Nézet-Séguin to become Met music director; reups in Philly as well

Thu Jun 02, 2016 at 12:36 pm
Yannick Nézet-Séguin will become music director of the Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 2020. Photo: Jonathan Tichler

Yannick Nézet-Séguin will become music director of the Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 2020. Photo: Jonathan Tichler

If Yannick Nézet-Séguin wasn’t already on top of the musical world, he certainly is now.

Thursday morning the Metropolitan Opera announced that the 41-year-old Canadian would become the third music director in the company’s history, effective with the start of the 2020–21 season. He succeeds James Levine in the post that he held for more than forty years.

“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,” Nézet-Séguin remarked. “I will make it my mission to passionately preserve the highest artistic standards while imagining a new, bright future for our art form.”

General Manager Peter Gelb remarked that Nézet-Séguin “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.” James Levine added his own accolade, saying “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.”

According to the Met’s press release, Nézet-Séguin will conduct two productions in 2017–18, when he will become “music director designate,” and five productions per season in the first several years of his appointment, as well as concerts with the Met Orchestra. He will undertake a portion of his new duties immediately, participating in the artistic planning process that takes place multiple seasons in advance. In the 2016–17 season he is scheduled to lead a revival of Der Fleiegende Holländer, his first Wagner opera with the Met.

The announcement brought to a close the long saga of Levine’s twilight years with the Met, and with it months and even years of speculation as to who might succeed him. Levine’s long tenure with the company was transformative, solidifying the Met’s position as a leader in its field. Perhaps most significantly, he built the Met orchestra into one that rivals the world’s most celebrated symphonic ensembles. Beset by health problems, Levine’s last few years have been troubled ones, leading to frequent and prolonged absences from the podium, a period reminiscent of his late tenure with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where injuries and illness often kept him away from the podium.

Even before the company began hinting at Levine’s retirement, Nézet-Séguin was seen as a leading candidate to take the baton at the Met. His guest appearances in the pit, most recently for this season’s opening production of Verdi’s Otello, have been widely praised, and his work as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra has been instrumental in that institution’s revitalization.

In a simultaneous press release, the Philadelphia Orchestra announced that Nézet-Séguin’s contract would be extended through the 2025–26 season, putting to rest any concern that the orchestra would be left adrift by the Met appointment. At the conclusion of that contract he will have served as music director for fourteen years, trailing only the legendary tenures of Eugene Ormandy and Leopold Stokowski.

Of today’s double announcement, Nézet-Séguin stated, “To have the chance to make music with both these amazing institutions was irresistible to me. I am, without a doubt, the luckiest music director in the world today.”

Leaving his position as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra after 2017–18 season will clear some room in his schedule. He is currently under contract to lead Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain through the end of the 2020–21 season, his first season as music director of the Met.

The question of who will serve as the Met’s guiding hand in the interim remains open. It is conceivable that the situation could lead to an important role for a principal conductor, though the incumbent, Fabio Luisi, has chosen to depart after his contract expires at the end of next season, and there has as yet been little public discussion of a successor.

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