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BOSTON (AP) — Andris Nelsons makes his highly anticipated debut this weekend as the youngest conductor in more than 100 years to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The 35-year-old Latvia-born Nelsons starts his tenure as other prominent orchestras in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York are turning to younger music directors.
Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, says Nelsons' appointment is somewhat of a departure for the more than 130-year old orchestra, which he describes as conservative and traditional. But, in many ways, he says the choice was an easy one.
Nelsons, who served as music director for the Latvian National Opera and, most recently, the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England, has become a sought-after conductor in just a few years.
He has regular guest appearances conducting for prominent ensembles in Europe and the U.S, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His stint conducting the Boston Symphony at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2011 impressed orchestra officials, Volpe says.
"It became readily apparent that this guy has enormous talent and a wonderfully human, honest style with musicians and the community," he says. "Conductors of a certain generation were sort of autocrats. They ruled by fear. And that doesn't really work today, necessarily."
Volpe suggests younger conductors like Nelsons share the ethos of the new generation of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs.
"This guy is more of a partner," he says. "He wants to work with the musicians and collaborate. He has an understanding that, at 35, you haven't done it all."
Since his Boston appointment more than a year ago, Nelsons says he's worked to build relationships with the musicians. This summer, he conducted and took part in programs at Tanglewood, the symphony's summer home in the Berkshires.
"You have to have a family feeling," Nelsons said in an interview at Symphony Hall earlier this week. "You have to have a real human chemistry. You have to have trust and respect."
"Being a conductor is such psychological work," he continues. "You don't actually produce any sound. You encourage musicians to bring out their best. But in these top orchestras, they know what to do. They could almost do it without you."
Nelsons suggests that respect for the history and tradition of the symphony also will be key to his success during his initial five-year tenure. He wants to complement the orchestra's hallmark sound by incorporating more works from Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich and others.
Nelsons believes those types of works will play well in Symphony Hall, which is considered as one of the finest venues acoustically in the country. "It's very special. It's rich and creamy and quite European. It's delicate. It's colorful," Nelsons said of the orchestra's sound. "It's not forced. It's not aggressive."
At the same time, he hopes to broaden the symphony's audience with programs that appeal to a younger generation and more trips to European capitals to further cement the ensemble's reputation. "Classical music should not be painful," Nelsons says. "It brings joy. It's exciting. It's exhilarating. It can be that kind of experience. And it's our task to encourage that."
Saturday night's program will feature personal touches from the new director.
His wife, the opera soprano Kristine Opolais, will perform, along with tenor Jonas Kaufmann. The night also will open with the overture to Richard Wagner's Tannhauser, the first live opera Nelsons saw as a child growing up in Riga, Latvia's capital.
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