Rejoicing was the order of the day among the 20 or so members of the local press gathered at the stage end of the Symphony Hall balcony to hear Music Director Designate Andris Nelsons conduct his first BSO rehearsal in his new capacity. Nelsons strode onto the stage in a blue knit shirt and jeans, seeming quite at home among his new, informally dressed colleagues. Many were likewise be-jeaned, and a number wore visors against the welcome sunlight streaming in through the lunettes. All on stage were smiling as Nelsons asked for the rehearsal to resume at bar 8 of Brahms’ Third Symphony.
After a few seconds Nelsons motioned for a pause and asked the bassoons to play “like you are in church.” Indeed, he interrupted frequently and expressed his intent in probably the finest singing voice that BSO players have heard from a conductor since their first, George Henschel, also a fine baritone, whose recordings as singer, conductor and pianist survive. If there was a recurring theme from Nelsons’s admonitions, it was to play more softly with more-refined inflection. He crouched, he shrank, he rose to his substantial height, he leaned back in bliss, he shaped exquisitely with his conversational hands—on occasion stretching time and dynamics as though he were pulling taffy. If there was an immediately apparent difference to the BSO sound, it was in the production of deep pianissimos and some striking sotto voce voicings. And he got the orchestra to produce gradual crescendo, reminding one of timelapse photography of opening flowers, boding well indeed for the Bruckner we can expect to hear from him.
In the interview that followed, he told us that conductors should not have to talk too much after they have established rapport with their orchestra. Nevertheless, he had some interesting and amusing things to say to his colleagues during the rehearsal. “Take more time with the theme to make it more melancholy, but don’t make it sound like the groan of someone with a toothache!”
Following are other quotes of note from the interview. “It’s nice to listen to what wonderful individual players are doing before adding too much of your own.” “We develop our chemistry during rehearsals so we can improvise during the performances.” “The vocal in music is essential—lines should usually be played as a singer would sing them—portamento is a natural component to a singer’s projection, and in some music, like Brahms’s, especially in the strings, it can make it sound more natural.” “You can often use your face to communicate better than you can with words. When your wife is unhappy with you, you can see it—you don’t want to hear it.”
And finally, “I feel like I am a part of a community of players, management, audience and critics. I’m looking forward to working with all of you.”