A winning team: Yannick Nézet-Séguin on his contract extension with The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s contract at The Philadelphia Orchestra has been extended through 2030, and his title has been expanded from Music Director to Music and Artistic Director. That change reflects the significant impact he’s had on shaping the Orchestra and its continued evolution as an innovative musical force.
Now in his 11th season as music director, he’s hired 23 new musicians and commissioned 37 works, including from composers of different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives on what classical music can be. He has also been committed to performing music by composers whose works were neglected for decades. A case in point: The Philadelphia Orchestra’s recording of Florence Price’s First and Third Symphonies earned a Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in 2022.
Nézet-Séguin’s innovative programming initiatives include concert versions of operas in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera, where he is also music director; collaborations with other performing arts organizations and music schools; and concerts that speak to social and community issues of our time. He’s led the Orchestra’s Martin Luther King, Jr. concert, its Pride Concert, and led pop-up as well as free outdoor concerts during Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia.
Seemingly always upbeat, he is also great fun to talk to — whether about music, his family, his cats, or the different neighborhoods of Philadelphia. And he was naturally in high spirits when we talked about his contract extension, and what’s behind his great love of the Orchestra and the city that loves him back. (To hear the audio interview, click the "play" button at the top of this post.)
Yannick, congratulations on your contract extension through 2030. It's so exciting!
Thank you, Susan. I'm very moved by that, as you can imagine. It seems so far away, 2030; I'll be 55 years old! I can't believe it, but at the same time I’m moved because I feel so much that the Orchestra is my family — that Philadelphia is my home, has been my home now for many years. And we started discussions for renewal — and early renewal, because that's what it is, to renew like this so soon before my contract was supposed to end. I think it's a way of dreaming together even more, and knowing that we can imagine the future together without — on my end, or on the Orchestra’s end — wondering, questioning: “What will be the next phase? The next chapter?” We can still write it together.
And this is because, on my part, I feel like the work that we've been doing together is starting to be even more recognized in Philadelphia and abroad. And I think we're doing something important for classical music in general, and it's a winning team. And so who wants to stop a winning team? But most important, I'm especially grateful that the Orchestra is trusting me to stay longer like this.
What do you love about living in Philadelphia? There are so many different aspects: the cultural, historical organizations, the restaurants, the walkability, the green space. What do you enjoy doing when you're not working with the Orchestra at the Kimmel?
Well, all that you said, Susan, is really what makes Philadelphia special. When I came here back in 2010, when I was Music Director Designate, what was really striking was the similarities between Philadelphia and Montreal, in terms of size, in terms of cultural offering. And now, of course, that I've been here longer, I feel more [of] the differences, or the individualities between the cities, which is something I love. But the love for culture, and that starts not only with the big institutions that we know: The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Orchestra, obviously, Opera Philadelphia, the Ballet. But what I’m still really in awe of is really how it starts from a young age. All the music schools, all the efforts that the music teachers bring to have the passion of the young kids for music and for arts in general. I love that it’s a city where being diverse is a quality — there are issues, obviously, but there's also a commitment to living together which really moves me, and I feel inspired every time I’m here.
Of course I have all my restaurants that I like everywhere. But what I did recently, maybe to have the pulse of the city a little bit differently than before: I changed neighborhoods. I used to live on Rittenhouse Square, and now I live on Washington Square. Of course it’s still in a similar part of town, but it’s still very different, and I thought with my husband, Pierre, it would be a good idea for us to see a different neighborhood, feel the city differently, so that it it can inform my work. I feel really really lucky to be a part of this community.
I know you like to jog. Are you still making use of all the trails we have around here?
Yeah, Well, it used to be the other side; used to be more the Schuylkill. But now, of course, I’m moving more on the Delaware River and around the square, and it's really beautiful, because through jogging and running I can see better scenery.
On Friday, February 10, I believe you're headed to a Sixers game. Did you know that Philadelphia was such a big sports town, and how much Philadelphians just love their teams, when you arrived here? Or is this something you learned on the job?
I knew it just because, my father being a big sports fan, he of course admired the Phillies. That was part of my inaugural day, back in 2010: a Phillies game. I knew about the Flyers, of course, because you know, Montreal is such a hockey town. But coming here, to get to know more about the Eagles, get to know more about the Sixers, and then I understood that Philadelphia was very sensitive to its sports team, and could be behind their winning teams very easily, and also take very seriously when the teams were not winning. So I love to think that at The Philadelphia Orchestra, we’re the winning team every night, every concert. But I think also that the more we can support our local teams — and these are good times! It's a pretty good year for all teams all around, so I’m very excited to be present for the Sixers game.
Well, you and the Orchestra have gotten into the spirit of the Phillies and the Eagles, with your renditions of “Dancing on My Own” and “Fly Eagles Fly.” Do you have a favorite team sport?
So, it's interesting. My sport that I love watching, which is very individual, is tennis. But since being here, I got to like more football and basketball. I have to say, hockey and baseball — I see and admire it, but now, because I grew up as a kid watching those all the time, I'm more interested in the others that I didn't know so much.
Well, and basketball is sometimes almost like dancing, watching dance.
But I absolutely don't have the physical type for playing basketball. [Laughs]
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much. Big hug to you.
Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts every Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, on the WRTI mobile app, and on your smart speaker. Listen again on Mondays at 7 p.m. on WRTI HD-2. Listen for up to two weeks after broadcast on WRTI Replay.