Montreal’s dynamic maestro Nezet-Seguin prepares debut as Met music director

MONTREAL — With leading roles in three major orchestras, Yannick Nezet-Seguin has a schedule to rival that of the busiest statesman.

He has been music director of Montreal’s Orchestre Metropolitain since 2000. He took on the same role with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012. Then last September he added music director of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera of New York to the list.

Next Tuesday he will make his debut in his newest role.

“I realized pretty long ago that I have energy levels a little above the average … but I have no miracle secret,” Nezet-Seguin said recently when asked how he juggles all his responsibilities.

His agenda is filled with rehearsals, meetings and planning sessions — spread between three cities and two countries.

In a phone interview with The Canadian Press, the Montreal native said it requires a lot of self-discipline to stay on top of things. He enjoys good food and drink, but he has learned to avoid excess. He is early to bed, early to rise. He exercises regularly and watches his diet.

And then there is the little “miracle secret” that he does not seem to realize he possesses: the joy of pursuing a craft he is passionate about.

“I really like transmitting, through my energy, this joy that becomes contagious, that gives energy to everyone to do the work that we have to do,” Nezet-Seguin said.

He finds it easier to be geographically concentrated between Montreal, New York and Philadelphia rather than travelling the world as a guest conductor.

“I can concentrate more on a single work,” he says.

Right now, that work is Verdi’s “La Traviata”, which he will premiere at the Met Dec. 4.

When he arrived as music director, he had to adapt the famous opera — one of the most frequently performed in the world — to give it his own style. It was a difficult but captivating process.

“That is what we are always doing, taking works that were written a long time ago and trying to go back to the score, back to the original text and try to dust off the accumulated traditions,” he said. “That doesn’t mean throwing the traditions overboard but taking the time to re-examine them.”

Some musicians who have been with the orchestra for decades have performed “La Traviata” so often that they know it by heart, which means revisiting the score is particularly interesting for them.

“It’s a chance to break with routine, to stop playing on autopilot,” Nezet-Seguin said.

The maestro will be back home in Montreal Dec. 21 for a concert with the Orchestre Metropolitain. On Dec. 15, a live performance of his ”La Traviata” for the Metropolitan Opera will be shown in Cineplex theatres in Canada.

He calls it an”absolute priority” to maintain contact with his Canadian audience.

“I am Canadian. It’s great to have important positions in the United States, which leads me to adopt certain aspects of American culture, but I remain a Montrealer,” he says.

“That is where I live, that is where my cats live, that is where I continue to work, and that is where my partner works. When I’m not working, I come to Montreal on weekends. So it is very important.”

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