Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

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Ted Quanrud
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Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by Ted Quanrud » Thu Jun 02, 2016 8:56 am

By MICHAEL COOPER, NEW YORK TIMES

For the first time in four decades, the Metropolitan Opera has a new music director. The company announced on Thursday that it was passing the baton long held by James Levine to Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra known for his vital, visceral brand of music making.

But to land the highly sought-after Mr. Nézet-Séguin, 41, to succeed Mr. Levine, 72, who stepped down last month after years of uncertainty and cancellations because of health problems, the Met had to agree to a long engagement period.

Since the Montreal-born Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s schedule is booked for several years, he will not officially take up the Met post until the 2020-21 season, leaving the company without a full-time music director in the meantime as it grapples with fiscal challenges and box-office struggles. And Mr. Nézet-Séguin (his full name is pronounced yah-NEEK nay-ZAY say-GHEN) plans to divide his duties between the Met and another major American institution, the storied Philadelphia Orchestra, which he has led since 2012. He announced on Thursday that he had extended his contract as music director in Philadelphia through the 2025-26 season.

“I’m very, very lucky, of course — maybe the luckiest music director — to be able to have what I believe to be the two greatest, arguably, organizations in the United States, symphonically and operatically: the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Met,” Mr. Nézet-Séguin said in a telephone interview from Japan, where he was on tour with the Philadelphians. (He prerecorded a video greeting to send the Met musicians on Thursday morning.)

When Mr. Levine announced this spring that he was retiring to become music director emeritus, several members of the company, the nation’s largest performing arts institution, expressed concern at the thought of a long transition period. Musical leadership at the Met has been in flux in recent years, with Mr. Levine missing two full seasons after suffering a spinal injury and Fabio Luisi coming, and then going, as principal conductor. Mr. Nézet-Séguin is widely liked and respected by the musicians, but the Met will find itself waiting for his complete attention at a delicate time. While the company had a number of artistic successes this season and enjoys a huge global reputation thanks to its high-definition cinema simulcasts, it is facing serious financial challenges that forced it to make cuts in its $300 million budget and wrest concessions from its union workers. This season it filled only 72 percent of its seats, on average.

A music director is sometimes thought of as the artistic conscience of an opera house, and Mr. Nézet-Séguin said that he planned to take an active role as the steward of the company’s musical affairs almost immediately. But his podium appearances will be limited over the next few years: Beginning in the 2017-18 season, when he takes on the title of music director designate, he will conduct two operas a season; in 2020-21, when he officially becomes music director, he will conduct five. His initial contract will then run for five years, with options for multiple renewals. The Met declined to say how much he would be paid.

“It’s true that in the pit I won’t be more present, which doesn’t mean that I will be out of touch — rather the contrary,” he said, adding that he planned to start discussions with the musicians right away. “I hope it won’t feel like there’s a wait, or there’s a void.”

Long waits are not unusual in the classical music world, where major organizations and top talents typically plan their schedules four or five years in advance. Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said that he felt fortunate that Mr. Nézet-Séguin would be available by 2020. “It required some juggling for him to be able to come as early as then,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin, who has led a number of critically praised productions at the Met since making his house debut in 2009 with a new production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” will tackle Wagner at the Met for the first time next season with a revival of “Der Fliegende Holländer.” In the coming seasons, he is scheduled to conduct operas by composers including Wagner, Strauss, Puccini, Poulenc and Verdi — including a new production of “La Traviata” in 2018-19.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin, a powerfully built man who stands 5-foot-5, is very likely the first conductor at the Met with a tattoo of a turtle on his shoulder. (Mr. Gelb said that they had not inspected any other conductors.) Born the youngest of three children in 1975, he took piano lessons and joined a choir as a child, deciding that he wanted to conduct at a young age. He was 16 when he attended his first opera at the Met: Puccini’s “La Bohème.”

“Somewhere, somehow, in one corner of my brain and my heart there was the thought that maybe one day, one day,” he said. “So this is the fulfillment of this dream.”

His path to the Met began in 2000 with his first major appointment, leading the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal. He is still with that ensemble, but he plans to step down from another post, as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, after the 2017-18 season.

He said that he and his partner, Pierre Tourville, an assistant principal violist with the Orchestre Métropolitain, divide their time between Montreal and Philadelphia and will look for an apartment in New York. Mr. Nézet-Séguin will be an Acela-setting conductor, taking advantage of the fact that New York is only a short train ride from Philadelphia — which he said had allowed him in the past to conduct a Saturday matinee of “La Traviata” at the Met followed by an evening performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” in Pennsylvania.

Succession plans at the Met were complicated by the uncertainty over how long Mr. Levine, a towering figure who has shaped the modern company since the 1970s, would be able to continue in the job. This season, when complications stemming from his Parkinson’s disease sometimes made it hard to follow his conducting, he struggled to hold on to the post; the company postponed an announcement of his retirement last winter to see if a new medical regimen would improve his condition enough for him to remain in the job. (He plans to conduct three operas next season.)

“I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Yannick on taking the musical reins, and I look forward to seeing the good work continue under his watch,” Mr. Levine said in a statement.

The music director role is evolving. It is rare for opera houses to expect the kind of commitment Mr. Levine made to the Met in his early years, when he seemed to conduct nonstop, eventually leading more than 2,500 performances. The Vienna State Opera decided not to hire a new music director to succeed Franz Welser-Möst after he abruptly resigned from the post in 2014.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin said that he considered the Met “the standard-bearer of our art form in the world,” and that he looked forward to conducting a variety of works there, including forgotten masterpieces that he would like to revive and new works, including world premieres.

“It’s not a question of arriving as a leader and wanting to change completely the direction of the ship,” he said of his plans. “It’s more about my own personality coming through.”

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by John F » Thu Jun 02, 2016 10:49 am

Looks like the New York musical press had this figured out. I'm skeptical whether a part-time music director - and less than that for the next four seasons - can maintain the highest standards in the orchestra and overall. We'll just have to wait and see.

Anthony Tommasini immediatedly provides this commentary:

Is Yannick Nézet-Séguin Worth the Wait at the Met?
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
JUNE 2, 2016

That the brilliant Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, 41, will become the next music director of the Metropolitan Opera is not much of a surprise. Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has been dropping hints of this move for months — for a couple of years, really. Following the announcement in April that James Levine was stepping aside, it took just six weeks for the details of Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s appointment to be worked out.

What is surprising, though, and concerning, is how long the Met is willing to go without a music director, even an interim appointment. After becoming director designate in 2017, Mr. Nézet-Séguin does not officially begin his tenure until the start of the 2020-21 season. To put this time lag in perspective, whichever presidential candidate is elected in November will be in the final stage of a re-election campaign when Mr. Nézet-Séguin takes the podium as the Met’s music director. Even then, he is committing to only five productions during that season, since he will continue to hold another time-consuming post as the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The obvious interim strategy would have been to appoint a caretaker, or a couple of them, until then. My fantasy? The Met might have asked the eminent Bernard Haitink, who once presided over the Royal Opera House in London, to share the duties with Esa-Pekka Salonen, who could have been a sort of composer in residence. Mr. Salonen certainly proved himself a stunning conductor of repertory works this spring, when he led the most rapturous and truly electrifying “Elektra” you could hope to hear.

But if the orchestra and administration are willing to wait for the gifted Mr. Nézet-Séguin, so be it. The artists of the company, especially the musicians of the Met’s superb orchestra, must have an artistic leader they believe in. I think that the accomplished Gianandrea Noseda could have been a smart choice, or Fabio Luisi, who, five years ago, seemed like he was being groomed to take over for Mr. Levine. That said, the Met’s enthusiasm for Mr. Nézet-Séguin is understandable. Since his 2009 debut conducting a sensual, exciting “Carmen,” he has led some 50 memorable performances at the house in works as varied as Verdi’s profound masterpiece, “Don Carlo,” and Dvorak’s gossamer fairy tale, “Rusalka.” What he is capable of came through in 2011, when he conducted a new production of “Faust.” Despite some wondrous passages, this Gounod opera is far from a favorite of mine. Yet drawing transparent, glowing playing from the orchestra, Mr. Nézet-Séguin had this score seeming not just refined, but musically significant.

Several years is a long time for an opera company to wait. There are potential downsides if the Met seems to be punting. In recent years, as Mr. Levine struggled with serious health problems (at one point missing two entire seasons of work), Mr. Gelb has been making all the artistic calls. Opera fans who count on the Met to live up to its legacy want to know that a powerful musician with real authority is in the room when decisions about commissions, repertory and casting are being made.

Assuming the company muddles through this coming period without a musical leader, what artistic vision will the energetic Mr. Nézet-Séguin bring when he fully takes over? That he can conduct a probing “Don Carlo” is not enough, especially at a time when the Met, like performing arts institutions everywhere, is under pressure to define a mission for the future that will both maintain loyal opera lovers and attract new audiences. For all his successes with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Nézet-Séguin has not been able to chart a clear course for that essential ensemble. In a recent interview with The New York Times, he conceded that Philadelphia had become dismayingly conservative in its programming and identity. There was “not a cultivation enough of what’s new” before he arrived, he said in the interview. But when asked what he would do about it, what new or underappreciated composers he might champion, he could not come up with a single name.

Compare this with Mr. Levine, who was afire with vision for the Met as soon as he achieved a leadership role in the 1970s. He founded the Young Artist Development program; started giving Carnegie Hall concerts and touring with the Met Orchestra; played piano quartets and other works with the Met Chamber Ensemble (which was another of his initiatives); made the operas of Debussy, Berg and Stravinsky central to the Met’s repertory; brought overlooked Mozart works to the stage; and pushed the company to present Schoenberg’s daunting 12-tone “Moses und Aron.” His one major shortcoming concerned commissioning living composers. He did not press hard enough to turn the Met into a house that fostered new opera.

In many ways, the charismatic Mr. Nézet-Séguin is an exciting choice for the Met. But challenging issues and big questions will face him when he arrives. Many people will be looking for indications of his mission in the coming years. It would be an encouraging statement of purpose if one of those five operas he conducts in the 2020-21 season were a world premiere.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/arts/ ... e-met.html
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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jun 02, 2016 1:27 pm


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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by Beckmesser » Thu Jun 02, 2016 3:11 pm

From the Alex Ross article:
What is needed at the Met—as at many other big organizations, notably the New York Philharmonic—is not some magical charismatic personality who will pacify all parties but a fundamental rethinking of the institution. In April, the Times ran a story about the relationship between MOMA and the Met Museum, noting that the latter was struggling to match the allure of MOMA’s modernist and contemporary holdings. Imagine a parallel story about the Met trying to catch up with the Philharmonic’s blockbuster offerings of avant-garde music theatre. That universe seems far away, yet, in 2010, Alan Gilbert succeeded in upstaging the Met—and selling out Avery Fisher Hall—with gleefully abrasive renditions of Ligeti’s absurdist opera “Le Grand Macabre.” Opening tonight at the NY Phil Biennial is Gerald Barry’s helter-skelter adaptation of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” with the visionary young conductor Ilan Volkov on the podium. If you want a glimpse of the future, go there—if you can still find a ticket.
Yes, in the art world contemporary art is 'hot.' Even in the art auction market it is commanding eye-popping prices.

Is the same true for contemporary music? Would the Met sell out if it performed more new operas? I'm not so sure.

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by maestrob » Thu Jun 02, 2016 3:18 pm

Ross is correct: the future of opera is currently not so prominent at the MET. However, if Y N-S is not so enthusiastic about contemporary repertoire, certainly conductors who are can be invited. I strongly believe that both the MET and NY Philharmonic need leaders who can handle basic repertoire in an exciting way. If a particular new composer resonates with either leader, fine, if not, that's fine too. The Ligeti opera drew a curious crowd to the Philharmonic, and that's great. I doubt that the phenomenon will be repeated often, but that's just me. New works worthy of a staging by the MET just happen rarely, that's all. When they do, they are presented.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin will make a great leader, IMHO.

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by John F » Thu Jun 02, 2016 4:43 pm

As THE HORN may well say, and I agree with him in advance, the Met deserves more credit than it's getting for performing new work, whether or not they commission it. Every season or two there's a major American premiere, like Thomas Adès's "The Tempest" and the forthcoming Saariaho "L'Amour de loin." "Saint Francis of Assisi" is mentioned; according to the Future Met Wiki site, that's in the cards for 2017-18, along with Adès's "The Exterminating Angel."

http://futuremet.wikia.com/wiki/2017-2018

This kind of thing was unheard of during the Rudolf Bing regime and the difficult period that followed it, and has only really become normal since Peter Gelb took over. In this respect I believe Tommasini and Ross have the wrong end of the stick - they should be praising what the Met is doing, no doubt at some cost to the box office receipts, rather than demanding even more.
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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by barney » Thu Jun 02, 2016 6:42 pm

It seems an excellent appointment, but I share the concerns about potential drifting for the Met at a time when it really can't afford to do so. But I wanted to observe than in the five operas I went to in my recent visit, only the Abduction from the Seraglio looked less than 90% full (very subjective, I know, but I can't miss more than a quarter of the hall being empty). And that was the nth revivial of a 1981 production (a very nice production). Boccanegra, Elektra and boheme, no empty seat visible; Otello, very few. Clearly some productions sell better than others, it was ever thus. Yet it is important to provide a balance across a season, and I think the Met does pretty well. In short, I think it is a fabulous company, with an incredible orchestra and a gorgeous hall.

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by barney » Thu Jun 02, 2016 6:42 pm

PS, I know that could go into the YNS thread or the empty seat thread. But I'll post it only in one. :)

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by maestrob » Fri Jun 03, 2016 11:54 am

Spring is a better season for attendance than other times of the year. The MET now closes up shop during a four-week period in January/February for that very reason: this is a recent phenomenon, due to dwindling audiences.

Others who produce independent programs usually try to schedule their shows during April/May or the early Fall to maximize audience size, and it works.

Mozart's Seraglio is one of his least popular works (at least compared to Figaro and Don Giovanni): I thought the MET was very brave to schedule it at all.

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by lennygoran » Fri Jun 03, 2016 6:21 pm

maestrob wrote: The MET now closes up shop during a four-week period in January/February for that very reason: this is a recent phenomenon, due to dwindling audiences...Mozart's Seraglio is one of his least popular works (at least compared to Figaro and Don Giovanni): I thought the MET was very brave to schedule it at all.
Brian we saw the Seraglio-it was traditional and wonderful! Brian could you explain what you mean about the Met closing up shop in Jan-Feb-I'm looking at their calendar and it's a full schedule. Regards, Len :?:

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by John F » Fri Jun 03, 2016 11:08 pm

I was going to ask about that too. As I remember, the Met closed for a period of one or two weeks in January some years ago, but not two months, and not recently.
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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 04, 2016 11:55 am

I can't comment on the Met closing for that length of time, except painfully to recall the fate of the City Opera. I certainly hope it's not true. As for Seraglio, the Met would be brave (or rather foolhardy) to put on any earlier Mozart opera, but Seraglio is established. My concern as usual in these matters is that it is much too large a hall for a Singspiel, but that consideration would rule out many other operas as well, including Gluck's Orfeo e Euridice, which I saw there to a packed house of about 500.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by John F » Sat Jun 04, 2016 12:26 pm

Not only has the Met put on an earlier Mozart opera, and a great one, but that very opera is being revived next season by the conductor who introduced it at the Met, James Levine. I'm speaking of "Idomeneo." Levine induced Pavarotti, Domingo, and Heppner to sing the title role, which helped the box office, but this season it will be the light-voiced Matthew Polenzani, so Levine himself will be the main attraction - provided he is able to conduct it.
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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 04, 2016 1:04 pm

John F wrote:Not only has the Met put on an earlier Mozart opera, and a great one, but that very opera is being revived next season by the conductor who introduced it at the Met, James Levine. I'm speaking of "Idomeneo." Levine induced Pavarotti, Domingo, and Heppner to sing the title role, which helped the box office, but this season it will be the light-voiced Matthew Polenzani, so Levine himself will be the main attraction - provided he is able to conduct it.
Sorry, John, a technicality. Of course I know that Idomeneo is a masterpiece, and works much better as something approaching grand opera. I had the chronology with Seraglio confused. Sometimes I think I've forgotten more than I ever thought I knew in the first place. I meant something like Il re pastore.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by maestrob » Sat Jun 04, 2016 2:18 pm

Idomeneo is indeed a masterpiece: I saw it when Pavarotti & John Alexander sang it.

If the MET is now running a full schedule during January & February, I apologize. That's good news. The month-long closure during winter was alarming when it happened. I'm glad to hear it's been rescinded.

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jun 04, 2016 4:12 pm

jbuck919 wrote: As for Seraglio, the Met would be brave (or rather foolhardy) to put on any earlier Mozart opera, but Seraglio is established.
Well maybe you have something there but I'd want the Met to do others-I can't be traveling up to Boston to see material like this--all that driving and the high Boston hotel prices! Regards, Len

LUCIO SILLA
JUNE 8th at 7:30 pm JUNE 10th at 7:30 pm JUNE 12th at 3:00 pm

http://www.odysseyopera.org/buy-tickets/

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by barney » Sun Jun 05, 2016 6:49 am

Come on, Len. Some of us have to travel further than that! And you have the pleasure of taking Sue. My wife is less keen on opera.

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by lennygoran » Sun Jun 05, 2016 7:00 am

barney wrote:Come on, Len. Some of us have to travel further than that! And you have the pleasure of taking Sue. My wife is less keen on opera.
Barney but there's the garden-May's a tough time to make that drive to Boston and back-it's planting season! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: Nézet-Séguin to Succeed Levine as Met’s Music Director

Post by Ken » Mon Jun 13, 2016 1:41 pm

It's great to see Yannick's reputation grow worldwide. I was hoping that he'd take over in Berlin a year back, but you can't have everything. :)
Du sollst schlechte Compositionen weder spielen, noch, wenn du nicht dazu gezwungen bist, sie anhören.

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