Andris Nelsons tapped as music director for Boston Symphony

May 16, 2013

Andris Nelsons, here conducting the Boston Symphony last July at Tanglewood, has been named the BSO’s 15th music director. Photo: Hilary Scott

In a move that appears to have caught nearly everyone by surprise, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has appointed Andris Nelsons as its 15th music director effective with the 2014-15 season, the orchestra announced Thursday morning. He has been signed to a five-year contract through 2018-19.

“I am deeply honored and touched that the Boston Symphony Orchestra has appointed me its next music director, as it is one of the highest achievements a conductor could hope for in his lifetime,” said Nelsons in a statement released by the BSO. “Each time I have worked with the BSO I have been inspired by how effectively it gets to the heart of the music, always leaving its audience with a great wealth of emotions.  So it is with great joy that I truly look forward to joining this wonderful musical family and getting to know the beautiful city of Boston and the community that so clearly loves its great orchestra.”

Speculation whirled around such popular Boston podium guests in recent seasons as Daniele Gatti, Stephane Deneve and Vladimir Jurowski, with Nelsons not even a dark horse candidate for many observers.

The 35-year-old Latvian conductor is the third youngest musician appointed to the coveted post and the youngest BSO music director in over a century. Clearly, after the numerous medical issues and cancellations that marred the tenure of his predecessor James Levine, youth and a hale constitution clearly didn’t hurt.

In fact, it was a Levine cancellation that led to Nelsons’ first BSO engagament. He made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in March 2011, leading an acclaimed performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall in place of the ailing Levine. Last summer he conducted both the Boston Symphony Orchestra (in Ravel’s La Valse) and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. Nelsons made his Symphony Hall debut with the BSO this past January, leading a program of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with soloist Baiba Skride and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

“He’s just a great conductor,” said Mark Volpe, BSO managing director, in a phone conversation Thursday. “And he really focuses on building a relationship with orchestras on a musical and human level.”

Volpe noted that for being a young conductor, Nelsons has already forged strong bonds with some of the world’s leading ensembles, including the Royal Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic and the City of Birmigham Symphony Orchestra, as well as the BSO.

Also, the recent memory of Levine’s tenure, with the conductor’s many health crises and cancellations, were clearly on the minds of Volpe and those on the search committee. “His energy level and health were certainly considered,” said Volpe.

Nelsons will act as music director designate for the BSO’s 2013-14 season, making his first appearance October 17-19, leading Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 with soloist Paul Lewis. He returns to the BSO podium on March 6, 2014 to lead a performance of Strauss’s Salome. Nelsons will also make an appearance at Tanglewood on July 27, leading the BSO, soloists and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem.

Only two previous BSO music directros were younger than Nelsons when taking the job: Georg Henschel was 31 when he became the orchestra’s first music director in 1881, and Arthur Nikisch was 33 when he opened his first season with the orchestra in 1889.

Nelsons will conduct 8-10 weeks of programs during the BSO’s 2014-15 season and 12 weeks in each subsequent year of the five-year contract. He will also lead several programs each summer at Tanglewood.

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