Arts & Icons

Visiting Philadelphia with Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Richard Burnett
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Yannick Nézet-Séguin

I jetted to Philadelphia for a weekend getaway last November, to attend a special Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal concert conducted by Montreal-born Philadelphia poster boy Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is also the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and of the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

Nézet-Séguin has been the Music Director of the Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal since 2000, but the orchestra only made its Philly debut at the gorgeous Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall this past November 24, performing Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 and Mozart arias with mezzo-soprano superstar Joyce DiDonato. I caught up with Nézet-Séguin after a rehearsal the previous afternoon, and his love and affection for his adopted hometown of Philadelphia shines brightly.
 
What makes seeing a classical music concert in Philadelphia a unique experience?
 
The orchestra is a cutting-edge cultural institution, as exemplified by the film Fantasia, the groundbreaking 1940 collaboration between Walt Disney and Stokowski. Our orchestra is 120 years-old, has a great history, is one of the most exceptional cultural institutions in the world, and that is reflected in our programming.
 
How do you manage your time, conducting two orchestras as well as The Metropolitan Opera?
 
It’s true that my responsibilities are huge, but music gives me energy, and that is why I am able to thrive in this environment. I have been with the Orchestre Mé-tropolitain for 20 years, we are bound for life now. I’ve been eight years with the Philadelphia Orchestra and two years with the Metropolitan Opera. Each has its own chemistry, our stories are different. One has to discover a city and its people. It is three different mentalities in three different cities. So far, it’s been a good recipe for me.
 
What does it take to be a good conductor?
 
First and foremost, a conductor is a musician, so you need to develop yourself as a top-scale musician. In my case, it was on the piano, but you can be a violinist, flutist or percussionist. It doesn’t matter which instrument. You have to develop as someone who understands music, as an interpreter of the great composers, and – in parallel – you have to be a great communicator, and not just with words, your stick or your hands. In my case it is with my whole body. Sometimes people think I’m dancing up there on the podium! Communication is a priority.
 
How important is it for you to be a proud out gay man?
 
Being out is something that has never been a problem for me in any professional capacity. It has always been natural for me, whether I am at a dinner party or attending another event. I have never hidden my personal life, nor my partner (Pierre Tourville). I also try not to push it to the forefront, to show that my sexual orientation does not define my professional accomplishments.
 
I now find myself in the position where I can help and inspire other LGBTQ musicians. I can’t tell you how many letters I receive from young musicians in conservative states and countries who are distressed and worry about coming out in their careers. One of my roles is to show that coming out is indeed possible, and I hope my example gives hope to others. That is why it is important for me to be out.
 
What do you do for fun?
 
It’s true you never stop thinking about music when you are a musician. However, about 10 years ago I discovered that fitness, jogging and yoga are the counterpoint and balance I need in my life. That keeps me sane. 
 
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
 
What are your Top 3 things to do in Philadelphia?
 
Other than attending a Philadelphia Orchestra concert at the Kimmel Center, my choices are exploring the streets near the Schuylkill River; visiting the incredible Philadelphia Museum of Art and its famous Rocky Steps, as well as the Barnes Foundation; and my third choice is dining at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to in the world, Zahav, an Israeli restaurant. I won’t say cheesesteak because that is so predictable! 
 
For complete Philadelphia Orchestra programming, visit philorch.org
 
HOW TO GET THERE: US Airways has direct daily 75-minute flights from Montreal to Philadelphia: usairways.com.
 
WHERE TO STAY: I have stayed at many hotels in Philadelphia over the years, and my all-time favourite is the superb Sofitel Philadelphia at Rittenhouse Square centrally located in Center City West, in Philadelphia’s “French Quarter.” You are literally smack in the middle of all the action and can walk everywhere, not to mention the hotel is located next door to a Nordstrom where I bought two pairs of hugely affordable brand-name sneakers.
 
The hotel is in the old stock exchange building, a modern-era high-rise tower that – to quote VisitPhilly.com – is “a modernist exception in a traditionally Georgian and Federal city.” Free wi-fi and the most comfortable beds in the city. Highly recommended. Visit sofitel-philadelphia.com. 
 
WHERE TO EAT: Philly is a fab city for foodies. If you’ve never had a Philly cheesesteak, be sure to enjoy this local iconic sandwich. A terrific place for a cold beer and hot meal – including the Philly cheesesteak – is Molly Malloy’s at Philadelphia’s historic public market, the Reading Terminal Market. 
Visit readingterminalmarket.org. 
 
I also enjoyed a cold pint of beer and a slice of classic cheesecake while sitting at the kickass bar at Maggiano's Little Italy next door to the Reading Terminal Market. Perfection.
 
QUEER PHILADELPHIA
The Philadelphia Phillies baseball team will host their official 5th annual Pride Night this summer. Surf to m.mlb.com/phillies/tickets/info/pride-night.  
 
Philadelphia will celebrate their 32nd annual Pride Day LGBTQ Parade and Festival in June 2020. Visit phillygaypride.org. 
 
Also, make a point to visit Giovanni's Room Bookstore, the oldest LGBTQ book shop left in America (founded in 1973 and named after James Baldwin's gay-themed novel Giovanni's Room).  
 
For everything Philadelphia, surf to visitphilly.com.