Q&A: Boston Symphony's Andris Nelsons on Europe and crazy 8s

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

BOSTON (AP) — What you won't hear from the Boston Symphony: sour notes between the orchestra and music director Andris Nelsons.

At 36, the BSO's youngest conductor in a century hadn't even completed his first full year on the job when the renowned orchestra earlier this month extended his contract through 2022, pouncing quickly to lock down one of the planet's most sought-after maestros.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, the Latvian-born Nelsons talked about his commitment to Boston, the challenges of playing outdoors at Tanglewood, his forthcoming Europe tour, and the cosmic (or not) meaning of the number 8.


AP: Suddenly it's an eight-year contract? Sounds like you and the BSO are making some beautiful music together.

Nelsons: I'm very happy and surprised and pleased and honored. It enables us to plan concretely. It's important to be in a long-term relationship. That human relationship, contact and chemistry is important. It's like a big family where we respect each other, trust each other and challenge each other. That's our mission and this is one of the best orchestras in the world. We'll build a new future together.

AP: What's the biggest lesson, or maybe the biggest surprise, you've encountered in your first year conducting the BSO?

Nelsons: It would have to be the atmosphere — a wonderful music-making atmosphere. I really felt very supported. From the first moment, that support was there. As a city, Boston is a cultural and musical center, and our goals are to share these great qualities with everyone. What also excited me was the support from the audience: their pride and involvement. It's a very, very strong and united community. I think it's very unique.

AP: There was a lot of speculation that you were a contender for the top job at the Berlin Philharmonic. Any disappointment that you didn't get it?

Nelsons: Music is something you can't really put in terms like in a sport, like running or football — that you win if you score more. In music there's nothing like that. You can't say who's the best: who is the second, who is the third. It's very subjective. Obviously the Boston Symphony is in the highest league. This is my orchestra, and we have exciting plans and a future. It's a dream to be its conductor. Sometimes I think, 'My God, I can't believe it.' It's a dream which came true.

AP: Your Europe tour that kicks off Aug. 22 doesn't include a stop in the Baltics, your corner of the continent. Why not?

Nelsons: There are many more countries who are inviting us and we would like to go, but obviously we couldn't manage everything. There will be more tours, of course, to Europe and Asia. I'm sure one day we'll be able to go to Latvia. It would be fantastic. Music goes beyond nationalities — it's a language which you can understand in any country.

AP: You're at Tanglewood now, and you'll be open-air in Europe, too. What's your musical preference: Outdoors or indoors?

Nelsons: Music is a universal thing with no boundaries, whether you play inside or outside. We're lucky and privileged in Boston to have one of the best concert halls in the world. Indoors is where you can get the best sound and the most intimate atmosphere. Open-air, it can be different. But it doesn't change the musical approach. Tanglewood has very high sound quality. If you have to amplify, it's really to spread the experience. For some people who can't come to a concert hall, it can make the music more accessible.

AP: You performed Mahler's 8th Symphony on Aug. 8; that's 8/8. Your Europe tour takes you to eight cities. And now your contract will run at least eight years. What's the deal with all the eights?

Nelsons: Huh. I never actually thought of that. Mahler just happened to be on the 8th. It's a huge symphony with actually eight soloists. It's one of the most exciting symphonies that's ever been written. Anyway, as far as my contract goes, I hope that eight isn't the last number.




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