Westford Eagle, Sep. 28, 2014
By Keith Powers
Konzert, Boston, 27. September 2014
Concert Review: Andris Nelsons clearly takes command at BSO
Beginnings are the best. With Symphony Hall full of optimistic music lovers and well wishers, music director Andris Nelsons began his tenure Saturday evening as the youngest leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in more than a century.

The 35-year-old native of Latvia, and now citizen of the world, led the orchestra, with soloists Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais, through a series of opera highlights, focusing on Wagner in the first half and Italian romantic music in the second.

The repertory - Nelsons began with the overture to "Tannhaüser," the first opera he ever saw - and soloists - Kaufmann and Opolais (Nelsons’ wife) are frequent collaborators - filled the performance with personal touchstones for the conductor.

The music-making was largely overshadowed this evening by the buzz in Symphony Hall, which is rarely the scene of broadcast television these days, and the genuine enthusiasm from the orchestra and audience. There was a sense of collective relief, following years without a music director at the helm, after the gradual unraveling of the James Levine directorship.

Opera highlights give those who know the work a chance to quickly revisit the story - in Tannhaüser’s case, of love and redemption - and others a chance to simply enjoy the sweep of the music. This overture forms a compact summary of Wagner’s ideas; solos by concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and clarinetist William Hudgins, a duet from Lowe and associate concertmaster Tamara Smirnova, and a standout performance by the brass were featured.

Kaufmann, perhaps the leading tenor of his generation, took the stage for the dark concluding aria from "Lohengrin," "In fernem Land," when the hero reveals his identity. One long crescendo, magnificently accompanied first by tremolo strings only, then by the entire orchestra, Kaufmann sang with facile tone, organic energy and power. Shouts of appreciation sounded immediately through the hall - and the evening had hardly begun.

Opolais took the stage to conclude the first half with the Prelude and Liebestod to "Tristan und Isolde," a familiar concert pairing that matches the beginning and the climax of that opera. Opolais has a tender, lyric and expressive soprano instrument, perhaps without the force needed to overcome a Wagnerian orchestra setting, but tellingly beautiful nonetheless.

Kaufmann returned after intermission for Mascagni’s aria "Mamma, quell vino è generoso," from "Cavalleria Rusticana" - incurring further shouts and a long ovation - and Opolais gorgeously sang "Un bel dì" from Puccini’s "Madama Butterly," perfectly suited to her voice and demeanor.

The duo then teamed up for "Tu, tu amore? Tu?" from "Manon Lescaut" - the sight of Opolais making out with Kaufmann just inches away from her husband bought out more than a few laughs in the audience. They encored with the long love duet from act one of "Butterfly," with Nelsons apologizing unnecessarily to the television world for the unscheduled addition.

The substantial evening of music concluded with the colorful "Pines of Rome." Respighi’s showpiece of instrumental variety, with its beautiful orchestration, was a crowd-pleasing vehicle for Nelsons to show his command.

It was impressive. As the work reaches it conclusion, the orchestra in full frenzy onstage, with brass sections blaring away from each of the balconies, Nelsons calmed himself in the midst of it all, allowing the musical energy he had jolted to life to take over. It was a telling moment: not over-conducting, certainly not usurping the spotlight, Nelsons confidently showed everyone that this is his orchestra now.

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