Meticulous preparation, galvanising leadership and performances that flow straight from the heart are all central to the art of Andris Nelsons. The Latvian conductor is Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and designated Kapellmeister of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.
Nelsons is set to assume his new Leipzig post in February 2018, crowning a decade during which he has matured into one of classical music’s outstanding leaders. “Every time I’ve seen him conduct – in Boston, Tanglewood, New York, and Bayreuth – he has set off brushfires of intensity,” observed The New Yorker in December 2014. “Nelsons produces full-body impact,” the article continues: “instead of shattering about your ears, the sound engulfs you.”
In addition to critical praise and audience ovations, one of the strongest measures of Nelsons’ success is the speed with which he is able to forge close and productive relationships with experienced orchestral musicians. He established an immediate rapport with the Boston Symphony Orchestra when they first worked together in March 2011, an affinity which strengthened over the following two seasons with performances at the Tanglewood Festival and Boston’s Symphony Hall. Nelsons was subsequently appointed as the BSO’s fifteenth Music Director and launched his tenure at the beginning of the 2014–15 season. After only one year, his contract was extended through the 2021–22 season. He has since led the orchestra on two European tours, one of which took in nine concerts in eight cities in May 2016.
The conductor’s association with the Gewandhausorchester began with an acclaimed debut concert in 2011, and has continued to develop since then with regular guest-conducting dates, including the prestigious Silvesterkonzert performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the end of 2016. His appointment as the next Gewandhauskapellmeister, announced in September 2015, heralds “a pioneering alliance” between the Gewandhausorchester and the Boston Symphony Orchestra that will encompass co-commissions and educational initiatives as well as shared and complementary programming. Nelsons will oversee the cultural exchanges between the two institutions and lead them on frequent transatlantic tours, enabling the BSO players to perform at the Gewandhaus and their German counterparts to appear at Symphony Hall. He sees the new alliance as “a unique opportunity to explore each orchestra’s great music traditions, as well as create exciting and meaningful new experiences for audiences … around the world”.
Andris Nelsons also regularly collaborates with the Wiener Philharmoniker, Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra. He has been a guest artist at the Metropolitan Opera since 2009 and, in December 2016, returned to Covent Garden in London to conduct the Royal Opera House’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier, garnering praise from the Guardian (London) for his ability to inspire “superb orchestral playing” of both “tremendous excitement” and “gossamer fineness”. Forthcoming highlights include performances of Mahler’s Symphony No.3 in Boston with the BSO and Susan Graham in January 2018; a series of concerts with the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig and on tour around Europe next spring; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Wiener Philharmoniker in Vienna in May; and Lohengrin at Covent Garden in June.
In May 2016, the conductor signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, paving the way for three landmark projects with the BSO, Gewandhausorchester and Wiener Philharmoniker:
Nelsons and the BSO are recording the complete Shostakovich symphonies, and the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. The first album – released as part of a Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow series – was a live recording of Symphony No.10, which won the Grammy Award for “Best Orchestral Performance” in February 2016. The album’s successor, issued in May 2016, presented accounts of the Russian composer’s Fifth, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, and in 2017 won the cycle’s second Grammy Award, again in the “Best Orchestral Performance” category. This album, a two-disc set also featuring the Suite from Hamlet, was described by the Sunday Times (London) as “Great performances from a conductor and orchestra at the top of their game”.
Nelsons is also recording the symphonies of Anton Bruckner with the Gewandhausorchester. The series was launched to critical acclaim in May 2017 with the release of the Austrian composer’s Symphony No.3. Gramophone praised Nelsons’ work on this first instalment: “As a Bruckner interpreter, [he] is direct, clear-sighted and spacious, the performance guided with a sure hand and a sense of inevitability but also meticulous in observing tempo and dynamic markings.” The second release in the series is scheduled for release in February 2018 and will pair Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 with the Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin.
Thirdly, the conductor has already embarked on a project to record the complete Beethoven symphony cycle with the Wiener Philharmoniker by 2019. In 2020 he will return to Vienna to perform all nine symphonies live with the orchestra, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Nelsons also has an exclusive audiovisual relationship with Unitel GmbH.
Andris Nelsons was born into a musical family in Riga in November 1978. He studied piano during his childhood and later made swift progress as a trumpeter, performing with the Latvian National Opera Orchestra as a teenager and developing a player’s understanding of the orchestral profession. His early conducting experience was shaped under the supervision of Mariss Jansons, who became his teacher and guide. Nelsons made his conducting debut with the Latvian National Opera at the age of 21 and became the company’s music director two years later.
News of the young conductor’s visionary performances of German and Slavic repertoire in Latvia and as Principal Conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie reached the UK and led to his appointment as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (2008–15). “In seven years Andris Nelsons has gone from zero to hero,” observed The Times (London) at the close of his CBSO tenure. “Along the way Birmingham has enjoyed some sensational music-making.”
Nelsons is now looking forward to his new post in Leipzig. In an interview with the New York Times, he spoke of his appointment as “an extraordinary responsibility, an extraordinary joy and a great honour”, adding that with both his Boston and his Leipzig forces he would strive to fulfil his duties of “keeping up musical quality, nurturing new works, broadening audiences and cultivating the next generation of listeners”.