If trans-Atlantic jetlag carries a sting, maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin isn’t letting it show. Fresh from a full schedule in Europe, the 33-year-old conductor led the Orchestre Métropolitain in a spirited rendition of Mahler’s Song of the Earth on Monday night (to be repeated Thursday and Sunday). One of his favourite works, the score ranges from giddy inebriation to somber reflection. The first and fifth movements were especially rousing, but he molded the phrasing of Mahler’s gorgeous finale even more dramatically. Singers Geneviève Lévesque and John Mac Master both turned in solid performances.
In the last three weeks, Nézet-Séguin has toured Britain with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted the Rotterdam Philharmonic (where last year he succeeded Valery Gergiev as Music Director) and squeezed in a concert last Wednesday with the London Philharmonic, for which he is the Principal Guest Conductor. All this follows a full autumn in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Paris and Berlin, to name but a few stops. And, oh yes, his regular gig is Artistic Director of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain.
Racking up the conducting engagements is nothing new in this maestro’s meteoric career. At 18, he was directing his church choir; two years later, he launched a baroque ensemble and at 23 was named Assistant Music Director for the Opéra de Montréal. Since making his European début in late 2004, he has accepted numerous guest-conducting invitations from some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and garnered rave reviews for his nuanced and intriguing performances, be they of symphonic warhorses or forgotten masterworks.
Meanwhile, Nézet-Séguin has raised the Orchestre Métropolitain’s profile tremendously since assuming the podium in 2000. In recent years the orchestra has toured North America, recorded several well-received CDs for the ATMA Classique label, and earned significant praise for its performances, particularly those of Bruckner and Mahler. Throughout its growth, the OM has stayed true to its mission of promoting local talent and making classical music accessible – it plays many smaller venues in the area and continues to sell some of the best-value tickets in town.
Critics and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic are smitten with Nézet-Séguin, and for good reason. A remarkably adept interpreter of the classics, he is also handsome and young, his enthusiasm for music palpable in every cue and gesture. This intense physicality is certainly one of his strengths as a conductor, captivating the audience and making the orchestra highly responsive. If he appears to get carried away sometimes, it’s endearing – at one point on Monday night, one of his exuberant flourishes nearly knocked over a cellist’s music stand.
Luckily for Montrealers, Nézet-Séguin is not letting his multiple engagements throughout North America and Europe keep him away from his hometown for too long at a time. He is committed to the OM until the end of next season, and has stressed repeatedly that he intends to stay after the end of his contract.
Monday night he held the hall silent for an eternity following the final notes of the Song of the Earth. This is a man who savours the spotlight.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal again in Mahler’s Song of the Earth on February 19 at Cégep Marie-Victorin and February 22 at Place des Arts.