Saturday, 17 August 2019
The many faces of Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Was there ever a more perfect array of expressions to match the music than those of the wondrous Canadian? The shaping and body movements are totally eloquent, as they have to be, but the many faces prove that this man lives what he conducts without affectation or excess. BBC Proms hero the photographer Chris Christodoulou caught him in many moods at the first of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra concerts; between us Sebastian Scotney and I managed to put up quite a few shots in our respective reviews (mine is here). Chris wrote to me:' I have just finished editing 264 images of him alone - and only rejected at a push 22!' Thanks to him for supplying a few more here.
Chris also tells me that how people behave backstage is an eye-opener, and that YNS is really out there, shaking hands and hugging people. Clearly a Mensch as well as a seriously great conductor.
It's a real shame the BBC didn't want shots at the second BRSO concert; the partnership with Gil Shaham, a late replacement for Lisa Batiashvili in Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto as YNS was for Mariss Jansons in the two concerts, proved another joy to watch and hear. Despite an ineffable lightness of touch, the team got at the essential seriousness I've always maintained is there in all three movements, the finale an increasingly manic danse macabre like Shostakovich's and Lorca's characterisation of the Malagueña in the Fourteenth Symphony ('death moves in and out of the tavern').
My colleague in the pre-Prom talk for that evening, Ariane Todes, didn't agree with me on the heart of darkness, opening apart, even after the performance, but that's fine - all part of Prokofiev's amazing ambiguity. We got on very well, and Martin Handley is a true knowledgeable pro; I didn't actually miss anything in the edited version brought out in time for the interval, so skilfully did he steer us to the main points both about the Russian school of violin playing and the concerto itself. Take a listen while you can on the iPlayer, both to the concert and to the talk (which starts at 46m25s).
I must admit the tempi YNS took in those infuriatingly music-minus-two and -three sequences in the annoying Rosenkavalier Suite could not have been sustained by any singer, but it was worth it to hear the necessarily exaggerated swoon of the waltzes (and the ratchet rattling in the Albert Hall). Brilliant idea, too, to give Sibelius's near-contemporary, couldn't-be-more-different Valse triste as the encore.
That's become an encore speciality of the Estonian Festival Orchestra and Paavo Järvi, who gave their best performance yet, of the ones I've heard, at the end of this year's Pärnu Festival; but YNS and the Bavarians yielded nothing in terms of character. Two very great orchestras and conductors - I wish Mariss Jansons back to full health after his absence, but I wonder if the (relatively) young Canadian could be next in line of succession in Munich.
Labels: Ariane Todes, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Proms 2019, Canada, Gil Shaham, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Strauss, violin, Yannick Nézet-Séguin
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Heard you during the interval feature of the one Prom, very enjoyable discussion. Totally agree that Martin Handley is the pro of pros among the BBC R3 presenters for the Proms, probably my own personal favorite among the BBC R3 Proms presenters, if I had to pick just one.
I've been of somewhat mixed mind of YNS over the years, from hearing him in several Philadelphia Orchestra relays over WRTI, which generally air at 1 PM Philly time on Sundays, which is 7 PM Sundays your time, something like that (https://www.wrti.org/programs/philadelphia-orchestra-concert; these are one-and-done, or two-and-done, i.e. not archived at all, like BBC R3). Maybe the fact that he truly is a mensch of a guy has caused him interpretively to grow on me a bit more, musically. I heard a very fine Mahler 9 from him and Philly a few weeks ago via WRTI. The two Met Opera HD-relays which I've seen of him, Don Carlo and Dialogues des Carmelites, showed him in strong form.
The latter raises one point about whether he might be on the BRSO list for post-Jansons. YNS probably is, but there's also interwebz buzz that YNS might be spreading himself too thin, with Philly, the Met, and the Orchestre Metropolitan already. In particular, the Met Opera needs stable musical leadership now more than ever (enough said), and they would be extremely reluctant to see YNS take on another big post, this one across the pond. Philly no doubt has the same concerns, even though his contract with Philly is through 2026, and Philly seems to have turned a financial corner of late. Presumably YNS' people skills in fund-raising has something to do with this. This is another situation where another big US arts organization's powers-that-be would not want to see their musical boss overstretched more than he is already.
I remember a BBC MM interview a few years back where Sakari Oramo spoke very warmly of the BRSO. Maybe he's on their list as well. The BRSO sounds like an orchestra where any conductor would love to be chief conductor, which paradoxically would put the BRSO in the driver's seat when it comes to choosing conductors, I would think (maybe I'm wrong on this). Anyway, we'll see, and definitely safe recovery wishes for Mariss Jansons from here.
I met some of the players when I was in Lucerne gathering homages to Haitink (who'd just won the BBC Music Magazine Disc of the Year award for the BRSO live recording of Mahler 3). They were inspiring, and the ones who spoke on the radio the other week were lively too. Funnily enough, I'd even forgotten that YNS was Met Music Director - ashamed to say it's so little on my radar these days. The New York queens of Parterre, who think the Met is the centre of the operatic universe, would be horrified at that.
David , an excellent interval conversation . So fluid and learned , one learnt so much.
Interest in your comment on the tempi in the rosenkavilier suite . I thought the conductor caught the "traiume' quality of th rose presentation and the final trio very well . The wind playing, clarinet and oboe I think , was exquisite buton the radio recording the strings were very much in the background... Some how The elegant sweep of the waltzes did not come over and yes I heard the rattle also , wembly statism look out!.
Still always intersting to hear this piece . The opera has a special place in my heart and the more you listen to the orchestration in full the more you appreciate Strauss genius . The contrast with Electra is so marked but it is his mastery of colour and rythm that shines in both cases.
Keep up the good work .. Liam
Thanks, Liam. I must say, though, that the waltzes are more about parody than elegance: YNS got that and took it to extremes which certainly worked in the hall, and the BRSO strings are steeped in this music - their forbears played it under Strauss not long before he died. I agree about revealing more of the orchestration, but I'd say - don't do this Suite if you can't afford three top voices to 'infill' (the waltzes can just about get by without Ochs and Annina). Anyway, it wasn't Yannick's choice.
Thanks david.myouare up bright and early
Best wishes to J
Just past 8 would have been early for me in the past, but not now.
Fair point about the Parterre Box folks and their NYC-centrism, but in the USA, the Met, for all its issues, is still kind of the Holy Grail for aspiring American opera singers. YNS actually started 2 years ahead of schedule, after the institutional fallout surrounding his predecessor (again, enough said). His very mensch-ness is probably institutional balm for the Met right now. The Met is far from forward-looking in the opera world, but then the majority of the Met's opera audience isn't much on innovation or anything post-Puccini, AFAICT, which will make YNS' Wozzeck potentially interesting (Kentridge is the director), if it actually gets good box office.
Will you be able to attend Haitink's Prom next week? I probably should give my ears a rest from headphones, but then again, I probably should listen live via R3's iPlayer, even if at low-ish volume.
I accept that the Met is ONE of the great opera houses of the world, just not the epicentre. And it's had its share of innovative productions recently (I wish we'd had Kentridge's The Nose in the UK - Barrie Kosky's didn't work as a whole, though the dancing corps of noses was fab).
Yes, I'm lucky enough to have a hot ticket to Haitink's Beethoven and Bruckner. It will be his last official engagement in the UK.
Amused to see the exchanges about the Met. I hope YNS is able to encourage more adventuresome programming, though it’s probably a vertical climb to do so. I did not opt for a Met subscription this year—and a good part of that was lack of interest in the programming.
That said, I've just been bowled over by a Met superstar, Sondra Radvanovsky. singing Manon Lescaut in an Edinburgh Festival concert performance conducted by the ever-dependable Donald Runnicles. Best and most nuanced Puccini singing I've ever heard. So that was why they diva-worshipped her.
I saw her in Donizetti’s three queens. I haven’t your level of knowledge or discernment (understatement), but by the third opera, I could see what the fuss was about. I had to be dragged by my opera mate into signing on for the Donizettis, and they turned out to be the highlights. Didn’t hurt that Jamie Barton played opposite her in Anna Bolena when Garanca had to bow out.
I remember you writing about it, but not being a Donizetti fan I didn't show the interest I should have done. She must be the supreme bel cantista soprano of our time. Everything is so carefully placed, but the fire is there too. Either Barton OR Garanca would be her equal in the mezzo sphere. Garanca is heading towards Eboli and Amneris now - very exciting!
Great that you got a ticket for the Haitink Prom. I remember from hearing on iPlayer last year, at the end of YNS' Prom with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, that YNS reminisced about hearing Haitink conduct Bruckner 7 at a Prom, and when he mentioned Haitink's name, there was a smattering of applause. YNS spontaneously then said: "Yes, yes, yes, Bernard", which got a much bigger round of applause. Again, YNS' mensch-ness in action. It sounds as though you'll be there purely as a spectator, and not necessarily reviewing the Prom for TAD (or perhaps there will be a review there). BTW, since you know Martin Handley, if he doesn't already know this, by sheer luck, this final Haitink Prom will be Haitink's 90th Prom, a lucky coincidence, so this might be a historical tidbit to communicate to him.
You do raise a fair point about Kentridge's production being among the more innovative offering that the Peter Gelb regime at the Met has offered. I've been fortunate enough to see both of his Met productions to date, The Nose and Lulu both in the house and on HD-cast. You'll clearly be able to catch the HD relay early next year. I suppose that my earlier comment referred to most of the standard old-school, Joseph Volpe-era traditional style productions that tend to dominate there. And to be fair, other US audiences aren't all that much more open to something different, as I heard about extreme reactions (in both directions) to Santa Fe Opera's Cosi fan tutte, which was modernized apparently with a New Mexico twist in the costumes (I didn't see it). I did see Santa Fe Opera's Jenufa, whose production began at ENO, and this was the outstanding staging that I saw there this summer.
I shall be reviewing, lucky me (unless it goes pear-shaped, wbich is unlikely, though folk have told me that Haitink has been not quite there for a couple of performances. No chance of communicating with Martin unless I bump into him; he hasn't responded to emails on any occasion.
I saw that Kentridge Lulu at ENO three times, and at each performance I absorbed completely different things.
Well as a way to apologize for having missed your review I will blame the weather and say that our Summer was very short starting on 15 July after months of cold weather. Yes well no doubt it was a wonderful concert, YNS is gifted, though not my cup of tea, I prefer conductors like Ricardo Muti, a personal favourite. I do remember seeing him in Rome some 10 years ago at an event sponsored by the Canadian Embassy. Thank you for the nice words about YNS, but I am no expert just a listener in the crowd.
No need to apologise for missing this one, but I did miss you both when I wrote about our Europe Day Concert, because I thought you were passionate fans. It's been a long time! Anyway, Riccardo Muti is now a Grand Old Man and YNS is clearly the future, so you'd better find someone else of his generation to admire. Besides, though it wouldn't mean a thing if he didn't have that swing, it's good to be able to celebrate an openly gay conductor, don't you think?
Well, if you think that the 90th Bernard Haitink Prom factoid is of value, please feel free to use it in your review :) . Hope it all goes well. Assuming that the bicycling gods are nice to me, will try to listen to R3 at work for this one. The one review from Salzburg in the Wiener Zeitung was highly complimentary.
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