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Time Out interviews Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphia Orchestra
© Jessica Griffin
Ambitious, dedicated, and oozing passion from every which pore. In the orchestral world, conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a French Canadian force to be reckoned with. At the ripe age of 43, more than 80 orchestras worldwide have seen the likes of his baton. To call him an overachiever would be an understatement; in addition to the young prodigy’s role as Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Nézet-Séguin contemporaneously directs the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and beginning this September, the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
This June, the maestro is setting out on a musical journey overseas with the extraordinary Philadephia Orchestra to mesmerize audiences at three of Israel’s top cultural hubs: first in Haifa, where they will be joined by renowned pianist Hélène Grimaud to perform a special Brahms concerto in D minor, after which they will move onto Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to feature pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. First to appear in motion picture, as well as to be broadcast on live television (1949) and public radio, an extraordinary orchestra calls for an extraordinary director. “And I couldn’t be happier to be working with such a legendary ensemble,” Nézet-Séguin beams with pride.

From Baroque to Bernstein 

What is your greatest accomplishment with The Philadelphia Orchestra since you took on this position eight seasons ago?

Honoring our tradition at The Philadelphia Orchestra means always looking towards the future. Since I came in as Music Director, we have expanded the repertoire of the orchestra with more baroque masterpieces, as well as more vocal and choral works, and have especially commissioned more of today’s greatest composers. I am very proud to have involved the broader Philadelphia community in some projects, notably, Bernstein’s Mass, which has just been released on Deutsche Gramophone.

Speaking of Bernstein, his Symphony No. 2's “Dirge” first premiered in Tel Aviv 70 years ago with the Israel Philharmonic – an orchestra with which Bernstein forged a close alliance after the war. Is this why you have chosen to perform his "Age of Anxiety" as part of the repertoire? 

Of course Leonard Bernstein’s ties to the Israel Philharmonic make playing this piece on this tour even more special. I also think that his centennial this year is a great opportunity to get to know his symphonic music better, and to share it with the world.

While another piece in the Israel series, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor, begins with moments of anxiety, it falls on a very different spectrum than Bernstein's. In your opinion, what connections can be made between these two symphonies (as well as the third composition by Brahms)?

A lot of the music we play deals with themes of destiny, fate, fear, etc. I see these three pieces as powerful expressions of an individual vs. the world.
The Philadelphia Orchestra

© Jan Regan



Setting the tone 

Is this your first time performing in Israel?

Yes, I’ve been looking forward to visiting Israel for many years, and am so glad that my first time is with The Philadelphia Orchestra.

How long have you been conducting Jean-Yves Thibaudet? What does his style add to the repertoire?

Jean-Yves has been a dear friend of mine and the Orchestra’s for many years, and is one of our most beloved guests. I love Jean-Yves’ style, and this combined with his faithful approach to the score makes it irresistible.

What is the secret to balancing so many musical projects at once?

The life of a musician is all about variety and discovery. It is a privilege for me to be able to travel the world and get to experience so many different styles and traditions, and to incorporate them within my own personality and interpretation.
June 3, Haifa Auditorium, Haifa; June 4, The Culture Palace, Tel Aviv; June 5, International Convention Center, Jerusalem. Check out the event for details.