Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a diminutive 41-year-old French-Canadian who can raise audiences to their feet with his interpretations of Mahler and Bruckner, is also equally adept at charming classical music lovers to open their checkbooks using his Québécois-accented English. The popular conductor has just been named new Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera. The position has previously been held by only two artists in the company’s storied 133-year history — James Levine, who after 40 years in the position stepped down at the end of the recently concluded season to become the company’s first Music Director Emeritus, and Rafael Kubelik, who held the title briefly in the company’s 1973-74 season.
The new vision and energy that Nézet-Séguin can bring to The Met is desperately needed, as the company is currently facing serious financial challenges that forced it to make cuts in its $300 million budget and wrest concessions from its union workers. This season it filled only 72 percent of its seats, on average. And while he will be consulted on future productions, his other commitments limit the amount of time he can be directly be involved in programming and casting.
Currently locked into a long term commitment with the Philadelphia Orchestra which has frustrated his efforts to move into more contemporary fare, he has expressed frustration at the wall that has been erected to keep most 20th and 21st Century composers out of the concert hall.
And while this appointment is good news, it is possible that additional conductors will be named for associate music director positions over the summer. Nézet-Séguin has conducted many operas for The Met including a sensual Carmen, Don Carlo, Rusalka and Faust. But Esa-Pekka Salonen has also been a strong force, his Elektra is especially noteworthy.
In between appearances with the great orchestras of the world, beginning in 2009 Nézet-Séguin scheduled annual trips to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and given his relative youth and incredible intellect, this new position seems, in retrospect, almost inevitable, especially given the recent spate of cancelled performances by James Levine. The transition, however, will take time. In the world of classical music, great conductors are often signed for dates stretching five years into the future.
So, in the Met’s 2017-18 season, Nézet-Séguin will assume the interim title of Music Director Designate. He will become Music Director in the 2020-21 season, the first season in which he is available to take over the full responsibilities of the position. However, he will immediately become involved in the company’s artistic planning, which also happens many years in advance.
As Music Director, Nézet-Séguin will be responsible for the overall musical quality of the Met. He will have artistic authority over the company’s orchestra, chorus, and music staff, and will work in tandem with Met General Manager Peter Gelb to oversee the planning and casting of each Met season, including repertoire choices, new productions (including the selection of creative teams), revivals, and commissions.
Nézet-Séguin will initially conduct five different operas each season he is Music Director, as well as concerts with the Met Orchestra. In each of the seasons in which he is Music Director Designate, Nézet-Séguin will conduct two operas. Next season at the Met, he will conduct his first Wagner opera with the company, a revival of Der Fliegende Holländer.
“Becoming the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me,” said Nézet-Séguin. “I am truly honored and humbled by the opportunity to succeed the legendary James Levine and to work with the extraordinary orchestra, chorus, and staff of what I believe is the greatest opera company in the world. I will make it my mission to passionately preserve the highest artistic standards while imagining a new, bright future for our art form.”
“Yannick was the clear choice of the Company,” said Gelb. “He is the right artist at the right time to lead us forward into a new and what I believe will be a glorious chapter in the history of the Met.”
“The Metropolitan Opera has been the great artistic love of my life, and it has been tremendously rewarding to see the company develop and improve over the past 45 years,” said Levine. “I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Yannick on taking the musical reins, and I look forward to seeing the good work continue under his watch.”
“The MET Orchestra enjoys a tremendously fruitful, positive relationship with Maestro Nézet-Séguin, and we are delighted in his appointment as Music Director,” said Jessica Phillips, clarinetist and chair of the Met’s Orchestra committee. “He embodies the artistic leadership, musical excellence, and respect for rich tradition that opera lovers around the world have come to cherish. We eagerly look forward to working together to shape this new era at the Met.”
“The singers and stage performers at the Met welcome Yannick Nézet-Séguin, joining the historic line of artists from James Levine’s great tenure back to Toscanini and Mahler,” said David Frye, tenor and chair of the Met’s chorus committee. “Yannick has led great performances with the company, and we’re eager to expand our collaboration.”
Nézet-Séguin made his Met debut in the 2009-10 season, conducting a new production of Bizet’s Carmen. He has returned in every subsequent season, leading acclaimed performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo, Gounod’s Faust, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Dvořák’s Rusalka. He led the opening night performance of the Met’s 2015-16 season, a new production of Verdi’s Otello.
Nézet-Séguin’s operatic career was launched when he was appointed Chorus Master and Assistant Conductor of the Montreal Opera at age 23. Since then, he has conducted a wide breadth of repertoire at a number of the leading companies, including the Vienna State Opera; the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; La Scala; Dutch National Opera; and the Salzburg Festival, in addition to the Met. He is also a frequent guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Since 2012, Nézet-Séguin has been Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which announced today that he has extended his contract with them through 2025-26. (A separate press release on that announcement is available.) Given the close proximity of New York and Philadelphia, Nézet-Séguin will be able to easily commute between his two posts, and the Met and the Philadelphia Orchestra will also be exploring the possibilities for artistic collaboration between the two institutions.
He is also the Music Director of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain and of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, a position he will resign at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season.
Each season, the Met presents more than 200 performances in its home at Lincoln Center and transmits 10 live performances to more than 2,000 movie theaters in 70 countries around the world.