Andris Nelsons Records Complete Bruckner Cycle with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

Deutsche Grammophon releases the first in a new series of all of Bruckner’s iconic symphonies performed by Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig: The first instalment is Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 paired with Wagner’s Overture to “Tannhäuser”

The symphonies of Anton Bruckner occupy a unique place in the history of the genre. Bridging the classicism of Beethoven and Brahms and the narrative drive of Wagner, Bruckner brought to the symphony a new structural breadth and a personal emotional scope focused on his devout faith. His powerful harmonic language and his fulsome, brass-rich orchestration were much influenced by Wagner and within the vast scale of his works he created spiritual journeys of exceptional intensity.

Andris Nelsons takes over as the Gewandhauskapellmeister in 2017-18, the season marking the orchestra’s 275th anniversary. This is the first installment in their new complete cycle of the Bruckner symphonies. The pairing with extracts from Wagner’s operas continues through the cycle, offering a chance to hear Bruckner alongside the composer closest to his own heart.

In his first recording with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig for Deutsche Grammophon, Nelsons conducts Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3, paired with the Overture to Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser.

Bruckner’s Third Symphony is often nicknamed the “Wagner” Symphony, and includes quotations from his operas. The story goes that Bruckner asked Wagner which of the Symphonies Nos. 2 or 3 he would prefer to be dedicated to him: Wagner chose No. 3. The two composers then enjoyed some beer together, but the next morning Bruckner could not remember which symphony his hero had selected and had to contact him to check that it was the D minor work that opens with a trumpet theme. Thereafter Wagner nicknamed him “Bruckner the trumpet”. Bruckner, by contrast, termed Wagner “the unreachable world-famous noble master of poetry and music”. Unfortunately the symphony’s premiere in 1877 proved the biggest disaster of Bruckner’s career. The orchestra disliked it, Bruckner’s conducting was ridiculed, and much of the audience at Vienna’s Musikverein walked out and the critics tore it to shreds. Bruckner was so upset that he stopped composing for nearly a year. Subsequently he revised the work extensively. Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig have recorded the third and final version, dating from 1889.

Andris Nelsons says: “Bruckner experienced the same existential questions and doubts as all people do – and that makes his music particularly relevant to us today. His faith and inner power are strongly reflected in his music.”

Faith, doubt, selflessness, anguish, compassion and salvation: all these, for Andris Nelsons, are reflected in Bruckner’s symphonies. As he embarks on the Symphony No. 3, he reflects on the unique experience the composer’s vast sonic architecture can offer: conducting a Bruckner symphony can be a journey resembling a pilgrimage. “Bruckner’s music lifts the soul,” he says. “One feels invited to join him, to go on your own life journey and travel together towards higher intentions of great humanity, love and compassion, regardless of one’s religion. Bruckner’s music speaks to everyone. For me personally, Bruckner’s music opens the universe, in ways that not all music does, and I feel it connects my thoughts to God.”

Anton Bruckner’s first appearance at the Gewandhaus was, in fact, as an organist shortly after the inauguration of the New Gewandhaus in 1884. He then witnessed the world premiere of his Symphony No. 7 with the Gewandhausorchester under the direction of Arthur Nikisch. This performance was to afford Bruckner his first resounding success; the recognition as a composer and international fame he subsequently enjoyed were due in no small measure to the success of this premiere in Leipzig. Bruckner’s symphonic oeuvre has played a central role in the Gewandhausorchester’s work ever since.

Wagner has also a strong connection with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig: the composer was born in Leipzig, spent his formative years there and witnessed his works being performed at the Gewandhaus but when he formed an orchestra to perform at a sponsor concert to fund the Bayreuth Festival Theatre, the majority of musicians were from the Gewandhausorchester. “For me,” Nelsons says, “Wagner also has personal significance: Tannhäuser was the first opera I attended as a child in Riga, where Wagner also had lived, and this was a profound, spiritual experience. Tannhäuser not only influenced Bruckner’s Third Symphony, but is also filled with religious questions, symbols and significance.” Therefore this symphony and the Tannhäuser Overture form an organic pairing.

“I am honoured to be embarking on this project with Deutsche Grammophon, and with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig to record the complete cycle of the Bruckner symphonies. This allows music lovers to follow the development of Bruckner’s thinking throughout his life,” says Nelsons.

Paying tribute, Nelsons says “The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig is one of the world’s oldest orchestras, possessing a strong and special historical development with its connections to Bach and its Bruckner tradition. It is one of the best orchestras in the world, yet has such modesty, displaying a great understanding of the immense spirituality within Bruckner’s works.”

Andris Nelsons is an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist. In 2015 he released the first instalment of his Shostakovich cycle, Under Stalin’s Shadow, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. It won a Grammy and a Gramophone Award. In 2017 another Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance was awarded for the second release in their Shostakovich series, with Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 and 9.