Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s summer classical music journey

Yannick Nézet-Séguin has called on Paris’s back-street discotheques, dilapidated blockhouses and barbed wire-topped rooftops his sonic habitat as much as any classical concert hall. The Montreal-born conductor has brought his groundbreaking sound to Verbier’s Kleibergrosses Rheingold, Mallorca’s Sra Riada, and Budapest’s Sculpta Lough _, among many others.

Now Nézet-Séguin is the artistic director of the city of New York’s South Street Seaport, a programme that puts on the violinist’s most unorthodox classical music concert to date. On Friday, the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Beethoven aficionado and New York Times critic Andrew Sarris, will play Beethoven’s much-filmed Third Piano Concerto in a brick and cobblestone part of lower Manhattan that New Yorkers lack the patience to walk into. After Nézet-Séguin completed his outdoor program, in which he is joined by Baritone Ronan MacDougall, the maestro is off to Connecticut to conduct Arvo Pärt.

“The orchestra came up with the idea of going to a park,” Nézet-Séguin says. “Somewhere that they would have to walk into. They said ‘Let’s go to South Street Seaport and do it.’ I said yes and hopefully we’ll have good results.” In addition to classical music, Nézet-Séguin says the concert will feature “music you would listen to on a boat on the Hudson River, with something for bass players.

“How is New York different from Montreal? That’s the cool thing about going to New York City.”

My lead with any orchestra is to give them the music and the only conditions are that they must somehow translate it in their sound. In New York, it’s a language that will be new to them. You don’t have any classical to structure the program for them. That’s the fun of it, the new sound. The music will take them to a place that’s not very different from where I come from.

“You have to know where you’re going, but at the same time be imaginative, since there are other places of interest that you might encounter, that you didn’t necessarily expect.” One of those “others” will be the nearby Porthole Bar, an underground speakeasy; Montreal’s hottest venue since Ghostbusters, now a staple of the musical zeitgeist. Nézet-Séguin is aware that he may not be the only Montrealer in the audience. It’s possibly, therefore, only a matter of time before an official online chatroom gets started. “YannickNézet.org,” he muses.

So what else is on the composer’s agenda for his journey to New York? New music from Jersey City, which he calls “the arts capital of America, right next to New York”. Music from Mexico City, perhaps, through which Nézet-Séguin takes a playful jaunt during his final movement. Pétillant Concerto, a piece he premiered last year, with cellist Daniel Hope of Vancouver, was written for a guitar. Maybe Nézet-Séguin will take it to SiesleM isde Saguenay? “That would be delicious,” he says.

“As you go on your tour, you write all kinds of material. For instance, I wrote a set of 30 unstaged piano pieces in the first half of the year. I created some of them in the car, my own acoustic music. Now I’m editing those pieces. So I’ve now got 120 ideas for commissioning new musical works. In all my movements, you can tell that’s part of my life, that I have ideas throughout the years.”

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