Andris Nelsons: ‘Shostakovich was a kind of Hamlet’

Andris Nelsons: ‘Shostakovich was a kind of Hamlet’


norman lebrecht

January 26, 2016

The Boston music director has been discussing his upcoming Shakespeare season with our pals at





“He’s problematic, you know?” Nelsons said.  “This question—‘to be or not to be’–is a constant question for all of us, and will be always.

“We look at Hamlet through Shostakovich’s eyes,” he said, touching on another festival item, the theater music the Russian composer composed while still a student (not the much later score to a film of Hamlet). 

Recalling Shosatkovich’s wary relations with the deadly Stalin regime in the U.S.S.R., Nelsons said, “Three hundred years [after Shakespeare], what was in Shostakovich’s life?  To be or not to be!”  In this very early theater score, “there is a requiem, a funeral march, Ophelia’s song, a dance.  In all of this already there is some kind of irony and drama” characteristic of this composer.

Aren’t both those things already in Shakespeare’s play? “You can say this music is about the play and the dramatism of Hamlet,” Nelson answered. “Of course it is, but I’m sure, if you see the parallels to how he lived [under Soviet rule], Shostakovich was kind of a Hamlet in his life, you know?  He faced these questions in a very personal way.” 

Read more here.



  • milka says:

    Most conductors would be right at home with the “to be or not to be ” .Which orchestra should I pretend to care for most, which pays $ the most . Which will give me more
    world exposure and more$$$ . How many orchestras can I get under my belt while
    pretending to serve music . It is indeed a tough little world for conductors , 12 weeks
    here 10 weeks there etc.– on the other side people get what they deserve .

    • Prewartreasure says:

      Cynical, or what?

      I hope you feel better, soon, Milka.

      • Milka says:

        There were days when your favorite conductor gave his attention to one orchestra
        introduced new works , championed others less known -became part of the community
        not I’ll give 12 weeks here , 10 weeks there ,6 weeks there crap –
        Some names that built these great orchestras – Stokowski , Toscanini ,Koussevitzky,
        Szell, etc . Now we have journeyman conductors a few weeks here a few weeks there,
        wherever the $ is…and the BS played out to the home base crowd is an art in itself.
        The snide closing remark is to be expected from the limited .

        • Holly Golightly says:

          Nurse!! He’s out of bed again.

        • Greg from SF says:

          I agree with Milka ten times over.
          The great conductor/orchestra combinations were built – could ONLY be built – with conductors who worked with their orchestras all season long, very year, for many years.
          Toscanini/NY Phil
          Van Beinum/Concertgebouw
          and, yes….
          I can’t tell you how much it pains me to contemplate the Gergiev “style of conducting”: leave it to the localized assistants to prepare the orchestras/soloists/choruses for performances and fly in at the very last minute to flap your hands in front of them. (I use that description purposely – it is accurate.)
          He is a blight on the orchestral landscape, and his modus operandi disgusts me.
          How does he get away with it?
          And can you imagine what Klemperer, or Szell, or, for heaven’s sake, Mravinsky (!) would have thought of him?
          And, unfortunately, some of the younger generation of conductors are starting to ape him.

          • Milka says:

            On top of that each orchestra had its own sound imprint ,much like the soloists
            of the time . You could always tell the Philadelphia from the Boston as you could
            Heifetz-from Szigeti. Only once did I hear an unusual blending and that was when
            I was much younger hearing Stokowski conduct the Boston SO . The orchestra
            did not quite loose its basic sound but Stokowski did mange to bring in some of the
            Philadelphia sound . The effect was electric !!! and a cheering house .To-day
            one orchestra sounds as another brilliant technique no character the same
            for most soloists .

  • CT says:

    Is it Shostakovich’s “Hamlet” that starts with two Bs? Or not two Bs?

  • Robert Roy says:

    Having hesitated for some time, I finally listened to the cd of DSCH’s 10 symphony played by Nelsons and the Boston Symphony this morning. It really is a superb performance, IMHO, making we wish I’d listened long before now.

  • Hank Drake says:

    That’s the photo with Andre Tchaikowsky’s skull.