Maybe it is nothing to be especially proud of, but I had a laugh when I realized a couple of months ago that I was going to play within four days with the two resident orchestras of the cities of Birmingham in Alabama as well as the “original” one in the UK. Pure coincidence, I promise, I had nothing to do with it. With both orchestras I have played before, obviously the one in England having the higher profile, but I must admit the Alabama Symphony did also quite a wonderful job with their energetic young British conductor (and pianist) Justin Brown.I just finished playing the second and last concert in Birmingham, UK, with the CBSO and their new chief conductor, Andris Nelsons, and it was maybe the most fulfilling Dvorak concerto I played so far. I met Andris three years ago – we did a tour together with the German Youth Orchestra to Venezuela, playing Haydn C Major and a modern piece which we both didn’t care much about, but still I could tell what a major talent was growing there. In the meantime he has grown even more, as musician and conductor, is 30 years old now, and I have never come across a musician with more intensity and passion. Already in rehearsal he wets his entire shirt after 5 minutes with his own sweat, but every move, every gesture has a direct reason and musical effect, there is no showmanship whatsoever in his demeanour, rather the opposite.
While being very extrovert in his music-making, he is a very shy man who refuses to take a bow after the performance because he thinks the orchestra did all the work. I told him today after a brilliant performance of the Concerto for Orchestra by Bela Bartok, that he is right, the orchestra is playing the music, but he inspires them to play as captivating as they have played – as he inspired me to play the Dvorak quite different to other times, and so he absolutely deserves a bow on his own, or at least any bow. But again he refused to take one, even when the orchestra refused to get up, he insisted so strongly that at the end he even sat down on his podium in utmost stubborness not having to stand alone.
He doesn’t really do the usual 1-2-3-4 beating, he rather draws the musical lines into the air, constantly switching his baton from right to left hand, singing, dancing, smiling and so obviously loving the music, that it is a pure joy to watch him, both from the audience as well as from my seat on the podium right next to him.
The most amazing thing is that he has absolutely no filter between his incredibly youthful and childlike soul and the outside world, and it touches me deeply that the orchestras he works with don’t take advantage of that in the sense of making fun of him or not taking him seriously, but love him for his authenticity and for his passion for music and life in general. There is this childlike quality paired with the deepest understanding of what music is about – his phrasings are most organic, his transistions between different sections are as smooth and elegant as they get, breathing through them as if his orchestra was one instrument.
And while it seems very spontaneous and fresh, he has such a good brain, knows the score inside out that the level of perfection of orchestra playing is also as high as it gets, without it being a priority. I can only say, watch out for this unique conductor, you will enjoy him, and I can’t wait until April, when I am allowed to enjoy another Dvorak with him in Madrid! 🙂