Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

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John F
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Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by John F » Wed Oct 21, 2015 6:39 am

While I wasn't looking, Andris Nelsons became the chief conductor designate of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, in addition to being music director of the Boston Symphony. This isn't good news for either Leipzig or Boston.

There's a long interview in Die Zeit with the Leipzig Intendant in which he offers many specious arguments why this arrangement is feasible, logical, and necessary. But despite his effort to explain things away, this devalues the Gewandhaus "brand" (the Intendant actually used that word, as if the Gewandhaus Orchestra were corn flakes), as it will become the second orchestra of its chief conductor. Boston got Nelsons first.

This arrangement is also a breach of a long-standing and almost universal rule, that the music director of an orchestra is contractually not allowed to take such a position with another orchestra, or even in some cases to guest conduct in the same country. The examples the Intendant gives are of music directors who divide their work between one orchestra and one opera company, as did James Levine in his Boston years. The time is divided nonetheless, but at least each of the ensembles can claim exclusivity with its chief conductor. Now neither Boston nor Leipzig can do this. So much for "brand" identification.

For Nelsons, the added workload is less than if he had signed with an opera company. He can conduct much the same music in both cities, so it isn't as if he had to learn and maintain a second and quite different repertoire. But there aren't enough days in the year for him or any other conductor to lavish a music director's tender loving care on both orchestras, their sound and their personnel. For one or both of them, he will be no more than the conductor of a moderately large number of concerts - far fewer than were usual for the position - and as such, more a principal guest conductor than a music director.

It's not as if there were a shortage of conductors who could do good work in Leipzig. Yannick Nezet-Seguin, little known at the time, was chosen by the Philadelphia Orchestra as its music director, and is reportedly doing good work there; some are now promoting him as James Levine's successor at the Met when that time comes. Alan Gilbert was even less well known, even in New York, when the New York Philharmonic tapped him; the Phil had enough confidence in its own "brand" prestige not to need a name conductor. (Of course they had pursued Riccardo Muti, but when he said no, they turned to Gilbert.) Welser-Möst in Cleveland, Salonen and Dudamel in Los Angeles, and for that matter Petrenko in Berlin, were "passengers" riding on their orchestras' reputations, but have succeeded, or with Petrenko are likely to succeed. They didn't all feel compelled to sign Gergiev or Barenboim.

Well, enough of this rant. Nelsons shouldn't have signed with Leipzig, and the BSO shouldn't have let him. But what's done is done, and both orchestras will have to live with the consequences - though perhaps not very long.
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by piston » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:05 am

Nezet-Seguin is m.d. in Philadelphia until 2021-22, for the Metropolitan orchestra of Montreal also until 2021-22 and remains principal conductor in Rotterdam until 2017. What is so unusual about the Nelsons situation? I don't quite understand. These days, it's almost just as fast to fly between North America and Europe than to drive within the state of New York to attend a concert in NYC!

BTW, Nezet-Seguin was named "Artist of the Year" by Musical America. But while the guy has done wonders in Philadelphia, the orchestra's financial situation is still a difficult one.
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John F
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by John F » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:51 am

What you say about the Nezet-Seguin situation is easily understood: he had positions with the two other orchestras, neither in the top flight, before he was offered the Philadelphia Orchestra. The other orchestras could hardly object; if they did, Nezet-Seguin would likely have resigned to clear the way for Philadelphia. He should have anyway.

I've already explained what's unusual about one conductor becoming music director of two top-flight orchestras at the same time, and see no need to add more to what I've said. It isn't about travel, or about conducting a certain number of concerts; it's also about full artistic responsibility for the orchestra, including planning seasons, involvement in hiring players, and in the U.S., participation in community outreach and often in fundraising - most of which occurs during the musical season. Not even a young and vigorous man like Nelsons can do all this for two orchestras. That's why I suggested that this arrangement may not last long.
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by maestrob » Wed Oct 21, 2015 1:57 pm

Orchestras (except for Vienna, with their distinct instruments) sound pretty much the same nowadays, and play very similar repertoire, no matter who's conducting. I don't really see the problem with this situation. Nelsons is a hit on the international scene (I think he has some maturing to do), and I'm sure Boston would have preferred to have him exclusively, but that's not how things work nowadays apparently.

I'd be curious to know how many concerts he's planning with each orchestra and what repertoire he's planning to record. Thankfully, both orchestras are in good shape musically, so if his attention is divided, well right now they may not need such concentrated attention as they would have 30-40 years ago.

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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by barney » Wed Oct 21, 2015 6:45 pm

I agree with JohnF that it is unfortunate. I think it is an aspect of the modern age, where everything is allowed to be more ephemeral and less committed (although you re right that modern transport and communications have made it easier). The idea of staying in one spot, building an institution, being involved with it at all levels, identifying with it yourself (as opposed to "for the brand") no longer seems to figure on people's horizons. And that's not just orchestras, that's the general culture of which orchestras are a part. When you look at the greed, disloyalty, self-interest and short-termism of most corporate chief executives, conductors come off pretty well by comparison.

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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Oct 21, 2015 10:18 pm

barney wrote:When you look at the greed, disloyalty, self-interest and short-termism of most corporate chief executives, conductors come off pretty well by comparison.
I don't think John F said anything from which we can draw that inference. ;) This could in fact boil down to Nelsons not resisting the ego/careerist/bank account gratification that comes with having both those jobs at the same time. I don't know if that is an accurate take on the situation, but it would fit the facts, as would the parallel to CEO greed with how he's getting away with it: No one powerful enough has stepped in to stop it. In fact, if this is part of the pattern of corporatization that we see for instance in higher education, no one who could is motivated to stop it.

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John F
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by John F » Thu Oct 22, 2015 7:10 am

maestrob wrote:Orchestras (except for Vienna, with their distinct instruments) sound pretty much the same nowadays, and play very similar repertoire, no matter who's conducting. I don't really see the problem with this situation. Nelsons is a hit on the international scene (I think he has some maturing to do), and I'm sure Boston would have preferred to have him exclusively, but that's not how things work nowadays apparently.

I'd be curious to know how many concerts he's planning with each orchestra and what repertoire he's planning to record. Thankfully, both orchestras are in good shape musically, so if his attention is divided, well right now they may not need such concentrated attention as they would have 30-40 years ago.
maestrob, all this is very strange coming from you. First, as to repertoire: what has distinguished Alan Gilbert's time with the New York Philharmonic is precisely his distinctive programming: Ligeti's "Le Grand Macabre" in his first season, a complete cycle of the Nielsen symphonies and concertos for which a record company was found to publish the concerts, and so on. Going back some, Toscanini's and Furtwängler's concerts overlapped some, in the inescapable Beethoven and Brahms, but otherwise their repertoires had very different profiles.

As for responsibilities, the music director of a symphony orchestra puts together the whole season, not just his concerts. He coordinates the wishes of the guest conductors so that three of them (and he) don't play the Pathetique Symphony four times in a season - and, if possible, to conduct works that fit the orchestra's artistic profile as he wishes it to be. Am I wrong? To put together one season for the BSO that is suitable for Boston, and the same season at the Gewandhaus that's right for Leipzig, two orchestras and cities with which Nelsons has only the beginning of an acquaintance, would not only require a great deal of time and negotiation but possibly a split artistic personality. It'll get done somehow, it has to, but my guess is that much of the heavy lifting will be done by others, with Nelsons merely OKing or blue pencilling their work. A Koussevitzky or Stokowski wouldn't have stood for it.

Nelsons's twofer with two of the world's top orchestras is definitely not how things are done nowadays. It may set a precedent, making it harder for other orchestras to demand exclusivity of their music directors, but that's another matter.

What you say about orchestras sounding alike is generally true, but if you have heard an American orchestra with (for example) a Russian music director, you might be surprised. I'm speaking of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra when Yuri Temirkanov was there. The tonal balance was quite different; instead of the top-heavy brilliance typical of many American orchestras, the Baltimore had a rich, deep sound, partly because Temirkanov used 8 double basses instead of the usual 7 or 6, but also because of the balances he got in his orchestra.

It may be that many of today's conductors do not have individual ideas about how they want an orchestra to sound, just as many of today's pianists produce a monochromatic sound from their Steinways compared with the colors in Hofmann's and Richter's playing. But this doesn't prevent a musician from trying and sometimes achieving an individual sound - provided he works at it long and hard enough. Stokowski did; Furtwängler did; Koussevitzky did. But it seems that music directors nowadays conduct their orchestras too seldom, over too brief a period, to achieve results like that, even if they wanted to. And if a conductor is in charge of two high-ranking orchestras, in two very different halls, it's highly unlikely that he can achieve distinctive results with either.
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by maestrob » Thu Oct 22, 2015 12:04 pm

John, I think you made my point exactly. Nelsons has yet to establish his own sound, the way Toscanini or Stokowski did: my point was that those days are over. Conductors have given up much of their power (see Colin Davis) in this age, and I suspect that the same is true here for Nelsons, since he will obviously not have the time or energy to focus on one institution. Too bad, I say. He'll still make good music, but will it be great? Only time will tell.

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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by John F » Thu Oct 22, 2015 2:27 pm

It's a basic question, and I don't know the answer, whether it's today's conductors or today's orchestras who are responsible for the reduced presence of music directors. If Andris Nelsons wanted to conduct, say, half of the BSO's concerts per season, wouldn't the BSO welcome this commitment by a conductor whom, it seems, they believe is the greatest thing since sliced bread? Is it Nelsons who chose to conduct "his orchestra" for so few weeks and leave it at the mercy of random guest conductors for most of the season? Only Nelsons could answer that question.

We don't know whether Nelsons has an ideal orchestral sound in his head which, given the time and the orchestra's cooperation, he could realize consistently in performance. We have heard such conductors in fairly recent memory; Herbert von Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic sounded like no other orchestra, it embodied his ideal of beautiful blended sound above all, and this wasn't just an artifact of the recording studio, they really did sound like that. His and the Berliners' commitment to each other was absolute until near the end; where he was essentially a guest conductor, as with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic, the orchestras produced their own sound rather than his.

All this is somewhat beside the point. The question is whether any conductor, young or old, can have what it takes to be the true music director of two top-flight orchestras playing full seasons and sometimes tours in the summer, when the presenters want the music director to conduct. I don't believe he can, and that both Boston and Leipzig will have to manage with a part-time music director who will conduct them for a few weeks and then disappear for one or two months. That's no way to run an orchestra.
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by rogch » Thu Oct 22, 2015 3:16 pm

They have also announced a partnership between the two orchestras. All this happened just a couple of days after Riccardo Chailly surprisingly quit. Very strange.

http://slippedisc.com/2015/09/in-the-an ... -out-tops/

Actually these two orchestras are very different. I am not saying that one is better than the other, but they are very different. I did believe that Nelsons was the right man for Boston, but i am not sure about Leipzig. And both at once? Does not seem like a good idea. Has Nelsons recorded Bach at all? The Gewandhausorchester recorded many Bach works under Chailly, they play Bach in a local church every week and have done so for a very long time. Not with their chief conductor usually, but stil. They play a lot of Bach.
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by Heck148 » Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:13 pm

John F wrote: Herbert von Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic sounded like no other orchestra, it embodied his ideal of beautiful blended sound above all, and this wasn't just an artifact of the recording studio, they really did sound like that.
Yes, they played that way for HvK - but I have two recordings of the BPO from the Karajan years, led by other conductors - Mehta and Salonen - and the orchestra sounds entirely different. The BPO sounds really great - none of that ultra-smoothed over, rounded off, everything legato von Karajan style - they play with brilliance, sharpness [articulation, not pitch :)] and buoyant rhythm and accents..
I'm sure when HvK conducted, they resumed the characteristic sound....but they could alter it when required.

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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by barney » Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:35 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
barney wrote:When you look at the greed, disloyalty, self-interest and short-termism of most corporate chief executives, conductors come off pretty well by comparison.
I don't think John F said anything from which we can draw that inference. ;)
You are right, of course. It was entirely my own thought (I do have one every decade or two). It was intended, by extension, as an endorsement of John's position. It strikes me that this is an example of vaunting ambition that o'erleapeth itself, and if Nelsons doesn't soon realise that then he doesn't have the same view of the role of chief conductor that we on this board seem to share.

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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by John F » Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:56 pm

Heck148 wrote:
John F wrote: Herbert von Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic sounded like no other orchestra, it embodied his ideal of beautiful blended sound above all, and this wasn't just an artifact of the recording studio, they really did sound like that.
Yes, they played that way for HvK - but I have two recordings of the BPO from the Karajan years, led by other conductors - Mehta and Salonen - and the orchestra sounds entirely different. The BPO sounds really great - none of that ultra-smoothed over, rounded off, everything legato von Karajan style - they play with brilliance, sharpness [articulation, not pitch :)] and buoyant rhythm and accents..
I'm sure when HvK conducted, they resumed the characteristic sound....but they could alter it when required.
Did Salonen actually record with the Berlin Philharmonic before 1990? I didn't know that. What was the music? Anyway, what you describe is normal, I should think. A conductor may want an orchestra to produce his ideal sound when he's conducting, and as music director he can work toward that objective for years; how they sound when he's away, or after he's gone, isn't his concern.

And of course some conductors care less than others about orchestral sound as such, Leonard Bernstein for example.
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by Heck148 » Fri Oct 23, 2015 10:50 am

John F wrote: Did Salonen actually record with the Berlin Philharmonic before 1990? I didn't know that. What was the music?
Yes, in 10/86 - Salonen recorded excerpts from Prokofieff Romeo & Juliet - very excellent, and a a real steal - IIRC, I found it in a cut-out bin...Very fine disc - doesn't quite replace Mitropoulos/NYPO for me, but still a most welcome addition.

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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by Chalkperson » Fri Oct 23, 2015 1:59 pm

whilst i fully understand and accept your point, i think this is the new way for classical music, the past is over, welcome to the future.
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Re: Andris Nelsons: Boston and now Leipzig

Post by John F » Fri Oct 23, 2015 2:46 pm

rogch wrote:Actually these two orchestras are very different. I am not saying that one is better than the other, but they are very different. I did believe that Nelsons was the right man for Boston, but i am not sure about Leipzig. And both at once? Does not seem like a good idea. Has Nelsons recorded Bach at all? The Gewandhausorchester recorded many Bach works under Chailly, they play Bach in a local church every week and have done so for a very long time. Not with their chief conductor usually, but still. They play a lot of Bach.
All that is right. A detachment of the Gewandhaus Orchestra plays in Bach's old church, the Thomaskirche, but I believe under the direction of the church's cantor (Bach's successor) rather than a "secular" conductor. In the old days this was Gunther Ramin.
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