Philadelphia picks a conductor
The Philadelphia Orchestra has picked a new music director. As of 2012, its new leader will be Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the 35-year-old Canadian conductor.
Yet another orchestra has opted for the excitement and uncertainty of youth. Nézet-Séguin is a rising star -- Robert Battey described him as “a talent to watch” in the Washington Post after his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in April, 2008. He has garnered strong reviews around the world with a number of prestigious guest appearances, including leading the new “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera in the season just past. But he has only conducted in Philadelphia twice.
(read more after the jump)
With this move, the orchestra takes a step towards a stability that has eluded it since the sooner-than-expected departure of Christoph Eschenbach after a rocky five-year tenure. While Charles Dutoit held down the fort as principal conductor, the orchestra floundered for months without a president, board chairman or music director; the ensemble stagnated, and ticket sales plummeted. Dutoit, in an e-mail exchange with the Philadelphia Inquirer, characterized his time in Philadelphia as “the most difficult [years] of my professional life.” Alison Vulgamore arrived from the Atlanta Symphony in 2009 to start righting the listing ship, but the orchestra is still dealing with a large financial deficit.
In picking an exciting but untried younger talent, Philadelphia is joining a number of other major orchestras: the Cleveland Orchestra (Franz Welser-Möst), the New York Philharmonic (Alan Gilbert), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Gustavo Dudamel). Results have varied: Gilbert and Dudamel seem to be doing well, but Welser-Möst has failed to act as the galvanizing force Cleveland may have hoped for, though the administration has remained doggedly loyal to their man. There’s no question that Nézet-Séguin has the chops to lead a major orchestra in exciting performances. The test will come in how he negotiates the personnel decisions, and nagging morale issue, that are going to face him in Philadelphia -- where he will only conduct around seven weeks of concerts in his first official season in 2012-13.
Still, Philadelphia has a talented new leader. That’s good news for the orchestra, and good news for Nézet-Séguin. Everyone would dearly love to see this step mark the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
June 13, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
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