Andris Nelsons - Biography
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 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 21st Gewandhauskapellmeister in February 2018. During the four-week festival that marked both the orchestra’s 275th anniversary and his own official inauguration, Nelsons conducted no fewer than eleven concerts, with five different programmes, combining core repertoire with the world premieres of three new works and giving audiences a taste of the energy and musical diversity he has since continued to bring to the role. Reviewing one of two concerts he and the Gewandhausorchester gave at the Royal Festival Hall in October 2018, for example, The Guardian lauded Nelsons for the “power and theatricality” he brought to Mahler’s First Symphony, singling out the final movement for particular praise: “the finale was irresistible, sweeping all before it on a flood of brass tone that never overwhelmed the rest of the orchestral picture”.
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. After only one year, his contract was extended through the 2021–22 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 leading them on transatlantic tours, enabling the BSO players to perform at the Gewandhaus and their German counterparts to appear at Symphony Hall. He has welcomed 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”.
This autumn the Gewandhausorchester travels to Boston for two concerts of its own at Symphony Hall, as well as, for the first time, giving joint performances with the BSO, as part of the third “Leipzig Week in Boston” (October/November). Nelsons and his Leipzig forces begin the 2019-20 season with concerts featuring Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony in Cologne, Essen and Leipzig, following on from a string of acclaimed performances of the work this summer at the BBC Proms and the Rheingau Musik, Lucerne and Salzburg festivals.
Further highlights of Nelsons’ new season with the BSO include concerts with some of today’s leading soloists – including Yuja Wang, Mitsuko Uchida and Daniel Lozakovich – and, in April 2020, performances of Act 3 of Tristan und Isolde with Jonas Kaufmann, both in Boston and at Carnegie Hall, as part of its Great American Orchestras series. Nelsons and the BSO will also undertake their first Asian tour together, with concerts in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Andris Nelsons also regularly collaborates with the Wiener Philharmoniker, Berliner Philharmoniker and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as making guest appearances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In 2020 he will conduct the Wiener Philharmoniker’s prestigious New Year’s Day concert, broadcast to millions worldwide. In the spring he and the orchestra will perform all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies in Paris, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
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 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 the Suite from Hamlet, and in 2017 won the cycle’s second Grammy Award, again in the “Best Orchestral Performance” category. The third release in the Shostakovich edition, comprising the Fourth and Eleventh Symphonies, appeared in July 2018, and made it three in a row at the Grammys, winning not just one but two awards (“Best Orchestral Performance” and “Best Engineered Album, Classical”). The fourth, a double-disc set of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, the Suite from the Incidental Music to King Lear and the Festive Overture was released in February 2019.
Nelsons is also recording the symphonies of Anton Bruckner with the Gewandhausorchester. The series, each of whose recordings pairs one of the symphonies with an excerpt from a Wagner opera, was launched to critical acclaim in May 2017 with the release of the Austrian composer’s Symphony No.3 (coupled with the Overture to Tannhäuser). 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 album in the series, pairing Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 with the Lohengrin Prelude, was issued in February 2018, while the third, featuring Symphony No.7 and Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung, was released two months later. The fourth release, a double album featuring Bruckner’s Sixth and Ninth Symphonies together with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and the Prelude to Parsifal, was issued in May 2019.
As part of Deutsche Grammophon’s Beethoven 2020 celebrations, Nelsons has 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 will be released on 4 October 2019.
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 recently recognised with the award of an honorary OBE, which was presented to him at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in October 2018.