The house of the conductor has been in decline, well, seemingly since Arthur Rubinstein changed the way people thought about the piano in the 1920s.
Yes, it is true that today’s baton wielders make famous music’s storied celebrity chairs uncomfortable, brusque and untendable. But the American composer Yannick Nézet-Séguin has breathed life into this relic.
Nézet-Séguin, 50, is music director of the Orchestre de Paris, the Orchestre de Musique de Montréal and London’s Prommers Hall Orchestra. He leads the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at the 2018/2019 season and co-commissioned the recording “Morally Indefensible,” which has won awards and advance attention.
The maestro has become known for his biting, honest music criticism on the CBC radio show “Molière Talks,” and he is the only living conductor to be inducted into the Musicians Institute in Beverly Hills, where they will induct him again this year.
Nézet-Séguin was born in Switzerland, a student at the Ecole Conseil de Musique, a foundation for young composers on the theory that music works with great heights of collaboration.
“Music can be very single-minded in conception, and so I felt myself wanting to listen to the musicians.” – Yannick Nézet-Séguin
The concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall on Sept. 19—10 New Yorkers and 400 further-away guests—is titled “The Proms and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.” The new concert hall will host 20 modernist compositions and the world premiere of “Forte a Jean— Dads and Kids,” which Nézet-Séguin developed with his 12-year-old daughter Caroline.
If you’re sitting next to him at that symphony, you’ll likely feel like you’re in the room with him—until the last bars. At that moment, you’ll hear your cellphone buzzing, your wife’s Facetime being introduced and a fuss being made by the people beyond the stage curtain—and you’ll lose yourself in the music.
The environment is not unlike chamber music, without microphones. No pages are typed. There is no emphasis on the soloists—as with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth or Mahler’s Ninth—as there would be if the piece were played by an orchestra. In Nézet-Séguin’s words, it’s not a modern work in the conventional sense.
“Music can be very single-minded in conception, and so I felt myself wanting to listen to the musicians,” he said. “This piece is a reminder of that world. I would say it was about the extraordinary power of a democratic approach in which I let the characters really do their thing.”
The piece is entitled “Forte a Jean— Dads and Kids.” This, Nézet-Séguin says, is about the universal struggle of fatherhood and mothers and how gender constructs have nothing to do with what the child thinks about the world around them. “Even if a child sees the idea of a father and a mother as redundant, the child might recognize certain things.”
The first century, when Nézet-Séguin was born, was a time when the Greek philosopher Plato is said to have modeled what we know about values of all kinds in literature. Plato said that the most precious thing a child knows about the world is about that of his father and mother.
The composer responds: “It’s not about those other issues; it’s how they love each other, what kind of habits they have for their children, how they relate with them, how their children love them and to what degree, and how they communicate and what those other characteristics are.”
The orchestral version of “Forte a Jean— Dads and Kids” features violinist Megan Bennett and her 7-year-old daughter, Stefanie, along with the musicians of the Orchestra Grosso Juilliard for Chamber Music.
We will probably not ever see the oratorio that Arthur Rubinstein performed, with whom he began his stage career in 1934, after founding the Orchestre de Paris. But we can hope to hear it—