Tanglewood looms large on the radar of the Boston Symphony's designated Music Director Andris Nelsons, who dropped a few tantalizing hints about his future role at the orchestra's summer home during a conversation this week with journalists in Symphony Hall.
"It's a privilege and extremely exciting," Nelsons said. "Tanglewood is one of the greatest festivals, and there are a lot of opportunities around that, a lot of temptations and things you can possibly imagine doing there."
"It's like a toy for adults," he chuckled, evoking laughter from the writers, broadcasters and management officials on hand at the Tuesday afternoon media event. "A hugely expensive toy," BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe chimed in.
"It offers such a huge diversity of things, which already has been happening for 75 years," Nelsons said. "So, of course I'm very tempted but I don't want to shock anyone."
Volpe, citing a retired BSO musician's description of Tanglewood as "a summer music camp for adults," confirmed that Nelsons will lead four concerts over two weeks next summer, including one with the advanced young musicians of the Tanglewood Music Center. Dates and details will be disclosed when the season announcement comes out the week before Thanksgiving.
"The summer thereafter, we have bigger plans," Volpe added, but declined to offer details -- "that would be Andris' role anyway."
Nelsons held the informal conversation following a rehearsal on Tuesday for his first concerts with the Bostonians since his appointment as the orchestra's next music director was announced last May. He succeeds James Levine, who resigned in mid-2011 because of injuries and ill health.
Wearing a black Tanglewood polo shirt and appearing relaxed and at ease, Nelsons joked with the musicians, often singing, leaping and swaying to demonstrate a point of interpretation.
He's leading a program of music by Wagner, Brahms and Mozart with British pianist Paul Lewis as soloist this Thursday through Saturday.
The Latvian-born conductor, 34, holds the title of music director designate until next September, when he will become the orchestra's 15th music director since it was founded in 1881. His contract calls for eight to 10 weeks of performances during the 2014-15 season, expanding to 12 weeks thereafter. He will conclude his seven-year tenure as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England at the end of its 2014-15 season.
Nelsons had to cancel a scheduled concert with the BSO at Tanglewood this past July after he suffered a concussion in a freak accident while working in Bayreuth, Germany.
Asked whether, in an age of globalization, orchestras retain distinctive qualities, Nelsons responded that players in the most prominent American and European ensembles still have "a special sound and character, a way of music-making and a special human character in relation to the conductor and with each other."
"I certainly see the difference," he said. "In my position, I like to not push immediately for certain concrete results in sound or dynamics. For me, it's a gradual thing, because I want to respect what any orchestra is giving ... they are coming with an identity. I think it's nice to explore and to experience what they're offering and then, together with my ideas, gradually get the sound and atmosphere that I imagine the music requires."
"We should keep the tradition of each orchestra and not globalize it, not going in one direction so it's all very pure and safe, technically," Nelsons said.
Working with the BSO in rehearsal, he pointed out, "we develop the musical chemistry and it gets stronger and stronger. In the concert, we suddenly can improvise and do things."
"It's a lot of diplomacy and psychology to work with people," he said. "I'm also taking into account that each orchestra is presenting its own qualities of sound, and the individuality of the concert halls. Of course, the Boston Symphony is a combination of wonderful individual musicians playing at an extremely high level with a great tradition, in the best concert hall in America, one of the best in the world."
"It's a great and rich sound," he noted. "What I also experience is that the possibilities are so huge that I'm going to enjoy many years together, exploring more and more. We can experiment with the great instrument that the Boston Symphony is."
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In his own words ...
Here are selected quotes from Andris Nelsons, designated music director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, during a conversation with journalists at Boston's Symphony Hall.
On give-and-take between his ideas and the musicians' vision:
"The most important thing is that I can create a fantasy about the music, and the atmosphere. Then we can go in the direction that fantasy and imagination lead us rather than only technically pure playing. In the fantasy world, there are no borders, and I'm very open to this world, so that everyone feels free for fantasy in the orchestra."
On his approach to the performing traditions of the BSO:
"The individuality of these orchestras is still very strong, sound-wise, character-wise and music-making-wise. The combination of the conductor and the orchestra creates a special unity which you can't find anywhere else. I'm sure the Boston Symphony with me will sound different in a way than with other people, just because of the nature of each human being."
About his animated approach to conducting and rehearsing:
"In a relationship with any orchestra, particularly where you are music director, human relationships are very, very important because that's how you build chemistry and a family feeling. You can also build the musical journey if the chemistry, the human relationship is better. As a musical family, we encourage people to feel free ... but for a conductor, I think the way of communication is in body language, the gestures. The orchestras don't like the conductor to talk too much; they always want you to show things with your hands. That's very important. As a conductor, you can use your body, your face, your hands to express yourself and to let yourself be clear about what you want to express in the music. You also have to use language to explain and to communicate some things. But you can show much more than you think with your hands."
-- Clarence Fanto