The Boston Symphony Orchestra on Thursday named Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons as its next music director, ending a two-year search that began when James Levine stepped down in 2011 amid a series of health problems.
Though still a relative newcomer to U.S. concert halls, Nelsons has been gaining recognition in the UK as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, a post he's held since 2008 and recently renewed through 2015.
At 34, Nelsons will be the Boston Symphony’s youngest music director in over a century, according to the orchestra. He's had three tryouts with the BSO, starting in 2011 as a substitute for Levine at Carnegie Hall, then again last summer at Tanglewood, and finally at Symphony Hall in January.
In a phone interview on Friday, Nelsons described his enthusiasm for the orchestra and the city of Boston, noting that he identifies with its European character. "It’s one of the most European-oriented cities in America," he said, while also citing its proud sports tradition.
Nelsons also acknowledged the "worrisome" state of American orchestras. "It's a little different in American than in Europe," he said. "We have to think about education. We as an orchestra are the biggest messengers of culture in the city. We have a platform and a task to take as many people on board with the BSO as possible. Even if one concertgoer can bring a friend to a concert, that’s how it happens. One by one, people will think about orchestras."
Nelsons will start his five-year contract in the 2014-15 season, leading 8 to 10 weeks of concerts. He is slated to conduct twice in 2013-14: this October, he'll lead a weekend of Mozart, Brahms and Wagner; and in March 2014 he'll conduct one concert performance of Strauss's Salome.
Reviewing Nelsons's most recent performance with the BSO, Boston Globe music critic Jeremy Eichler wrote, "His podium presence was as animated as ever, his gestures a collection of swoops, leaps, and crouches through which he not only communicates very specific musical ideas but also a more primal sense of pleasure in the very act of music-making."
Eichler also noted a micromanaging tendency in a Tchaikovsky performance, but he reported that the audience gave Nelsons a hearty ovation. Nelsons will return to Tanglewood with the BSO for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem on July 27.
Nelsons comes from a musical family in Riga and began his professional career as a trumpeter in the orchestra of the Latvian National Opera. In 2003, he became the opera's principal conductor, a post he held for four years. During that period he met the Latvian soprano Kristīne Opolais, then a chorus singer in the opera. The couple married in 2011 and perform together occasionally, as they will this August with the CBSO.
The BSO is the latest major orchestra to go for relative youth in their choice of music director. Yannick Nézet-Séguin was 37 when he became the Philadelphia Orchestra's music director last September. In January, the Houston Symphony hired 35-year-old conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada. And the 32-year-old Gustavo Dudamel is in his fourth season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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