Andris Nelsons Brings Youth to Boston Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons prepared for rehearsal with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Andris Nelsons prepared for rehearsal with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. –Marco Borggreve

When 35-year-old Andris Nelsons makes his debut on Saturday as the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he will be the youngest conductor to helm the ensemble in more than 100 years.

With a youthful face on the podium, a night at Symphony Hall could become a more popular option with younger people, and Nelsons certainly thinks it should be.

“The excitement you can get in classical concert is as big, in a different sense, as you can get when you go to the ice hockey or baseball game,’’ Nelsons said on Thursday during a small group interview. “But coming to a concert, you also experience goosebumps because it’s beautiful music.’’


The new maestro also thinks it’s important for an orchestra to perform for an excited crowd — and he doesn’t want listeners to sit silently throughout BSO shows.

“We absolutely feel when it’s a full house, this is a completely extraordinary feeling,’’ he added. “The task is to influence and create a reaction in the audience. In my opinion, any reaction of a human being in the audience, I think this is great. It means we touched the person’s soul.’’

It is, however, still important to silence electronic devices.

“It’s not great if there’s a mobile phone ringing,’’ Nelsons joked.

The Latvian-born conductor began his professional career as a trumpeter with the Latvian National Opera Orchestra before studying conducting.

He later worked as the Principal Conductor of Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Herford, Germany (2006-2009) and the Music Director of the Latvian National Opera (2003-2007) before taking the helm of England’s City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2008, where he remained for six years.

While this week marks the beginning of his tenure as the BSO’s music director, Nelsons is no stranger to the orchestra.

Nelsons first conducted the BSO at Carnegie Hall in 2011 when he stepped in for former music director James Levine, who withdrew from the performance due to ongoing health problems.


Since then, Nelsons has appeared several times as a guest conductor in Boston while the orchestra searched for a permanent music director to succeed Levine.

“I was enamored with Andris from the beginning,’’ Michael Martin, a BSO trumpeter, said of Nelsons’s first performance with the BSO in 2011. “We’re fortunate enough to see some of the greatest conductors around, and we’d not seen him before, but we’d heard a lot about him. He infuses a really genuine atmosphere in the way he communicates with the orchestra.’’

Martin, 29, is one of several young musicians hired by the BSO within the last five years, resulting in a surprisingly youthful ensemble preceding Nelsons’s arrival.

“Since I joined in 2010, there have been six new hires out of 14 brass players,’’ Martin noted during a phone interview with “Everyone we hired was under 40, and six of us were under 30.’’

“I think his having grown up in this digital social media age, the same way the rest of us have, will help us cater to both our typical demographic and help his accessibility in terms of enthusiasm and outreach,’’ Martin said.

“Particularly with the way Andris approaches pieces, I think people will surprise themselves at how high and low their emotional experience can be. It doesn’t have to be just come to the concert hall and sit for two hours while we play.’’

This season the BSO will also continue several long-standing efforts to attract younger audiences, including $20 tickets offers for anyone under 40. College students can also buy a College Card at the start of the season, which grants access to a nearly all of the BSO’s performances throughout the year.


With the lowered price of entry and a youthful guy on the podium, who happens to be leading a reinvigorated ensemble, there’s no reason Symphony Hall’s audiences won’t be made up of the BSO’s young peers this season.

“It’s not only for the people in tuxedos,’’ Nelsons said. “It’s for everybody.’’

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