Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The Jetsetterby Réjean Beaucage
/ March 31, 2007
Despite his relatively young age of 31,
conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin already has an international reputation.
At the offices of the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal (OMGM),
Maestro Nézet-Séguin talked enthusiastically about his multitasking
musical life. He had just come from a rehearsal and was scheduled for
a televised interview later that morning and a concert that night. Still,
there he was, relaxed, giving another interview. In a word, a typical
The big news
Last December it was annouced that
Nézet-Séguin would become music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic
Orchestra, succeeding Valery Gergiev. It must have been news that sent
shivers down the spines of OMGM personnel.
YNS: It all happened very quickly. I
conducted there for the first time in October 2005, and was asked back
last fall. At that point, I felt there was real electricity between
me and the orchestra. I realized that there was a possibility here,
so I talked to André Dupras [OMGM’s general manager]. I spend about
four months a year with the OMGM, so not much will change in that respect.
My outside activities are the ones that will be under more pressure.
On his website (yannicknezetseguin.com),
a message dated November 12, 2006, states:
“I flew to Europe at the end of September, where I experienced one
of the finest months of my life as a musician—visiting three top orchestras
for the first time (Orchestre de la Suisse Romande-Genève, Orchestre
National de France-Paris, and Sächsiche Staatskapelle-Dresden), in
addition to another return engagement that I was very much looking forward
to with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. My admiration and affection
for this unique orchestra has only grown as a result of this second
visit. I value highly the relationship that has developed with the musicians
there.” So it’s a happy ending!
YNS: When I was writing that, I really
felt my last visit to Rotterdam was something special. It’s true that
I was looking for a position in Europe. When I started using the London
agency, Askonas Holt, I did so with the aim of getting a position in
Europe within two or three years. I thought of getting a position like
principal guest conductor, but I would never have expected to get something
such as the Rotterdam offer so quickly. It’s a great honour. I’m
certainly very different from Gergiev in terms of my preferred repertoire
and my working approach. He’s a genius, and he’s been around this
orchestra for some fifteen years. He concentrated on the Russian repertoire,
while I’m more inclined toward music that is outside the norm. That
works very well, because Rotterdam is an ultra-modern city and wants
to be recognised as such, but it plays very little music of the twentieth
or twenty-first centuries. This is an aspect that I’ve been given
a mandate to develop. Also, I need to get to know Dutch music better,
and I’m hoping, as well, to find room for Canadian composers and soloists.
A feverish February
Aside from conducting symphonic works,
Yannick Nézet-Séguin also harbours a passion for opera, piano performance,
and baroque music. He took advantage of an invitation from the Canadian
Opera Company for nine performances of Gounod’s Faust in February,
which gave him the opportunity to connect with different aspects of
YNS: If I have to spend two months in
the same place, I take the opportunity to set up projects that are geographically
compatible. In the case of Winterreise,
which I did with Alexander Dobson, we’d been talking about it for
a long time. He’s done it before, and we talked about it again when
we did Wozzeck in 2006 at the TNM [Montreal’s Théâtre du
Nouveau Monde]. He lives near Toronto, and that made it convenient to
work on my piano skills.
LSM: But at the level you’ve reached
in conducting, is it useful to continue developing your piano skills?
YNS: Yes, because, for example, during
my first season at Rotterdam, I’ll be involved in chamber music, which
I want to do annually. I’m not saying I want to be a soloist—that
was never my ambition; but performing a work like Winterreise
is incredibly enriching. It helps me understand Schubert, whose Ninth
I’m doing in Finland next year, and whose Unfinished I’ll
be doing here. When it comes to baroque music, my association with the
Bach Consort happened by accident three or four years ago, when I was
asked to fill in for someone. There are always benefit concerts for
charities, done mainly by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra musicians and
excellent singers. I’ve already done the Christmas Oratorio
twice, but this time I’ve suggested doing the Mass in G, which
I haven’t conducted since 2000. I’ll also be doing this kind of
repertoire in Rotterdam.
LSM: And since you were in Toronto
on February 14, you happened to replace Valery Gergiev at the TSO’s
podium at the last minute!
YNS: It was crazy . . . All day they
were hoping he’d be able to land in Toronto, but because of the blizzard
they thought it better to make an alternate plan, so they asked me if
I would be prepared to fill in. Just in case, I had a general rehearsal
with the orchestra. I’m not very familiar with the Stravinsky concertos
that were on the program. Though I conducted the Prélude à l’après-midi
d’un faune seven years ago, and La Mer somewhat more often.
I told them I could help them out if need be, but that I had to conduct
an opera that evening, after all! Well, the TSO and the Opera got together
on this, and I realized that the TSO would have lost a great deal if
it had been forced to cancel. When I entered the orchestra pit for
Faust at 7:30 p.m., I was told that Gergiev’s plane had just taken
off, but it was a mistake. So after the first act, I handed the baton
over to Steven Philcox of the Canadian Opera Company and left to conduct
the Debussy pieces [Gary Kulesha had just finished conducting the two
Stravinsky concertos]. This was the fourth time I’d conducted the
TSO, and I’d never heard them play like that!
As the OMGM concert following our
interview was called “Chanter à la française,” 2007 seems to be
Nézet-Séguin’s year for French music. It began with a concert given
by the Orchestre National du Capitole of Toulouse on January 1. There
are other such concerts on his schedule: Gounod in Toronto, then Debussy,
Poulenc and Fauré in Montréal, Debussy again in London with the London
Symphony Orchestra (March 9), then more Debussy in Montreal; Ravel and
Saint-Saëns in April with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, followed
by Massenet and Poulenc in Barcelona in May.
YNS: It’s true, and it goes on . .
. The French repertoire is becoming one of my specialties. I shouldn’t
be surprised, particularly in the opera repertoire, as there is a tendency
in other countries to propose this repertoire to a French-speaking conductor.
This makes complete sense, especially when, as with the COC, one is
working with singers who aren’t French-speaking (although they do
very well, all the same). With regard to symphonic music, the French
repertoire will also figure largely in Rotterdam. The orchestra there
has incomparable virtuosity and energy, but I want to work with them
on the very distinctive refinement of French music.
The OMGM and its conductor will be
honouring the Montreal Arts Council this month on its 50th anniversary.
During its concerts on the Island of Montreal, it will salute the city’s
four founding populations: the French (Debussy’s La Mer), the English
(Britten’s Four Sea-Interludes), the Irish (an Emily Doolittle composition
commissioned by the Council), and the Scottish (An Orkney Wedding, with
Sunrise, by Maxwell-Davies). The orchestra will also honour Quebec composer
Pierre Mercure, who would have been 80 this year, by performing Kaléidoscope
YNS : The Montreal Arts Council literally
made it possible for us to realize our mission, which is to make classical
music more accessible. Without its help, that would be far more difficult.
We developed the program with the Council’s people, on the basis of
the emblems on the city’s coat of arms. In addition to the founding
peoples, we also wanted to honour one of our own composers. Pierre Mercure
came to mind—we’d done his Cantate pour une joie in February.
He was a comet in our musical life, but he also left a considerable
legacy with his work for television and his share in founding the SMCQ
(Société de musique contemporaine du Québec). Along with La Mer
and Four Sea Interludes, Kaléidoscope will be on our
next recording, to be released in the fall by Atma. We’re starting
to build a recording list that is getting international recognition,
and I think it’s our duty to make our own musical heritage known as
It is actually remarkable that Nézet-Séguin’s
first recording with the OMGM (devoted to Nino Rota) came out in February
2003 and that, four years later, the recording devoted to Bruchner’s
Seventh, also with the OMGM, was the tenth recording on which his name
appeared (nine are in the Atma catalogue, six of these being with the
YNS : We certainly should congratulate
Atma on its flexibility and the willingness of its director, Johanne
Goyette, to take a chance—but we should also recognize the readiness
of the orchestra’s musicians to make room in their schedules for recording
sessions. The musicians don’t play for nothing, however. Atma, with
the help of Sodec and Musicaction, pays the orchestra the standard fee
and everyone is very happy with this partnership. We want to maintain
an average of two CDs per year.
Down the road there will no doubt be
recordings made elsewhere, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin will soon have
a very impressive CD list!
A Youthful and Satisfying Die Winterreise
Alexander Dobson, baritone
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano
Saturday, February 3, 2007
Heliconian Hall, Toronto
Dobson’s interpretation is powerful
in a youthful, extroverted, heart-on-sleeve, dramatic, even operatic
sort of way – appropriate for a singer still in his early 30s. With
age and experience, his concept of the work is bound to take on greater
chiaroscuro and introspection. Dobson handled the many changes of mood
well; and I sensed a genuine and heart-felt connection to the music.
He was greatly helped by conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the keyboard.
One would never have guessed that it was Nézet-Séguin’s first stab
at Winterreise – his playing was fresh, crisp, assured, well
paced and, above all, very much alive, even on piano that was not up
to the high standards of the major concert halls. Very much a singer’s
conductor, Nézet-Séguin breathed in sync with the soloist as he sang
and always offered sympathetic support. Kudos to him for not doing anything
flashy to steal the spotlight! The 80 minutes went by in such a flash
that I almost didn’t want it to end. Joseph So