LENOX – Braking at an intersection, Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons halted for a moment as a pair of cars approached from his left and right.
A Toyota was stopped before him, and Nelsons, who doesn’t have a driver’s license but likes to tear around the Tanglewood campus on a golf cart, sensed his wheezing machine was outmatched.
“Do we have priority, or do they have priority?” the maestro asked as the other drivers, musicians fresh from rehearsal, waved him along. “I have no idea. I’ll just close my eyes.”
Punching the accelerator, the maestro offered a few sheepish “hellos!” to the motorists, who gleefully mimicked a steering wheel in mock surprise. Moments later Nelsons was plunging down yet another path and back to the subject at hand.
“It’s just the pearls,” he said, describing the BSO’s upcoming 2016-17 season. “I’m very, very excited.”
On the eve of his third season with the symphony, it’s fair to say that Andris Nelsons is all in. After swooping in to conduct the season-ending Tanglewood performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony last month, the maestro has committed to spend four weeks at the summer festival in 2017, and he’s preparing to lead 14 weeks of programs during the upcoming BSO season — his two largest time commitments to the orchestra yet.
“This is the first time it really feels like home,” said Nelsons. “I loved the musicians from the very beginning, but this year I really came to understand what it means to them.”
Nelsons said he wants to fully cement his relationship with the orchestra in the coming season, which includes premieres, commissions, a host of major orchestral works, a complete opera in concert, and the launch of a three-year appointment for composer Thomas Adès as the symphony’s first-ever “artistic partner.”
“It’s about trust,” said Nelsons. “If you don’t trust them they feel that. And if they don’t trust you, you can do whatever — you can jump, you can do whatever you want with your hands — they just won’t do it.”
And, he said, it’s a delicate balance.
“The orchestra doesn’t like it if the conductor talks too much in rehearsal,” he said. “It’s important for me to be regularly present, but if you’re constantly there all the time, too much?”
Opening Saturday with Lang Lang performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the season also features an impressive array of pianists, including Emanuel Ax, Kirill Gerstein, Yefim Bronfman, and Radu Lupu.
“We opted for some very special pianists and repertoire throughout the season,” said BSO artistic administrator Anthony Fogg. “It’s sort of like the Who’s Who of pianism at the moment.”
Nelsons will also soon conduct a complete concert performance of Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier” (Sept. 29 and Oct. 1), featuring Renée Fleming and Susan Graham. The production will mark the final Boston performances of each singer in the respective roles of the Marschallin and Octavian.
‘This is the first time it really feels like home. I loved the musicians from the very beginning, but this year I really came to understand what it means to them.’
“In each generation there are sets of singers who define certain pieces, and certainly the ‘Rosenkavalier’ is one of those,” said Fogg, who also serves as director of Tanglewood. “Having them together one more time is very, very special.”
Nelsons, who has previously led the BSO in concert performances of Strauss’s operas “Salome” and “Elektra,” called “Der Rosenkavalier” a vastly challenging piece of music.
“The opera requires really great orchestra playing,” said Nelsons. “I’m looking forward because [the BSO] will play it with eroticism, and sensitivity, and irony, and intrigue. It’s all of that.”
Strikingly, the season abounds with contemporary works, including BSO-commissioned and co-commissioned pieces by Sofia Gubaidulina, Matthias Pintscher, George Benjamin, Eric Nathan, and Timo Andres.
“I’m very happy to carry on this tradition of commissions,” said Nelsons, adding that he worked closely with Fogg and BSO managing director Mark Volpe to craft the season. “I of course present the ideas, what I would like to conduct and what would be good for the orchestra to play, but it’s always teamwork.”
Nelsons, who earlier that morning had led the BSO through a rehearsal of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, added that while he savors the juxtaposition of contemporary pieces alongside more canonical works, his aim as a conductor is that each work evoke a similar sense of newness.
“You want to play it so people hear it differently,” he said. “You want people to think, Oh, I’ve never actually heard that. Is it really what I know?”
During the morning’s rehearsal, the maestro had led the musicians through entire movements, circling back at the end to fine tune a handful of passages. Focusing intently on the strings, Nelsons coaxed them to an almost inaudible whisper.
“Sometimes you only have to solve a few spots, and by solving them you have set the atmosphere for the whole symphony,” he said, noting the sonic contrast the hushed strings would provide the symphony’s finale. “You don’t need to rehearse every bar pedantically. The musicians are such great professionals. They understand your language.”
Nelsons said he was particularly looking forward to the arrival of Adès, who will lead a performance of his vocal work “Totentanz” this November, as well as perform Schubert’s “Winterreise” this October with the English tenor Ian Bostridge.
”He’s one of the greatest living composers,” said Nelsons of Adès. “He’s conducting, playing piano, so it’s really great.”
Adès will also be working on plans for the summer of 2017, according to Fogg: “He’ll be directing the festival of contemporary music at Tanglewood in ’18 and ’19. But he’ll be doing a lot of looking at new possibilities — new composers that we might be having as part of our mix and new chamber music projects.”
Nelsons, who after an hourlong tour finally brought his cart to rest, added that contemporary works would continue to have a strong presence in upcoming seasons alongside more traditional repertoire.
“Not necessarily just commissions, but also finding pieces that have been composed in the last five or 10 years,” he said, adding that many commissioned works are shelved after their premiere, never to be played again.
“It’s a pity,” said Nelsons, “because there are some great pieces.”
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Opening-night concert featuring pianist Lang Lang, at Symphony Hall Sept. 24. 888-266-1200, www.bso.orgMalcolm Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay