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“Without a spark between [conductor and musicians], there can be … no communication with the audience … You have responsibilities as the Music Director of an orchestra. The musicians are like your family. You need to take care of them.”
Andris Nelsons in an interview with Gramophone, January 2020
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 Gewandhauskapellmeister of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. His contracts with the two orchestras were simultaneously renewed in October 2020: Nelsons will now stay at the BSO until at least the end of the 2024–25 season and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig until at least the end of the 2026–27 season.
His association with the latter orchestra began with an acclaimed debut concert in 2011 and continued to develop thereafter with regular guest-conducting dates, leading to his appointment as the twenty-first Gewandhauskapellmeister in February 2018. During the festival that marked both the orchestra’s 275th anniversary and his own official inauguration, Nelsons conducted eleven concerts, combining core repertoire with three world premieres and giving audiences a taste of the energy and musical diversity he has since continued to bring to the role.
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. Appointed as the BSO’s fifteenth Music Director, Nelsons launched his tenure at the beginning of the 2014–15 season.
His appointment as Gewandhauskapellmeister heralded an alliance between the Leipzig and Boston orchestras, encompassing co-commissions and educational initiatives as well as shared and complementary programming. Nelsons is now overseeing the cultural exchanges between the two institutions and transatlantic tours enabling the BSO players to perform at the Gewandhaus and their German counterparts to appear at Symphony Hall. With the extension of his contracts with both orchestras, the partnership is continuing to grow, with 2022 set to be marked by a particular focus on the orchestral works of Richard Strauss. The conductor is looking forward to the future of the alliance: “The dedicated trust my two musical families have placed in me as their conductor and colleague is truly a gift that I cherish so passionately … Our plans for the future together and individually are full of discoveries for new music and beloved masterpieces, exceptional touring and recording projects and further educational outreach programmes.”
Nelsons has maintained a busy schedule of concerts this autumn with both the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig and the BSO in Boston. Highlights have included the world and American premieres of Jörg Widmann’s Towards Paradise (Labyrinth VI) with soloist Håkan Hardenberger in Leipzig (September) and Boston (November) respectively; the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvili and the BSO (October); and Gubaidulina’s Offertorium with Baiba Skride and the Gewandhausorchester (November). He has also recently given three concerts at the Berlin Philharmonie with Hardenberger and the Berliner Philharmoniker in music by Weinberg and Stravinsky (December).
His forthcoming engagements include performances with Hilary Hahn and the BSO, featuring Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5 and the world premiere of a new work by HK Gruber (January); a series of concerts in Leipzig with the Gewandhausorchester marking the 100th anniversary of the death of Arthur Nikisch (January); and the American premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto No.2 “Scherben der Stille” (Shards of Silence) with Leonidas Kavakos and the BSO (March). A major highlight planned for later in the spring is the Alliance Strauss tour, comprising dates for Nelsons and his two orchestras in London, Vienna, Leipzig, Hamburg and Paris (May).
In May 2016, the conductor signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, paving the way for landmark projects with both the BSO and the Gewandhausorchester.
Nelsons and the BSO are recording the complete Shostakovich symphonies, and the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. The project began in 2015 with a live recording of Symphony No.10. This has now been followed by four more albums, featuring recordings of, respectively, the Fifth, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies and the Suite from Hamlet; the Fourth and Eleventh Symphonies; the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, the Suite from the Incidental Music to King Lear and the Festive Overture; and the Chamber Symphony and Symphonies Nos. 1, 14 and 15. The first, second and third albums in the series were all honoured with Grammy Awards.
Nelsons is also recording the symphonies of Anton Bruckner with the Gewandhausorchester. The series, each of whose recordings juxtaposes Bruckner’s music with an excerpt from a Wagner opera, was launched to critical acclaim in 2017 with the release of the Austrian composer’s Symphony No.3, coupled with the Overture to Tannhäuser. The second album pairs Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 with the Lohengrin Prelude; the third features Symphony No.7 and Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung; the fourth, a double album, comprises Bruckner’s Sixth and Ninth Symphonies together with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and the Prelude to Parsifal; and the fifth, another double album, presents the Second and Eighth Symphonies with the Prelude to Act One from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The latest double album couples Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 with the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and is set to be issued on 11 February 2022.
As part of Deutsche Grammophon’s Beethoven 2020 celebrations, Nelsons joined forces with the Wiener Philharmoniker to record the composer’s complete symphonies. Presented on five CDs and a single Blu-ray Audio disc in TrueHD quality, the new cycle was released in October 2019, with Symphony No.9 released as a standalone album two months later.
He has also recently paid tribute to the composer Sofia Gubaidulina, marking the occasion of her 90th birthday. Nelsons conducted the Gewandhausorchester in the world premiere recordings of three of Gubaidulina’s works: Dialog: Ich und Du (with soloist Vadim Repin), The Wrath of God and The Light of the End. The album was released in October 2021.
As part of his 2022 focus on the music of Richard Strauss, Nelsons has recorded a 7-CD set of the composer’s orchestral works with the BSO and the Gewandhausorchester, as well as soloists Yuja Wang and Yo-Yo Ma. In addition to recording three albums each, the orchestras came together for a joint performance of the Festliches Präludium. This hugely ambitious project will be released on 6 May 2022, in anticipation of their prospective joint European tour in May. It will also be the first Strauss orchestral cycle available in the immersive Dolby Atmos format.
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). Nelsons’ years at the helm of the CBSO established him as the sought-after conductor he is today, and his services to music in the UK were recognised with the award of an honorary OBE, presented to him at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in October 2018.