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Andris Nelsons, newly named to lead BSO, suffers concussion, withdraws from Tanglewood

The socials, the planning sessions, and the coming-out concert will have to wait. Andris Nelsons, the vibrant young conductor recently named to replace the often-injured James Levine as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s music director, will miss Saturday night’s concert at Tanglewood because of a severe concussion.

Nelsons, 34, was hit by a door over the weekend at his residence in Bayreuth, Germany, where he was conducting at the annual Wagner festival. The accident resulted in the head injury, with doctors advising him not to travel. That means the BSO will have somebody else conduct Verdi’s Requiem at the Koussevitzky Music Shed, and will cancel several other events with him.

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Nobody was comparing Nelsons’s accident to the long list of ailments that eventually forced Levine to resign in 2011, but principal horn Jamie Sommerville admitted that over the past few years he’s wondered if “someone had a BSO voodoo doll.”

“That sort of flashes through my head,” said Sommerville, a member of the search committee that selected Nelsons. “But it’s a completely different situation.”

Levine, who arrived in Boston in 2004, struggled with a series of physical problems, ranging from a torn rotator cuff suffered during an onstage fall to various back injuries. During the 2009-2010 season, he withdrew from 22 concerts, or 60 percent of his scheduled performances. Nelsons is expected to make a full recovery from his concussion.

“It’s a freak accident,” said Mark Volpe, the BSO’s managing director. “He’s a young and healthy guy.”

Volpe said that Nelson’s wife, soprano Kristīne Opolais, hopes to participate in the concert as scheduled, but is waiting to make sure her husband doesn’t need her. Nelsons, being treated at a hospital in Bayreuth, was not available for an interview. Through the BSO, he issued a statement referencing his sadness at not being able to conduct this weekend.

“I will miss you all and am very sorry indeed that this very unfortunate accident prevents me from being there,” he said. “I am grateful to be receiving the best possible medical attention and am currently resting well. I promise I will recover as soon as possible and very much look forward to coming back in good shape for my performances with the orchestra in October in Boston.”

Nelsons, who takes over as fulltime music director in 2014, is set to guest conduct three concerts in October at Symphony Hall featuring Wagner, Mozart and Brahms. Known for his demonstrative approach on the podium, has been touted for physical vitality, in stark contrast to his predecessor, Levine, whose tenure was hampered by health problems that ultimately forced him to resign.

BSO violist Edward Gazouleas, who was on the music director search committee, scoffed yesterday at the idea there was any link between Nelsons’s household accident and Levine’s ill health.

“This is a completely different situation and I don’t believe in curses,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know Andris Nelsons through the search process and I have no doubt he’s going to come roaring back with all the energy he’s shown.”

Few details were available about Nelsons’s concussion, other than that it took place where he was staying and that he tried to rehearse in Bayreuth but determined he couldn’t. Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said there’s generally little risk to traveling as long as Nelsons has been assured he doesn’t have any internal bleeding. But stress brought on my travel, time changes and an ambitious schedule could slow recovery from a concussion.

“So there are a variety of reasons why it would not be a good idea for him not to be running around,” said Cantu.

Dr. Peter Warinner, director of sports neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said Nelsons might want to lighten up his schedule in the next few weeks.

“Concussions effect each individual differently,” he said. “Some athletes can recover in a few days. Others take months. He should be looking a couple of weeks out and be prepared to take modifications. But if a week from now he’s feeling fine, then there’s no need for modifications.”

Herbert Ratakansky, a BSO subscriber for more than 50 years, said he was eager to watch Nelsons in action, which he expects to do in the fall.

“I just feel so badly he got hurt,” he said. “Let’s hope he gets better quickly and that it’s not serious. I wish life were more predictable.”

Geoff Edgers can be reached at
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