This is excerpted from a longer interview with Yannick Nézet-Séguin to appear on Classical WETA in January. Friday through Sunday, October 29th through the 31st he will lead his first concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra since being named their new music director.
To say that Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a busy young man would be an understatement. The impossibly charming conductor with the boyish face and petite frame looks even younger than his 35 years when he appears at the terrace of the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg on a lovely August day this Summer. The fact that he’s had three free days in six weeks doesn’t show. In Salzburg he conducted 16 performances of Don Giovanni and Romeo and Juliette, and because there was a lacunae in his schedule, he took the Rotterdams Philharmonisch, one of the four orchestras he now has a close, contractual relation with, to the Proms. If Dudamel is the most hyped of the young generation, and Andris Nelsons quietly the one with the with the greatest potential, Nézet-Séguin is congenial whizz kid who heads from success to success. This season alone the Music Director Designate of the Philadelphia Orchestra will make his debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome, Milan’s La Scala Orchestra, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
On October 29th, he will conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra for the first time since being named Charles Dutoit’s (and Christoph Eschenbach’s) successor. The program—Haydn’s 100th and Mahler’s 5th Symphony—had been decided before he was appointed, and he explains what he meant to achieve with it: “It was supposed to be my third visit with an orchestra which I already adored and with which I was wishing to continue a partnership. After having already done one program which was Russian, really romantic with ‘Tchaik 6’ and ‘Rachmaninoff 2’ [Piano Concerto], the second program was a very tricky one, but one we pulled off very well… with the Franck Symphony, and a new—well, not a new piece, but a new piece for them: “Orion”, by Claude
Vivienne Vivier, and Brahms’ First Piano Concerto. So we had explored already a few things so we decided that ‘OK, on the third visit I should go in for something that the orchestra doesn’t do a lot, which is Mozart and Haydn, so I wanted to meet with them in a late Haydn symphony. And also Mahler, which I think is one of their great, great strengths.
“But of course now that this is a well-anticipated date in Philadelphia, for myself as well, I think this makes a lot of sense, actually. Because it is two angles which I want to keep doing a lot with the orchestra. Especially, if I may say, the classical repertoire. I mean: this is very early to decide which kind of repertoire I will be exploring in the next five years; we’re just starting the discussions about that. But definitely more Mozart and more Haydn is something I want to do, because it’s always good to for any orchestra to do in the first place.”
“My way of conceiving of what a symphony orchestra should bring nowadays (and this is without being aimed directly at the Phillies) is to have this advantage of exploring 400 years of music. From Gabrieli to now. And draw some lines or connections between generations and how music is so really interrelated, stylistically. And that is what really puts me on. And I think that for most of the audience this is also something very interesting and it doesn’t have to be very intellectual and it doesn’t have to be rocket science. I don’t just want to do the usual, an overture—classical, then a concerto—romantic, and then… and we end up very often with a concert that contains fifteen years of distance between the oldest and the youngest work. Going back to that question of Haydn for the symphony orchestra: it’s true that many orchestras feel deprived nowadays. ‘Oh… we don’t know how to do it anymore, because we can’t’, they might say. And some specialized instrumentalists in baroque and classical are still horrified that a symphony orchestra on modern instruments would dare still do this. But this is not my vision. I think that maybe it’s a question of generation as well. That younger generation of musicians has now benefitted from what the specialists have done and we still need those specialists. But we now need to incorporate this in the larger tradition of our culture of sound. When I just did the Proms with the Rotterdam Phil last week, in between operas…” here he chuckles with the half-knowing, half-apologetic grin of a confessing workaholic… “and one of the great things was to have the same orchestra to play Wagner (Tannhaeuser Overture) and then Eroica and it sounded like two different orchestras and yet it was the same musicians. And I think that’s what we have to achieve now and that’s very good for the orchestra, because it is good for the concert experience as a whole.”