Andris Nelsons leaves on a Beethoven high

Andris Nelsons leaves on a Beethoven high


norman lebrecht

August 21, 2014

The Latvian conductor is leaving the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where he made his name. He is leaving with some reluctance, having apparently asked the Boston Symphony if he could retain a formal attachment to his previous band. Boston said no.

So Andris is launchuing his final season with a six-day Beethoven cycle, the biggest high music can buy.

Press release below:


nelsons nobel

2014-15 is Andris Nelsons’ seventh and final season as music director of the CBSO. The symphonies of Beethoven are one of the greatest journeys that any conductor and orchestra can take together. Nelsons opens the 2014-15 season with his critically acclaimed Beethoven Symphony Cycle, last performed in Birmingham by the CBSO during the 2012-13 season. Back by popular demand, all nine Beethoven Symphonies will be performed over six days.  These concerts come immediately after the same team will have performed this cycle in the composer’s home town of Bonn as part of Beethovenfest.


On 16 September the CBSO begin the Beethoven symphony cycle with a performance of the first three symphonies. Symphony No. 1, dedicated to an early patron of the composer, had influences of the composer’s predecessors Haydn and Mozart but began to show characteristics that marked it uniquely as Beethoven’s work. The Second Symphony was written in four movements at a time when Beethoven’s deafness was becoming more pronounced. The movements varied in musical style with the second one, influenced by folk music and the pastoral, presaging Symphony No. 6. The concert closes with Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’ which expressed both the classical style of eighteenth-century compositions and also defining features of the romantic style used in nineteenth-century orchestral composition.


The second concert on the afternoon of 18 September opens with Symphony No. 4 which is considered to be one of Beethoven’s lighter symphonies once again recalling the work of Haydn. The concert concludes with Symphony No. 5, which often overshadows its predecessor as one of Beethoven’s most played symphonies.


On 20 September the CBSO performs Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’, written in five movements and inspired by Beethoven’s love of nature. This is followed by a performance of Symphony No. 7 which was described by Wagner as ‘the apotheosis of dance’.


For the final concert on 21 September the CBSO perform Beethoven’s final two symphonies. Symphony No. 8 is the shortest of all nine and was referred to by Beethoven as ‘my little Symphony in F’. The CBSO is joined by soprano Annette Dasch, mezzo-soprano Lioba Braun, tenor Ben Johnson, bass Vuyani Mlindeand the CBSO Chorus for a performance of Symphony No. 9, the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony, thus earning its name ‘Choral’ 


Andris Nelsons has been Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since 2008, enjoying critically acclaimed seasons. With the CBSO, he undertakes major tours worldwide, including regular appearances at such summer festivals as Lucerne Festival, BBC Proms and Berliner Festspiele. Together they have toured the major European concert halls, including the Musikverein, Vienna, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Gasteig, Munich and the Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid.


‘Your Orchestra Needs You’ audience appeal

The CBSO currently performs to over 200,000 people each year, offers musical educations to thousands of children in the West Midlands, nurtures the talents of hundreds of local musicians through its youth and adult choirs and flies the flag for Birmingham both nationally and internationally. It has ambitious plans to build on this tradition of excellence but with a 24% cut in its public funding needs financial support to achieve them.


The CBSO launches its ‘Your Orchestra Needs You’ appeal on 16 Septemberwith a goal of raising £50,000 towards three priority areas of its work:

  • keynote concerts, which in 2014–15 include Wagner’s Parsifal, Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 and the UK premiere of James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion;
  • the CBSO Youth Orchestra, Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus, which provide musical opportunities for 300 of the region’s most talented young musicians;
  • War Requiem, a four-year major community project in Perry Barr bringing together young people with residents in local care homes to commemorate World War 1 centenary through music.


Donations are invited by cheque, credit card, BACS transfer or online giving through the CBSO website, and can be sent by post or left in collection boxes in Symphony Hall at CBSO concerts.



  • Douglas Davis says:

    Great from Andras Nelsons. Poorer British audiences. But great, great memories

  • Milkaa says:

    If it is a truth that he is leaving with some
    “reluctance” then why is he leaving?

    Could it be that $$ trumps sentiment ?

    Good for Boston …………..The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
    if having any sort of dignity
    should hustle him out with a caution
    not to tary in case the closing door
    should strike his backside .
    Formal attachment indeed .Should
    be a caution to Boston .

    • Nick says:

      The latest figures available in the tax filing for the 2010/11 season show that the MD of the Boston Symphony earned $1.207,300. Given that Levine was MD during that season, I suspect Nelsons will be on a lower amount. But most of the major orchestras will now be paying at least $1 million and I cannot imagine the CBSO comes close to that.

      As enticing will be the opportunities that now open up for him as a guest conductor of almost all the major orchestras. Not that he has not had considerable success on other podiums before, but he will now be a regular on many.

  • newyorker says:

    “The CBSO is joined by soprano Annette Dasch, mezzo-soprano Lioba Braun, tenor Ben Johnson, bass Vuyani Mlindeand the CBSO Chorus for a performance of Symphony No. 9, the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony, thus earning its name ‘Choral’”

    It’s stunning, isn’t it, that such an explanation would be necessary in a press release today?

  • DLowe says:

    Another Beethoven cycle. How about something a little different? No-one’s doubting the great man’s genius, but unless conductors are a little original, he runs the risk of becoming hackneyed, which he most certainly doesn’t deserve. Could be wrong, but I think Oramo began his BBC tenure with the Beethovens. What a surprise.

    • Dave K says:

      “Oramo began his BBC tenure with the Beethovens”. Sorry, you’re wrong, though there has been the odd LvB symphony.

    • Dave says:

      You’re mistaken about Nelsons.

      I’m a little surprised Slipped Disk has chosen to focus on the Beethoven cycle which opens the CBSO’s season rather than including the closing season as a whole.

      Don’t for one minute think that Andris Nelsons’ programming does not incorporate original programming. (Kaminsky’s ‘Dorian Music’ for example in one of his first Berlin Phil concerts)

      Nelsons’ progamming does gravitate towards German Masterworks, but don’t for one minute think he is not incorporating the new. His final pair of concerts at CBSO open with a new commission by Eriks Ešenvalds, before finishing with Mahler’s 3rd Symphony.

      • Halldor says:

        Nelsons has also performed works by John Casken and Emily Howard at the Proms, and last night Britten’s War Requiem.

        Oramo meanwhile has as broad a repertoire – and as keen a curiosity – as almost any conductor alive: this is a man who has conducted (with zest and insight) Richard Ayres, Gyorgy Kurtag, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jonathan Harvey, Elliott Carter, Nicholas Maw, Frank Bridge, Leevi Madetoja, Constant Lambert, Georges Enescu, John Foulds, Jean-Fery Rebel, Puccini, Philippe Schoeller and the lightest, subtlest Gilbert & Sullivan “Iolanthe” I’ve ever heard. If he chooses to conduct Beethoven too…well, I don’t think he has anything to prove as regards imagination or breadth of repertoire.

        • DLowe says:

          I stand corrected re the Oramo Beethoven. I’m sure I’m being overly critical; I just seem to constantly see a lot made of great conductors doing another cycle of another great composer (when often, though not necessarily in this case, they’ve done it before to equal acclaim), and not enough attention is given when something original is done. Will the forthcoming performance of Smetana’s Dalibor by the BBC SO under Belohlavek stir as much interest as this? I doubt it.

          Regardless, I mean no disrespect to Nelsons or the CBSO. I have no doubt that the performances will be well worth hearing.

          • Dave says:

            It says something about the belief in a conductor’s musicianship when an orchestra of the CBSO’s stature allows them to do a whole series as familiar as a Beethoven symphony cycle.

            It also says something about the timeless qualities of the Beethoven symphonies that truly great musicians can bring something new to it and still make it interesting enough to draw an audience. I’m sure Smetana’s Dalibor has its real qualities but since the Beethoven is already so familiar, the expectation is already there.

            But another Beethoven cycle will always draw an audience and at the culmination of such a successful tenure with Nelsons now a conductor of international repute, I’m not at all surprised this forms part of their programme.

  • Bob Barclay says:

    On the evidence of what I heard in the Royal Albert Hall last night the CBSO should be looking forward to a new man at the helm. In the many years of hearing them I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed. I was looking forward to hearing Nelsons for the first time, but I certainly won’t be rushing to hear him again. It sounded under-rehearsed and lacked any sense of drive or intensity over what is naturally there with such large forces. In fact, it was pretty difficult to discern his input at all other than his over attention to a chorus who it became clear needed his attention far less than the orchestra.The arrangement of the chamber orchestra, with the first violin on the conductor’s left and the wind et al. on his right resulted in some poor communication and ensemble in some of the most exposed passages. Luckily the chorus produced one of the most clear, precise and heartfelt performances I have heard of the piece (but that will be down to Simon Halsey rather than Nelsons) and the soloists were excellent.

    I would have to admit to also being rather taken aback by Nelson’s wearing of a crumpled black jacket that looked as if he had just picked it up off the floor, over a black T shirt!! It is fine for a performer to perform in something they feel comfortable in (I myself am perfectly comfortable conducting in tails), but some appreciation of what people have paid to come and experience should be born in mind.

    If anyone else was there last night I would be most interested to know whether I really am the only one who felt completely underwhelmed by what should have been a shattering experience.

  • Milka says:

    It says nothing about a belief in a conductor’s musicianship – it just points
    out that by doing yet another Beethoven
    cycle both audience and conductor
    have entered the theatre of the absurd
    drawing on an audience that one can only think of as the living dead and a
    conductor cleverly trading on the fact .

  • Alexander Hall says:

    “Boston said no”: it beggars belief that an internationally recognised symphony orchestra could supposedly have imposed this kind of veto on its incoming Music Director. The world is full of examples of maestros who either are in charge of two orchestras at the same time or who combine a position as Chief Guest Conductor (or however it is titled) with the Music Directorship of another. If this report really is true, and Boston imposed such shackles on Andris Nelsons, I’m surprised he didn’t walk away from his appointment before it has even started. After all, given how high his stakes are at the moment, Nelsons could have had the pick of several ensembles the equal of, and superior to, the outfit in Boston.

  • Milka says:

    “Boston said no ! ” good for Boston !! The world is full of modest (if that ) talents serving two masters, gone are the days of Stokowski, Toscanini , etc
    when one orchestra was enough . Now we have globe trotting time keepers pretending to serve music. I
    suspect Nelsons didn’t walk away
    for it was the best offer $$ he would ever get . If he could have
    the pick of any orchestra (equal to Boston )that would allow him to beat time with other groups why didn’t he sign with one of those superior ensembles.? Boston is his employer
    and if he didn’t like the terms he didn’t
    have to sign , his association with
    the Boston Symphony will give his modest talents a standing in the musical world that few orchestras if
    any could match , let’s hope he can
    rise to the occasion .