The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced Thursday morning Andris Nelsons would become the 15th music director in the BSO’s 132-year history.
The long-awaited announcement came more than two years after James Levine last took the podium. The renowned conductor’s tenure with the BSO was marred by injuries and health problems that forced him to step down officially in September 2011.
Nelsons, speaking by phone from Amsterdam, where he’s conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, said he hopes to look for an apartment later this summer and is thrilled to be coming to Boston. “I think it’s very important to be part of the Boston society and the people who live in Boston,” he said. “I always feel that music is food for our souls, and [Bostonians] will be hungry and continue to be part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra family.”
News of the appointment was announced by chairman of the BSO board of trustees Ted Kelly, BSO board of trustees vice chairs Stephen B. Kay and Robert O’Block, and BSO managing director Mark Volpe. In a statement, the BSO noted that at 34 years old, Andris Nelsons is the youngest music director to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in over 100 years; he is also the first Latvian-born conductor to take on the post.
Nelsons will step in as BSO music director designate for the BSO’s 2013-14 season, making his first appearance in that capacity Oct. 17-19. The program will include Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C, with soloist Paul Lewis, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 3; he returns to the BSO podium on March 6, 2014 to lead a performance of Strauss’s Salome.
This summer, Nelsons will conduct at the Tanglewood Music Center, leading the BSO and Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a performance of Verdi’s monumental Requiem on July 27. His wife, Kristīne Opolais, will sing the solo soprano role.
Nelsons, music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra through 2015, is known for his wide-ranging repertoire. On Thursday’s phone interview, he ticked off a list of classical composers he loves to conduct, including Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Mahler, Bruckner, Bartok, and Tchaikovsky. When asked about his favorite contemporary composers, Nelsons named British-born Mark-Anthony Turnage, Finland’s Magnus Lindberg, and Australian composer Brett Dean.
“I can’t say I’d like to concentrate on one particular composer,” Nelsons said. “I’m looking forward to doing a variety. It’s important for me that it’s a combination of great historical pieces with sometimes contemporary pieces.”
Though Nelsons and Levine both speak of their passion for music off the podium, the differences between the two musicians are clear. Levine listened to little other than classical music, rarely was spotted outside Symphony Hall of Tanglewood – save for post-concert dinners – and did not have a family.
Nelsons is not ashamed to profess a love for the music of Michael Jackson and Sting, talks eagerly of attending of a Boston Bruins game, and said he’s prone to watching “Frasier” re-runs in his downtime.
He and Opolais, who recently made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera, have a daughter, Adriana, 16 months old. In an interview, Nelsons did not rule out purchasing a home in the Boston area. (They live now in Riga, the capital of Latvia.)
“The first thing for me the two most important things is one the music in my life and the family,” he said. “It’s somehow connected because music is about human beings, about love, about hate, about everything that happens in life.”
According to the BSO announcement, Nelsons is the third youngest conductor to be appointed BSO music director since the orchestra’s founding in 1881: Georg Henschel was 31 when he became the orchestra’s first music director in 1881, and Arthur Nikisch was 33 when he opened his first season with the orchestra in 1889.
Nelsons is quoted in the statement:
“I am deeply honored and touched that the Boston Symphony Orchestra has appointed me its next music director, as it is one of the highest achievements a conductor could hope for in his lifetime. Each time I have worked with the BSO I have been inspired by how effectively it gets to the heart of the music, always leaving its audience with a great wealth of emotions. So it is with great joy that I truly look forward to joining this wonderful musical family and getting to know the beautiful city of Boston and the community that so clearly loves its great orchestra. As I consider my future with the Boston Symphony, I imagine us working closely together to bring the deepest passion and love that we all share for music to ever greater numbers of music fans in Boston, at Tanglewood, and throughout the world.”