permanently and plans to settle in the West. He arrived in the United States in late January and, paradoxically, was called upon to fill the Philadelphia Orchestra engagements originally scheduled for Yevgeny Svetlanov whose appearances in this country were cancelled by the Soviet government.”

His concerts with the orchestra are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

(Thanks to Philadelphia Orchestra associate communications director Darrin T. Britting for the research.)