Original title : Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is driven by two major passions: the first has led him to the podium of the world’s greatest orchestras, while the second, more understated, has brought him to the tennis arena. A variation on two themes.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one of those rare, universally adored celebrities: he is beloved by the media, his colleagues and his students. Quebecers in particular are most familiar with his career. Learning piano at the age of five and singing in choirs, Nézet- Séguin decided at the age of ten to become a conductor, which led to a meteoric rise to the head of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and, finally, New York’s Metropolitan Opera. His gift for music, desire to learn and excel, and intimate bond with the medium through his friends and family have all contributed to his success. “My parents played the piano, my whole family sung in choirs, and my partner, Pierre, is a violist. I am very fortunate that Pierre can accompany me when I am away from home and that I can travel with my parents and have them in the audience when I perform. All travel has stopped with the pandemic, but the family ties are as strong as ever.”
The pandemic has naturally turned Nézet-Séguin’s schedule upside down and kept him grounded in Montreal, an unusual situation that has actually pleased a globetrotter accustomed to crisscrossing time zones. “Montreal is where I grew up, went to school, worked, where I continue to work and where I live with my cats. I thrive on Montreal’s creativity.” A city that is big enough, but not too big, Montreal seemed like the perfect place to unpack his bags and do some thinking about his profession and the role of music in daily life. “COVID-19 took us all by surprise. When you work in music, the performing arts, it’s upsetting to find yourself without an audience. You realize that we need people, that we really miss being able to gather together, to be a community. I hope this will help us all understand how much we need music to live. I truly believe that people have been missing music and the arts so much that they will never take them for granted again.” Far from taking a break, like the leader he is, Nézet-Séguin has doubled his efforts to bring his art to life, break the isolation and make music accessible, even during the lockdown. He can be seen online, giving intimate concerts at the piano and co-hosting the Met Opera’s At-Home Gala. His days have been full of virtual meetings with his students, musicians in his orchestras and even government representatives. His pace did not slow; it simply changed its rhythm.
It is hard to imagine this passionate musician enjoying his downtime when music takes up so much of his daily life. “I have only one true passion, and it is music. It is part of everything I do. I have developed an interest in exercise, but only by necessity.” Watching Nézet-Séguin conduct his concerts with such ease, one often forgets about all the work that came before, or the fact that conducting an opera or symphony can often be something of a marathon. “I need balance in both body and mind. Pierre and I have been working with the same trainer and friend, Patricia Lamarre, for 15 years. I also go jogging when I am living in cities. It’s a good way to forget about everything and just focus, while also getting a shot of adrenaline.” He adds, as somewhat of an afterthought, that, “The only other little passion I have is for tennis.”
In 2005, to celebrate his tennis-fan father’s birthday, he took his parents to the Monte-Carlo Masters tournament; it was Yannick’s first time seeing a live match, between Rafael Nadal and Guillermo Coria. He has been hooked ever since. “I find tennis matches inspiring. I admire the players’ discipline and determination.”
In a long article in L’Équipe, posted on Nézet-Séguin’s website, the conductor even draws some bold, astute parallels between the sport and music. Have you ever compared Nadal’s game to a Beethoven piece? Or noted the similarities between the length of certain matches and that of Wagnerian operas? Or the idea that top-level players, like musicians, are looking for unattainable perfection? After all, tennis, like music, operates by a set of rules, is part of a long tradition, and demands that participants constantly reinvent themselves. It is not surprising Nézet-Séguin is so fond of the sport.
Asked what he will do when his schedule picks up again, he replies, “I have people to help me. My agents are in London, I hire a full-time employee just to take care of scheduling, and my mother, Claudine Nézet, organizes things in Montreal.” When everything is back to “normal,” what does he hope for? “I say this all the time, but I am very content. I have achieved, and continue to achieve, my childhood dreams. I am incredibly fulfilled by my family, my partner, my profession, and my friends. If I had one wish, it would be to continue being a role model for the next generation of musicians around the world and to inspire them to pursue their passion. After all, the arts are what give life meaning.”