Andris Takes the CBSO Helm

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Byline: By Terry Grimley Arts Editor

Andris Nelsons was aged between two and 20 when Simon Rattle was conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

As a youngster growing up and receiving a musical education in his native city of Riga, he certainly knew all about the "Birmingham effect".

"I would say that for me it was a place that everyone was following, like Mariss Jansons in Oslo," he says.

"Everyone was following them and they were excited about Birmingham. It was a kind of example for other orchestras."

An avid CD collector, Nelsons has most of Rattle's CBSO recordings and the complete Sibelius symphonies with current music director Sakari Oramo. Now he is looking forward to finding out something - in fact, more or less anything - about the city where he has just signed up to concentrate at least the next three years of his conducting career.

"I think for everybody in Riga, and in many cities, the first thing you associate Birmingham with is the CBSO," he says. "I'm not interested in sport so much, so I wouldn't know about that, but the CBSO are a great ambassador for the city."

Though a relative newcomer to the international conducting circuit, 28-year-old Nelsons is already a very busy young man. But because French musicians don't work at weekends he had a break from rehearsals with the Ensemble Nationale de France which enabled him to pop over from Paris yesterday to meet The Birmingham Post and discuss plans for next season with the CBSO management.

A special matinee concert has been arranged for November 11 to introduce him to the Birmingham public. Tickets will be free, on a first-come-first-served basis, sub-ject to the usual priority booking arrangements.

The programme on November 11 - Strauss's Don Juan and Dvorak's New World Symphony - will repeat the secret concert held in the Town Hall early last month which clinched the job for Nelsons. This is already the stuff of CBSO legend.

Nelsons had been on the orchestra's radar since early in the year in its search for a conductor to succeed Sakari Oramo, who will step down to become chief guest conductor from the beginning of next season.

Chief executive Stephen Maddock explains: "March seemed a really long time to wait, and we always said we might have to manufacture an opportunity to listen to some conductors. We found this opportunity at the beginning of September. Actually one of the things we had already been planning to do was some sort of private event in the Town Hall to test the acoustics."

Then it turned out that there was an opportunity at the same time to make a recording in Symphony Hall for Sony/BMG of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Nelsons and his fellow Latvian - and former school friend - Baiba Skride. His only previous CD, of the two Shostakovich violin concertos with German violinist Arabella Steinbacher and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, won a major prize in Germany.

Stephen Maddock recalls that after introducing Nelsons to the orchestra he left them to get on with rehearsals.

"Within half an hour he was saying 'I want to hear just violins, I want to hear just violas'. Some conductors might worry the players could resent them looking over their shoulders, but at the first break they were saying 'this is brilliant, because he's really sorting things out'.'"

Nelsons adds: "Especially with great orchestras they don't expect you to tell them they play fantastically. Of course, they know they're a great orchestra. They expect something more to make it interesting."

About his first encounter with the CBSO, he says: "I'm very happy because, firstly, I could perform in both halls, and conduct the orchestra in different repertoire and in different conditions. We would be very happy to have a hall like the Town Hall in Riga. We don't have a hall but there are plans to build one. …