Andris Nelsons on Boston Public Radio: deft interviewing or a clumsy response?

It was either a deft interview on the part of the hosts, or a clumsy one.

Either way, interviewee Andris Nelsons will be smarting a bit, and a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra administration will be having an uncomfortable one-to-one with a line manager first thing on Monday morning, assuming that hasn’t already been had on the phone over the weekend.

Andris Nelsons appeared on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio Podcast yesterday, talking up the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s forthcoming concerts.

The Latvian cobbled together an uncomfortable response to a question about sexual harassment in the orchestral world, drawing on the kind of style and panache that would make any half-decent PR run for the hills.

Transcription below.

Presenter (46’50”) Can we return to politics for a second? We just discussed with our listeners the thing that everyone e in the USA is talking about sexual harassment in entertainment in politics in whatever Is that an issue in orchestral world acround the world? Is that an issue? Is it a problem? Has it been?

Nelsons No.

Presenter Really, no?

Nelsons I think. I mean.

[Pauses. Sighs]

It suddenly seems like there are two parallel worlds. When we [Boston Symphony Orchestra], for example in Japan – when we played these concerts – and there were a lot of police – and we came in this hall – and we played this Mahler symphony and Rachmaninov – it’s a different world and it feels so human and so right – and then we walk out and there’s this ‘beep beep beep’ – all these things which make you think ‘oh’.

It’s very interesting and sometimes very embarrassing and sometimes very confusing of course – I think that actually many things are are are – I think – artificially exaggerated or made too important as they are. It’s difficult to say.

I just think that music and the art can – that bring people together – and I would just would wish that that those who have .. who are very busy and I understand that they are busy – if they could find the time, and they could realise how important it is other parts of life including music and art i believe they would become better human beings and I want to believe. Or if you don’t become human beings then you are absolutely wrong leader because we want a leader who is a human. And that’s normal to wish for.

Presenter 2 Well Andris Nelsons, we saw you in your Japanese t-shirt ….

Not a great response by any means. Be sure to listen from 34 minutes in.

I know of a couple of cases in the orchestral world which are at odds with his initial denial. I imagine there must be a lot more. How could there not be given the preponderance of cases elsewhere?

But, the podcast isn’t especially searing journalism. Nelson’s isn’t given an opportunity to clarify what he means. Earlier on in the show the sycophancy in the hosts is nauseating – listen from 34 minutes in where the constant backslapping from the hosts about his Musical America title makes for very uncomfortable listening.

Additionally, there’s an underlying assumption in the editorial that an artistic leader is also a business leader. That may well be a fair assumption for some orchestras but it’s not for all.

Personally, I’d see the CEO of an organisation as the person called upon to respond about business affairs, unless there’s an unwritten expectation that a conductor is contractually obliged to provide artistic direction and pastoral support.



Andris Nelsons extends contract with the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Nice work Boston Symphony Orchestra. I’ve not been to Boston, ever. Nor Tanglewood. But maybe now I know you’ve secured the marvellous Andris Nelsons until your 2021/22 season then I might line up a visit.

The Boston Globe‘s piece this morning outlines the impact Nelson’s extended contract will probably have.

[It] replaces the initial five-year contract with an eight-year agreement. It calls for Nelsons to conduct a minimum of 12 subscription weeks per season and two weekends at Tanglewood. It also extends plans for regular touring, and should at least hypothetically make possible the completion of the full cycle of the Shostakovich symphonies with Deutsche Grammophon, a goal that both the recording company and Nelsons had articulated before the project began.