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For Järvi, the score is not absolute

Alt-classical ensemble's conductor encourages musician to stray from the composition

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

To Kristjan Järvi, Bach is like water. 'Like water is essential for life on this planet, Bach is essential to musicians,' the Estonian-born conductor says by phone last week from New York.

'(Bach's music) has this harmonic movement that's innate and visceral, this terrific form and structure and rhythmic groove. Bach's basically the creator of groove,' Järvi says,

With 'Absolute Bach Reinvented,' Järvi and his 16-piece alt-classical band Absolute Ensemble riffs on the Baroque master's considerable - and groove-defining - legacy.

Järvi and his Grammy-nominated band will play Friday at UT's Hogg Memorial Auditorium. Pianist Simone Dinnerstein is the featured soloist.

Järvi's boundary-shredding musical MO eschews dumb-downed crossover antics, the typical model used to popularize classical music. If anything, the 37-year-old - whose conducting résumé includes recent guest gigs with the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France and the National Symphony Orchestra, among many others - wants to return classical music back to its origins when a score was considered a little less sacrosanct and musicians and conductors felt empowered to improvise.

'Tradition is good thing, but let's get back to where that tradition actually started,' he says. '(Classical) music was a constantly changing art form originally. Right now (musicians and conductors) are so concerned with just reading parts correctly and creating a pristine sound. When most classical music is played that way, you might as well stay home and listen to CD.'

What makes most classical music concerts ossified and stale, Järvi asserts, is the power imbalance between composer and musician. Return a little musician-based ingenuity to the mix - undo the top-down model where musicians simply follow a score - and the energy explodes exponentially.

Järvi says he thinks of his ensemble more like a rock band. The musicians are free to creatively contribute by either improvising, arranging or composing. Friday's concert features five pieces that riff on Bach's Inventions by members of the band.

Järvi himself claims remarkable a musical pedigree. His father is noted conductor Neeme Järvi. His sister Maarika is a flutist, and his brother Paavo is also a well-regarded conductor. The family emigrated from Estonia when Kristjan was seven.

Piano studies at Manhattan School of Music didn't interfere with Järvi developing a simultaneous affinity for rock, jazz and world music, all of which meld into Absolute Ensemble's repertoire (and have emerged on the group's eight recordings).

Järvi started Absolute Ensemble in 1993, well ahead of the current crest of alt-classical musicians intent on reinvigorating classically based music by making it more accessible and less rigid.

'It's music without borders,' Järvi says of his band's style. 'We're musical omnivores.'

'I want to get back to basics and make something that's beautiful.'; 445-3699

Kristjan Järvi's Absolute Ensemble: `Absolute Bach Reinvented'

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Hogg Memorial Auditorium,

Cost: $34

Info: 477-6060,