LENOX – On the eve of the official opening of the Tanglewood Summer Festival and the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first public performance in 17 months on Saturday night, Music Director Andris Nelsons took some time to reflect on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the arts in general, and the BSO in particular.
With at least 12 sold-out concerts in the compressed six-week classical season, the orchestra is looking to return after losing $ 60 million in ticket sales since February 2020 and cutting its annual budget by 50%. of $ 107 million.
During a Wednesday break between rehearsals with the BSO and the young student musicians of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Nelsons, 42, emphasized his belief that audiences are hungry for shared experiences. He also shared how he spent some unforeseen free time, including renewing his passion for martial arts.
Excerpts from his conversation with The Eagle follow:
Q: It must have been a moving experience to come back to Tanglewood and the orchestra.
A: Absolutely, although I conducted the orchestra in January and April for the streaming, and it was wonderful to see the musicians, but we missed the audience, and now we can play side by side without masks.
It’s incredible; barely got here, I took my golf cart, I walked around, everything is so green, so beautiful. The students play wonderfully with a lot of passion and excitement. It’s like a house, walking around, talking with musicians or a member of staff. It’s so human; that’s what has always been the gem here. It brings everyone together. It can be very busy, but everyone is smiling.
Q: Playing with an audience instead of empty space must make a difference.
A: It’s inspiring, and there can be no substitute for live concerts; we need to be able to share. Streaming was not a substitute for concerts, but it saved the musicians from being separated from each other for too long, so they now find themselves with the audience. The orchestra is like family, absolutely.
Q: During the pandemic, you had more free time than at any time in your career; you must have thought about the lack of live music.
A: I haven’t had that much free time since I was 11 because in my teenage years I was very busy studying the trumpet, then came professional life, and since then it’s been busy, busy , busy.
So at first we were shocked, but we thought it would take a few weeks or even two months, but we soon realized that it was a terrible disaster.
I spent a lot more time with my family so it was wonderful to be with my daughter, my parents, my wife. Of course, I’ve been listening to music, YouTube, and comparing performances, studying songs that we’re going to do next season.
Q: What about personal activities?
A: I practiced martial arts from 11 to 18, then quit for 22 years. During the corona I started going to the martial arts club [in Leipzig, Germany], to think about my physical condition and take care of it as much as possible, because it helps your inner being to express itself.
I have always been fascinated not only by the physical aspects, but also by the philosophy and psychology of taekwondo (Korean traditional martial art). It is self-discipline, and I will continue to do so.
Plus, we’ve all experienced where the true friendships are, and we’ve also realized that music and culture is very clearly not high on the agenda in some places. The world has become less predictable, we have planned five, ten years in advance, and it has proven that in a very short time everything has stopped and changed.
It’s kind of a sign from somewhere; we think we know everything and we can influence nature and everything. But, in fact, everything is very fragile, and we have to look at the priorities of life, and be ready to support ourselves, and sometimes we have forgotten that.
It’s a return to the basics of humanity, really. This is the time to reflect and think, to breathe. You don’t always have to rush.
Q: Will this experience affect your approach to creating music?
A: I think so; I don’t know if it will be better; it might be a lot worse (laughs), but making music has so much to do with thinking, sharing. And this time will certainly teach us to cherish every moment we have in life, everything positive we have, the opportunity to say things and express thoughts. Now we can come back to a pace where we can reflect.
Q: Could this affect the balance between your career, family, time to walk and talk to people?
A: Maybe that’s true, and I love the two orchestras I have (Boston and Leipzig Gewandhaus), and in fact I have more free time than before due to less guest conducting.
I don’t cut the time with Boston or Leipzig, but in between, when traveling, it’s so nice to arrive a few days early. And I cherish every moment that I have to be with my daughter, Adriana, 9; Time passes so fast. She loves music, but at the moment she is playing tennis.
Q: This summer at Tanglewood, vocal music is missed by all of us which had to be avoided due to the pandemic.
A: There are still other challenges to overcome, but next summer we plan to return to opera in Tanglewood, and vocal music, along with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, is so important.
Q: Are you hoping to explore more contemporary music?
A: We’re including contemporary pieces this summer at Tanglewood, and we’ve planned several more commissions from a wider range of composers.
Perhaps the attitude of musicians and audiences watching contemporary pieces could change; we will think more about why this music is as it is and what it expresses. There’s a reason it’s complicated or atonal, reflecting what’s going on in life and in the world.
I always try to think about musical and emotional reasoning, and maybe that will encourage us to delve deeper into contemporary music, because there is so much wonderful music, and sometimes it is hidden. We need to invest more time for this; we don’t want to neglect it.
Q: How do you feel about your role as a teacher, working with young musicians at Tanglewood?
A: I felt so fulfilled two summers ago, I’m passionate about it and maybe I’ll try to expand it, because these young musicians have very interesting ideas; it allows us to remember when we were students.
For conductors of all ages, it’s a never-ending process, to make sure that your communication is what you feel on the inside, as it’s not that easy to show how you feel.