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Boston Meets New BSO Maestro Andris Nelsons

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Andris Nelsons, center, with BSO Board Of Trustees Chair Ted Kelly, left, and BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Andris Nelsons, center, with BSO Board Of Trustees Chair Ted Kelly, left, and BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

BOSTON — The city of Boston has declared June 25 “Andris Nelsons Day” to honor the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s next music director.

The young maestro is visiting for the first time since he was appointed director last month, and Tuesday morning the BSO’s 15th music director took the stage at Symphony Hall to meet Bostonians.

The room was filled with subscribers, musicians, press, BSO staff and trustees, including Chair Ted Kelly. He stood behind a plexiglass podium and opened the event.

“For a start, Andris, I can say for the welcome that you should know how pleased we all are to have you in Boston,” Kelly said to applause.

“Music is a food for our souls, and we are kind of like doctors for our mental health. And I think we need to spread, almost infect everybody with this idea of importance of music.”
– Andris Nelsons

Kelly called the Latvian-born Nelsons the man that will lead the BSO into a new era.

It’s been more than two seasons since James Levine resigned his position with the orchestra, so the search for this new maestro has been long.

“We have set the hook, we still haven’t reeled him in,” Kelly joked on stage. “Reeling him in requires a legal contract, and a contract signing requires witnesses. So will the 800 or 900 witness stand as we sign this formal contract?”

The audience did his bidding, standing to watch Nelsons make their bond official.

Mark Volpe, the BSO’s managing director, explained that the pen Nelsons used to sign the contract is made of wood from Symphony Hall’s original stage floor.

Nelsons wore a blue blazer and white button-down shirt, no tie. At 34 years old he’s the youngest maestro here in 100 years.

“I’m extremely excited and really very honored about this great gesture you have shown to me,” he said to the orchestra and the audience, “to be part of your great musical family in Boston.”

After the signing Volpe and the new maestro sat in wing-backed chairs and engaged in a “getting to know you” Q&A. Topics included Nelsons’ childhood fascination with conducting (he was 5 years old when his parents took him to his first opera and he was hooked), his physical relationship to music (he’s known for letting loose behind the podium) and his goals for his tenure (it starts in the 2014-15 season).

Nelsons said he has many goals, but one major priority is taking the BSO on more national and international tours.

“When you have a great car, you want people to see the car,” he said with a smile. “But I think the most important thing is the family feeling between the orchestra musicians, me and you the audience.” The conductor said he wants to create an extremely close relationship.

Then Volpe invited the audience to ask questions. Their subject matter ranged from repertoire (expect to hear some Bruckner in the coming years) to community engagement, to gender issues in classical music, to Nelsons’ immediate family — including his young daughter, Adrianna.

Nelsons actually took paternity leave from his position at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He will continue conducting in England after he starts his position in Boston.

Nelsons’ wife is fellow Latvian Kristine Opolais, a soprano with the Metropolitan Opera. She and her husband will take the stage together at Tanglewood in July for a performance of Verdi’s “Requiem.”

Nelsons also made it clear that he wants to expand the BSO family by attracting younger listeners. He’s not alone. Lloyd Schwartz was one of the many music critics in the audience.

“I see mostly people who are my age, unfortunately,” Schwartz said as he surveyed the Symphony Hall crowd, joking that he’s “over 29.”

BSO fan Marianne D’Amico said she’s thankful that the years-long conductor search is over. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

BSO fan Marianne D’Amico said she’s thankful that the years-long conductor search is over. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

That said, the longtime classical reviewer is optimistic.

Outside the hall, BSO fan Marianne D’Amico said she’s thankful that the years-long conductor search is over.

“I think people were anxious about getting the right conductor, and I think he will be the right one because of his personality,” she said. “I know he’s young, but he has a great experience and people are looking for that because I do think he’ll draw younger people. Hopefully.”

And who knows, maybe Nelsons can attract some sports fans, too. On Tuesday night he throws the first pitch at the Red Sox game.