A Moment in History

Classic Arts Features   A Moment in History
For his first season as music director of ThePhiladelphia Orchestra: beginning in October 2012: Yannick N_zet-S_guin promises a breathtaking range ofmusic.


Ranging from the epic to the intimate, the season will showcase the depth of his musical personality as well as the incredible versatility of the Orchestra. The 2012 _13 season is undeniably ambitious, encompassing largescale works like Verdi's Requiem but also Bach's sublime St. Matthew Passion, dynamic productions like Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, and the presentation of Prokofiev's powerful Alexander Nevsky complete with a screening of Eisenstein's 1938 masterpiece. From Soviet bombast to Austrian elegance, the season also offers a rare opportunity to hear the Orchestra play without a conductor, instead led by Concertmaster David Kim and pianist Imogen Cooper, who'll team up to present works by Mozart. "We want audiences to experience the sound of the Orchestra in every corner of the repertoire," says Yannick, who is excited about developing the "remarkable chemistry" he and the Orchestra have already established.

Although broad in its scope: from Baroque masterworks to world premiere commissions: Yannick's first season not only reflects his own musical passions but is also energized by the creative legacy of a great predecessor, Leopold Stokowski, who made his conducting debut in Philadelphia 100 years ago on October 11, 1912. Celebrated for shaping the famously sumptuous "Philadelphia Sound," Stokowski innovated in many other ways, too: from imaginative concert programming to championing new works, to his love of the theatrical elements of performance. Yannick's debut season will pay tribute to Stokowski's pioneering legacy with concert programs that mix and match repertoire in daring ways, and by presenting works that Stokowski famously premiered with the Orchestra. "As we look to the future, we are honoring our own tradition," Yannick says. "Philadelphia has always been a very forward thinking orchestra, and so we look to capture that spirit."

Nowhere will that spirit be more alive than in the Orchestra's treatment of The Rite of Spring, which received its U.S. premiere under Stokowski's direction. In a first-of-its-kind partnership with Philadelphia Live Arts and the New York-based Ridge Theater Company, the Orchestra will present a staged version of Stravinsky's iconoclastic work complete with dancers, video projection, and lighting design: a thrilling production for the eye and ear that will surely be a season highlight (February 21-24). "Teaming up with Philadelphia Live Arts opens us up to collaborations with an array of visionary artists who work in other art forms and mediums," says Philadelphia Orchestra Vice President for Artist Planning Jeremy Rothman. "It allows us to explore new creative possibilities for new audiences while keeping the music central." This program also includes another Stokowski premiere, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, which will be performed by Philadelphia favorite Jean-Yves Thibaudet. But as the program looks back, it also pushes forward with a world premiere of a brand new composition by Oliver Knussen, who has a long-standing affinity for the Philadelphia Sound.

Yannick is inspired by these kinds of juxtapositions: where tradition is often refreshed and amplified with smart and thoughtful programming. He points to other examples. During the inaugural concerts of the season, he leads the Orchestra in a series of performances that culminate with Brahms's Symphony No. 4, whose final movement offers an exceptional instance of a symphonic passacaglia, a musical form based on variations over a repeating bass pattern. To complement this piece, Yannick commissioned a new work by the American composer Gabriela Lena Frank, whose work often reflects her diverse heritage from Peru, China, and Lithuania. "Having a more eclectic program doesn't mean we stop playing our Brahms, our Beethoven, or our Bruckner," he says. "It's all about creating a new experience for audiences who are used to hearing certain pieces year after year."

Yannick highlights another concert that thrills him because of the collision of ideas contained within. In January 2013 the Orchestra performs a series of concerts featuring Ravel's La Valse, followed by the U.S. premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos, and ending with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. The conductor says that while the Ravel and the Shostakovich may seem unrelated, in their content both pieces are about cataclysm and suffering. "I'm always trying to find a connection within the program and across the season," says Yannick. "As an artist this is what happens when I'm studying music, I'm always drawing connections, which inform each piece of music. To program this way is an extension of my personality."

And without a doubt, Yannick's musical personality is multi-faceted. Celebrated around the world as a great conductor of symphony orchestras: from the Vienna Philharmonic to Montreal's Orchestre M_tropolitain: he's also well established as a conductor of opera and choral music. The 2012 _13 season will showcase these talents, and place a strong emphasis on the human voice, beginning with superstar soprano Ren_e Fleming who is featured on Opening Night. Another highly anticipated inaugural concert features Verdi's Requiem, with the Westminster Symphonic Choir and four world-class soloists, including tenor Rolando Villaz‹n. For Yannick this stunning work offers an opportunity for profound expression, and rounds out a trilogy of requiems that began last season with the Mozart, then followed last November with the Brahms German Requiem.

In this vein Yannick will lead the Orchestra in a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion over Easter weekend in 2013, which he anticipates as a big event in Verizon Hall, whose flexible acoustics will help with the spatial aspects of Bach's masterpiece. Significantly, this will be the first time in almost 30 years the Orchestra will have performed the piece. "I believe The Philadelphia Orchestra: a symphony orchestra: can play this repertoire, which has traditionally been reserved for specialized ensembles," he says.

The 2012 _13 season also places a strong emphasis on American music: from new works (such as the Gabriela Lena Frank) to other 20th-century masters. Early in the season, violinist Joshua Bell plays Bernstein's exquisite five-movement Serenade, and then over the presidential election weekend, the Orchestra performs a musical celebration of the diversity of the United States with a program featuring works by Barber, Gershwin, Copland, and Roberto Sierra. Later in the season, conductor Andrey Boreyko and percussionist Colin Currie present Christopher Rouse's percussion concerto, Der gerettete Alberich (Alberich Saved): an imaginative postlude to Wagner's G‹tterd‹mmerung. (The music of Wagner shows up in concerts throughout the season as a celebration of the composer's bicentennial in 2013.)

A wealth of guest conductors help celebrate the 2012 _13 season: extraordinary talents that include Simon Rattle in a rare U.S. appearance, as well as St_phane Denve, Christoph von Dohnšnyi, Rafael Fr‹hbeck de Burgos, Gianandrea Noseda, and Jaap van Zweden. These guest conductors will engage with the Orchestra for two-week "mini-residencies" to allow a stronger relationship to develop between maestro and musicians. Yannick is delighted by these guest partnerships and particularly excited that the conductors are all embracing the theme of this first season: the creative risktaking inspired by Stokowski: in their own particular ways. Thus, in May 2013 Simon Rattle will showcase a Philadelphia premiere by American composer Andrew Norman when he partners with the Orchestra. He'll also present Sibelius's Sixth and Seventh symphonies, which were given their U.S. premieres by Stokowski. The erstwhile maestro's "fingerprints recur over the course of the season" says Rothman.

These are just some of the highlights of the upcoming debut season of Yannick N_zet- S_guin, who is thrilled at the opportunity to push frontiers with The Philadelphia Orchestra, to honor the past while moving forward, and for this unique opportunity to express his own musical personality. "I believe in live music-making, which is all about the challenges, shocks, and surprises that we did not expect," he says. "And performing with The Philadelphia Orchestra, what can I say? This is why I really chose to come to this city."

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