This was going to be a big week for the National Arts Centre Orchestra. For the conclusion of its 40th anniversary season, the orchestra had programmed Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, the famous “Symphony of a Thousand”. Canadian superstar conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin was engaged to lead the combined orchestras of the NAC and l’Orchestre Metropolitain, eight soloists, and singers drawn from six choruses. The buzz around this concert had been building steadily for the past few weeks.
And then, on Sunday morning, Arthur Kaptainis at The Montreal Gazette broke the story that Yannick was going to be the next Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Suddenly, Ottawa was part of the week’s biggest classical music story. The buzz has become a roar.
Just 35 and universally acclaimed as Canada’s greatest conductor, Yannick is almost too good to be true. He was appointed Principal Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic when he was 31, succeeding Valery Gergiev – you know, only the world’s most powerful conductor. A year later, he added Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic to his resumé. He debuted at the Met and the Salzburg Festival to rave reviews. Now he’s Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose previous Music Directors include Ormandy, Stokowski, and Muti. And yet despite all the demands on his time, he is still committed to l’Orchestre Metropolitan, the orchestra he’s led for the past decade. Oh yeah, he’s also young, handsome, well-dressed, and completely engaging.
I attended the dress rehearsal last night to watch him in action. There was certainly no sign of the exhaustion that had forced him to bow out of performances in Toronto last week. The orchestra sounded great, especially when you consider the musicians only came together for the first time just 36 hours earlier. His directions are clear, and he exudes a confidence from the podium that seems infectious. His smile and thumbs up to the youth choir flanking the stage after the first movement was a nice touch.
I’d urge you all to go to the concerts on Wednesday and Thursday night, but unless you have a ticket (or you’re a major music critic), you’re out of luck – they’re completely, totally, 100%, no-standing-room-left sold out. The performance at Place des Arts on Sunday afternoon is also sold out. You can, however, listen to the concert on CBC Radio Two on Sunday.
A final note – Sunday’s performance will also mark the final concert in the distinguished career of Principal Timpani Ian Bernard. An original member of the orchestra, he’s anchored the percussion section for 41 years and influenced two generations of aspiring timpanists. I wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.