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Nelsons To Replace Recuperating Dohnányi


beethovenMusic Director Andris Nelsons will lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in its now traditional season-ending performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on Sunday, August 28th, at 2:30 p.m. in place of 86-year-old Christoph von Dohnányi, who had cataract surgery earlier in the summer, and whose recovery was more difficult than expected: he canceled his earlier Tanglewood weekend on doctor’s orders. At that time, he expected to be able to get to Tanglewood for the closing Beethoven Ninth, but apparently he’s still not cleared to fly.

Andris Nelsons became available for the final Tanglewood weekend after he withdrew from Parsifal at Bayreuth. Nelsons did the Beethoven Ninth last summer at the Proms as his final appearance in the role of Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. According to member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus Steven Owades, “We in the chorus (and orchestra) are looking forward to our first opportunity to explore the B9 with Andris.”

The tradition of ending the Tanglewood season with Beethoven 9 is pretty well established, but it doesn’t date to the early years of the festival. Leinsdorf’s gave his farewell performance with it in 1969, and the newly formed TFC sang it in both the spring and summer of 1970, but it was a while before annual performances became standard. In some seasons, B9 has come before the close, but in recent years it’s concluded the series.

The excellent BSO Archives tells us everything we need to know about B9 performance history. There was indeed a Koussevitzky performance as part of the opening event for the Music Shed, which also included the opening and closing choruses of Bach’s Cantata 80;  much the same program was repeated for the 65th anniversary of the Shed in 2003 under James Conlon, and under Seiji Ozawa for the 50th anniversary in 1998. B9 came without Bach under Bernard Haitink for the 75th anniversary in 2013.
Years in which there was no B9 include 1939–41, 1943–45 (I believe the Festival was on hiatus because of gasoline rationing in those years; not sure why there was a performance in 1942), 1948–54, 1956, 1963–65, 1967–68, 1971, 1977–78, 1980–81, 1983, 1985–87, 1989–90, 1992–93, 1995–96, and 2011. Most of the performances were played by the BSO, but but it has been done by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic (Zubin Mehta, 1979), the Cleveland Orchestra (Christoph von Dohnányi, 1991), and the Israel Philharmonic (Zubin Mehta, 2001). In the current century/millennium, these performances have all been at the end of the Tanglewood season, except for 2006 (when James Levine opened Tanglewood with the B9; he was never available at the end of the summer) and 2007 (when the BSO left for a European tour just before the last weekend). In 2001, which was also a tour year, the Israel Philharmonic played and a second section of the TFC sang (I was part of the tour group); those same forces also traveled to the Mann Center near Philadelphia for a second performance.
It can be entertaining and informative to explore the BSO archives. But beware of some errors that exist in their database, as well as issues you may not have thought of: this search says there are 57 results, but some of those are open rehearsals which means that a given performance is effectively counted twice.

According to the BSO PR, The Sunday, August 28, performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony features the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and vocal soloists including soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose, tenor Joseph Kaiser, and bass Günther Groissböck. The program will open with Copland’s Quiet City, featuring BSO principals Thomas Rolfs on trumpet and Robert Sheena on English horn.

Before the Sunday, August 28, performance, Maestro Nelsons returns to Tanglewood on Saturday, August 20, and Sunday, August 21, for two programs with the BSO. On Saturday, August 20, at 8 p.m., he leads the orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Acts I and II of Verdi’s Aida, featuring soprano Kristine Opolais in the title role, along with mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana as Amneris, tenor Andrea Carè as the male lead and love interest Radamès, tenor Alfredo Nigro as the Messenger, baritone Franco Vassallo as Amonasro, bass Morris Robinson as The King, and bass Kwangchul Youn as Ramfis. On Sunday, August 21, at 2:30 p.m., Nelsons leads a program largely made up of music influenced by Shakespeare, honoring the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The program includes the overture to Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict (based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing), American composer George Tsontakis’s Sonnets, a Shakespeare-inspired concerto for English horn and orchestra commissioned by the BSO and featuring BSO English horn player Robert Sheena; Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet; and Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5, Egyptian, featuring Croatian pianist Dejan Lazić, making his BSO and Tanglewood debuts, as soloist.

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