Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

Royal Festival Hall

Tuesday 9th October, 2018, 7:30pm


Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Andris Nelsons Gewandhauskapellmeister
Kristine Opolais soprano


Andris Dzenitis: Mara for orchestra (UK premiere)
Tchaikovsky: Liza’s arioso from The Queen of Spades; Polonaise from Eugene Onegin; Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin
Mahler: Symphony No.1

Part of Classical Season 2018/19

Described by The New York Times as ‘a young dynamo’, Andris Nelsons enjoyed an acclaimed tenure at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra before appointments at two of the world’s most feted musical ensembles: the Boston Symphony Orchestra and, in 2018, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

Founded in 1743, the Gewandhausorchester performs weekly concerts in the Gewandhaus, Leipzig’s main concert hall, and it also serves as the orchestra in the Leipzig Opera. The Orchestra’s other musical duties include weekly performances at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, where Bach was the Cantor until his death. Mendelssohn was appointed as Kappellmeister in 1835, part of a long tradition of famous names who have directed this orchestra.

In the second of this pair of concerts, the orchestra presents Mahler’s magnificent First Symphony, alongside a selection of richly lyrical arias and orchestral interludes from some of Tchaikovsky’s best loved operas, including Eugene Onegin’s centrepiece, Tatyana’s affecting ‘Letter Scene’.

The evening opens with the UK premiere of a new work Māra from the rising Latvian composer Andris Dzenitis.


Review by Mark Pullinger, Bachtrack:

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[…]     “Nelsons, conducting much of the evening with his left hand gripping the podium rail, also had a firm grip on Mahler 1 after the interval. It was richly detailed with scrupulous attention to dynamics, yet took a long time to catch fire. The tremulous first movement didn’t have an organic sense of flow: rather than an open-hearted stroll enjoying the countryside, this felt like a regimented trek, led by a tour guide directing the itinerary from a clipboard.

The emphatic, foot-stamping Ländler felt rustic enough, but the halting rubatos in the gentle Trio section were just a little too sly, a little too knowing, as if Mahler was tapping the side of his nose. The funeral march third movement was taken at an appropriately laboured, funereal pace, although the excellent double bass’ intonation never wavered in his Frère Jacques solo. A jigging bassoonist in the klezmer invasion hinted at an orchestra itching to break free, which it finally did as Nelsons swept attaca into the finale. This was a thunderous assault where micro-management was abandoned for something more, well, abandoned in spirit. The gleeful eye contact between the two timpanists was terrific… the Gewandhaus had now been let off the leash and were making the most of it. This is what we’d come for.”


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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[…]     “As the First Symphony in the second of the RFH concerts confirmed, there’s no doubting the power and theatricality that Nelsons brings to this music. As the central pair of movements showed, he still has a tendency to linger just a bit too long over expressive details, though with an orchestra capable of such refined and transparent string playing, that was easy to excuse. He’d made rather heavy weather of some of the slower music in the opening movement too, but the finale was irresistible, sweeping all before it on a flood of brass tone that never overwhelmed the rest of the orchestral picture.”     […]


Review by David Nice, TheArtsDesk:

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[…]      “But Opolais’s now weighty dramatic soprano did scale down for the core moment of the 17-year-old girl’s touching vulnerability, abetted by oboist Henrik Wahlgren. Violins were a bit ragged in their initial impetuousness, too. The Act Three Polonaise which came before had just the right swagger under Nelsons the dancer; his panache in sailing and landing on the strong first beat of each bar signalled that he might be a good candidate for Vienna’s New Year’s Day Concert.

And as a Mahler conductor, he is in a class of his own already. Not one with which I always agree; the mannerisms, the sometimes inorganic pulling-about, sometimes seem writ a bit too large. But his interpretation of the First Symphony truly exploded in the gigantic finale, with discipline and rhythmic focus, from his clearly welcoming orchestra, and the febrile leadership of Sebastian Breuninger is always a joy to watch. So, too, was the dedicated work of second timpanist Xizi Wang from Leipzig’s Mendelssohn Orchesterakadamie – the first time I’ve ever seen a woman on timps (and why so, one wonders?)

Above all, Nelson’s establishing of a very different mood for each movement made one wonder afresh at the youngish Mahler’s daring back in the late 1880s. Perhaps the funeral-march rounds on the tune we know as “Frère Jacques” could have afforded to sound uglier, less artistic, from their accomplished “singers”, double bass especially; but the dream idyll at the heart of the movement was so rapt, the gauzes of the natural world in the first movement so poetic, the stomping scherzo so earthy.”     […]


Review by Peter Reed, ClassicalSource:

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[…]      “As ever, she radiated glamour, her voice was on gleaming form, and her finely judged glides to and from notes and her caressing of pitch were fresh and seductive. The most affecting moment, though, came in Tatyana’s complicit amazement at what she is doing with her life, with Henrik Wahlgren’s oboe and Ralf Götz’s horn hovering in attendance like sorrowful guardian angels, and Opolais wondrously focused and disarmingly innocent.      […]

[…]     I now know how a ghost on timpani might sound, courtesy of Marek Stefula, barely buoying up Rainer Hucke’s equally spectral bass ‘Frère Jacques’ solo at the start of the funeral march third movement, and later Nelsons led the orchestra close to reckless Fiddler on the Roof exuberance in the Klezmer music. Any allusion and irony vanished in the Finale, and the orchestra gave Nelsons everything he asked for – control, terrific momentum and, in the quiet passage just before the thrills of the close, playing that made time stand still. The horns stood in the final peroration, you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between the two timpanists’ ensemble, and, while it was never clear how leader Frank-Michael Erben’s possessed playing related to Nelsons’s rather more laid-back style, the results were consistently electrifying.”


Review by Mark Berry, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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[…]      “Tchaikovsky made much more sense to me, Kristine Opolais on superlative form. In Liza’s third-act arioso from The Queen of Spades and the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, she truly brought to life her characters, without context, scenery, or titles. One knew and felt what Liza and Tatiana meant, what their plight was – and could have taken dictation, verbal or musical, from her. Hers were fully gestural performances too, very much those of a classic singing actress. The Gewandhaus Orchestra ‘spoke’ splendidly too: this, after all, is an orchestra that plays for the Leipzig Opera as well as the concert hall (and the Thomaskirche). If only Nelsons and/or Opolais had not indulged in quite so extreme gear changes towards the end of the Letter Scene, and if only he had not driven the Polonaise so hard, these would have been ideal performances. No one, however, would have been seriously disappointed.

The first movement of the Mahler symphony opened with great promise: opening string harmonics (and their later repetition) spot on, without sounding clinical, woodwind full of colour and character, offstage brass as well balanced as I can recall.”     […]




The CBSO at the BBC Proms

Tuesday 21 August 2012 at 7.30pm

Royal Albert Hall, London +44 (0)20 7589 8212

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor

Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila 5′
Howard: Calculus of the Nervous System (UK premiere) 15′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 in C major ‘Leningrad’ 75′

This concert’s curtain-raiser is a scintillating overture which kick-started a new era in Russian music. In Calculus of the Nervous System, which has already taken Vienna by storm, Emily Howard draws upon her interest in the inner world of Ada Lovelace, pioneering mathematician daughter of Lord Byron, considered a prophet of the computer age.

Shostakovich completed his titanic Seventh Symphony as German armies advanced deep into the motherland. More recently it has also been seen as one of his exercises in tactful subversion, depicting a Leningrad whose intellectual life Stalin had already shattered.

Review by Tim Ashley, Guardian:

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…     “The power of Nelsons’ interpretation lay in his understanding of the score’s emotive nature and intent. This is music that demands we be thrown off balance and drawn into total identification with its world, and Nelsons, conducting with unswerving passion, achieved precisely that. Passion alone, however, can lead to flaws of pace in this work, and beneath Nelsons’ energy lurked secure control of its structure and trajectory. The emotional high point, tellingly, came not during the convulsions of the first movement, but in the third, in which echoes of Russian orthodox church music suggest a ritualised outpouring of communal grief. An exhausting, elating experience, and absolutely unforgettable.”     …

Review by Michael Church, Independent:

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…     “If Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra made a good fist of this, they excelled themselves with Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” symphony, which came over in as majestic a blaze as I have ever heard. Wonderful wind soloists, superb strings, percussion letting loose the dogs of war: a magisterial performance which richly deserved its ovation.” 

Review by Kimon Daltas, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “One barely earned interval later, the main event – and right from the off, the symphony makes demands of the winds especially, both exposed and in ensemble. Ferocious fortissimos notwithstanding, it deals mostly in sparse textures and gradual build-ups, so there is nowhere to hide when your turn comes. The CBSO was more than equal to the task, and a number of exceptional soloists rose from the ranks to deliver Shostakovich’s sometimes winding, sometimes impish and angular melodies. Whether piccolo, bassoon or cor anglais, and from a screeching E flat clarinet to its rasping bass cousin, a vast orchestral and expressive palette emerged with tremendous surety. Not to leave the strings out – the leader’s aerial solo in the first movement set the tone, and the extended strings-only sections later in the work showed what a rich core this orchestra has.

There is plenty of down time in this symphony – moments where you’re waiting for the next thing to happen but a direction has yet to emerge. Andris Nelsons kept the intensity throughout, and richly deserved the audience’s cheers.”

Blog by Robert Hugill:

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…     “Both the middle movements are intended to be unsettling, with relatively conventional first sections followed by rather demonic passages. Here the CBSO were in full character, with Nelsons whipping them up into a fine frenzy. There was a superbly evil solo from the E flat clarinet and a well realised passage where Shostakovich gives the solo line to the bass clarinet, accompanying it by flutes and harp. Here, and in many other places, Nelsons showed himself very acute when it came to Shostakovich’s distinctive aural palate.”     …

Blog review by Edward Seckerson:

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…     “Nelsons’ subtle way with the inner movements brought ghostly and ethereal beauty, the wide compass between the E-flat and bass clarinets accentuating the spectral extremes of the second movements gentle and only briefly disturbed dance of death and one truly heartstopping moment in the third movement where strings recall the Stravinskian chorale of its opening.

Those pianissimi are of such import in this music and the long slow climb to the coda of the last movement lifted us from the intensely private to the unashamedly public. The affirmation, for all its filmic rhetoric, was – as it always is – mighty.”

Blog by Starcourse:

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“Terrific performance of the Leningrad Symphony last night at the Proms, with Andris Nelsons conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Nelsons has an ebullient and distinctive conducting style which was well suited to this work, and to the Glinka Ruslan and Lyudmila overture which began the concert. The CBSO was playing its socks off in the Shostakovich, as well it might given that it is such a monumental masterwork.”     …

Blog by HikerBiker:

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…     “Andris Nelsons and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra brought this all out of the music, they survived with panache the dramatically exposed solo passages and the no less demanding unison sections. The split brass (soloists high up above the violins audience left) punched clear, clean and hard whilst the orchestral brass partnered finely with the rest of the platform.

A standing ovation with foot stamping was the audience’s reaction, Andris Nelsons acknowledging the many orchestral soloists in turn.”     …

Review by Chris Caspell, ClassicalSource:

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…      “Nelsons set a jaunty pace from the start; more allegro than Allegretto. Full-blooded, take-no-prisoners playing by the unison strings at the start signalled good things to come; this was a well thought out performance. However, issues of balance were a problem. The side drum was far too loud at the start of the ‘invasion’ theme (it is marked ppp) and in loud passages it was impossible to hear anything but the brass – even the xylophone was lost! The two middle movements gave Nelsons an opportunity to wring the pathos out of intimate passages. Of particular note the oboe and cor anglais solo were beautifully phrased.”     …

Review by Matthew Lynch, Bachtrack:

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…     “The CBSO’s performance under Nelsons was simply electric. From the outset the strident opening benefitted from the orchestra’s impressive string sound, while the second subject was still and sensitively played. The woodwind solos were all beautifully controlled, but not lacking any of the necessary spring and excitement. Special mention must go to the E-flat clarinet player, Joanna Paton, and piccolo player, Andrew Lane, whose playing was especially gripping.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this performance was the dynamics. The pianos were breathtakingly quiet, while every crescendo gave the impression it could continue indefinitely. The central section of the first movement is a long marching “invasion” and crescendos inexorably towards the movement’s climax. The CBSO filled the hall, making the floor rumble with sound, while maintaining perfect balance. So often these moments can become one big roar of brass, but that wasn’t the case here. Nelsons managed to direct a performance that not only had wonderful moments, but felt like an organic whole over the work’s full 75 minutes, an impressive achievement for any conductor. Anyone who ever had doubts about the CBSO’s future should see this concert as proof that they continue to impress greatly.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “But the ruminations of subsequent movements meander mercilessly, though the delicacy of the CBSO woodwind, flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic absolutely outstanding in her constant exposure, did make eloquent points.

Never mind; this was a performance built on utmost patience and control, and amazing, cherished trust between orchestra and conductor. And the Prom audience, including many charabanc’d members of the CBSO supporters’ club and bigwigs from Symphony Hall, responded with a huge ovation.”     … 


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