White wine and warm feelings flowed Monday afternoon as two great orchestras with a common music director got to know one another at a post-rehearsal dinner reception at Boston Symphony Hall.
The Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig, Germany has come to town for a week of performances, solo and joint, with their counterparts in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“The power of music can bring two continents together,” said Andris Nelsons, music director of both ensembles, resplendent in a new Boston Symphony Orchestra/Gewandhaus hoodie.
“We are writing music history,” said Professor Andreas Schulz, Director of the Gewandhaus. “Now we are family.”
The Gewandhaus performed Sunday afternoon and will perform three concerts together with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Rehearsals for the joint concerts began today, and the word everyone used to describe the massive combined orchestral force was, unsurprisingly, “loud.”
Boston and Leipzig have a deeply entwined musical history. Boston’s original conductor and players came from Leipzig, late in the 19th century, and Symphony Hall is modeled on Leipzig’s former concert hall, destroyed in World War II.
How it came about
The catalyst for all this music- and merry-making came about four years ago when, Nelsons told Boston Symphony Orchestra CEO Mark Volpe that living out of suitcases as a guest conductor in city after city was exhausting and untenable, especially now that he was the father of a young girl.
So the idea was hatched to create an ongoing residency in Leipzig for Nelsons, so the Latvian-born maestro would have a place to live and conduct during the parts of the year when the Boston Symphony Orchestra was involved with Boston Pops, played for guest conductors, or took time off.
An unusual combination of two orchestras
One orchestra visiting another is practically unprecedented. It’s one thing for a soloist or a quartet to jump on a plane. But flying more than a hundred musicians, plus instruments, scores, and who knows what else? That requires more organizational skills than you can shake a baton at.
A few individual BSO players have enjoyed residencies in Leipzig over the last few years, and vice versa. But this was the first time that both orchestras came together as one.
“There’s so much we can learn from the Gewandhaus musicians,” said Kathryn Sievers, a BSO violist. “Before every rehearsal and concert, all of the members of each section shake hands with one another. It just promotes the feeling of warmth and camaraderie. Of course, they have a 100-year head start on us.”
Rare opportunity to play different pieces
The performances over the course of the coming week feature pieces not normally heard, because they require vast numbers of performers that few orchestras can afford to field. The four pieces are Strauss’ Festive Prelude, Haydn’s Sinfonia concertane, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy.
Based on the excitement experienced both by players and concertgoers, the BSO’s Leipzig cousins will undoubtedly be back. But not for a few years, so anyone within driving distance to Symphony Hall ought to hurry and snap up whatever tickets are left.
Seeing these two orchestras on one stage? If it’s not the musical equivalent of Halley’s Comet, it’s pretty darn close.
“Scriabin wanted to have an orchestra so large that it could only perform at the base of the Himalayas,” Nelsons told the gathering. “Maybe he was crazy, but maybe we’ll do that next.”