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The Story Behind Yannick Nézet-Séguin's Very Personal Playlist for Furry Friends Awaiting Adoption

This may be one of the most endearing stories you've ever heard about Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who currently shares his home with three cats, and has a soft spot in his heart for all animals.

Yannick visited the Pennsylvania SPCA Erie Avenue headquarters in Philadelphia on April 3rd to spend time with the animals there, and share a playlist that he and his partner, Pierre Tourville, created especially for animals awaiting adoption.  

Listen to the playlist with 326 classical works, selected with great care by Yannick and Pierre.

The day after he visited the shelter, Yannick chatted with WRTI’s Susan Lewis about how he and Pierre came to create the playlist for these animals.   

Here's the transcript of the interview:
Susan Lewis: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, you've created a playlist for animals!

Yannick Nézet-Séguin:  Yes, basically easy, actually, to do for me because I have music playing at home all the time for my cats when I'm not there. And of course there's music playing when I'm there too, so they always have music and they always had, and I always had cats.

So, for me, it's a given that cats love classical music.

And I realized when I talked with some cat owners and I got in touch with the Pennsylvania SPCA that these cats, when they're there in the shelter and they’re just waiting for adoption that probably having some classical music will help them have a more quality time there, and as a result become more calm and peaceful and more easily adopted.

So this is for their quality of life and I quite easily selected some pieces because they are what my cats prefer.

Such as?  Tell us about your cats.  

Relaxing at home with two of his feline friends

So, one cat that's no longer with us, unfortunately passed, but it was my first cat really, on my own, was called Parsifal, after Wagner's opera. So, of course, he loved big operatic moments. And so Parsifal is on the playlist.

I also had a couple—Mélisande and Pelléas. So, Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy and, Pelléas is also is no longer with us, but he loved Debussy’s music. So, there's a lot of piano music from Debussy, also string quartets because Pierre plays the viola, so of course, my cats are used to string music.

Mélisande is still alive though, and she likes Mozart, especially she likes when, when something is a little more refined and elegant. So there's The Marriage of Figaro in the playlist.

Some Bruckner symphonies too, because all my cats love big symphonies.  They love when it's actually full and rich sound. There's of course some Philadelphia Orchestra recordings and Mahler 5, Stravinsky Rite of Spring when I want the cats to have a bit more action.

There's a lot of napping music for the cats, too, like Chopin Nocturnes, which I used to play on the piano.

And nowadays there's Rudolfo, one of my cats who loves to sing to himself. So he loves also operatic music.

I put some Jennifer Higdon in the playlist because Jennifer loves pets, loves cats. I put some Nico Muhly because he has a dog and I like his music.

So, it's a very personal playlist with friends—human friends and furry friends.

What's their response to the music?

The response is very interesting. It's usually very calming, but also sometimes I can see them listening. They have their eyes closed, but the ears are still perked up. They don't sleep. They're really actively listening. And I feel that this is something that just nourishes them the same way as it does for us in music.

My opinion is that music is a part of a certain harmony in the world and that animals are part of this greater harmony and they should be treated the same way.

What a wonderful idea to share this with the rest of the world. Thank you so much, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Thank you. And hopefully it's going to help pets all around Philadelphia and Pennsylvania have a great time.

Yannick visiting the PSPCA shelter on Erie Avenue in Philadelphia.

What was your experience when you went to the shelter?

Lovely animals, lovely people taking care of them. And I think it couldn't be a better way for helping those animals finding their forever homes. And if it weren’t that I already have three cats, I would have come out of that visit with two more.

But, hey, I will go and visit again and maybe I'm going to adopt some more.


“A Cat’s Music Playlist” Companion

Chopin: The Nocturnes by Claudio Arrau–“Ideal for afternoon pet naps … Once in a while, I will even play some Nocturnes on my Pleyel piano at home so my cats can hear it live!”
Debussy, Fauré & Ravel: String Quartets by Quatuor Ébène–“French music is a favorite of our three cats, and the sounds of string instruments remind them of Pierre playing his viola at home.”
Schubert: Lieder by Franz Schubert, Renée Fleming, Christoph Eschenbach–“Animals have great taste when it comes to the human voice—and our dear friend Renée’s voice always casts a spell on them!”
Destination Rachmaninov: Departure by Daniil Trifonov, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin–“Our cats are great romantics; they love passionate music. This one is for early evenings, with some adrenalin rushes before a good night’s sleep.”
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 by The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin–“Our cats each have their favorite movement: Rodolfo indulges in the first movement, Melisande purrs during the Adagietto, and Rafa revels in the Finale!”
Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1-5 (Live) by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, RIAS Kammerchor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin–“This is clearly morning music: lots of energy and good for playful moments!”
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro by Luca Pisaroni, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Séguin–“As you may notice, our cats have operatic names and, fortunately, they love listening to opera. This great Mozart masterpiece is one of their favorites!”
Richard Strauss: Tone Poems by Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic–“Even with his Italian name, our Rodolfo is a big fan of German music, when it is bold, full, and rich, like this great collection.”
Wagner: Parsifal by Sir George Solti, Vienna Philharmonic–“Our first cat was named Parsifal, and his love for Wagner’s music was second to none. Parsifal was a real connoisseur and would listen (and nap) during the entire opera (close to five hours!).”
Debussy by Seong-Jin Cho–“Once upon a time, we had a Pelleas next to our dear Melisande, and the sounds of Debussy at the piano would be the soundtrack to their cuddles.”
Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 by the Orchestre Métropolitain, Yannick Nézet-Séguin–“It might seem like an odd choice, but Bruckner’s symphonies are a big hit with all of our cats! I believe this to be cosmic music, and it touches the harmony of the earth and nature, and therefore … our pets!”
Stravinsky / Stokowski–The Rite of Spring / Bach Transcriptions by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The Philadelphia Orchestra–“When our cats need to burn some energy—sprints, marathons, mouse-toy hunting—this is the perfect soundtrack!”
Rossini: Cats’ Duet by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf–“Well, ‘of course’ our cats can sing this ‘better’ (in their minds), but they still enjoy when humans try to imitate their unique vocabulary.”
Speaks Volumes by Nico Muhly–“Our pets have long and tiring days. After all, a commitment to napping takes much energy! This collection of pieces from our dear friend (and pet lover) Nico is sure to be restorative.”
Higdon / Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos by Hilary Hahn, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily Petrenko–“Our dear friend Jennifer Higdon is Philadelphia-based, a true animal lover, and one of the great composers of our time. Our cats can discern how special her music is!”
Brahms: The Hungarian Connection by Andreas Ottensamer–“Our close friend Andy wouldn’t disagree; the clarinet is the perfect cat instrument! Our little friends LOVE to listen to clarinet music, and Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet is ideal for lullabies before the night (or before another nap!).”


Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.