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Andris Nelsons invites players, audience to connect at Tanglewood

Andris Nelsons in rehearsal conducting the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra at the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood on Tuesday.NANCY PALMIERI for the boston globe

The Andris Nelsons Era at the Boston Symphony Orchestra officially begins in September, when at age 35 he will be installed as the institution’s youngest music director in a century. Since his selection was announced in May 2013, he’s paid a whirlwind visit to Boston last June — which also saw the Latvian throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park — and has also conducted the orchestra at Symphony Hall in October and March. His introductory tour continues now with two weekends of highly anticipated concerts at Tanglewood, starting on Friday. He has conducted there once before, in 2012.

Nelsons spoke with the Globe in the conductor’s room backstage at the Koussevitzky Music Shed. Dressed in a shirt in a black-and-white paisley pattern, light-blue jeans, and comfortable black slip-ons, he was relaxed and chatty. As the sound of rehearsing brass players leaked into the sparsely furnished room, Nelsons spoke about his four upcoming concerts at Tanglewood.


Q. Did you have a sense of Tanglewood as a special place when you were here as guest conductor?

A. Of course. It is a combination of beautiful nature and extremely great acoustics. And there’s the tradition and atmosphere. So many musicians of the Boston Symphony have been studying here when they were young, so you feel this energy of youth and eagerness to learn. There’s also the spirit of [Leonard] Bernstein, [Serge] Koussevitzky, Seiji [Ozawa] — all the conductors who spent so much time here.

Q. You can be very demonstrative on the podium. Are you the same in rehearsal?

A. [Laughs] It is so much to do with creating the atmosphere and the world of fantasy. It is not just about a piece of music being shorter or longer or louder or softer. Of course there is a professional, technical language you use, but if you only do that I think it is boring. You have to have this associative, fantasy world which helps to create the atmosphere. You can say: It’s too loud, let’s play it pianissimo. But what do you really mean? If you say it should be mysterioso, immediately it sounds different. I believe this music goes through the heart, not only the brain. We sometimes forget that.


Q. Have you started to build a relationship with the orchestra?

A. Yes, absolutely. I really want to create a feeling of the music of family. It spreads out into this feeling that we all are responsible for being part of Boston Symphony Orchestra, and it is just part of a quality of life in Boston. It doesn’t mean that you would perform very, very popular pieces only. But it’s creating the journey together, with me, the orchestra, and the audience. And they feel part of this journey.

Q. The four programs you’ll lead at Tanglewood span a broad range, from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to contemporary pieces by Rolf Martinsson and Christopher Rouse. Is this a preview of some of the terrain you want to explore as music director?

A. In a way it is, but the subscription season in Symphony Hall is maybe more of the fuller picture. But even the Tanglewood programs are in a way representing a bit of that direction.

Q. Friday’s concert is all-Dvorak. Why are you starting there?

A. He is just a great master. And of course it’s also an opportunity again to work with [guest violinist] Anne-Sophie Mutter, who is a great joy. And the Violin Concerto is a great concerto that’s not so often performed, but it’s really a masterpiece. All his pieces are really masterpieces. Some are done very often, and some are left, somehow. It’s such honest music, and so patriotic in a naive sense, and so nostalgic. Of course the Eighth Symphony is maybe the most beautiful. The third movement [sings a few bars of the melody] it’s the most nostalgic.


Q. You mentioned Anne-Sophie Mutter. Violinist Joshua Bell will also be here, for Édouard Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole.” They are both big stars, but Hakan Hardenberger — who’ll be featured in Martinsson’s Trumpet Concerto — is less well-known in the United States, and this is his Tanglewood debut. Is he the sort of player you’re looking forward to bringing here?

A. When I was playing trumpet, he was my idol for a trumpet player. I would listen and think it would be so great if I could study with him or have a master class. It never happened as a trumpet player, but I met him through conducting. All the brass players all over the world, of course, they know him and say he’s one of the top trumpet soloists in the world. It’s a great pleasure to bring him here. He plays all these great contemporary concertos that are all composed for him. The thing is, if he wouldn’t have done the career that he did, the list of repertoire for trumpet concertos would be much smaller.


Q. Friday’s concert features the debut of Lawncast, a program that invites audience members to sit in a special section and use their smartphones or tablets to watch alternate camera angles and access additional content. What do you think of that?

A. Some people just want to close their eyes and listen, and that’s great. Some people are more curious, and this is a way for them to be closer. I think it will be interesting for them to have those close-ups.

Q. You wouldn’t mind if you looked out at the audience and saw people staring down at their phones?

A. We should use technology for good to make classical more accessible — not meaning cheap or too light, but just to have a closer emotional connection to music. There is a moment of love, a moment of despair, a moment of sadness, a moment of drama, a moment of humor in every piece of music. We want to show that music is about us, each of us, and each of the artists who are playing have the same emotions and are exactly the same human beings as any of the audience members. Of course, they have different talents and different qualities, but still, the music is about our lives. I don’t want to have this feeling that classical music is something that is only like a museum, or 200 years ago, and something that we can’t touch.


Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com.