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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.

By Anne Midgette  |  June 13, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  national , news  
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In my opinion, we can now look back at Alan Gilbert’s PBS televised opening concert of the New York Philharmonic 2009-10 season as above-moderately interesting and successful, and not at all a disappointment. That concert event featured a world premiere by composer Magnus Lindberg, soprano Rene Fleming singing Olivier Messiaen’s Poemes pour Mi, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and a somewhat wooden and hesitant Alex Baldwin.

In the autumn, NSO audiences will also hear Rene Fleming (singing R. Strauss’s Four Last songs under Christoph Eschenbach, who she considers a mentor) and a work by composer Magnus Lindberg (Parada – under the young Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki.)

With no prejudice to Yannick Nézet-Séguin, I’d be curious as to whether Susanna Mälkki – or another female conductor – was also a finalist in the Philadelphia Orchestra search. (By the way, Ms. Mälkki has championed new operas by Morton Feldman, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Adès, and others; and championed and recorded new contemporary classical works by dozens of contemporary classical composers.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 13, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I hope the critics are kinder to this guy than they have been to The Dude.

Posted by: mitrich | June 13, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Does this have anything to do with Yannick cancelling his appearance with the Toronto Symphony & Yundi last week, I wonder? His commitments are widely distributed.....

Posted by: tphogan | June 14, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

For snaketime1, I do not think that Susanna Malkki has ever conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra (someone can correct me if I have this wrong). Working from that premise, thus she would not have been under consideration for the MD-ship there. I recall very few female maestri guesting in Philly of late, the obvious person to think of being Marin Alsop, but nothing in the memory there now.

Ma. Malkki has led US orchestras such as St. Louis and Cincinnati, but I don't think she's cracked the "Big Five" just yet. She seems to be doing OK in Europe now with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, however.

Jumping back to the topic at hand, it will be interesting to see the coverage that Nezet-Seguin gets down the line. David Patrick Stearns at the Inquirer should be pretty open-minded, praising and de-praising as each occasion merits. Peter Dobrin is much more questionable, given his blatant bias towards Vladimir Jurowski and pretty much against any potential music director-candidate who isn't Vladimir Jurowski.

Posted by: TheOtherGeorgeW | June 17, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Thank you TheOtherGeorgeW, for your reply.

I think that I made a mistake confusing Philadelphia and Boston, where Susanna Mälkki stepped in to replace Yuri Temirkanov in what critic Jeremy Eichler called an “auspicious Boston Symphony Orchestra debut.”

Susanna Mälkki has also guest conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw, and the Philharmonia Orchestra; and so, yes, I believe that she has cracked the “Big Five”.

I believe that she appears this coming season with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, the NHK Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington), the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and the Pittsburgh Symphony; and others.

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 18, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

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