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Andris Nelsons among contenders, but no result in Berlin

Andris Nelsons is the music director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.Jonathan Wiggs /Globe staff/Globe Staff

The world of classical music held its collective breath on Monday as musicians and fans awaited news out of Germany. Members of the venerated Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s most celebrated orchestras, met privately to select the orchestra’s next conductor, who will take over in 2018 for Sir Simon Rattle.

But while the world waited, Twitter panted, as users chased rumor after rumor that the Berliners had selected as their next conductor none other than Andris Nelsons, the 36-year-old Latvian who became the Boston Symphony Orchestra music director just last year.

“Nelsons did it!!!” read a fraudulent tweet that initially appeared to have been posted by Sarah Willis, a French-horn player with the Philharmonic.


It was the lie that launched 1,000 tweets. Two English magazines, Classical Music and Gramophone, got in on the social-media action, reporting that Nelsons had been anointed. A reporter for Canada’s The Globe & Mail tweeted, “White smoke from music conclave: Looks like new conductor of Berlin Philharmonic is Latvian Andris Nelsons.”

Not that the Berlin players were listening.

Bathed in a wash of secrecy usually reserved for papal elections or LeBron James team-change announcements, 123 members of the Berlin Philharmonic had convened early on Monday morning at a secret location to mull over a list of potential candidates — a veritable pantheon of modern-day maestros.

The institution has a unique selection process for choosing conductors: During the election, the orchestra members work from a list of recommended candidates, voting in successive rounds as they winnow down the choices. There are no auditions. No one is asked to apply. The musicians simply select their candidate and offer the job.

So as the hours ticked by, excitement turned to anxiety. A user with the handle @sasherka tweeted, “Everyone outside of Boston: when will Berlin Phil make a decision? Everyone in Boston: please, don’t let it be Andris Nelsons . . . ”


Soon enough, the congratulations turned to conjecture. One Twitter user speculated that Nelsons had been offered the job but refused it: “He has just signed Boston and besides feels he’s not ready yet for the job.”

Meanwhile. the Berlin Philharmonic tried to stem the tide: “No news on the election of the chief conductor yet — disregard rumours! We will keep you posted.”

Still, perhaps the suspicion was not that far off the mark. Speaking with the German-language publication Die Welt last year, Nelsons said he would be “too young in 2018 to take over from Simon Rattle.” He added: “That was a strategic decision. I signaled it when I decided to be, from this autumn, chief conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.”

When he arrived at Tanglewood last summer, Nelsons’s excitement about the five-year Boston appointment was nearly palpable. “This is my orchestra,” he told the Globe. “This is my musical family.”

At the time, Nelsons was ascending rapidly through the international ranks, serving as music director for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and previously having held posts at the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Herford, Germany, and the Latvian National Opera.

The BSO appointment was a major step forward. As one of this country’s so-called “Big Five” orchestras, the symphony had been seeking a new music director since 2011, when the gifted but ailing James Levine relinquished the post.

Since taking the podium last year, Nelsons has reinvigorated the orchestra, which recently announced a second European tour even before the first one has commenced, and a major recording contract with the estimable label Deutsche Grammophon, featuring live BSO performances of Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 5-10.


“I’m not particularly concerned,” said BSO managing director Mark Volpe, referring to the speculation that Nelsons would be tapped by Berlin. “He’s very happy with us. Andris, when I talk to him about the future, he’s made it clear he wants his relationship with the BSO to go beyond five years.”

Volpe added that they want to complete the entire 15-symphony Shostakovich cycle, a multiyear project.

“We already have commitments through his contract, and we’re exploring tours beyond his contract,” he said.

Nelsons, who was traveling and unavailable for comment Monday, told the Globe last summer that in Boston, he wants “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.”

Berlin, however, presents one of the highest peaks in classical music, a 133-year-old institution where the next maestro will join a line of revered conductors that includes Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado.

But not for a while.

After 11 long hours, the Berliners emerged from the conclave Monday to announce that the world would have to wait some more: The musicians had failed to elect a new leader.

“We have unfortunately come to no decision. There were positive and lively discussions and several rounds of voting, but unfortunately we were unable to agree on a conductor,” orchestra board member Peter Riegelbauer said in a press release. “We must continue this process and this election. That will have to take place within one year. We are very confident that we will come to a decision then.”


Sober following the failed vote, orchestra members said they would meet periodically to continue the election process.

They also wanted to clear up some of the rumors.

“Hey ‘Fake@sarahwillis’, your photoshopping sucks!” the real Willis tweeted from her verified account. “Sorry to all my twitter friends who thought it was me this afternoon, it was a cheap fake!”

A decision like this takes time, they seemed to say. But Twitter, like time, waits for no man.

Twitter chatter:

Related coverage:

- Andris Nelsons wins prestigious British award

- At Symphony Hall with Andris Nelsons, a new chapter for BSO

- Upbeat Andris Nelsons leaps into BSO world

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