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BSO’s Andris Nelsons says sexual harassment isn’t a problem in classical music

Andris Nelsons leading pianist Martin Helmchen and the BSO last week.
Robert Torres
Andris Nelsons, leading pianist Martin Helmchen and the BSO last week.

Anyone who’s been paying even casual attention to the news lately might conclude that sexual harassment is a problem everywhere.

Apparently not. Andris Nelsons, the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was asked the other day if sexual harassment is — or has ever been — an issue in the classical music world, and his answer was unambiguous.

“No,” Nelsons told Boston Public Radio hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.

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Hmm. We were surprised, but Twitter was angry. And some who heard Nelsons’s response took to social media to react.

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The 39-year-old Nelsons, who grew up in Latvia and occasionally struggles to make himself clear in English, went on to say that it “sometimes seems there are two parallel worlds.” When the BSO is performing, Nelsons said, “it feels so human, so right,” but he knows that real-life concerns are right outside the door of the concert hall.

The conductor, who’s married to Latvian soprano Kristīne Opolais, told Braude and Eagan that “many things are, I think, artificially exaggerated or made too important [than] they are,” suggesting people need more music and art in their lives.

“I understand [people] are very busy. But if they could find the time, they could realize how important other parts of life are, including music and art,” he said. “I believe they would become better human beings.”

The conversation with Nelsons followed a segment about Senator Al Franken, who has been accused by Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden of making an unwanted sexual advance during a 2006 USO tour.

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Monday, Nelsons sought to clarify his comments. A BSO spokesperson e-mailed the following statement to the Globe:

“I did not express myself as clearly as I would have liked when asked about the issue of sexual harassment in the classical music world. In my own experience working in the classical music industry for many years, I myself have not seen overt examples of sexual misconduct in my day-to-day work life. That being said, this kind of offensive behavior, unfortunately, takes place in all fields, including, of course, the classical music industry. All of us in the field must remain constantly vigilant and fight against all types of inappropriate and hurtful behavior, and continue the essential work of creating a fair and safe work environment for all classical musicians. Though involvement in music and the arts can’t cure all the ills of society, I do believe that the inspiration they provide has the potential to help us reflect at times on the better angels of our natures. Or more simply put by Beethoven — the genius composer of the ‘Ode to Joy’ symphony, considered the universal anthem of brotherly/sisterly love — ‘Music can change the world.’ ”