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June 14, 2010

Young conductor gets major post: Yannick Nezet-Seguin to Philadelphia Orchestra

Audiences for classical music may be getting older and older, but the trend for major conducting jobs continues to take a youthful curve. On the heels of Gustavo Dudamel's appointment at the Los Angeles Philharmonic before the age of 30 and Alan Gilbert's at the New York Philharmonic barely out of his 30s, the 35-year-old Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been named music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He'll formally start in 2012 with a five-year contract.

There has been a lot of buzz about Nézet-Séguin for some time, and it's cool to see the grand old Philadelphia Orchestra take a chance on someone not only still quite youthful in conductor years, but relatively unknown. He got the nod after just two guest-conducting stints with the ensemble.

If there's anything to the idea that young, energetic musicians can attract fresh audiences and re-energize seasoned ones, Nézet-Séguin should fit the bill nicely in Philadelphia. The orchestra needs a boost, after a prolonged music director search and worrisome deficits and declines in attendance. This great, noble orchestra has been having a rough patch for too long. My guess is that things are going to perk up well before the new guy is fully in place at the helm.

Here's a video clip that reveals Nézet-Séguin's engaging personality as he chats about music and his approach to conducting, followed by a clip of him at work on the podium:

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:14 AM | | Comments (3)


I agree, Tim. This is the best music news coming out of Philadelphia in a while. Sure, Nezet-Seguin may be rough around the edges, but you have to assume that conductors will get better with age, even if they don't reach the starry heights of a Sawallisch. But if a conductor doesn't start out with the ability to connect to an audience, program in ways that will develop an audience, or show enough charisma to attract an audience, he'll never develop those things. This appointment goes a long, long way toward revitalizing an orchestra on the brink.

Thanks for the comments (and apologies for being slow getting them posted -- I'm still in Toronto, with only occasional computer time.) I think the new kid on the Philly block is going to prove quite the energizer. And I don't see why his obvious potential won't develop quickly in this job. TIM

Bravo, I suppose, for Nezet-Seguin. His Carmen at the Met was stunning. But I can't help but sigh. Yet again a foreigner, and yet again not a woman, at the head of one of the Big 5.

Some things apparently take longer to change than others. Double sigh. Thanks for the comments. TIM

YAY!!! I can finally get excited over going to see the Fabulous Philadelphians again!

Whether he's male or foreign is irrelevant - he could be a 50' Martian with tentacles and a thousand eyes, and I'd still be excited. (Well, maybe a little perturbed -- or drunk...)

(Foreign? He's from beautiful Montréal, fer cryin' out loud... If I can drive there in less than a day, then it's definitely not that "foreign." ;^)

Believe it or not, I've been secretly pulling for him to get this job for almost 2 years now. Personally, I didn't think that they'd make such a good decision -- or that I would get so lucky... This kid -- kid? he's my age! - has TREMENDOUS promise. (Anyone who holds Giulini in high regard earns my respect.)

Now I have a season or two to brace the ol' bank account for impact. 8D

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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