Nelsons bows out in Germany; could mean longer stay at Tanglewood


LENOX — Germany's loss is expected to be Tanglewood's gain.

Boston Symphony Music Director Andris Nelsons, whose performance schedule at the orchestra's summer home is limited to two weeks this season because of previous commitments to the prestigious Bayreuth Festival, has abruptly withdrawn from a major new production of Wagner's "Parsifal" set to open on July 25 there.

The cancellation of his lengthy rehearsal and performance schedule in the German city was labeled a "bombshell" in the cultural world. The Latvian conductor had been given his first big break there in 2010, when he was 31 and a virtual unknown. A dedicated devotee of Wagnerian operas, he has appeared there frequently since then.

Nelsons has not commented on the reasons for his hasty exit, but his management team issued terse statement:

"Owing to a differing approach in various matters, the atmosphere at this year's Bayreuth Festival did not develop in a mutually comfortable way for all parties. With regret, the Bayreuth Festival agrees to Andris Nelsons' request."

According to the German press and other published reports, the main factors included Bayreuth Festival Music Director Christian Thielemann's overbearing scrutiny of rehearsals led by Nelsons, an "Islamic" slant to the new production of "Parsifal" and a tense atmosphere resulting from enhanced security in the city to protect the festival against potential terrorism.

A leading German newspaper, Die Welt, blamed the departure primarily on artistic interference by Thielemann.

A Bayreuth Festival spokesman confirmed to The New York Times that while Thielemann sat in on some rehearsals in his role as the festival's music director, he had done so at Nelsons' request.

His concerns about the new "Parsifal" production stemmed from discomfort with aspects of the production which contain a reference to Islam, according to an unidentified source quoted by The Times. The director, Uwe Eric Laufenberg, has denied that Islam is a theme of his production.

In a comment to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Laufenberg acknowledged a brief reference to the religion but stated that "this piece doesn't revolve around Islam. It's about Christianity."

Although Boston Symphony management has declined comment, it is expected that Nelsons' time commitment to Tanglewood could double to four or even five weeks in future summers since he will be free of schedule conflicts at Bayreuth.

In previous interviews with The Eagle and other media, Nelsons, 37, has made no secret of his love for Tanglewood and his desire to spend more time there.

His leadership of the BSO has been critically praised, enthusiastically accepted by audiences here, in Boston and on international tours, and he extended his contract until 2022 as a reflection of the close working relationship that has galvanized the orchestra.

Although he has committed to at least 16 weeks a year with the BSO — 12 weeks at Symphony Hall in Boston, and the rest at Tanglewood, New York's Carnegie Hall and on tours — Nelsons' unavailability for opening night here and for more time beyond two weeks has been a source of regret for the players, audiences and the management.

Nelsons had encountered a bad break once before at Bayreuth in 2013, when he suffered a concussion after colliding with a door and was ordered by doctors to forego travel to Tanglewood for scheduled concerts as music director designate.

This summer, his second since becoming BSO music director in September 2014, he is slated for five performances during two separate weeks — four with the BSO and one with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra of advanced students and young professionals.

The schedule includes Mahler's Symphony No. 9 (July 29), the work he conducted on short notice at Carnegie Hall in March 2011 in his first performance with the Bostonians, ultimately leading to his appointment as the orchestra's 15th music director.

Other highlights include Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 (July 30) and music from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" ballet (Aug. 21).

He will lead the TMC Orchestra in an all-Brahms program (July 31) and conduct the BSO, Tanglewood Festival Chorus and his wife, soprano Kristine Opolais, in the first two acts of Verdi's "Aida" (Aug. 20).

The Bayreuth Festival, organized by Richard Wagner in 1876 for closely supervised productions of his operas and still run by his great granddaughter, Katharina Wagner, has been beset by fierce family rivalries, controversial productions and artistic conflicts.

But to devoted Wagnerian admirers, the festival is considered the holy grail.

Nelsons, who has returned to his home in Riga, Latvia to decompress, will maintain ties with Germany through his upcoming appointment as the music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, one of the world's leading ensembles. Serving concurrently with his commitment to Boston, he is expected to lead eight weeks of performances there.

The BSO and the Leipzig orchestra have announced a series of close artistic collaborations. Nelsons is in high demand as a guest conductor and has signed an exclusive deal with the renowned DG label for recordings with the BSO, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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