fb-pixel Skip to main content

As Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons prepares for his new duties at the helm of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the maestro’s twin musical homes are offering new details about their upcoming partnership — a rare collaboration that will bring two of the world’s great orchestras together in an alliance that includes co-commissions, musician exchanges, and tour performances in both cities.

In Boston, the five-year partnership will feature an annual program known as “Leipzig Week in Boston,” a celebration that includes lectures, archival exhibitions, musician visits, and orchestra and chamber music concerts devoted to the history and repertoire of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, one of Europe’s most storied ensembles. The BSO will be similarly featured during “Boston Week in Leipzig.”


In addition, the orchestras are planning a joint European tour in 2022, as well as a Boston concert program that features both symphonies. There are also plans for student exchanges with their respective music academies.

The alliance is the brainchild of Nelsons, who will assume the music directorship of the vaunted Leipzig orchestra next February, while also maintaining his long-term post at the BSO. The two orchestras have engaged Harvard musicologist Christoph Wolff to serve as artistic adviser to the alliance, which is set to commence next season.

“These are two amazing institutions with great histories,” said Nelsons. “There’s something we gain from each city. It gives a more interesting palette of colors. We can offer the audience even more excitement and an even deeper experience.”

Although the details are still being worked out, the inaugural “Leipzig Week in Boston” will open in February 2018, featuring the BSO playing works closely associated with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, including compositions by Bach, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, who served as the Leipzig orchestra’s music director in the mid-19th century.

The weeklong festivities will also include a premiere of the partnership’s first co-commission, a work by the American composer Sean Shepherd, and a performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet featuring members of the Gewandhaus Quartet playing alongside members of the BSO. (The first “Boston Week in Leipzig” will take place the following June.)


Other composers selected for co-commissions include German composer Jörg Widmann, American composer Sebastian Currier, and Latvian composer Andris Dzenitis. BSO officials said the co-commissioning program would later include “several other prominent composers.”

“Historically, both orchestras have been pioneering in commissions and premieres,” said Nelsons, who noted that the dual orchestra program would give the commissions broader exposure. “That will create very interesting ideas for composers to compose using these two great traditions.”

The BSO will perform in Leipzig in September 2018. Meanwhile, the Gewandhaus Orchestra is scheduled to perform at Symphony Hall in October 2019.

The two symphonies are also planning a dual concert in Boston of a large-scale symphonic work in the fall of 2019. The partner orchestras are also planning a joint European tour in the spring of 2022 that will feature the works of Richard Strauss.

“[Nelsons] is bridging two orchestral cultures,” said Wolff, who will coordinate lectures, exhibitions, and other programs for the partnership. “It’s going to be an enormous benefit to both orchestral memberships.”

The arrangement will also give members of each orchestra the opportunity to spend three to six months playing with the partner symphony. For BSO musicians, that will mean weekly subscription concerts, performing with the Leipzig Opera, and giving Sunday performances of Bach cantatas at the St. Thomas Church, where Bach once served as kapellmeister. Similarly, Leipzig musicians may end up playing at Tanglewood or with the Boston Pops.


“When our guys go to Leipzig, they’ll do the Leipzig job: They’ll play the opera, they’ll play Bach,” said BSO managing director Mark Volpe. “Our guys are curious because it’s a completely different system, a different heritage, a different sound.”

The partnership will also include exchanges with the Tanglewood Music Center, which is the BSO’s summer music academy, and the Mendelssohn Orchestra Academy.

Officials from both organizations emphasized the many historical connections between the two orchestras. Symphony Hall itself is a larger version of the second Gewandhaus, which was destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II. The BSO’s first music director, Georg Henschel, was trained at the Leipzig Conservatory, and a long line of subsequent BSO conductors had ties to the city, including Max Fiedler and Karl Muck. Conductor Arthur Nikisch was music director at both orchestras, and former BSO music director Charles Munch once served as the Gewandhaus concertmaster.

Gewandhaus director Andreas Schulz said he was “completely overwhelmed” when Nelsons first described the idea.

“This is natural, it’s not something created on a table between managers,” said Schulz. “It’s really something we’ve had in the past, and now we will create a new future between the two orchestras, which from my perspective is in a way unique in the world.”

Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay