23 February 2011

Conductors: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Ever since I've been regularely going to classical concerts I've wanted to play in an orchestra. Preferably something loud, like the timpani or double bass but most of all, I quite fancy being a conductor. Unfortunately the only musical talent I have is that of listening, so this is obviously not going to happen, but a girl can dream, right? When I was younger I never really understood what conductors did apart from standing in front of the orchestra with a stick and that they sometimes jumped (I saw quite a bit of Chailly and I remember his jumping so well because his hair was funny and floppy). But now I'm obviously aware of the fact that conductors do a lot more. And I figured that their role is important enough to dedicate a post to a conductor every once in a while. This first one is going to be about one of my two favourite conductors in the world: Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

I first saw Yannick a few years ago in Rotterdam, and even though I don't remember what music he conducted (probably something Russian), I do remember how much I loved him. Because the energy that he has in his body when conducting corresponds precisely to the energy I feel when listening to the pieces. He moves somewhat like a ballet dancer on acid but it's never over-the-top or innapropriate. You can see how much emotion he feels and how much emotion he can get out of the orchestra, and most importantly, you can hear it. I think this is probably the most important reason why I love him so much, there is something incredibly emotional about his conducting. There's a video on youtube of him conducting the ending of Mahler's 9th and he's actually crying. But it's not just the sad moments you can tell he feels so poignantly, when music gets spastic or catchy or happy he's dancing and jumping and smiling (his facial expressions are so hilarious sometimes). And like I said, it seems to me that the emotions aroused in him by the music are ones I can always relate to (and this is confirmed by what he says about music in interviews, I can really relate to how he understands and feels music).

Now, the fact that he's adorably hobbit-like and seems really lovely in all the interviews I've seen of him kind of helps, because at least he doesn't look like Gergiev when conducting (seriously think Gergiev wants to kill the orchestra every single time, he's menacing!). For me personally it also helps that he's a young conductor (he's 35), similarly to how I enjoy watching young people in the orchestra, I just already feel so alienated by the average age of the audience that it makes me feel all the more comfortable when someone on stage is under 40.

Some of these reasons may appear to be shallow to some, but I don't really mind that. I guess this kind of reflects how I'm not the most serious person (maybe it's an age-thing). Like I said in my first post here, I find a lot of writings about classical music too serious, I find the way some people talk about classical music too serious. It's not that I don't love the music in the most serious way imaginable, I do (ask anyone who knows me), but when I go to a concert I also just want to enjoy myself. I like being able to giggle at the grunts of a conductor (like Jaap van Zweden, he grunts like an ork!) and smiling when you see a soloist really get into a piece. In a certain way, seeing classical music live is also seeing a performance, not just hearing the music. And for me, Yannick is an exceptional performer as well as an exceptional musician. He makes going to a concert more fullfilling both because it's more fun and because the music is even more beautiful. And I am apparently not the only one who thinks this, as is evidenced by his job titles, Principal Conductor with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montréal, and of course that's not all because he travels all over the place, conducting Mahler and operas and lots of other pieces. One of my biggest dreams is to one day see him conduct Shostakovich's The Execution of Stepan Razin even though it'll probably never happen.

Now of course it is time for some videos.

In 2007, conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

Yannick conducting Tchaikovksy's Nutcracker, recorded on december 23rd 2010.

Here he is walking around Rotterdam, talking about the city and sounds.

If you're more interested in him, there's also a really inspiring interview that you can view here (the website is in dutch, but if you just click on the large(r) video on the left the interview starts, and it's in English). And of course, go see him conduct when you have the chance!


  1. Just watched Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Nutcracker (which I loved as a child, so thanks for reminding me!) and while I usually put your pieces on in the background while I study*, I couldn't keep my eyes off him. It's pretty much a performance on its own, I love how he sort of passes the music on through his body language and facial expressions.

    Also, he does indeed look a bit like a hobbit :')

    *I love reading/listening through your blog, I'm just terrible at commenting. I'll try to do it more often, though!

  2. Awh yay this comment makes me really happy :D. I'm glad you enjoyed the video!! I don't know where you live, but if it's around Rotterdam you really should go see him conduct sometime, it's amazing.