My first encounter with the conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin was as junior camp director of the (now defunct) Montreal International Music Camp. Nézet-Séguin was camp conductor. I'd heard a lot about him before he arrived and all of it described a large conductor. So imagine my surprise when the dimunitive Nézet-Séguin showed up wearing jeans and t-shirt. He didn't really look like the rising superstar we were expecting.
The camp students were in large part from Taiwan and neither English nor French was their forte. Truth be told, neither was music. But Nézet-Séguin handled it all with dignity and grace. We could see and hear what everyone was talking about. He would have been in his early 20s but even at this point we knew this was probably going to be a low point in his conducting career.
The violin soloist decided the camp was unworthy of both her name and presence and caught the first flight back to Taiwan, so my sister Julia stepped in and played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Her claim, “I played as a soloist under Yannick Nézet-Séguin,” has appreciated in value with each passing year. We always leave out the part about which orchestra he conducted.
Fast forward four years and I was working with the CBC Radio Orchestra. Nézet-Séguin had come to town to guest conduct, and following the concert we all headed out for the traditional post-show meal at Szechuan Chongqing. We reminisced about the summer music camp and he was enthusiastic about the whole experience. It was 2004 and his career was quickly going to take off like a rocket ship. And yet, he was still as friendly and charming as he was back at camp.
In 2006, Nézet-Séguin was named principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2007, he was appointed principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic. In 2010, he was appointed music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and he’s graced the stages of the most important concert halls around the world.
Fast forward to September 2012 and Nézet-Séguin’s first release of a series of Mozart operas for the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label. They kick things off with a star-studded Don Giovanni, featuring Ildebrando D’Arcenagelo, Vitalij Kowaljow, Diana Damrau, Rolando Villazon, Joyce DiDonato and Luca Pisaroni. It has captured some great reviews and we’re pleased to present the recording this week on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.
I'm struck by the image above of Nézet-Séguin among those operatic superstars. He's still got that cherubic look, not really the look of a classical megastar and yet...
I love the YouTube comment: "At 2:00 my head just exploded from all that talent on my screen."
It’s worth mentioning that this recording replaces a scheduled performance of Don Giovanni from La Scala. In the end we felt the strength of the Deutsche Grammophon release trumped the all-star cast of the Italian production. But I’m posting it here for your viewing and listening pleasure:
Canadian maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin signs with Deutsche Grammophon
Nézet-Séguin and cast shine in Don Giovanni