At Boston’s Symphony Hall this week, they’re not just making music—they’re making music history.
The august Gewandhaus Orchester of Leipzig (founded 1781) has come to pay a visit and perform together with its American counterpart, the youthful Boston Symphony Orchestra (founded 1881).
Their three performances starting tonight under the baton of Andris Nelsons, music director for both ensembles, feature such large forces of musicians playing such rarely heard pieces that audiences will go home dancing on air, if slightly hearing impaired.
“It’s a reunion,” says Nelsons. “It has the feel of a youth orchestra. That sense of enjoyment of meeting other players, as well at the same time, maintaining the highest levels of professionalism.”
Nelsons added the Leipzig responsibilities to his already heavy workload as a means of reducing the number of weeks traveling as a guest conductor from one city to the next, which became increasingly difficult after his daughter was born.
While Gewandhaus and BSO players have done residencies in each other’s cities, this is the first time that both ensembles have met, mingled, rehearsed, and performed together, in concerts celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The President of Germany will be in attendance at the concert tonight.
“The two orchestras have long, proud histories, and each has its own way of making music,” Nelson says. “But the experience of rehearsing together has been all about the spirit of music, and the spirit of cooperation.
“There’s nothing aggressive, no one trying to prove that his way is the right way. Instead, from the beginning, you could sense that all of the musicians wanted to fulfill their mission, which is to serve the composer, the music, and the audience. And that’s what makes this whole experience extraordinary.”
Nelsons sought to find pieces that could take advantage of the exceptionally large forces on stage when the two orchestras combined—over 100 players in all.
“We wanted to find works,” Nelsons adds, “that could demonstrate the delicacy of the skills of the musicians, while at the same taking advantage of the large numbers of strings on stage. Normally, an orchestra might program just one or two of these pieces in an evening. But never all four, at least until now.”
The combined forces of the BSO and the Gewandhaus will be playing Strauss’ Festive Prelude, Haydn’s Sinfonia concertane, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.
“I hope the audience enjoys the music as much as the performers do,” Nelsons says.
There will be no rest for Nelsons and the BSO once they bid auf wiedersehen to their Gewandhaus counterparts. Next week, Nelsons will lead the Bostonians in an equally demanding program—the first full performance by the BSO Shostakovich’s Twelfth Symphony, the Ravel Piano Concerto, and a newly commissioned work by Betsy Jolas, a composer and music educator 93 years young.
“She’s a charming woman,” Nelsons says, “and her work is a co-commission of the two orchestras. I performed it in Leipzig, but this is the American premiere. And Shostakovich is rapidly becoming part of the orchestra’s DNA, as we are recording all of his symphonies.”
The following week offers little respite for Nelsons and the BSO, as attention turns to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and the Grieg Piano Concerto.
“Everyone’s different, but I prefer this kind of pace,” Nelsons says. “When we are working together for an extended time, we are able to reach higher levels of growth. I do have a few breaks in my schedule in weeks to come, but this works well for us.”
No doubt about that, even if the decibel level of this week’s performances matches that of the jet that will take the Gewandhaus players home when Leipzig Week in Boston concludes.
For tickets check out bso.org.