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.
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.
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.