Just in: Boston and Leipzig put Nelsons on never-ending contract

Just in: Boston and Leipzig put Nelsons on never-ending contract


norman lebrecht

October 05, 2020

The Boston Symphony has renewed its music director for three more years, to the summer of 2025.

But the contract has an evergreen clause, ‘reflecting a mutual intent for a long-term commitment between the BSO and Mr. Nelsons well beyond the terms of any of their contracts.’ He will conduct at least 12 weeks of the year in Boston.

At the same time, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra renewed Nelsons’s contract for another five years in similar fashion, up to 2027

Nelsons 41, is the obedient servant of two masters.



  • yujafan says:

    money money money money money… he must be laughing all the way to the bank in the current climate. but where’s the quality in his music-making?

    • Robin Smith says:

      I couldn’t disagree more. His work with the CBSO represented a golden period for them in a very wide repertoire. Outstanding in late romantic music generally. His Lohengrin at the ROH was very special indeed.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      As someone who gets to hear Andris Nelsons regularly in concert in Boston, my answer to you is: plenty. Like any conductor in his early 40s, Nelsons will only get better, and I suspect the Andris Nelsons concerts when he’s in his 60s will be different and hopefully even more formidable. That said, I’ve heard some wonderful concerts under his baton in Boston, and of course some concerts that were less than that. But his music-making is alive, genuine, and seems to come from a place of love of the music.

      Here in Boston, we are only fortunate to have him!

      • Guest says:

        As someone who in the past had worked under his baton for years it gives me no pleasure in saying that unless he changes his lifestyle and starts looking after himself a bit more he might not make it to 50…

    • Marge O. says:

      He was hustler/huckster like most US-ians. Maybe he has that us empire blood in him? Sell, sell, sell-buy, buy, buy. Create needs and wants and sell em high.

  • Skippy says:

    Seems like a decent guy, but what a bore of a musician. And, while we’re on the subject, insofar as sharing a music director is concerned, what’s in it for Boston?

    • Greg says:

      A few thoughts here.

      1. Mr. Nelsons seems like the sort of personality that will do well from a PR standpoint in Boston. He comes across as amiable and approachable. He seems to have a good rapport with both the orchestra and the public. Win win.

      2. My personal observation is that Boston (at least prior to shutdown) was playing better than it has in many years. There is a unanimity of style – particularly in the brass – that was absent for a long time. The overall sound of the orchestra seems imbued with energy. Admittedly my recent hearings have been through recordings and videos (as opposed to being in the hall) but the results sound exciting to me. I don’t know how much of that is directly attributable to Mr. Nelsons, but he is at least the beneficiary of it all.

      3. Folks were excited when Mr. Ozawa first came on board, too, so we’ll see if things go stale in due course. Though well played, most of what I have heard from Mr. Nelsons is like painting by numbers. I don’t sense any deep probing or new revelations about the music. That could be because he seems to be making his name in repertoire (Strauss, Bruckner, Shostakovich) that has been well trod by more experienced conductors.

      I hope the partnership bears significant fruit over time. The BSO was in limbo for so long and it is good to hear some revitalized music making coming from it.

      • Marge O. says:

        He is overrrated, hyped, superficial ‘charm’, and average. Of course, the americans will thk he’s amazing and incredible etc..etc waxing poetic about greatness…..reality is mediocre/average

    • Karl says:

      His Shostakovitch performances are stunning.

      • Fernandel says:

        Hearing about a conductor “Oh, but his Shostakovich is great” is always a bad sign.

        • Daniel A. says:

          how so?

          • Fernandel says:

            Nowadays, most of the so-called Shostakovich specialists show serious deficits in matters of style. Just try to imagine a Haydn or Mozart symphony under Nelsons, Vasily Petrenko, Bychkov or Gergiev…

          • Karl says:

            Hardly anyone but classical specialists conduct Haydn or Mozart anymore. Even when romantic conductors did it was often not so good – think Karajan. The great Szell could do it.

          • Fernandel says:

            Nelsons is effective mainly in bombastic pieces: Mahler, Strauss, Shostakovich. But even in Mahler’s Resurrection, Strauss’ Alpine Symphony or Shostakovich’s 8th, he cannot hide his lack of style.

          • Derek Hunt says:

            I saw Nelsons conduct Haydn symphonies 101 to 104 included in two concerts and I thought they were performed brilliantly. You would have been surprised.

      • Novagerio says:

        The Liverpool-Petrenko is far more interesting in Shostakovich.

        • Fernandel says:

          Just as meaningless, sorry. And, once for all: Shostakovich is NO criteria to evaluate a conductor.

        • Karl says:

          I do like Petrenko a lot from when I’ve seen him in Montreal. Best Mahler 1st I’ve ever heard was with him conducting. I have not heard him conduct Shostokovich.

    • Skippy says:

      Ok here’s what may be in it for Boston: The BSO might start to play with some of the verve that characterizes a great European orchestra like Leipzig’s.

      Player-for-player, there’s unlikely to be much of a contest between the two bands. But, given the choice, I’d probably rather hear Leipzig: Like their colleagues in Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, the Leipzig folks simply play with more verve than one typically (ever?) finds in North America. Why is that? I’ve no idea. The Boston gang can play with white hot virtuosity…yet the musicians seem uninvolved in their exertions: They look like they’re “on the job”— perhaps a bit like forklift operators—and, too often, they sound like it, too.

      Anyway, perhaps a little Leipzig will rub off on Boston, which then begs the question…

      What’s in it for Leipzig?

      • Tamino says:

        American orchestras, if we might generalize a bit, to me sound always more technically minded, rather than having musical expression in mind. It seems to be more a professional culture of „we don‘t do mistakes here“ rather than playing their hearts out, like the good old European orchestras do on their good days.

        • Greg says:

          Agreed. Germany has a wealth of orchestras not called the Berlin Philharmonic that turn in very exciting performances. The US has a bunch of magnificent top-shelf orchestras chock full of super virtuosi that are just as apt to put you to sleep as rip you out of your seat. Is it possible for an orchestra to play so well that the results are boring?

          • Eric says:

            In a tv interview some years ago Kurt Masur said that if he chose an absurd tempo for a well-known piece some European orchestras would refuse to follow his beat, whereas American orchestras would play perfectly at any tempo.

          • fflambeau says:

            Masur, of course, left Leipzig for NYC (and reputedly wanted to be in San Franciso, until Edo de Waart talked him out of it).

      • Bruce says:

        More evidence that people listen with their eyes more than their ears.

    • Patricia says:

      Bostonians can always go hear the Handel&Haydn Society. It’s the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the country. And has the astonishing Harry Christophers as its Artistic Director.

  • erich says:

    Is that the ploy to prevent him going to the Concertgebouw and Welser-Möst to Leipzig?

  • EMore says:

    Honestly, Nelsons seems like a nice guy but his programming is boring and he only invites his buddies–which are equally as boring. He had a good run in Boston with the Shostakovich but that’s about it. Why would they possibly keep him on? He’s not filling the seats…that’s for sure!

    • Daniel A. says:

      I attended four concerts during the ’17-’18 and ’18-’19 seasons and saw packed houses every time. But, I guess that doesn’t mean much?

      • EMore says:

        Were they playing Shostakovich? I will have to assume so as I was also there…and it was a well deserved crowd. Possibly a headliner? Hilary Hahn, Emanuel Ax, Yo Yo Ma? They can pack houses as well. Honestly, going four times in two years is not exactly a regular….And yes, I would consider myself a regular–that is until the programing grew tired and boring!

  • Gustavo says:

    What next?

    An economically driven post-COVID merger combining US technical skills with the Alt-Deutsche / Bohemian Klang?

  • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

    I genuinely don’t understand what all the fuss is about with Nelsons. Yes, he turns in a decent Shostakovich symphony, but I’m yet to hear anything from the German rep that’s anything other than bang average. Some of the playing on his recent Bruckner discs (4 and 7) has been superlative, but that’s surely more to do with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester than him. I certainly don’t see why he should be so urgently sought by two major orchestras on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

    Any fans out there able to suggest what I’m missing?

    • Guest says:

      I have been a member of quite a few orchestras over the last 15 years and my observation is that as the level of soloists keeps getting better, the level of conducting has been gradually declining. And so an energetic, exciting (in a live performance kind of way) and likeable (he really is a VERY likeable guy to work with) conductor like Nelsons managed to get two major orchestras. Just my humble opinion.

    • fflambeau says:

      It is Kleiber not Cleiber.

      • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

        I know that, you prune. Carlos isn’t normally spelt with a K either.

        If you look again you will see I’ve reversed the C and the K.

        Furthermore: I’m not *actually* the ghost of Carlos Kleiber.

  • Fernandel says:

    Such contract renewals reflect two depressing realities: lazy management and inconsistent alternatives.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    The evergreen clause for an American director means exactly the opposite. That means a tenure is drawing to a close, ‘I’ll see how much more time I have for you and I’ll try to maximize it, but at some point I’ve gotta go and I need to be able to leave without it being a huge deal.’

    Nelsons was in no way a disaster for Boston, but it was a mistake imposed by management who wanted a rising star to offset accusations of mismanagement after the Levine years. Word on the street I heard at the time was that the musicians liked Nelsons but loved Deneve, and Deneve’s excellence remains a well-kept secret.

    • Anon says:

      Deneve has been appearing with most major international orchestras regularly for many years now.
      His excellence is not a secret.

      • Bruce says:

        Maybe not, but reading that comment, I just realized I haven’t heard his name in a couple of years.

      • Amos says:

        True; he’s currently MD of the Brussels Philharmonic & The St Louis Symphony as well as Principal Guest Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Not too shabby for an “unknown”.

    • Amos says:

      Was the word on the street you picked up the same source(s) that led you to write that no one save for a few people in Baltimore remembered who Leon Fleisher was?

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Obedient or honorable enough to fulfill his contractual commitments?

  • Amos says:

    When 2 organizations give you a virtual blank check to do as you please how does that make you an obedient servant? The problem, imo, is whether the freedom and commitment are warranted. For all the “stability” AN has brought to the BSO the performances often seem little more than well played. In his beloved Shostakovich, particularly the 5th, the seeming attempt to make sure that every note and idea is heard and then underlined often robs the music of forward momentum. In Brahms there are extremes of both tempo and volume which for me rob the music of its’ romanticism in the context of classical form. I wish him well but to date he represents for me another example of a conductor who in the “golden age” would not yet be in charge of 1 let alone 2 premiere orchestras.

    • Bill says:

      Why do people who don’t know the difference between premier and premiere insist on using them? If you’re not talking about a first performance, don’t use premiere.

  • Not a big surprise. It s normal, he started to work with those orchestras not a long ago. So he s out for the Concertgebouw. The rumours where that he was the first choice of the orchestra last winter.

  • BP says:

    “Nelsons is the obedient servant of two masters” : I’d rather said it was the two orchestras painting themselves into a corner with these kinds of deals.

  • John Kelly says:

    I have a job too, it doesn’t make me “an obedient servant”………..!

  • MacroV says:

    Last line seems a bit gratuitous. He’s a well-liked conductor of both orchestras, apparently, so they’re keeping him around. No need to make more of it than that.

  • Tamino says:

    Very nice man, but not the sharpest or most imaginative knife in the drawer. His agents must be very happy though. They are marketing their best horse to the max. Hope he is at least smart enough to live healthy, because the life style he has been prescribed is taxing…

    • Stephen Owades says:

      Actually, the lifestyle of a globetrotting guest conductor is more taxing than Nelsons’ situation with two stable positions and less week-to-week travel—as Nelsons himself said when he signed his contract with Leipzig.

      • Tamino says:

        Wrong. 30 intercontinental flights a year (or more). Related jetlag. Living more in hotels than at home.
        He is slowly killing himself for his agency who is laughing all the way to the bank.

  • iamamalted says:

    His Boston contract runs through 2025, but the one with Leipzig runs through 2027. See https://www.mdr.de/kultur/leipzig-gewandhaus-nelson-ankuendigung-100.html

  • Eyal Braun says:

    I saw him duing the Bruckner 8th with the Gewandhaus last year in Lucerne and it was disappointing: under- rehearsaled , not very interesting musically: He is conducting everything everywhere (just like Gergiev): Not a good decision for both orchestras.

  • Greg says:

    I fear he will eventually instill in us a case of Maestro Fatigue. He is easily one of the most marketable of the current crop of conductors, but he will spread himself too thin and produce too many mediocre performances.

  • Benjamin Ruesch says:

    This is happy news to me, both as an aspiring young conductor and a Bostonian. Maestro Nelsons, in addition to creating some of the most spectacular performances that I’ve ever had the fortune to witness, is absolutely one of the friendliest maestros I’ve ever had the fortune to meet. His humble and personable demeanor and willingness to treat the orchestra with great respect has earned him a place in the city’s collective heart. One of my favorite performances from him (with the BSO) was the world premiere of Michael Gandolfi’s Organ Concerto, paired with Mahler’s 6th Symphony. It was so stunningly powerful that I had to see it twice. I look forward to the day when I can set foot in Symphony Hall again, and take in a live performance by my favorite orchestra.