Yannick, the (Almost) Philadelphian

by Sedgwick Clark

At Mostly Mozart on August 3, Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s largely direct, unfussy, and vigorous music-making was quite satisfying both on its own and as an augury of his future leadership of the embattled Philadelphia Orchestra. I’ve heard that curious Philly audiences have flocked to his appearances since he became music director-designate, and it was clear that this MM audience was energized by his leadership of Beethoven’s Second Symphony and Haydn’s “Nelson” Mass (a.k.a. “Mass in Time of War”). I had only heard him conduct previously twice, at the Met, in a Carmen whose frenzied Prelude alienated me instantly and a thankfully more judiciously paced Faust. But I wanted to hear him in concert, where I feel more at home.

Apart from the Mostly Mozart Orchestra’s whiny, vibrato-less string playing and slight relaxation for the Scherzo’s trio, I found the Beethoven exemplary, with the timpanist’s use of hard sticks impelling the music dynamically forward. The Haydn Mass, too, benefitted from fleet tempos and fine playing and singing. Yannick (pronounced “Yan-NEEK”), as I’m told he likes to be called, conveniently avoiding American mangling of his hyphenated French-Canadian surname, seems to thrive in vocal works, and for his first New York appearance with the Philadelphians, at Carnegie on October 23, he will lead Verdi’s Requiem.

While I suspend further judgment until we’re served with more rearguard Romantic rep—the orchestra’s beloved Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, etc.—this choice is infinitely more appropriate for this orchestra than the wayward Christoph Eschenbach. But one fact is undoubted: This great orchestra, which has just emerged from bankruptcy, stands at the top of its form thanks to its inherent esprit de corps and its interim leader of four years, Charles Dutoit. He knew how to get the best from these superb musicians, and in another month the ball will be in Yannick’s court.

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