Since 2017, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the Boston Symphony Orchestra have been artistic partners, collaborating extensively on programming, personnel development, and training. Here, we take a look a how this unique alliance came into being.
Under the direction of Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and Gewandhausorchester (GHO) alliance is a new multidimensional collaboration designed to create opportunities for these two orchestras and their respective audiences to explore each ensemble’s unique world of music-making and discover the great traditions and historic accomplishments that have played an important role in building their reputations as two of the world’s great orchestras. In addition, the programs of the BSO/GHO alliance celebrates the shared mutual heritage of these two orchestras, while also shedding light on the overall culture of each ensemble and the cities they are proud to call home.
Taking place over a five-year period starting in 2017-18, the BSO/GHO alliance features an expansive co-commissioning program, educational programs designed to spotlight each orchestra’s culture and history, and tour performances by the BSO at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and GHO at Symphony Hall in Boston, providing an extraordinary opportunity for orchestra musicians and audiences alike. This new alliance will also include musician exchanges between the two orchestras and their respective acclaimed academies for advanced music studies. One of the major highlights of the BSO/GHO alliance, to take place annually over the five-year period of the collaboration, will be a focus on complementary programming, whereby the BSO will celebrate “Leipzig Week in Boston” and GHO will celebrate “Boston Week in Leipzig” every season, highlighting each other’s musical traditions through uniquely programmed concerts, chamber music performances, archival exhibits and lecture series. Christoph Wolff, Adams University Professor at Harvard University, former Director of the Bach Archive in Leipzig (2001-13), and author of numerous acclaimed texts on the history of music from the 15th to 20th centuries, will serve as an artistic advisor to the BSO/GHO alliance.
This new alliance between the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra—which celebrates the great traditions and vibrant ongoing influence of each organization, highlights our shared heritage, and stimulates new artistic synergies—is unprecedented in the orchestra world and has inspired a new dimension of creative programming for both orchestras.
The history of close cultural connections between Boston and Leipzig began in 1881, when the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s founder, Henry Lee Higginson, appointed Leipzig Conservatory-trained Georg Henschel as the BSO’s first conductor. Subsequent conductors of the BSO, including Wilhelm Gericke, Emil Paur, Max Fiedler, Karl Muck, and particularly Arthur Nikisch, were either educated in Leipzig and/or held posts with the Gewandhausorchester. In the mid-20th century, the Leipzig tie was reinforced when Charles Munch was BSO Music Director from 1949 to 1962. Munch, who studied in Leipzig, was concertmaster of the Gewandhausorchester from 1926 to 1933.
Symphony Hall in Boston, which was inaugurated in 1900, is not simply a replica of the historically renowned second Gewandhaus that opened its doors in 1884 and was destroyed in 1944. Mr. Higginson had visited the Leipzig concert hall while touring Europe and had instructed his team of architects to design a larger version of the Gewandhaus, with as many as 2600 seats. Boston’s new hall also added the latest acoustic principles to the overall design of its Leipzig counterpart. These acoustical principles played a major role in determining the size of the stage and the placement of sound-absorbing statues in the auditorium, among other features.
In 1974, the Gewandhausorchester appeared in Boston’s Symphony Hall during its first tour of the United States. To date, Boston has welcomed the Gewandhausorchester for ten guest performances, including its most recent appearance in the 2014-15 concert season. While the BSO made its debut appearance at the Gewandhaus in May 2016, the Leipzig hall featured the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, affiliated with the BSO, in 2008 during its European tour.
Since its founding in 1743, the GHO has been associated with some of the greatest figures of music history, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who lived and worked in Leipzig from 1723 until 1750, the year of his death at age 65. In addition to the GHO’s widely known reputation for performances of the works of Bach, the orchestra also gave the premieres of works by such luminaries of classical music as Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. This tradition has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries with scores by such significant composers as Henze, Kancheli, and Rihm, among others. The BSO’s own compositional legacy is similarly without parallel, including some of the seminal scores of the last century from composers ranging from Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Bartók, to Messiaen and Dutilleux, and myriad Americans including Copland, Bernstein, Sessions, Carter, and Harbison, among others.