Exclusive: Philly flak replaces sick Yannick

Exclusive: Philly flak replaces sick Yannick


norman lebrecht

April 10, 2017

Saturday night’s audience in Philadelphia was informed before the concert that Yannick Nézet-Séguin was unwell.

Up steps Kensho Watanabe, the recently installed assistant conductor, and (according to our observer) delivers a terrific account of a long and difficult programme – Mason Bates’s “Alternative Energy”, Daniil Trifonov in Mozart’s K271, Beethoven’s Prometheus prelude and finale and Liszt’s Prometheus symphony.

Our observer writes: ‘Watching the emergent conductor command this magnificent orchestra with such grace, dignity and warmth, while hearing (and feeling) the ensemble react to his direction with ease and understanding felt like nothing short of magic. For those of us fortunate enough to be there, the multiple standing ovations and the collective cheers signal the start of a brilliant career. Congrats to the young maestro.’

Kensho, a Japanese-American, is a Curtis grad. Philly likes to keep it local.

Credit: Pete Checchia

There has been no mention of the substitution on the orchestra website, or in other media.


  • ColinG says:

    Pardon my ignorance, but what does “flak” mean, in this context?

    • V.Lind says:

      Was wondering that too. Where I come from, it is a derogatory term fora Public Relations person or spin doctor. I’ve also known it to be used as slang for severe criticism. And of course I believe it had a military context referring to shelling or some such. Can’t see it in this story — and given the young man’s success, can’t see the use of any putdown term being appropriate.

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Flak is the wrong term, as is flack.

      A flack is a PR agent or “spin doctor” as V. Lind says. Flak is an acronym which means anti-aircraft fire. It is derived from Flugzeugabwehrkanone.

      Hard to see how an assistant conductor filling in could be either one.

  • hanna lachert says:

    Too bad that young conductors get their breaks and press coverage mostly by stepping in for someone sick, and not by being offered a chance their talent deserves.

  • Jill Mellbye says:

    Congratulations to Kensho on his successful debut! Philadelphia is proud.

  • Larry says:

    Norman, “flak” was a poor word choice, at least to us Yanks on this side of the pond.

  • Clark Parker says:

    We were there and agree with the review. It was an exhilarating program, and we look forward to seeing more of this conductor in the future.

  • Andy Smith says:

    Was a magnificent performance. I felt honored to be there for his debut at a subscription concert. He does a great job with the pre concert lectures in his usual place behind the scenes.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    My own brief perusal of the Cambridge British English dictionary indicates that “flak” is either a derogatory term or some kind of artillery fire.

  • Larry says:

    Yes, in World War II, soldiers wore “flak jackets” to protect themselves.

    Nice to see that the Yanks and the Brits can agree on language!

  • Mark says:

    “Philly Flak” what kind of nastiness is that? Not surprising in this column of smarm and vile innuendo. Is it normal for an assistant to fill in for an ailing director? Isn’t that exactly their job?

  • Ben says:

    Honestly, there would be more than thousands of people love to be a flak for the Philadelphia Orchestra at any time on any day in any century.

    KW is no flak, nevertheless.

    P.S. YNS better take care of himself. Most of us want him to conduct into his nineties! (the rest, who cares)

  • Mason Bates says:

    As a guest performer this past week with Philly in my piece Alternative Energy, I was pleasantly astonished at how capable Kensho conducted with only a few hours’ notice. Far from having his head buried in the score as one might assume in a last-minute substitution, Kensho was relaxed and cueing everyone with a smile. This kind of situation requires someone who can keep a cool head. He’s clearly a gifted maestro, and Yannick has certainly mentored him well. Kudos also to Yannick for returning to the podium on Sunday even though he didn’t feel one hundred percent – he still conducted with a lot of energy and poise.