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What Boston can expect of Andris Nelsons

I was present when the young Latvian gave his first public concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Public concert?

The only previous occasion he had conducted in Birmingham was a closed acoustic test for the refurbished town hall. The CBSO were losing Sakari Oramo that season and several respected contenders had been lined up for audition. Nelsons was not among them.  So excited were the musicians at the acoustic test that several of them texted their chief executive to hire the debutant without delay.


andris nelsons bayreuth

The lightning flash behind closed doors was repeated in an unscheduled Sunday-afternoon concert in November 2007. He gave a dazzling performance of a Tchaikovsky symphony and hung around afterwards for drinks.  At 29, there was a quiet authority to the man. He had been music director of the opera in Riga and conducted his first Ring before heading off to work abroad, mostly in Germany. He knew his priorities and would not be swayed from them. When his first child was about to be born, he took paternity leave - probably the first music director ever to do so. He pulled out of a major tour when his baby daughter fell ill.

What he liked in Birmingham was the lack of fuss – what you see is what you get. His centenary Mahler cycle was, by my estimation, the best in Britain and he has followed with an epochal rediscovery of the Shostakovich symphonies. He’s not finished yet. His rolling contract with the CBSO runs to the end of the 2014/15 season and he may well continue with the orchestra in some capacity.


nelsons shost

Boston is getting a fraction of his time. He will, if I know Andris at all, require the orchestra to rethink many of its routines. Like his teacher Mariss Jansons, he tends to micromanage rehearsals. But he can see the big picture and is insatiably avid for ideas – and good cuisine. Boston will need to up its game on all fronts. When the Met needs a music director, he will be first in line.

You can listen to last summer’s Lebrecht Interview with Andris Nelsons here.

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  1. Thomasina Watson says:

    The Met DOES need a Music Director, and Nelsons should certainly NOT be first in line. Levine’s attempts to juggle both posts do not exactly suggest that it is a good idea… And Nelsons does not yet have sufficient opera experience.

    • Halldor says:

      He’s already been music director of one national opera company and is a regular at the Met, Bayreuth, Vienna and Covent Garden. It’s hard to think of a conductor of his generation who has more top-level operatic experience.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        What’s more, his Bayreuth Lohengrin is excellent. The orchestra fell in love with him immediately, no mean achievement up there. He’ll be staying on the Green Hill for Parsifal in 2016. A first-rate conductor and thoroughly nice man to boot.

      • Thomasina Watson says:

        I’m not quite sure you can compare the Latvian National Opera with the kind of off-podium work that the MD of the Met needs to do…

        • Theodore McGuiver says:

          He left Riga behind him a comparatively long time ago. As for his off-podium work, he’ll charm any number of blue-rinses into parting with their cash, I can assure you…

    • Squirrel says:

      Agree. Some of his Met work was pretty stiff. All of it that I heard was, anyway.

    • Don Drewecki says:

      Thomasina: Nelsons was appointed Musical Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, NOT the MetOpera. Read the article.

      I heard the radio and then TV broadcasts of his performance of “La Valse” at the Tanglewood 75th anniversary gala last summer — it was one of the worst performances of the work I have heard since the tired, sluggish, listless performances of Eugene Ormandy in the 1970s. I know I can’t base a conductor’s work on one bad performance, but the badness of this one sticks out in my mind vividly, and I’m rather afraid of what might happen in Boston in a few years.

      • Thomasina Watson says:

        When did I claim otherwise? I was responding to Norman’s suggestion that Nelsons should be first in line for the Met job, despite having just taken on the Boston job. Read my actual words.

  2. It’s terrific Nelsons is getting to crack a whip in the US, but hold on to your horses! The orchestra worlds are vastly different in the UK & Europe than in the USA. Many other more-than-competent MDs came over expecting to be ‘in charge’ only to find out that is far from reality (N-Jarvi & NJSO comes to mind, most recently). It will be more ‘requesting’ the orchestra rethink many of its routines than ‘requiring’. If he succeeds to get things done his way, then he fully deserves every ounce of respect I can muster! Be prepared for much negotiation and compromise.

    • Nelsons is genuinely modest. It is very hard not to be won over by his authenticity and honest love of what he does. I don’t think he’ll come over expecting to be ‘in charge’. He has far too much respect for the musicians for that. If change is required my experience is that he will achieve it because people respect him and are attracted to his natural energy and passion, rather than because he imposes himself on them.

  3. PK Miller says:

    Let’s give the guy a chance, OK?! The era where an orchestra’s Music Director devotes most of his/her time to the orchestra is over. Everyone is so busy globetrotting…

  4. Thank goodness they didn’t pick a CAMI Director. With how many conductors come out of major schools every year there should be plenty from the crop to pick. We have a strange and idiotic way of choosing music directors – Over 50, preferably over 65.

    LA and Philly are the only in a very long time to pick a young director. I think there are so many better young conductors than old ones.

    Kudos to Aldris

  5. I agree with above. If the Met has a solely focused and dedicated Music Director, who does not share time outside of that commitment, it’s to the Met and the Mets audiences benefit. Not saying that Nelsons isn’t deserving, but lets recognize what’s worked and not worked in recent years with splitting time.

  6. Kris helsen says:

    So much hope the lso can lure him to replace gergiev

    • Sally Funnell says:

      Well that ain’t gonna happen…

    • If ANY Conductor had the choice of working as a MD in Birmingham or London then is they had any musical knowledge at all they would choose Birmingham

      Comparing Birmingham Symphony Hall to either of the two main concert halls in London, is like comparing a Rools Royce to a clapped out Lada.

  7. A recent performance of Bartok Concerto for Orchestra with the NY Phil was very impressive.

  8. Fabio Fabrici says:

    Eight weeks a season is not a real Chief conductor position. It’s only a face on the PR flyers.
    It’s sad the business is run by agents today, not by musicians. And agents make money on the revolving door, not on the musical developments that take time and dedication.

  9. Jenny B says:

    I thought Nelsons would get the Berlin Phil in 2018. They have a great rapport.

    • He seems to have a great rapport w any orchestra. I be seen him playing w
      The concertgebouw – spectacular, in fact look forward
      To his next visit there coming Sunday when he ll conduct the Flying Dutchman w them.

  10. I haven’t been impressed with any of the music making from Dudamel, Harding, Nézet-Séguin or Nelsons.

    I listen to Reiner’s recording of Also sprach Zarathustra, and there’s a certain greatness.

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