The Boston Symphony has a new flavor. Latvian conductor, Andris Nelsons, takes the place of the much beloved, James Levine, whose recent health problems have forced him to resign. It would seem these are hard shoes to fill, based on the overwhelming support and praise from his peers and and the classical collective. Nelsons had much to prove on his opening night this past saturday, and the consensus is, he delivered.
Just 35 years old, Nelsons is the youngest conductor the Boston Symphony has had in over a century. Born in Riga, Latvia, Nelson’s mother and father were multi-talented musicians and teachers. At age five, his parents took him to a performance of Wagner’s,”Tannhauser”, which Nelsons refers to as a profoundly formative experience: "...it had a hypnotic effect on me. I was overwhelmed by the music. I cried when Tannhäuser died. I still think this was the biggest thing that happened in my childhood.”
Which is no surprise he started his opening night performance this past saturday with the Overture to “Tannhauser”. The performance has been said to be more like a gala to impress than an artistic impression, but Nelsons wrote is his program notes that in planning his first Boston season he wanted to listen to his heart and share works and artists he loves. Respectable, and straightforward, he did just that.
Not only did he open with the piece that changed his life, he also had the honor of conducting alongside his wife of three years, soprano, Kristine Opolais. She, and the tenor, Jonas Kauffman, added to the lovely repertoire with stirring performances of “Liebestod” from “Tristan and Isolde”, and “Mamma, Quel Vino è Generoso” from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana.” On top of the operatic numbers was more Wagner, Puccini, and more timeless classics.
The audience was on it’s feet the whole night, roaring applause and bravos streamed across the red velvet sea of very appreciative and moved listeners. The opening night was a success, and based on what Nelsons accomplished, the musical community is excited to see what his exhuberant vigor will bring to the BSO.