in: News & Features

May 16, 2013

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA APPOINTS ANDRIS NELSONS AS ITS 15TH MUSIC DIRECTOR

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Andris Nelson (Marco Borggreve photo)

Andris Nelsons (Marco Borggreve photo)

According to the BSO’s press release, Andris Nelsons has been appointed the 15TH Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since its founding in 1881. BMInt will follow with a feature article presently.

The announcement was made today by Chairman of the BSO Board of Trustees Ted Kelly, BSO Board of Trustees Vice Chairs Stephen B. Kay and Robert O’Block, and BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe, following a meeting of the orchestra’s Board of Trustees earlier in the day at Symphony Hall. At 34 years old, Andris Nelsons is the youngest music director to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in over 100 years; he is also the first Latvian-born conductor to take on the post.

“It is absolutely thrilling for us to announce the appointment of Andris Nelsons as the next Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director,” said Ted Kelly.

“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 Andris Nelsons. “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. As I consider my future with the Boston Symphony, I imagine us working closely together to bring the deepest passion and love that we all share for music to ever greater numbers of music fans in Boston, at Tanglewood, and throughout the world.”

Andris Nelsons Mr. Nelson’s will make his first visit to Boston since being appointed the next Ray and Maria Stata Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in late June, with an exact date and further information about the visit to be announced in a few weeks. Prior to his Boston visit in June, Mr. Nelsons will guest conduct Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra, Munich’s Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, as well as lead concerts with his City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in Birmingham and on tour in seven cities in Germany, Belgium, and France.

The BSO press release continues:

Maestro Nelsons will act as BSO Music Director Designate for the BSO’s 2013-14 season, making his first appearance in that official capacity October 17-19, leading Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, with soloist Paul Lewis, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 3; he returns to the BSO podium on March 6, 2014 to lead a performance of Strauss’s Salome. Prior to his Symphony Hall engagements as BSO Music Director Designate next fall and winter, Mr. Nelsons will make an appearance at Tanglewood on July 27, leading the BSO, a quartet of internationally acclaimed singers, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a performance of Verdi’s monumental Requiem. Mr. Nelsons succeeds James Levine, who was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2011. Mr. Nelsons is the third youngest conductor to be appointed BSO music director since the orchestra’s founding in 1881: 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.

“All of us at the BSO are incredibly proud to be part of this landmark moment in the BSO’s 132-year history, as we announce the appointment of Andris Nelsons as the next Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra,” said Mark Volpe. “With the appointment of such legendary leaders as Serge Koussevitzky, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa, and James Levine, the BSO has always drawn the world’s top conductors to lead its orchestra and inspire its audiences. We believe that Andris Nelsons will further the BSO’s proud standing as one of the world’s greatest orchestras and bring his singular musical gifts to the orchestra and its countless fans in Boston, across the nation, and around the globe.”

“I am thrilled that Andris Nelsons is being appointed as our new Music Director,” said BSO Concertmaster Malcolm Lowe. “On behalf of the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I want to express our excitement and anticipation of working closely with Andris Nelsons to bring great music and performances to our audiences in Boston and around the world. Maestro Nelsons has an acute awareness and appreciation of the tremendous legacy of the Boston Symphony and he is passionately intent on expanding, focusing, and energizing our future. It is clear that the joy and love of music is at the heart of Maestro Nelsons’ music making. His musical center, knowledge, and artistically searching human spirit, along with his youthful exuberance, will inspire that future. I think the appointment of Maestro Nelsons will be a great celebration of music.”

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA MUSIC DIRECTOR SEARCH COMMITTEE
The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director Search Committee is made up of members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, BSO Board of Trustees, and management leadership team.  The committee is co-chaired by BSO Board of Trustees Vice Chairs Stephen B. Kay and Robert O’Block, with other trustee members including Ted Kelly (BSO Chairman of the Board) and Paul Buttenwieser and Joyce Linde (trustees).  Other members of the committee include orchestra members Edward Gazouleas (viola), Jason Horowitz (violin), Malcolm Lowe (concertmaster), Robert Sheena (English horn), and James Sommerville (principal horn); and management staff members Mark Volpe (BSO Managing Director) and Anthony Fogg (BSO Artistic Administrator).

Andris Nelsons Bio
Andris Nelsons is one of the most sought-after conductors on the international scene today, earning distinction on both the opera and concert podiums, including those of the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Opera. He is also a regular podium presence at the Bayreuth Festival. Mr. Nelsons’ tenure since 2008 as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) has earned critical acclaim. Born in Riga in 1978 into a family of musicians, Mr. Nelsons began his career as a trumpeter in the Latvian National Opera Orchestra before studying conducting.  He is married to the soprano Kristine Opolais, who recently received wide acclaim in her Metropolitan Opera debut as Magda in Puccini’s “La Rondine.” They live in Riga with their 17-month old daughter Adriana.

Andris Nelsons made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in March 2011, leading Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall in place of James Levine. Last summer he conducted both the Boston Symphony Orchestra (in Ravel’s La Valse) and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra (in Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy with Anne-Sophie Mutter) as part of Tanglewood’s gala 75th-anniversary concert, following that the next day with a BSO concert pairing Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Brahms’s Symphony No. 2. Mr. 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.

Nelsons’ Future with the BSO
Andris Nelsons will take on the title of BSO Music Director in the 2014-15 season for an initial five year commitment, leading 8-10 weeks of programs during the BSO’s 2014-15 subscription season in Symphony Hall in Boston; he will lead 12 weeks of programs each subsequent year of the five-year contract. Mr. Nelsons will also lead several programs each season at Tanglewood, the orchestra’s summer music festival in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts.  Maestro Nelsons will act as BSO Music Director Designate for the BSO’s 2013-14 season, making his first appearance in that official capacity October 17-19, leading Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, with soloist Paul Lewis, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 3; he returns to the BSO podium on March 6, 2014 to lead a performance of Strauss’s Salome. Prior to his Symphony Hall engagements as BSO Music Director Designate next fall and winter, Mr. Nelsons will make an appearance at Tanglewood on July 27, leading the BSO, a quartet of internationally acclaimed singers, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a performance of Verdi’s monumental Requiem. Mr. Nelsons succeeds James Levine, who was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2011. Mr. Nelsons is the third youngest conductor to be appointed BSO music director since the orchestra’s founding in 1881: 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.

With the CBSO Mr Nelsons is undertaking major tours worldwide, including regular appearances at such summer festivals as the Lucerne Festival, BBC Proms and Berliner Festspiele. Together they have toured the major European concert halls, including the Musikverein, Vienna, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Gasteig, Munich and the Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid. Nelsons made his debut in Japan on tour with Wiener Philharmoniker and returns to tour the Far East with the CBSO in November 2013.

Nelsons and the CBSO are working towards releasing all orchestral works of Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss for Orfeo International. The first Strauss disc, featuring Ein Heldenleben, garnered critical praise. Further releases include works of Stravinsky and Shostakovich. The majority of Mr. Nelsons’ recordings have been recognized with a Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik; in October 2011 he received the prestigious ECHO Klassik of the German Phono Academy in the category “Conductor of the Year” for his 2010 recording with the CBSO of Stravinsky’s Firebird and Symphony of Psalms. For audiovisual recordings, he has an exclusive agreement with Unitel GmbH, the most recent release is a disc of Britten’s War Requiem with the CBSO, released on DVD and Blu-ray.

Prior to his position as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Nelsons served as principal conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Herford, Germany, from 2006 to 2009, and was music director of the Latvian National Opera from 2003 to 2007.

A Brief History of the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Now in its 132nd season, the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave its inaugural concert in 1881, realizing the dream of its founder, the Civil War veteran and noted American businessman and philanthropist Henry Lee Higginson, who envisioned a great and permanent orchestra in his hometown of Boston. Today the BSO reaches millions of listeners, not only through its concert performances in Boston and at Tanglewood, the orchestra’s summer home, but also via the internet, radio, television, educational programs, recordings, and tour performances at concert halls and summer festivals throughout the country and around the world.  The BSO commissions works from today’s most important composers; its summer season at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts is among the world’s most important music festivals; it helps develop future audiences through BSO Youth Concerts and educational outreach programs involving the Boston community; and, during the Tanglewood season, it operates the Tanglewood Music Center, one of the world’s most important training grounds for young professional-caliber musicians. In addition, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, which celebrates its 50th anniversary during the 2013-14 season, is recognized internationally as one of the world’s most distinguished chamber music ensembles sponsored by a major symphony orchestra and made up of principal players from that orchestra.

The Boston Pops Orchestra, established in 1885, sets an international standard for performances of lighter music. In 1929 free outdoor concerts on the Charles River Esplanade were inaugurated by Arthur Fiedler, a member of the orchestra since 1915, who in 1930 became the eighteenth conductor of the Boston Pops. Fiedler was Pops conductor for half a century, being followed by John Williams in 1980 and Keith Lockhart in 1995.  The Boston Pops’ annual July 4 concert on the Charles River Esplanade draws a crowd of close to 500,000 each year and celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2013; it  has been televised both locally and nationally over the course of the event’s recent history.

Launched in 1996, the Boston Symphony Orchestra website, bso.org, is the largest and most-visited orchestral website in the United States, receiving approximately 7 million visitors annually on its full site as well as its smart phone-/mobile device-friendly web format. In addition, the BSO is on Facebook and Twitter, and video content from the BSO is available on YouTube. The BSO’s website offers not only comprehensive access to all BSO, Boston Pops, Tanglewood, and Symphony Hall performance schedules, but also a Media Center providing access to radio broadcast streams of select BSO, Boston Pops, and Tanglewood concerts; audio concert preview podcasts; complete program notes for all BSO and Tanglewood performances; interviews with guest artists and BSO musicians; and excerpts of music highlighting upcoming programs.  The Media Center also offers visitors the opportunity to purchase and download—from its own music label, BSO Classics—self-produced albums featuring the BSO, Boston Pops, Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center, as well as historic broadcast performances from both Symphony Hall and Tanglewood. From online master classes with Tanglewood Music Center Fellows, to specially designed webcast series with such renowned composers as John Harbison and Elliott Carter, to a special section devoted to games for young children, the BSO’s website offers visitors a great variety of online programs to appeal to a wide spectrum of interest levels.    

An expansion of the BSO’s educational activities has also played a key role in strengthening the orchestra’s commitment to, and presence within, its surrounding communities. Through its Education and Community Engagement programs, the Boston Symphony Orchestra provides individuals of all backgrounds the opportunity to develop and build relationships with the BSO and orchestral music. Among these offerings are BSO Youth Concerts at Symphony Hall; Family Concerts at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood; master classes, mentorship programs, classroom opportunities, and conducting and performance workshops for schools and educators; Open Rehearsals for high school students; Education Resource Centers in Boston and the Berkshires; and community-wide chamber music concerts performed by BSO musicians.  In addition, the BSO offers its patrons many free educational programs associated with its concert series at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, where there are also special programs designed for the BSO’s young audience members, who are perhaps visiting the orchestra’s summer home for the first time.  In addition to a wide variety of educational programs, the BSO also offers an impressive number of ticket programs designed to make attending a BSO concert in Boston or at Tanglewood especially appealing to high school and college students as well as young professionals.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s endowment of $413 million (March 31, 2013) is the largest endowment of any orchestra in the world; with an operating budget of $84 million, the BSO also has one of the largest operating budgets. Through its worldwide activities and more than 250 concerts annually, the Boston Symphony Orchestra continues to fulfill and expand upon the vision of its founder Henry Lee Higginson, while also remaining keenly aware of the possibilities offered by modern innovations in the realms of media, technology, and education.

The BSO gave its inaugural concert on October 22, 1881, under Georg Henschel, who remained as conductor until 1884. For nearly twenty years, Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts were held in the old Boston Music Hall; Symphony Hall, one of the world’s most revered concert halls, opened on October 15, 1900. Henschel was succeeded by the German-born and -trained conductors Wilhelm Gericke, Arthur Nikisch, Emil Paur, and Max Fiedler, culminating in the appointment of the legendary Karl Muck, who served two tenures, 1906-08 and 1912-18. In 1915 the orchestra made its first transcontinental trip, playing thirteen concerts at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Henri Rabaud, engaged as conductor in 1918, was succeeded a year later by Pierre Monteux. These appointments marked the beginning of a French tradition maintained, even during the Russian-born Serge Koussevitzky’s tenure (1924-49), with the employment of many French-trained musicians.

Andris Nelson at Tanglewood (Stu Rosner photo)

Andris Nelsons at Tanglewood (Stu Rosner photo)

It was in 1936 that Koussevitzky led the orchestra’s first concerts in the Berkshires; he and the players took up annual summer residence at Tanglewood a year later. Koussevitzky passionately shared Major Higginson’s dream of “a good honest school for musicians,” and in 1940 that dream was realized with the founding of the Berkshire Music Center (now called the Tanglewood Music Center).  Koussevitzky was succeeded in 1949 by Charles Munch, who continued supporting contemporary composers, introduced much French music to the repertoire, and led the BSO on its first international tours. In 1956, the BSO, under the direction of Charles Munch, was the first American orchestra to tour the Soviet Union. Erich Leinsdorf began his term as music director in 1962, to be followed in 1969 by William Steinberg. Seiji Ozawa became the BSO’s thirteenth music director in 1973. His historic twenty-nine-year tenure extended until 2002, when he was named Music Director Laureate. In 1979, the BSO, under the direction of Seiji Ozawa, was the first American orchestra to tour mainland China after the normalization of relations.

Bernard Haitink, named Principal Guest Conductor in 1995 and Conductor Emeritus in 2004, has led the BSO in Boston, New York, at Tanglewood, and on tour in Europe, as well as recording with the orchestra.  The late Sir Colin Davis, from 1972 to 1984, and Michael Tilson Thomas, from 1972 to 1974, have also held the title of Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The first American-born conductor to hold the position, James Levine was the BSO’s music director from 2004 to 2011. Levine led the orchestra in wide-ranging programs that included works newly commissioned for the orchestra’s 125th anniversary, particularly from significant American composers; issued a number of live concert performances on the orchestra’s own label, BSO Classics; taught at the Tanglewood Music Center; and insummer 2007 led the BSO in an acclaimed tour of European music festivals.

Today, the Boston Symphony Orchestra continues to fulfill and expand upon the vision of its founder Henry Lee Higginson, not only through its concert performances, educational offerings, and internet presence, but also through its expanding use of virtual and electronic media in a manner that reflects the BSO’s continuing awareness of today’s modern, ever-changing, 21st-century world.

23 Comments

  1. Congratulations to the BSO on a truly inspired choice! I heard the Nelsons Shostakovich/Tchaikovsky concert this past January, and hands-down it was the best BSO concert I heard all season. The orchestra truly made music with Nelsons, and the concert was electric. While this is admittedly a small sample, Nelsons’ reviews over the last many years were completely consistent with what I heard in January. While only time will tell, it seems to me that Nelsons has a giant upside for sure. This could be a great partnership!

    Congratulations to Mark Volpe and the entire search committee for a job well done!

    Comment by Mogulmeister — May 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm

  2. “Andris Nelsons is … the first Latvian-born conductor to take on the post.”

    Either the BSO press office has a knack for belaboring the obvious or a previously undetected sense of humor. Or perhaps their list of “fun facts about Andris Nelsons” wasn’t very long?

    Comment by James Schmidt — May 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm

  3. I remember hearing (on the radio) and later seeing (on TV) his performance at T’wood’s 75th Birthday Gala last year, of Ravel’s La Valse. It was one of the slowest, most pulled-about and distended performances of that work I have ever heard. Awful.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — May 16, 2013 at 1:29 pm

  4. I never thought that the BSO Trustees would be so forward looking as to appoint Nelsons. After all, they did NOT appoint Bernstein or Thomas when they had the chance, though it was a different era. The conditions of appointment I heard about, that he make a residence in Boston, conduct at least 12 concert series per year, and play a role at Tanglewood all seem to have been met. The orchestra members of the BSO must have played no small part in the selections. So much for the Globe, which touted Dutoit in a recent article! I heard him in a concert a year ago and thought he had captured the orchestra’s heart. Bravo Nelsons!

    Bob B

    Comment by Robert Blacklow — May 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm

  5. \\ “Andris Nelsons is … the first Latvian-born conductor to take on the post.”
    >> previously undetected sense of humor

    Spotlight on Latvia! :) Does anyone remember that WCRB show (from outside, I believe) from ~40 years ago ?

    Comment by David Moran — May 16, 2013 at 2:30 pm

  6. I hope that BSO’s first Latvian-born conductor winds up leading the Boston premieres of a few works by his fellow Latvian Pēteris Vasks (his Violin Concerto “Distant Light” might be a good ice-breaker).

    Comment by James Schmidt — May 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm

  7. Did this particular detail catch anybody’s eye? Andris Nelsons studied at Dartington with that wonderful early-music singer Evelyn Tubb.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gyQWW_OC_4

    Comment by Richard Buell — May 16, 2013 at 11:41 pm

  8. As of Friday morning, a little after midnight, the news isn’t even on the Boston Globe web page. OK, maybe the BSO (finally) appointing a conductor is not as important as “Dzhokhar owned up to bombing in note” (the top story), but it’s also trumped by “Candice wins the title on ‘American Idol'”, “Celtics: Doc Rivers will be back to coach”, “Woman tried to parlay accident into plastic surgery” “Newbury St. tattoo removal salon opens” and “Waltham sports bar changes owners”. Very sad.

    Comment by Skripach — May 17, 2013 at 12:08 am

  9. I heard his Tchaikovsky 5, one of the better BSO performances.

    Comment by Thorsten — May 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

  10. Anyone can make a typo, but an apostrophe in the man’s name is a bit much!

    Comment by Vito — May 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

  11. I hope the Nelsons era will lead to a revivification of BSO Classics– I’d love the chance to purchase SACDs of BSO performances. Presumably Nelsons’ relationship with Orfeo won’t keep him from making recordings with the BSO.

    I actually remember Spotlight on Latvia…. And bring on Peteris Vasks.

    Comment by SteelyTom — May 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm

  12. Skripach: “As of Friday morning, a little after midnight, the news isn’t even on the Boston Globe web page.”

    It was front page news most of Thursday, Skripach – both at boston.com and the Globe’s subscription website. At this moment it is still featured prominently on both sites’ Arts pages as well. It was also Item #1 on WBUR’s local news during All Things Considered yesterday afternoon…ahead of Dzhokhar, Candice, and Doc Rivers. I think the town’s pretty excited.

    Having heard Nelsons conduct the greatest Tchaikovsky 5th I’ve ever heard, I am too. Not so much for Tchaikovsky, actually, but for other composers Nelsons claims a particular affinity for: Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Bruckner, Bartók, and an assortment of contemporaries.

    I’m also excited that Nelsons plans to be very involved in shaping the orchestra he’ll be leading. Unlike James Levine, who rarely attended them, Nelsons is looking forward to auditions. Yes!

    Comment by nimitta — May 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  13. >> Nelsons is looking forward to auditions. Yes!

    Not clear that’s necessarily superior; rightly or wrongly, Levine did have his reasons (Edgers, Globe):

    [Levine firmly believes] the audition doesn’t tell the whole story. Levine has a built-in safety valve: a probationary period for new hires that can last up to two years. After hearing how the player melds with the symphony, the Audition Committee can grant or deny tenure. But if the players are at a stalemate, Levine can make the call. It’s hard to know, he says, whether the player is right for the job until he or she has had a chance to work as a member of the orchestra. And when Levine explains his approach, it is not just a theory. He has been called one of the world’s great orchestra builders during his time at the Met. “So much has to do with what they do instinctively, what they do perfectly without having to rehearse it, how they interact with colleagues,” says Levine, “whether what they give keeps getting bigger and bigger in the orchestra or whether they shrink somehow. My message is the audition isn’t everything.”

    Comment by David Moran — May 17, 2013 at 8:07 pm

  14. Speaking of James Levine, I earnestly hope that now that a new music director has been named the BSO will finally give Maestro Levine the deserved and long overdue title of Music Director Emeritus which, inexplicably, was not given immediately upon his retirement.

    It has always seemed to me that his service to the BSO was the occasion of the compounding of any preexisitng health problems he had. Specifically, his tripping and falling on the irregular surface of the Symphony Hall stage was the beginning of the end of his ability to maintain his conducting activities at the anticipated level. If the hall had been properly maintained, history could have been very different. And in my opinion, for the BSO to withhold recognition of his service after he basically sacrificed his career in service to the BSO, merely because the results of his injury led to his inability to continue, (and I can’t imagine any other pretext) has been incredibly petty and churlish.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — May 18, 2013 at 1:49 am

  15. David, your comment about Levine’s philosophy on auditions is illuminating. I didn’t know that, and it’s interesting. It makes sense.

    Joe, I hardly think you can blame the BSO for Levine’s tripping and falling. That said, all things being equal, there’s no harm in giving Levine a title. However, reading between the lines, it does seem like there was some bad blood between BSO management and Levine. I can only speculate, but I suspect they felt slighted by Levine’s unwillingness to focus more on the BSO job, and felt that notwithstanding whatever assurances he had provided prior to accepting, that he wasn’t living up to his end of the deal in non-artistic matters. Maybe even in artistic matters too. Who knows?

    Personally, I have extremely mixed feelings about the Levine era. I acknowledge that he definitely improved the BSO’s playing during his tenure, night-in and night-out, and that carried over to other conductors also. Hands down, the BSO is playing like a much finer ensemble at the end of Levine’s tenure than they were when he started. These days, they are playing better than I’ve ever heard them in my decades of concert-going.

    That said, and I know a lot of people here will take issue with this, but I believe that when it comes to the symphonic literature, Levine is not a first-rate interpreter. I rarely found myself convinced by any repertory work that Levine conducted, and heard some pretty awful interpretations that still stick in my head (Beethoven 7, Schubert 9, Brahms 1, among others). That said, I thought his performance of Der Fliegende Hollander was wonderful (the best Levine performance I heard), as was Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle (ironically, his very last performance). Levine’s strength is opera, but unfortunately, to my ears, it doesn’t carry over to symphonic works. And I will say nothing of his obsession with atonal music–there’s nothing nice I can say about it, so I won’t. I don’t care how many times I hear any of it (and I hope to never hear any of it ever again), it’s little more to my ears than intellectual masturbation. It’s not music as I understand music to be.

    So on the whole, while I respect Levine’s achievements with the BSO, I personally don’t have fond memories of Levine the conductor/interpreter. But I greatly respect Levine the orchestra-builder. And I wish him well.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — May 18, 2013 at 7:21 am

  16. David, thanks for your enlightening comment. Do you have any reason to believe, though, that Andris Nelsons wouldn’t be similarly engaged post-audition? And Maestro Levine’s comments hardly explain why he didn’t attend auditions. After all, while it is true that “the audition isn’t everything”, it most definitely is something.

    Joe, as one now retired from a career in medicine I don’t think the stage floor was the problem. I’d agree, though, that his fall was the beginning of the end.

    Mogulmeister, let me gently take issue with your interesting comment. In Levine I heard a first-rate interpreter of Brahms who was able to find transparency in that composer’s often thick textures. I recall an exceptional Brahms 2 & 3, as well as a transcendent 2nd piano concerto with Kissin (PC 1 was also pretty wonderful). My Levine highlight reel also includes the program that paired Le Sacre de Printemps with Bartók’s Music For String Instruments, Percussion, and Celesta – wow!

    Comment by nimitta — May 18, 2013 at 8:36 am

  17. Typo alert: Le Sacre du printemps

    Comment by nimitta — May 18, 2013 at 8:39 am

  18. Hi Nimitta,

    I’m glad you were able to enjoy Levine’s Brahms. For all that I heard, I didn’t care for any of it (although I did not hear the piano concertos or Symphonies 2 or 4). I thought his Brahms 1 was a missed opportunity, I did not think highly of his performance of the German Requiem (and Christoph Dohnanyi’s performance of the same work I believe two years later was quite an interesting contrast–a performance that had no emotional resonance (Levine) vs. one that did (Dohnanyi)), and I vaguely remember hearing the Brahms 3 and thinking, “not bad, better than a lot of Levine’s other stuff I’ve heard, but not a standout performance either”–it was basically forgettable, and sure enough I had forgotten it until you brought it up. I’m glad you liked his Brahms more than I did.

    Let me tell you specifically why I didn’t like Levine in the standard repertory. Now mind you, I had no opinion of him at all before he came to the BSO, but all it took was a few concerts to make me appreciate his deficiencies. I can boil it down to one brief description I’ve used to explain Levine’s shortcomings as an interpreter: “King of the phrase.” Levine makes wonderful phrases. He’s so technically gifted he can do it all. Some are quiet, some are loud, some go from loud to soft, some go from soft to loud. Some are slow, others are fast, some change tempos. But what I did not hear in a Levine performance is the line that connects all these really well-done phrases into coherent interpretations. It just all seemed to be very alive pieces of puzzle that never connected and came together. But there’s something more than that, and my partner came up with it.

    My partner, who is a physician (and who after three seasons refused to attend any more Levine performances), heard something even more specific, and I think he’s onto something. He said to me, “Levine’s performances come across like he’s on SSRIs.” SSRIs, for laymen, are the standard of care antidepressants. The way SSRIs work is that they level everything out. They keep the lows from getting low, and they keep the highs from being very high. They try and make it so your brain is always at an even baseline.

    The fact is, I don’t think I ever heard genuine, emotional engagement in a Levine performance. I never heard any extreme *anything* and I definitely heard very little that seemed to be truly connected to the emotions of the situation (rather than going through the motions of emotion, which I heard a lot of). Yes, Levine could be loud, or soft, or fast, or slow–he’s a master technician–but the emotional content seemed fairly disengaged underneath whatever surface effect he had achieved. That’s exactly what was wrong with the Brahms 1 I mentioned above, while it had all the dynamic and tempo responses built in, but it just felt flat emotionally. As did so much of Levine’s performances of the standard repertory.

    I’ll never forget his performance of Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. He managed to turn one of the most uplifting, life-affirming pieces of music written, into something that really just lay flat, for all its surfical life. And I contrast that to Bernard Haitink’s performance of the same work perhaps 6-8 years prior, which was just so wonderful that it all but jumped out of the cosmos and hugged you.

    I’m not writing any of this to pick on Levine. And if there are people who loved his conducting and his tenure–and I know there are a lot of them–I have no issue with that. But given Nimitta’s comments, I wanted to better explain my perspective.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — May 18, 2013 at 9:29 am

  19. After Stéphane Denève’s Friday concert with the BSO, my neighbor on the center aisle confided that she would be voting for him. While I immensely enjoyed the performance and his company, I did not feel quite right about him as Music Director. I was unable to attend Symphony (thereby missing Nelsons) till March, for the Wagner, when i was disappointed by Gatti (and the orchestra) during the first half of the program. Now I wonder about how Nelsons was selected. Sommerville’s comment, “we always came back to Andris,” suggests that Nelsons might have been the last man standing, perhaps after Gatti. I have found this method to be unreliable, but seductive; it seems to feed on one’s biases — Nelsons was a shoo-in.

    Comment by CAIN — May 18, 2013 at 11:19 am

  20. I first read about the appointment at boston.com, and I observed that a copy of the print edition of the paper the next day offered significant front-page space for two articles that continued into the body of the publication. HOWEVER: as of Saturday afternoon, I haven’t seen a syllable in the Boston Herald, online or print yet. Next fall, the Herald will send a “critic” to cover some essentially untalented and overrated pop, rock, hip-hop or C&W performer appearing in some club somewhere before a few hundred auditors, while ignoring a series of Thursday night/Friday afternoon/Saturday night/Tuesday night BSO concerts before a total of 10,000 listeners.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — May 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm

  21. What I find highly suggestive that the stage floor played a part in Maestro Levine’s fall is the fact that right after that, they removed the old floor and installed a new one.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — May 19, 2013 at 8:30 am

  22. Mission accomplished? :-)

    Comment by Camilli — May 19, 2013 at 11:33 am

  23. Those suggesting more premieres of music by Vasks are a bit delusional. If you want second rate (at best) new music, bring on the Vasks. Nelsons’s taste is far too good for Vasks, countrymen or not.

    Comment by Dogfish — May 29, 2013 at 9:53 pm

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