Why the panic over Yannick?

Why the panic over Yannick?


norman lebrecht

June 02, 2016

It was around the turn of the year that Peter Gelb received instructions from his board to sign Yannick Nézet-Séguin as the next music director.

No other name was on the table.

Gustavo Dudamel might have been considered, but he has refused to work at the Met until he can control his own video rights.

Antonio Pappano, the experienced Covent Garden director, did not go down well in New York.

The leading European opera house music directors – Ricardo Chailly, Christian Thielemann, Kirill Petrenko, Philippe Jordan – did not get a call.

It was Yannick, or bust.

But why the rush?

Everyone knew that Yannick was not going to be available before the decade was out. That left plenty of time to try out a few other names before reaching a final decision.

Someone, it seems, panicked over Yannick. He may, in the final reckoning, be the best person for the job, but the manner of his appointment is messy and the delay before he starts work unsatisfactory.

An unseemly panic.




  • Elizabeth says:

    Not to take anything away from Nezet-Seguin’s talent and career, but his becoming MD to Pappano’s Principle Guest title is unevenly matched, to say the least. Why did Pappano go down poorly in NYC? And what about Gatti?

    • MWnyc says:

      I think the answer is basically that Yannick is the one that gets everyone excited and sells tickets, and the Met needs to sell tickets.

  • OhGlorioso says:

    Try out a few other names?? Yes, and lose your first choice. If Yannick is indeed the one they wanted, then they did the right thing. Perhaps the MET has learned from their next door neighbour, the NY Phil and their mistakes: Wait too long and you get your second – or third – choice.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      On the one hand, the MET rushed to make a decision, which is bad. On the other hand, it is bad that YNS is booked until 2020. No contradiction there, of course. As if conductors don’t keep filling their agendas forward…

  • Brian Hughes says:

    The rush has left the Met artistically rudderless for four seasons. On top of that, YNS has signed an extension in Philly and there haven’t been any signs of relief from commitments in Canada. I find it hard to believe that there is only one conductor from across the globe qualified and capable for the Met.

    As the house has only had two music directors (and Kubelik for only a year at that), is the post necessary? Just thinking from the top of my bald head.

    • Barry says:

      He has indicated that he is not going to continue his Montreal job after the contract expires, which I believe happens around the same time that he takes over at the Met.

      In the same interview, he said he intends to devote his time mainly to Philadelphia and the Met, with his few guest conducting appearances likely being with Berlin, Vienna and the BRSO.

      If anything, he is making his schedule less hectic and travel-heavy, at least once he settle in at the Met.

    • Nick says:

      A gap of 5 years is madness, the more so as it strengthens Gelb’s power in the interim! Nezet Seguin is understandably tied to the Philadelphia Orchestra. But if he really does want the Met and realizes the extent of the damage a 5 year gap can cause, why does he not immediately negotiate out of his contracts in Rotterdam and Montreal? He has some sentimental attachment to Montreal – but to base a huge career move on sentiment is utter stupidity in my view.

      • MWnyc says:

        As I indicated, it seems that the Met needs (or wants) Yannick more than Yannick needs the Met. In that case, the Met makes the concessions it has to make to get Yannick.

  • Curtis Rittenhouse says:

    There ia an aura of sourness and crankiness to these reports that is unbecoming.
    The MET likely took YNS because everyone wanted him. Having seen first hand the reaction of singers and players who work with him, this should not come as a huge surprise. He is patient with audiences and fans, willing to get out and raise money, and even throw out baseballs at the start of the season and interact with kids. How he will deal with the gritty parts of the job— hirings and firings, barb-toungued critics, and dealing with giant hungry relentless egos remains to be seen. Most Music Directors are not well-trained for this. This was not a Levine strength. I doubt Pappano is another Jack Welsh.
    Let’s give the man a chance before you assassinate him. You may be pleasantly surprised.

  • Richard says:

    It is hard to fathom just how the Met’s Board operates. Clearly, they do what they see fit, often seemingly ignoring what reality might otherwise dictate. They bungled Levine’s end of tenure by not having a clearly thought out succession plan. They were lucky that Luisi filled in as capably as he did, but obviously he was smart enough to get out when he did.

    So, they have “signed” a name, and a good one at that. But he doesn’t really take charge for five years! A lot can happen in that time frame. Will the “name” be seen as a draw? a fundraising coup? Might he withdraw before the five years are up? Where will Gelb be at that timeWhat will the Met look like in five years?

    And, yet the nonsense continues. Now it is rumored Gelb might move up to Lincoln Center! Peter and his eponymous Principle survives!!!

    • MWnyc says:

      I really, really don’t think it was the Met board that bungled Levine’s departure.

      It was Levine who did that, by simply refusing to let go regardless of how physically unfit for the job he had become. (For decades Levine has been notorious for refusing to face bad news or difficult situations of any sort.)

      Levine effectively forced the Met to use The New York Times to corner him publicly – to say to Levine, in front of the entire world, “You’re no longer well enough to do this, and if this last-ditch medication you’re insisting on trying doesn’t work, you’re done.”

      Handling a sad situation like this more elegantly – something we expect of large arts institutions, and something they usually do – requires some a certain level of gracious capitulation from the outgoing figure. That was not forthcoming from Levine. (And, by the way, if Ronald Wilford hadn’t died, it probably still wouldn’t be forthcoming.)

      • Mark says:

        You are implying that Levine has somehow lost his ability to conduct. I’ve attended many of the performances he led at the Met and Carnegie Hall. His last two concerts were simply epic. And, even with his constitution weakened, he is still one of the greatest living conductors. It was Gelb who, using his NY Times connections (don’t forget his father was a long-time editor) orchestrated the shameful “Dump Jim” campaign. I’ve spoken to a number of musicians from the Met orchestra who literally teared up when talking about the way Levine was treated by the Met board. I rather doubt that any performances conducted by YNS will equal Levine’s (let alone surpass them).

        In the 60s, the Philharmonia was smart enough to stick with Klemperer until his (voluntary) retirement and the world of music was the richer for it.
        Would that the bigwigs at the Met had the same degree of respect and discernment.

  • Mark says:

    A poor choice, but, of course, it was expected. Nezet – Seguin (what a mouthful …) is a good conductor, whose opera performances are fast, superficially brilliant, but (in my experience) never memorable. His Faust at the Met was OK, but Don Carlo, Carmen and Othello were vastly inferior to Levine’s. The singers I’ve spoken to did not care for him at all.e
    And if the Board actually preferred YNS to Pappano, a truly distinguished opera conductor, then the Met Board is an assembly of deaf monkeys.

  • herrera says:

    1) The Met totally exploited Luisi, dangling the MD position in front of him, leading him on with an appointment as Principal Conductor, making him fill in at the last minute which required him to cancel existing engagements which angered other opera houses, then what? left him at the altar for a younger bride.

    2) I agree with NL, what’s the point of rushing to sign YNS, if he extended his contract with Philadelphia ANYWAY? Was the Met afraid that Vienna would snap him up? Or La Scala was going to fire Chailly?

    3) A lot can happen in 5 years until YNS starts, just like a lot happened between the Met courting Luisi and then deciding that YNS was a better catch. What makes the Met so sure that some other hot young talent won’t come along to supplant YNS?

    4) Finally, it seems Zachary Woolf’s tastes counts a lot in NY: he likes van Zweden and JvZ got the job, he likes YNS and YNS got the job. That’s the very definition of an influential critic!

    • MWnyc says:

      My sense regarding Luisi is that it took longer to get Levine to relinquish the music director position than anyone had anticipated – and that Luisi got fed up and went back to Europe a couple of years ago.

  • MacroV says:

    I’m not clear why the MET would want Dudamel; sure, he’s got the image, but compared to YNS he’s a pretty inexperienced opera conductor.

    As for video rights, it doesn’t seem to prevent Dudamel from working in Berlin and their DCH.

  • Bennie says:

    Perhaps a female MD at MET would make some of you happy.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      The correct term is ‘non-male’.

      • Loki says:

        Isn’t that exactly what we are getting ?

        • OhGlorioso says:

          Did your parents raise you do be a homophobic ahole or is this something you acquired later? Trump supporter?

          • Loki says:

            Oooh, I forgot – there is a new law – everybody is obligated to love homos. Non-compliance is punishable by a special Vaseline tax or imprisonment in Richard Simmons’s pink closet.

          • MWnyc says:

            Loki has every right not to “love homos” if he wishes. And the rest of us have every right to call him out if we find what he says repugnant or merely inappropriate.

            Sometimes people seem to forget that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from adverse reaction to what one says.

          • Olassus says:

            Remember, James Levine is a gay. Nothing new here.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Are you trying to be deliberately provocative or do you need a review on the difference between gender and sexual orientation?

      • Max Grimm says:

        To me (I’m not a native anglophone) “non-male” sounds rather strange. Why is this term preferable to ‘woman’ or ‘female’?
        Instead of non-male MD, how about Music Director of homogametic constitution?

        • Theodore McGuiver says:

          @Max Grimm: It was a rather unusual term that cropped up in a thread on female conductors. I found it quite amusing and just relayed it here.

  • Greg from SF says:

    This comment is addressed to Loki’s 10:31 comment above:
    You are a disgusting individual. It surprises me that the operator of this blog allowed your deeply ignorant and homophobic comment to be published.

    • Geoff R says:

      Totally agree,it should never been allowed here, or anywhere else come to that.
      NL can you hear me?

      • Max Grimm says:

        NL can you hear me?
        Norman’s auditory perception ranges from absolute pitch via selective hearing to total deafness, depending on the comment and/or topic. Here, we are dealing with ‘conductive hearing loss’ or possibly ‘presbycusis’, exacerbated by selective auditory attention.

  • Dileep Gangolli says:

    Well YNS went from a dark horse when he got Philly to the Anointed One. All well and good. From what I hear, he has talent and is willing to do the much needed outreach that is sorely needed from conductors.

    My question is whether this aspect of his work, which takes up a great deal of time and stamina, can be done with two large organizations of this size.

    Something has to suffer and usually it becomes the community work and engagement that impressed the Philly board and musicians in the first place.

    The two jobs are doable since one can take a train back and forth and in the same time zone.

    Hard to turn down the MET job and no reason to leave Philly. Must be nice to be in demand.

  • V.Lind says:

    YN-S is young, still. Levine was there for decades. Perhaps they want someone with enough years ahead of him to lead the Met for a long time. And in the intervening years he has plenty time to do more opera and bring a heavier resume and more experience if.when he takes over the role of MD.

  • bennie says:

    In the end, it’s New York Philharmonic that makes the ultimate questionable choice …


  • AMetFan says:

    While I don’t deny Loki his comments, he must receive an official rebuke from the moderator of this site.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    We heard from the Board that when hiring Gelb, his biggest asset was that he was “hip” and “cool.” (Whatever!) Sounds like the Board was going after the same things here. If it couldn’t be Dudamel, it had to be Yannick. Maybe they think a tattoo is going to bring in the youngsters as subscribers.

  • Marc says:

    We get free temporary tattoos of the year’s Oregon Bach Festival logo on the 23rd, just before the opening performance, Bach’s Mass in B minor– some people evidently do think tattoos are a grand idea, I guess.

  • Dan Oria says:

    It seems, today, that a conductor has just to be young and nice-looking. All the rest is less important.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Clearly you’ve never heard YNS, if that’s all he is for you.

      • Dan Oria says:

        Have heard him, and find him excellent; my ccmments are referreing to today’s general tendency of preferreng “baby conductors”, in order to gain younger audiences. Sorry having offended you. Incidentally, I am a gay musician myself…

  • James Alexander says:

    Simple – YNS has star quality – that and youth on his side – exactly what the Met needs!
    As for the homophobic comments, am as appalled as others, am pretty certain NL wouldn’t allow anti-semitic comments to go unchallenged or un-moderated!

  • Dan Oria says:

    My comment has nothing to do with homophobia. A good-looking young conductor is also good for female audiences!

  • Nick says:

    It seems nothing has been heard from those with whom he will be working most closely – the Met orchestra. I wonder what sort of consultation process took place, or was this just another of Gelb’s proposals that the Board bought hook, one and sinker? And given that YNS presumably wanted the job, why did Gelb not exercise his managerial authority with YNS and his manager to ensure that as part of the deal YNS gives the Met more time prior to his taking up the post?

    • MWnyc says:

      Well, as Norman describes it, the Met’s Board basically told Gelb, “Go hire Yannick.” It was their idea more than Gelb’s.

      I haven’t heard anything that specific through whatever grapevines I have access to – but I have heard that (a) the Met orchestra has always thought highly of Yannick, (b) many of the musicians thought Gianandrea Noseda would be a better choice because he had already run an opera house (Turin, very well), and (c) the orchestra did not get any particular input on the choice.

      Why did Gelb not “exercise his managerial authority … to ensure that as part of the deal YNS gives the Met more time prior to his taking up the post?” Well, as I’ve observed more than once on this thread already (sorry, folks), it appears that the Met wanted Yannick even more than Yannick wanted the Met. So if the Met was going to get Yannick, it had to accept what Yannick was willing to offer.

  • John says:

    When will someone finally admit that Dudamel is the most overrated chief available anywhere in the known universe ?
    “Controlling his video rights” ! Why ? Because he is tired of people seeing him jump like a J-I-T-Box !?

  • Dan Oria says:

    I admit it! But I feel like a caller in the Desert. I am also having problems with Nelsons… (what a sacrilege to write such a thing!)

  • MacroV says:

    For those complaining about a five-year wait, remember how far in advance the MET plans; chances are a lot of the productions during the gap until YNS’ arrival are already cast and conductors lined up. And if they have a lot of A-list conductors working there in the meantime, what’s the harm?

  • Nick says:

    A Music Director does a great deal more than merely enter the pit and conduct. He shapes the entire artistic policy of an opera company. He leads the artistic team and especially develops the ‘sound’ of the orchestra. Guest conductors come and go. As such they have much shorter-term goals with a company. Since much of the criticism of the Met – at least in these columns – has been the degree of power inceasingly vested in the person of its General Manager and the degree by which the Met has suffered under Peter Gelb’s stewardship, a gap of 5 years only delays further the time until essential changes can be made.

    Of course YNS will be providing advice and playing some role in the interim. He has already stated he is less keen on one of Gelb’s key strategies – importing productions from other companies. But having a company even partially rudderless artistically for such a lengthy period is,
    I suggest, pretty idiotic. But then, as others have pointed out, the Met’s present Board and its General Manager work in increasingly mysterious ways.

  • John Russell says:

    From my limited experience, Y N-S is a much better opera conductor than GN. GN has wonderful conceptual theories which tend to evaporate in performance. (This might affect singers more obviously than instrumentalists, but, Opera separates the men from the Super-men (to paraphrase)!

  • Eric Bruskin says:

    “Yannick”‘s programming in Philadelphia is a snooze. His newer-music programming is negligible in quantity and quality. But he’s cute and does good outreach. The general public has yet to discover the basic repertoire, so he might have found the magic formula for an orchestra to survive playing the same old s…


    But for an experienced music lover (and decades-long PO subscriber in two cities until the past few years), I see nothing to look forward to.

    • Mark says:

      Mr. Bruskin, what is your opinion of YNS’s interpretations of standard repertoire ?

      • Eric Bruskin says:

        Neutral. I haven’t heard too much of it because

        (1) He doesn’t spend much time here in Philly;

        (2) I’m not that interested in the repertoire he’s done here (except for Salome which I would have liked to hear but it, like most of his “big productions”, only runs for 1 or 2 performances, vs. the standard 4);

        (3) nothing I’ve read from reviewers I respect has gotten me excited enough to go out of my way to hear something from him I’ve heard dozens of times before

        Honestly, the last time I got excited over a conductor based purely on his standard repertoire alone was Tennstedt in the ’80s and ’90s. I heard him with the PO several times when I lived in New York.

        I prefer a conductor to have a breadth of repertoire that brings life to things unfamiliar to me. At this point I don’t feel a need to hear Yannick do Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann, Mahler, Bruckner, etc. — unless, perhaps, I were to read MUCH more interesting descriptions of his performances. But there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of works I’d go out of my way to hear ANYBODY do with the PO, and many of them fall within his evident range of interests – choral, opera, French (?). But in the several years he’s been here, he hasn’t gone near any of them or their composers.

        Also, compare him at his age (40 or 41) with Salonen or Rattle or Tilson Thomas when they were in their 30s. (To limit the discussion to recent decades, post-Bernstein.) My shelves are full of their early recordings. They had vivid interests and advocacy, and their performances elicited descriptions from good critics that made you want to rush to the concert hall. I have not had that feeling about anything YNS has done live in Philly or on CD in the 6 or so years he’s been a public figure here.

  • tytonius@hotmail.com says:

    very good indeed.

  • DavidG says:

    I’m very very late to this discussion, and I’m not going to address the Levine saga. But I saw Dudamel conduct Otello at the Met. OMG, I think I fell asleep a few times. How does a conductor make Otello boring?? As for YNS, I saw him conduct Elektra at the Met. Maybe I’m getting too old. My wife isn’t a particular opera fan, but she’s a musician and she understands the extraordinary music and drama of Elektra. We’ve attended Elektra performances where we thought our hearts would stop! This one with YNS was absolutely boring. It takes a special talent to make Elektra boring!