In the Andris Nelsons tug-of-war, the agent comes out tops

In the Andris Nelsons tug-of-war, the agent comes out tops


norman lebrecht

September 10, 2015

Put another way: everyone else loses.

The Boston Symphony gives up a slice of its music director.

The Leipzig Gewandhaus loses creative independence as it is obliged to coordinate its programmes with Boston.

Andris Nelsons, never the most robust of conductors, becomes a shuttlecock between competing interests.

The only winner is KDSchmid Management of Hanover, London and Berlin, who have shrewdly placed their greatest asset in two positions that give the agents pivotal influence. This is, in many ways, an unprecedented deal in which both orchestras have to work through the agency to get the most out of Nelsons.

The difference between this and other job sharing schemes – such as Muti in Philadelphia and La Scala, Welser-Möst in Cleveland and Vienna, Barenboim in Berlin and La Scala – is that in each of these cases the maestro was strong in body and mind, absolutely clear-sighted about his priorities and requirements, able to walk away if he wished. In this case, the maestro is a prisoner of two strong-minded orchestra managers and his own agency.

As for the orchestras, they have lost more than they yet know. The German commentator Manuel Brug puts it very well when he points out today that both Boston and Leipzig have blindly surrendered their USP.

andris nelsons


  • Martin says:

    Prisoner? Doesn’t seem so.
    Loos more like a brilliant opportunity for both orchestras.

    The two orchestras intend to work together, including commissions, exchange of conductor students and musicians.

    More information can be found here:

    auf Deutsch:

    in English:

  • Halldor says:

    Can’t read the German but the idea that these two orchestras are competing for prestige in a global classical music marketplace seems a little dated. Neither tours nor recordings form any serious part of a major orchestra’s income in the 21st century. And unless audiences are genuinely hopping between two continents, this can’t have any bearing on ticket sales or subsidy/development income in Leipzig or Boston. Both cities will get superb concerts from an inspirational and incredibly engaging artist; both orchestras will learn from the experience of playing with him.

    Perhaps it would be better if ‘music director’ meant a conductor who’s overwhelmingly committed to one organisation – but the world has changed and Rattles and Elders are rare birds. They’ll continue to be the exception. Meanwhile Leipzig knows exactly what it’s getting into – and Boston, if it didn’t, really should have. Whatever happens (and hoping and praying that his health can take the strain of constantly flying to the US), they’ll both still get superlative music-making from Nelsons And that’s what counts…er, doesn’t it?

  • Has been says:

    Absolutely nothing new here !! Maris Jansons was MD of both the Concertgebow and the Bayerische Rundfunk simultaneously for years !!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Same continent, both orchs at his bidding rather than the other way round, lived midway between the two and still had to give up one.

      • Max Grimm says:

        I thought Mariss Jansons lived in St. Petersburg.

        • aimereg46 says:

          Jansons lives in St. Petersburg indeed. As for Nelsons, what I find bizarre is not that he’s running 2 orchestras, but the “collaboration” between them. What this means in practical terms, I have no idea.

      • MacroV says:

        Mariss Jansons gave up the Concertgebouw in part because of his health problems, though he now seems to be better and seemed to express some regret over having done so.

        But his conducting two orchestras on the same continent is kind of unusual.

  • Has been says:

    Actually the touring conflicts when Janson’s was in both Amsterdam and Munich were serius very frustrating and diminished the attractiveness of both orchestras in the touring market, which in Europe, is an important surce of income and prestige.

  • Peter says:

    It is common place for this blog to blame the ills of the classical music world on either agents or record companies. But what evidence is there that Schmid are at fault in Mr Nelsons’ new arrangement? Yes they will benefit financially from their commission, and probably from touring too (although they already work extensively with Leipzig). But the words “shrewdly placed” would seem to indicate that Schmid alone decide what their client wants. Is there evidence that Schmid have done so? Perhaps Mr Nelsons was dead-keen to get the Leipzig job and instructed his management to pursue the possibility? Perhaps Mr Nelsons was even counselled by a responsible management that having both positions would be tough. Certainly if he wanted both, his management may have been instrumental in making a huge positive out of a potentially difficult demand. Further down the line, when the “two strong-minded orchestra managers” are each demanding their pound of flesh, I am sure Schmid will be on their client’s side, not the jailer this article suggests.

  • Nigel Harris says:

    I guess there is probably an element of a silver lining in some of these planned cultural exchanges, but I have to say that I strongly suspect Mr Lebrecht is right. He’s not quite a ‘shuttlecock’, but overall the image of Nelsons painted in this article coheres more with the impression he gave in his seven years in Birmingham than do others I’ve been reading. He never came across as in any way a greedy empire builder with a strategic plan for his life, but as someone genuinely devoted to music, neither physically nor psychologically particularly robust, and with a childlikeness that I at least thought made him both very endearing and vulnerably naive. We were very lucky to have him here for as long and as often as we did, and he gave us many treasurable memories during what will certainly go down as a golden period in Birmingham’s musical life. I continue to fear for him, but also urge the audiences of Boston and Leipzig to treasure him deeply while they can. He really is an exceptional talent, and let’s not forget that.

  • Luciano says:

    He’s a big talent, but why the need to do so much when so young? A conductor needs tine to be a human being too. The Karajans and Abbados never did so many weeks.

    • ruben greenberg says:

      I might add, as a shiatsu practitioner, that if he goes on conducting with his particular body language, he will sooner or later have major medical problems. He could be just as, or far more, effective by being more economical in his movements.

      • mhtetzel says:

        Agree with you. It is very distracting although musicians seem to love him.

      • John Kelly says:

        Fritz Reiner and Richard Strauss agree with you.

        • Urania says:

          His body language is largely disturbing. His movements are not in tune with the music but full of strain. Poor guy.

          But I do think that the Stadtrat in Leipzig did put the deal together (or even asked for it) with Schmid. The mayor stated that ‘der liebe Andris’ was his first choice and they have the ‘Du’ already. The mayor is not deeply musical but more in love with events and big names.

  • herrera says:

    I disagree, I think Nelsons comes out pretty well.

    1) He gets to keep the same American salary for doing less (in terms of community outreach, local presence and leadership, etc).

    2) He gets increased presence in proximity to Berlin (his ultimate goal, as everyone knows now that all the cards are on the table).

    3) With shared programming, he doesn’t even have to study different scores, he just plays the same thing in 2 different cities, like a touring soloist! Brilliant!

    Which brings me back to point #1, he is doing less for more pay, because if he were only guest-conducting Leipzip, he would actually have to prepare a something new, but with shared programming…

    (In the case of Muti, and Welser-Most, they actually had to juggle a symphonic and an operatic repertory.)

  • Karen Fodor says:

    Please can somebody explain about AN not being in robust health?
    When I saw him in B’ham he looked trim and healthy. What am I missing ? thx

    • Alexander Hall says:

      If you walk into a door at Bayreuth and emerge with concussion, that suggests you might have too many thoughts racing through your mind. Over the years he has cancelled a great many appearances with the CBSO and backed out of half the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Brahms cycle as well as having to curtail his conducting programme at Covent Garden. It’s his susceptibility to one infection after another – remember the ear problems that stopped him doing his penultimate CBSO programme in Birmingham? – which makes many of us think that his body is trying to tell him something. A compromised immune system is not a good idea for a jet-setting maestro.

      • Sue says:

        I’ve seen AN twice in Vienna and thought he was absolutely wonderful. He’s the new Carlos Kleiber and what a talent he is!! Good luck, Maestro Nelsons.

  • Milka says:

    The Boston audience gets a screwing -must be a dumb bunch of what’s left of
    the audience.

  • Daniel F. says:

    The BSO will certainly be thrilled to learn that its brand new, enormously invested-in, music director is not in robust physical health. What’s the “back story” here? The guy seems to exude a lot of energy—all the time with no let up or much discrimination (but that’s another story). Can anyone explain what his physical problems are? Or is it just a series of minor mishaps. Anyone can walk into a door. Or is this another case of journalistic license wagging the dog reality?

  • Nigel Harris says:

    Mr Hall has summed up perfectly what seems to be known about Nelsons’s physical health. He’s certainly in much better shape than James Levine has been for some time, but there remains justifiable cause for concern. As to his ‘robustness of mind’, well, he’s said by some in the CBSO orbit to be something of a hypochondriac, and is known to have a near-phobia of flying. Above all, though, he doesn’t seem to be good at looking after himself and managing his workload. He can’t say no and, as such, works absurdly hard. To me at least he often looks like a tired man getting by on adrenalin. Maybe we notice these things in Birmingham in part because the contrast in all these respects with the young Simon Rattle is particularly striking: unlike Rattle, Nelsons looks like a man who can’t stop and isn’t fully in control. Which, I guess, is why much of Mr Lebrecht’s analysis rings worryingly true.

    • Halldor says:

      I’ll second every word of that.

    • Stweart says:

      Well said Nigel. There should be concern about his health. He is foremost and almost a nice human being with a great gift. These political “agents” should realise that as Birmingham did.
      On a more optimistic front, the Leipzig are more likely to tour the UK than the BSO , so we may well hear him again in Birmingham. Fingers crossed . SH management note !

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    AN makes a joke about the walking into a door here :

  • Will says:

    1. I especially love the worry about flying back and forth across the Atlantic. A long flight, yes, but only to Boston. And he avoids a lot of shuttling around various cities by train/plane by having a second base instead of a dozen or so peripatetic weeks.

    And really… in first class these days, always met at the airport. Just not that tough.

    2. He’ll conduct what he wants where he wants, with some repeat programming. Maybe not free to repeat programs as much as he might he were bringing a small number of them to a larger number of cities, but I’ve seen no evidence that musical preparation is an issue for him. Perhaps this limits the broadening of his repertoire a bit?

    3. As for Boston, this probably confirms my fear that AN is a conductor for the orchestra first, foremost, and entirely. I never expected much community outreach or audience development work from him or seen any evidence of it.

    4. Most of the rest about Leipzig-Boston collaboration is window dressing. Shared commissions? Old hat. A week-long festival in each city? Sure why not. Buzz buzz buzz. The one solid news here is the involvement of Christ Wolff, which suggests we might see something of substance.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    After the dispiriting Levine years in Boston – when they finally got a dynamic, super-talented conductor to stir things up after Ozawa’s slow fadeout – only to get the man on board at precisely the time his health gave out in a big way…..oh that’s a long lead-in…..

    If Mr Nelsons’s health is a bit spotty, the folks in Boston have to be wondering, “Oh no, here we go again.”

    Re: Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch – If they offer you the MD position, are you really going to say “no”? OK, somebody like Carlos Kleiber would have….and maybe some other conductors. But the temptation is to say “yes” and figure out how to make it work later.

    Duplication of programs: How much work is Nelsons really saving himself? *He* doesn’t have to study extra scores, but he’ll still have to work TWO orchestras through rehearsals. Also, I rather thought guest conductors often performed a piece with their “home” orchestras, then played it again with orchestras they’re guesting with. Somebody above said that being MD of two orchestras, rather than MD of one and guest conductor of another, would save Nelsons the burden of learning one program for the BSO, then a different one for the guest engagement. Osmo Vanska just nearly replicated his last Minnesota Orchestra of the season with the BBC Symphony at the Proms a few weeks ago.

    Anyway let’s hope Nelsons stays strong in mind and body and does well in both posts.

    • Halldor says:

      Indeed, let’s hope that. But Nelsons’ health issues were very well-known long before Boston offered him the post, as was the fact that he’s not the kind of individual who’s ever likely to be an effective fundraiser, socialite, artistic policy-maker and public speaker. None of this is news.

      He’s simply a sublimely gifted artist. If both orchestras have any sense, they’ll cherish that.

  • Karen Fodor says:

    Claudio Abbado was apparently often in great pain at the end of his life following his stomach removal but would usually make it somehow to the podium. Similarly HvK would conduct even when his backpain was chronic. Rubinstein made it to the stage even with the pain of his newly done eye op. And the list goes on and on.

    Nelsons, in the prime of youth, is maybe a bit of a wimp. And those wild over-arm gyrations are going to ruin his rotator cuffs.