In summer 2016 Bayreuth is rocked by a scandal: Andris Nelsons abandons the Green Hill shortly before the premiere of Parsifal, which he was scheduled to conduct. His departure is explained rather cryptically in the press statement as being due to “disturbances in the atmosphere” and “different points of view.” The identity of his adversary goes unnamed, but among insiders, few have any doubts that the person in question is Christian Thielemann, who has held the newly-created post of Music Director in Bayreuth since 2015. Nelsons himself is known to be a maestro who is easy to work with and to whom any posturing is foreign; but evidently he, too, has his limits, at least when someone interferes with his conducting, which is likely what happened here. Nelsons’ Bayreuth debut in 2010, when he led a production of Lohengrin, had been a resounding success and his contract for the Ring in 2020 remains effective. And fortunately so, since Nelsons’ favorite composer Wagner is particularly well-suited for showcasing his qualities: a unique combination of methodical earnestness rehearsed to perfection and powerful, contagious, burning passion.
© Ulla Pilz, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • Born as an only child on November 18, 1978 in Riga, the capital of Latvia. His mother is a music teacher, choir director, and founder of the early music ensemble Canto; his father is also a choral conductor as well as a cellist.

  • At an early age Nelsons joins the orchestra of the Latvian national opera as a trumpeter; he also takes on his first post as principal conductor here in 2003, after studying conducting in Riga and St. Petersburg, at the age of only twenty-four.

  • 2006–09 Principal Conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Herford; during this period makes his conducting debuts at many major concert halls with leading orchestras (the Met, Covent Garden, Vienna and Berlin philharmonics, Concertgebouw Amsterdam…).

  • 2008–2015 Principal Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, 2010 Bayreuth debut.

  • Since 2014 leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra, since 2018 also Gewandhaus Kapellmeister in Leipzig, taking advantage of this “double workload” to initiate a cooperation between the two organizations, which includes musician exchanges and guest performances.

  • His major awards: Latvia’s Great Music Award, Diapason d’Or, three German Record Critics’ Awards, and a Grammy.

  • Since 2011 married to soprano Kristine Opolais, also from Latvia; their daughter Adriana Anna is born the same year.

  • Andris Nelsons has an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon; in 2012 arte releases a film documentary about the conductor entitled Genius on Fire

Did you know?

  • As a child, Nelsons wants to become a football player. He discovers “his” instrument, the trumpet, after he finds playing the piano too stressful.

  • He sees his first opera at the age of five; Wagner’s Tannhäuser makes such a strong impression on him that for three days he has a fever, cries continually, and is unable to sleep. His parents fear their son is going crazy.

  • He meets his mentor Mariss Jansons while he is in Riga for a guest performance with the Oslo Philharmonic and the solo trumpeter falls ill. Nelsons, who is sitting in the audience, quickly fetches his instrument and plays the Symphonie fantastique during the concert’s second half.

  • Nelsons explains that while conducting Wagner’s works, he feels like a marathon runner: “Either you die after the first twenty kilometers, or you overcome the wall and have the feeling you could keep on running forever.”

  • Nelsons characterizes himself as shy; during interviews he sometimes brings journalists to the brink of despair with his reserve.

  • Techno makes him feel unwell, he likes Baroque music but says he is unable to conduct it, and is addicted to Wagner. He experiences music as nourishment and medicine for the soul.

  • He always has stage fright, sometimes more before rehearsals than concerts, since this is where he must first succeed in creating “mutual chemistry” with the orchestra; the frequent plane traveller is also afraid of flying.