Anastasia Tsioulcas writes at NPR Music for “Deceptive Cadence” (http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence). Widely published as a writer on both classical and world music, she is the former North America editor for Gramophone Magazine and the classical music columnist for Billboard. She has also been an on-air contributor to many public radio programs, including WNYC’s Soundcheck, Minnesota Public Radio’s The Savvy Traveler, Public Radio International’s Weekend America, and the BBC’s The World.
Thursday morning, the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced that conductor Andris Nelsons is being appointed as its music director. The selection puts an end to the uncertainty that has cast a long shadow over the celebrated orchestra in recent years.
The BSO's former music director, James Levine, officially resigned his post in September 2011, but his tenure had already been plagued with ongoing health issues.
The 34-year-old Latvian's name has consistently been on the short list of possible successors. And there have been big signals from the orchestra. Last summer, when the orchestra played a gala concert to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its summer home, Tanglewood, Nelsons led part of the celebration.
Despite a perhaps outdated reputation for cultural conservatism, the BSO noted that Nelsons is not the youngest conductor to take the orchestra's helm. However, you'd have to go back to the 19th century to find the ensemble's even younger leaders: Georg Henschel was 31 when he became the BSO's first music director, and Arthur Nikisch was just 33 when he took over in 1889.
A couple of months ago, our colleague Brian McCreath at Boston's WGBH noted that the BSO players' buy in would be an essential component to the next — and hopefully less uncertain — chapter in the institution's history. "Part of the reason Levine came to the BSO in the first place," McCreath wrote, "was the enthusiasm of the players for his work. And major orchestras like the BSO can be downright cranky when they're not on board with a conductor."
Nelsons will be returning to Boston in mid-October to conduct a weekend of Wagner, Brahms and Mozart with pianist Paul Lewis, and then again in March 2014 for one concert performance of Strauss' Salome. In the official BSO official press release announcing Nelsons' arrival, there is no mention of the length of his initial contract.
Born in Riga, Latvia in 1978, Nelsons began his professional career as a trumpeter in the Latvian National Opera Orchestra before studying conducting. He is married to a fellow Latvian artist, soprano Kristine Opolais, who made her own splashy debut at the Met this January in Puccini's La Rondine and with whom Nelsons has recorded. The two have a 17-month-old daughter; there's no word yet on whether or not the family plans to take up residence in Boston, though Nelsons, who was not present in the city for the orchestra's announcement, is quoted as saying, "It is with great joy that I truly look forward to joining this wonderful musical family and getting to know the beautiful city of Boston and the community that so clearly loves its great orchestra."