Advice to Yannick: Spend more time on less music

Advice to Yannick: Spend more time on less music


norman lebrecht

February 23, 2018

Against the craven idolatory of the Met’s music director fostered by the New York Times, Russell Platt on the New Yorker comes forward with a note of caution.

Yannick, he reminds us, is doing too much. He is contractually committed to orchestras in Philadelphia and Montreal, and he has a busy career guest-conducting at the European summits.

Every year or so, his schedule overload causes cancellations.

Russell’s advice: ‘Perhaps Nézet-Séguin is just a superior physical specimen, but, in the several times I’ve observed this man, I’ve always come to the same conclusion: if he wants to join the ranks of the historically great conductors, he will have to spend more time with less music.’

Read on here.



  • Pedro says:

    Each time I heard Y. N.- S. he was in top form, either in opera or concert. And that was in NY, Salzburg, Paris, Rotterdam, Dortmund and Brussels, not only with his own orchestras ( Rotterdam, Montreal, MET ) but also with ensambles such as the VPO and the SOBR. For me, he is the best conductor of his generation.

    • Phillip says:

      You heard Yannick? Last time I checked, he doesn’t produce any sounds- but he gets all the glory and money for it. The emperor has no clothes.

      • Thomasina says:

        He will conduct six concerts this and next weekend in Montreal, two concerts in Maison symphonique but other concerts(the same programs as Maison) are held in small halls on campus or in church. The average price of ticket is around 20$ and even cheaper for students. I don’t think he needs these job for the glory and money. At least he is wearing the beautiful clothes of devotion and generosity.

  • Alexander says:

    apparently those vivifying prayers of the Desmarais (family) helped 😉

  • Mxwalker says:

    I think he will be a great conductor – but I’ve seen him twice in London and in both concerts the first half was so-so, but the second half was excellent. I’d still go to one of his concerts but I was concerned about his variability.

    Still, better than not being excellent at all.

  • John Borstlap says:

    There is no reason why a handful of conductors, however good they may be, would occupy places which could be filled by other, also good conductors. It is not normal, and obviously much time which would be well-invested in emotional deepening and musical reflection and refinement, is lost. (There is a correlation between Carlos Kleiber’s qualities and the big gaps in his diary.) Quality music making is not served by monopolizing positions and hurried all flying over the world, and offering space to upcoming young conductors would be a better investment in the art form. Also, such over-the-top schedules eventually lead towards a narrowing repertoire, simply because there is less and less time to prepare new scores. And the end of the trajectory is often mere routine.

  • collin says:

    How did YNS become the darling of the Met based on a single run of Carmen?

    Fabio Luisi was supposedly the heir apparent to Levine, dropping important engagements at the last moment to fill in at the Met for an ill (in more sense than one) Levine and even being named principal conductor, but WHAM, out of nowhere emerges YNS.

    It looks like all it takes to make it in New York is to be adored by Gelb and Tommasini at the NYT, for whom YNS can do no wrong.

    For me, YNS just hasn’t produced enough to show who or what he is, he may be a genius, be may not…

    • anon says:

      “Tommasini at the NYT, for whom YNS can do no wrong”

      lol, so true, compare Tommasini’s treatment of JvZ who can do no right!

      It’s gonna be a loooong five years for the new music director of the NY Phil, who’ll have to open his NYT every Friday morning…

      • Petros Linardos says:

        And for Lebrecht the NYT can do no right! But with van Zweden we have a rare instance where Lebrecht agrees with Tommasini! This is the stuff for an opera libretto. I wonder what a regietheater director would do with it.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Concerning JvZ, two factors will stand-out: 1) the orchestra loves him; 2) the audience will incleasingly love him even more than they do already. What the critics say is then of minor importance. New York has, in relation to classical music, an identity problem, but audiences and players don’t suffer from such self-inflicted idiosyncrasies.

        Classical msuic & New York – two worlds of experience which don’t seem to combine well:

        It seems to me obvious that classical music in such places offer a welcome alternative for everything that the Brave New World stands for.

    • Emil says:

      Because YNS has a much more charismatic presence outside of the pit than Luisi, I would guess, and fits better with what is needed from the MD at the Met. This is not a musical judgment – I’ve never heard Luisi live – but YNS creates a ‘buzz’ wherever he goes, which is essential when one needs to defend the place of the Met in NY media and artistic life, and also when one needs to woo donors. So, irrespective of musical qualities (and I think YNS is excellent), Nézet-Séguin fits the Met like a glove.

      • Yes Addison says:

        What Emil said. And it’s implicit in “what is needed from the MD at the Met,” but I’ll state it openly: YNS is younger than Luisi by about 16 years. Barring some unforeseen misfortune, they’re likely to have him for longer, and have him at his best.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Yes, have to agree – Fabio looked like the heir apparent. Or at least a solid guy who came in on short notice on a few occasions and turned in some pretty impressive performances. Certainly a fine Verdian. And much more adept in Wagner than I thought he’d be. Too bad.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    I can’t help thinking of Thielemann, who mostly conducts what he is best at – and then gets criticized for his narrow repertoire. Unfairly, I think.

  • otto says:

    I find him consistently excellent, but I agree w/ Platt that he could benefit from more focus. He also could have used a bit more conducting training – there are annoying habits like constantly switching from large beats to subdivisions and back again in Parsifal (followed by a scramble to keep the orchestra from slowing down, which is only natural when they see the subdivisions). Who were his orchestral conducting teachers?

  • Vaquero357 says:

    I have to be fair: Yannick is a very talented conductor. Judging by the broadcast last Saturday, his take on Parsifal was far from the train wreck some critics made it out to be.

    But yes, he’s stretched too thin: He needs to dial his activities back to Philadelphia and the MET with occasional stints at his orchestra in Montreal (I understand his sentimental attachment to that ensemble) and maybe the occasional guest conducting job in the summer. Otherwise, the guy’s gonna be the new Gergiev, phoning in slap-dash, hasty, poorly thought out performances of repertoire he CAN do very well when he’s not over-tired and over-worked.

  • kaa12840 says:

    I just heard YN-S in Parsifal last Saturday and am going again on Tuesday. I thought it was terrific. I was at his NY “debut” with the Philadelphia O in Verdi Requiem and I thought then that it was pretty boring. But I was very impressed by the Parsifal and am happy now that he is going to start earlier at the MET. As to Tommassini, nobody pays attention to him anymore; further, he and the other reviewers only get one page on Saturday and the rare piece on other days and they always dedicate that page to contemporary stuff that is of interest to maybe 100 people. I also agree that my friends in the NYPhil tell me that they love JvZ and slowly so do the audiences

    • Barry says:

      I know there is no accounting for differences in taste, but I consider that Verdi Requiem to be without doubt the greatest single performance I’ve heard Yannick conduct since he started coming to Philadelphia.
      The piece had been a huge favorite of mine for years, but I had become somewhat jaded to it. Then I heard Yannick conduct it and it was like it was brought back to life in a manner that shook me to my core. I don’t think I came down from my emotional high for a week after the performance.

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    My main complaint, as a Philadelphian, is that he’s doing almost all of his recording with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, even in repertoire where it would make more sense for Philadelphia (i.e. the new Prokofiev). He’s indicated that the early start to the MET gig will curtail his activity in Europe. I hope so.

    Funny thing about the Luisi comments above is that Luisi actually gets a much better sound out of Philadelphia; a sound that we haven’t heard since Sawallisch (whom he reveres). Some of us hope he gets named Principal Guest here, as we need one like him.

    • Barry says:

      The fact that Luisi isn’t on next season’s schedule for the first time in a few years may not be a good sign in that regard.

    • Jimbo says:

      Sadly American orchestras outpriced themselves in the recording market in the 90s
      – their fees became exhorbitant thus the big labels (DG, Decca, Sony) ditched them – and rightly so as many of them charged more than they were worth! They’ve only themselves to blame.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Concur. YN-S and the Philly Orch played Mahler 3 last September like they were sight-reading. It was a shocking disappointment.

  • YoYo Mama says:

    Will be? For these positions, he should already be great. The fact that the top orchestras lower themselves to groom conductors who might possibly be great somehow, someday, demeans the audiences and is part of their decline. Where’s there a conductor like Stokowski, or Celibidache, or Beecham, or Ansermet now? Are there any? Not even an Abbaddo? Leonard Slatkin seems to be at the top if only by default.
    And let’s put the blame where it belongs: the conducting programs who fail to develop taste, ear, balance, style in their talents, and promote the wrong students, probably by having the wrong entrance requirements. I might have been a great conductor, but I was told one had to have great keyboard skills to be able to read and sight-read scores. B.S. I also assumed you had to have a colossal ego and obnoxious personality. Funny enough, the boys in my conducting class who had those abilities, did not go anywhere at all. When the Curtis Institute failed to accept the son of a friend of mine, who was already conducting professionally in Russia, I knew something was wrong. And when a graduate, already conducting in Philadelphia and elsewhere, did not know how to conduct a piece in 5/4 meter, that confirmed it.

    • Jimbo says:

      What are you talking about? ALL conductors learn on the job! Stoki was a scheming two faced learner when he took on Philly after skipping town in Cincinnati when he and his scheming wife Olga Samaroff saw an opportunity in Philadelphia. He experimented on the Philly orchestra, changing seating etc and because it happened to work he AND the orchestra got better …and like Yannick Nézet-Séguin he was a good communicator with donors … then suddenly he’s called a genius and voila a legend is born. No youngish conductor – Yannick Nézet-Séguin is approaching 43 young by conducting standards – is already “great”. Which “great” conductors were available and the right fit for The Met and Philly (when they were looking)?Yannick is a perfect fit for both Met and Philadelphia Orchestra! He’s charismatic, a good communicator, a very fine musician who is universally loved by colleagues. Orchestra committees rate him highly each season end, and he’s loyal. He doesn’t engage in power trips, inappropriate behaviour with colleagues or staff, is great value for engendering interest from young people and is a supreme diplomat. You may not appreciate his conducting but that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.
      The past is dead and so are the great conductors of those times. Yannick is currently creating his own legacy and thankfully we live in an era where we can ALL choose to observe, take part, and appreciate his skills or sit in our homes and focus solely on listening to dead conductors doing what EVENTUALLY they were able to record once they’d spent decades practising on orchestras.
      I would suggest you and some others here try getting over your nostalgic rose tinted “it was better in the past” myopia!

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    He only needs Philly and the MET. Do the orchestral stuff with the Philly and do the opera with the MET with occasional orchestral appearance at Carnegie with just the orchestra.

    He will slow down when he realizes that he now owns a Masserati and a Lamborghini within just 90 miles of each other.

    He is a great musician. Luisi made himself available but his music making is very good but not as great as Yannik.

    You should not get a great job just because you are available.

    • Emil says:

      He’s found a great way to use the Orchestre Métropolitain to preview and train in complex programmes for his other orchestras. For instance, we got Lohengrin and Parsifal in concert at the Lanaudière festival with the OM in the past few years. So Montreal is happy – we get top flight concerts with a local world-class conductor. The orchestra is happy, as they play better than ever and get more opportunities than ever (recordings, European tour). And YNS is happy, as Montreal is close to NY and Philly (under 2 hours by plane) and he gets an opportunity to test out works before presenting them elsewhere.

      Imagine if YNS had done his Wagner preparation at the Met, or in Europe – it would have been scrutinized like no other. Here, he got a ‘dry run’ with an excellent orchestra and soloists and minimal exposure.