For Andris Nelsons, Tanglewood return 'feels like coming home'
LENOX — The passionate artistic embrace between the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Andris Nelsons continues to burn on high flame, now that the conductor revered by the musicians and cheered by audiences is back on the Tanglewood grounds for his third summer.
For the first of his two weeks at the orchestra's summer home, Nelsons is conducting all three Shed concerts this weekend — Friday and Saturday night with the BSO, and the Sunday matinee with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra of advanced young musicians. He returns for two more BSO concerts on Aug. 20 and 21.
"It feels like coming home," Nelsons said, barely concealing his emotions during a late-afternoon conversation on the campus Wednesday.
"We feel so close, we really understand each other," the conductor said of his connection with the BSO musicians, pointing out that during rehearsals, "I don't talk too much, the contact gets more intimate with each time performing."
Increasingly, he made it clear, the communication is through gestures or key words and when repertoire is repeated, routine is avoided and a sense of mutual rediscovery prevails.
"I love them so much, there's this kind of established feelings with the orchestra," Nelsons added. "Now it turns into a more intimate feeling of respect. The highly professional musicianship is valuable, of course, but also their humanity and inner world doing music, and their relationship with each other. I'm just lucky, you know."
"Of course, they're so experienced, they know much more than me," the self-effacing maestro said. "But their curiosity and open-minded tolerance is as if they remember the times they were students here."
About 55 percent of BSO musicians are alumni of the Tanglewood Music Center institute.
Now that Nelsons has severed ties with Germany's Bayreuth Festival devoted to Wagnerian opera, there's widespread anticipation among his Berkshire admirers that he will be able to commit more time to Tanglewood in future seasons.
The highly sought-after conductor said details of his residency next summer are being finalized but he described Tanglewood as "absolutely a huge part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's life and of course, it's a big part for me. We're talking about many summers, different plans. I want to spend as much time as possible."
But he also acknowledged the importance of continuing to invite distinguished guest conductors and soloists for the eight-week classical season.
Nelsons emphasized that planning is ongoing "for the long term" along with an emphasis on his role with the TMC students. He pointed to their "great enthusiasm" as they encounter musical masterpieces for the first time.
"One of the great joys of working with Andris is when it was apparent that the orchestra was enamored of him and the audience was enjoying the experience, we quickly extended his contract through 2022," said BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe, who was sitting in on the discussion.
"The wonderful dimension of that is we're able to plan not just in Boston but at Tanglewood for many years, there's a continuity and context," he added. "The intent is to have Andris present, and it will vary from year to year, depending on other factors and schedules. It's clear the commitment is to Tanglewood."
Last summer, Nelsons was on the campus for nearly six weeks.
"Now in my third summer here, I can see how unique all the aspects of Tanglewood are," Nelsons said. "I'm still thinking how I can be involved in not only teaching, but sharing my experience with the students, since their professional quality is very excellent."
He observed that the TMC is training the next generation of orchestral musicians and soloists.
Nearly 30 percent of the players in the top seven U.S. orchestras have been trained at Tanglewood, Volpe said.
Comparing working with the TMC students and the BSO, Nelsons cited "a similar humanity and attitude toward music."
For this Sunday's all-Brahms program with the TMC orchestra, the conductor had five rehearsals, compared to the typical two for a BSO concert here.
Frequent international touring also affects long-term planning, Volpe noted, such as a mid-2018 visit to European music festivals to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birth.
Besides his 16 weeks a year with the BSO, Nelsons becomes music director at the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig in fall 2017. A formal, five-year alliance between the highly regarded German orchestra and the BSO takes effect at the same time and also is likely to involve collaborations between the orchestra's Mendelssohn Institute for young musicians and the Tanglewood Music Center.
Despite his rapid rise to the top of his field, including high-profile guest appearances at major orchestras and opera houses, the Latvian-born Nelsons, 37, acknowledged that "this profession is a constant learning, discovering things.
If the process of rediscovering ends, I think you can't be a musician. There's this naive child-like curiosity that remains, and that never lets you say, 'I know everything.' If you say that, it's not so good."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
If you go . . .
Boston Symphony Music Director Andris Nelsons leads three highly anticipated concerts at Tanglewood this weekend:
Friday, 8 p.m.: Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27 (Jonathan Biss, soloist); Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Saturday, 8 p.m.: Music of Corigliano, plus Sibelius: Violin Concerto (Augustin Hadelich, soloist); Beethoven: Symphony No. 7
Sunday, 2:30 p.m.: TMC Orchestra — Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Paul Lewis, soloist) and Symphony No. 1
Cost: Ticket prices vary ($11 to $101 Friday: $20-$101 Saturday & Sunday).
Information: www.tanglewood.org, 1-888-266-1200, or at the box office, West Street (Route 183), Lenox
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