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Andris Nelsons
biography of and interview with Andris Nelsons, then the principal conductor of the Latvian National Opera orchestra LNO in Riga

Added on January 13, 2010
In November 2007, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) named Andris Nelsons its 12th principal conductor and music director, effective with the 2008-09 season. In July 2009, the contract has been extended through the 2013-14 season.

Added on May 7, 2010
Monday night, the premiere of the new production of Carmen at the Staatsoper Wien was a success. According to media reports, mainly thanks to Anna Nebtrebko as Micaela and conductor Andris Nelsons. On Thursday, May 6, I watched a live broadcast (in fact slightly time-deferred) on the Bavarian TV channel Bayerisches Fernsehen. Indeed, Nebtrebko was the star and Nelsons solid.

Added on May 3, 2010
Andris Nelsons has already gone a long way and will conduct the Vienna State Opera, replacing his ill mentor, fellow Latvian Mariss Jansons, in several performances of Bizet's Carmen in May 2010, starting tonight. This is a great opportunity for Nelsons, but also a risk in a production which has seen Elina Garanca and Rolando Villazon pull out for health reasons too.

Article added on July 5, 2006
Biography based on an exclusive interview with Andris Nelsons in Riga in June 2006

Andris Nelsons was born in Riga in 1978. Both his parents are musicians. His father is a cellist, the second concert master of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra. His stepfather, who raised him and influenced him intellectually, is a choir conductor and music teacher, employed by the Ministry of Culture. His mother graduated as a choir conductor and is a professor at the Music Academy in Riga. As a consequence, Andris Nelsons has been surrounded by music from birth.

Andris Nelsons went to a music school in Riga, where he first learned to play the piano. He only picked up the trumpet at the age of about 11. He stopped playing the trumpet professionally at the age of 25, when he was appointed Principal Conductor of the Latvian National Opera (LNO). Before, he had been a trumpeter of the LNO, where he also played some solos. He also played in an orchestra dedicated to contemporary music, conducted by Normunds Sne.

Andris Nelsons' musical talents are not limited to conducting and playing the piano and the trumpet, he was also a remarkable singer. The bass baritone won several prizes for his singing. His mother conducts an early music group dedicated to Renaissance and Baroque music, in which Andris sang as soon as his voice broke. He seriously studied singing with a private vocal teacher from the age of 15 to about 22 and even took master classes with teachers such as Evelyn Tubb and Emma Kirkby in Baroque music and opera in England.

In Riga, Andris Nelsons studied the trumpet at Emils Darzins’ Music College, where he had his first taste of orchestral conducting, and then went on to the Latvian Academy of Music. He was a winner of the prestigious Latvian Grand Music Award for outstanding achievement in music in 2001.

Andris Nelsons told me that he had his first impressive encounter with music at the age of five, when he witnessed a performance of Wagner's Tannhäuser (sheet music by Richard Wagner). The young boy was both impressed and afraid of the difficulties the conductor had to face. Becoming a conductor himself became his dream. However, when he started to take conducting classes at the age of 16, he did not do this with the firm plan to become a conductor. It was just part of his broad musical interests. It was only at the age of 17, when he first conducted his high school orchestra at a rehearsal, that he realized he could best express himself through conducting. Now the dream became something he wanted to realize in real life.

Andris Nelsons was never attracted by the position of the conductor in order to be a leader, but rather to be part of a team, music being a team effort for him. The LNO orchestra's former outstanding trumpeter first made his dream come true and mounted the podium as a conductor at the annual Aldaris Award Ceremony. His first success came in 2001 with Rossini's Barber of Seville.

In Riga, Andris Nelsons took conducting lessons from the age of about 16 to 21. Normund Vaicis, a conductor working with the LNO, was his first teacher. From him, he learned the basics of conducting as well as of the repertoire. Vaicis had been taught in the Russian school in Leningrad. After graduating in 2001, Andris Nelsons himself went to St. Petersburg to study conducting with Professor Alexander Titov. During this time, Andris Nelsons attended master classes with Neeme Järvi and Jorma Panula, and has been studying privately with Mariss Jansons since 2002.

From Titov and the Russian conducting school, Andris Nelsons learned above all to feel the music, its spirit and energy and to transmit all this to the orchestra with his hands and his facial expression. The technique is not mainly the tool to give just the rhythm to the orchestra, but rather to transmit the music's emotions. A conductor has to be clear, but not boring, when he gives directions. Andris Nelsons experience as a piano player, trumpeter and singer helped him a lot in this enterprise.

Andris Nelsons stressed that the Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons is his prime influence and mentor. Jansons' mother was a singer, his father a conductor of the Latvian National Opera. At the age of around 14, he moved with his parents to Leningrad, where his father became the second conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre. Jansons did not teach Nelsons in St. Petersburg, where he had no pupils, but started to give him private lessons starting in 2003. From him, the young conductor learned much about the rehearsing spirit and method as well as the attitude towards music. The conductor has to bring out the inspiration in a piece and to inspire the musicians. He has to bring out what lies in between the notes, explained Nelsons.

In 2003, the Latvian National Opera (LNO), a state owned and funded institution, took a major risk by appointing the then twenty-five year old Andris Nelsons as the Latvian National Orchestra's Principal Conductor. 2003/04 was his first season as Principal Conductor at the LNO. In spring 2004, his conducting of Tosca received international critical acclaim. The magazine Opernglas wrote: "The outstandingly well-prepared Orchestra of the Latvian National Opera was truly convincing….The orchestra played with consistent intensity and yet, even in fortissimo passages, the balance between the orchestra and the voices was very well maintained.  (….) here is an orchestra that, with a young, committed conductor, will be able to make their mark".

Asked about the strongest side of the orchestra, Andris Nelsons told me that it is the LNO's emotional potential, due to the rich and painful history of Latvia. According to the conductor, the strings have the strongest tradition, influenced by the Russian string school. However, he had no explanation regarding the fact why 50% of the orchestra's musicians are female, something still rather unusual in classical music.

Regarding his favourite opera composers, Andris Nelsons pointed out to Richard Wagner, Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss. As far as symphonic music is concerned the conductor prefers 19th century and early 20th century composers, above all Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich, Johannes Brahms and Ludwig van Beethoven or, in more general terms, the romantic, impressionist and expressionist repertoire. In the end, he stressed that the composer of the piece you conduct at a given moment becomes your favourite composer at that given moment. Among the contemporary Latvian composers, Andris Nelsons favours Arturs Maskats (*1957 in Valmiera), whose piece Tango (composed in 2002) is often performed by him.

In my opinion, based on several live performances, Andris Nelsons is already more than a talent to watch. His conducting is sure, engaging, expressive, but precise with no show of vanity. The LNO has produced two opera DVDs: the 2005 production of Queen of Spades with Andris Nelsons as conductor and the Riga premiere of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk recorded on January 27, 2006 with Gintaras Rinkevicius conducting. Both are available at the Latvian National Opera. Incidentally, Andris Nelsons' girlfriend is the Latvian opera singer Kristine Opolais, who sings the part of Lisa in The Queen of Spades. In September 2006, the classical music label ORFEO International will release a CD of Shostakovich's Violin concerto with Arabella Steinbacher as soloist, recorded in May 2006 by Andris Nelsons, conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Munich, of which Mariss Jansons is the principal conductor (sheet music by Dmitri ShostakovichShostakovich CDs from Amazon.com).

In addition to his work at the LNO, Andris Nelsons appears regularly with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra. In the 2006 season, guest engagements will include appearances at the Interlaken Festival and Savolinna Opera Festival as well as concerts with the Nordwest Deutsche Philharmonie, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Opera House in Graz and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin.

From the season 2006/2007 onwards, Andris Nelsons will become the Principal Conductor and Generalmusikdirektor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Herford, Germany. The season 2007/2008 will be his last one as principal conductor of the LNO, but he will of course come back as a guest conductor. In January 2007, Andris Nelsons will conduct La Bohème at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin: it is the first piece he conducted as principal conductor in Riga.

CDs by Andris Nelsons from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de and  Amazon.com.


Andris Nelsons. Photo ©
Latvian National Opera, LNO, Riga. CDs by Andris Nelsons from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de and  Amazon.com.


Added on January 13, 2010: Andris Nelsons has recorded several CDs with the Orfeo label. Among the recommendable recordings are Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 5, Hamlet Ouverture op. 67, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Order the CD from Amazon.co.uk or
Amazon.de. Sheet music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Regarding the history of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (one of the world's leading since Simon Rattle conducted it and since they got a modern hall with outstanding acoustics), check the book Crescendo! 75 Years of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra by Beresford King-Smith. Order it from Amazon.co.uk.


Andris Nelsons (conductor), Arabella Steinbacher (violin), Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks.: Schostakowitsch Violinkonzerte 1&2. Orfeo, recorded in 2006. Order the CD from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de. Sheet music by Dmitri Shostakovich.





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