Music | Sound Off

The new head of the Boston Symphony Orchestra takes a bow in Japan

by Chiho Iuchi

Contributing Writer

An orchestra is a lot like a perfect society: the instruments all have different roles and personalities, and when they come together beautiful music is created. Every society needs a leader, though, and last week the Boston Symphony Orchestra introduced its new leader to audiences in Japan.

Music director Andris Nelsons first took up his new position at the BSO for the 2014/15 season. And it’s an orchestra that holds a particularly special place in Japan’s heart, as it is where conductor Seiji Ozawa served as music director from 1973 until 2002. During Ozawa’s 29-year tenure, the longest throughout the orchestra’s 136-year history, the BSO made five major tours to Japan.

“Of course, maestro Ozawa was one of the most important music directors at the BSO,” Nelsons, 38, tells The Japan Times. In addition to paying homage to his predecessors and keeping the existing tradition that has resulted in the intensity of the BSO sound, the Latvian conductor expresses his intention to enhance more spontaneity and individualism: “I want to encourage the musicians to express their own hearts into the music.”

For its six concerts in Nagoya, Osaka, Kawasaki and Tokyo, the BSO this time presented four different composers from its wide-ranging symphonic repertoire, as well as two concertos featuring American violinist Gil Shaham and two of the BSO’s principal players.

The final concert of the tour, which was held at Suntory Hall in Tokyo on Nov. 9, highlighted the chemistry between Nelsons and the BSO. Nelsons indeed left a lot of space for flexibility and spontaneity during the concert, trusting his colleagues’ musical abilities. In response, each of the musicians gave full performances.

The conductor’s somehow exaggerated yet careful gestures clearly expressed how he gave nuance to the sounds. He highlighted each element: From the solo timpani that opened Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 “Drumroll” through the glorious finale of Mahler’s Symphony No.1, including the sound of birds chirping by clarinet and flute. Brilliant fanfare by the brass section, the renowned solo contrabass playing the minor version of “Frere Jacques” and the unity of the string section to generate one clear pitch were other highlights.

Such an encouraging approach is “comfortable” for the musicians, as one of the orchestra members expressed, and that created a positive atmosphere among the close-knit ensemble.

Thanks to the strong bond between the BSO and Ozawa, Japanese audiences were privileged to observe the latest stage of the BSO. It was a lesson in leadership and collaboration, and needless to say the classical music fans of this society thought it was beautiful.