The announcement of Yannick Nézét-Seguin as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra is a high-risk, half-calculated strategy. No question of the young Canadian’s talent – he has demonstrated at Rotterdam and the London Philharmonic both the interpretative gift and the human skills to raise a fine orchestra several notches higher. I have been impressed ever since I heard a Bruckner seventh that ran without an audible gear change, a wonderfully organic performance that seemed to have been conceived in a single breath.
At 36, he is inexperienced but full of idealism and unlikely to get worn down by world-weary professors in the front desks who have seen it all before. As Peter Dobrin has reported, the players liked him more than any other guest conductor in the past couple of years.
So why the high risk and the half-calculation? Because talent is never enough. An artist at Yannick’s stage needs a partner in management who can shield and guide him in the way that Ernest Fleischmann nurtured Esa-Pekka Salonen at Los Angeles and Alexander Pereira handled Franz Welser-Möst in Zurich. At Philadelphia he will work with Allison Vulgamore, a recent arrival from Stlanta, who is fighting fires on all fronts – financial, artistic, demographic and strategic. It’s going to be tough for Yannick, from day one.
And that’s why the calculation is no more than a halfway guess. The decline of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the past decade has been a sorry spectacle of indecision, misjudgement and overweening pride. That kind of rot does not stop overnight. The next year is going to be crucial for the orchestra. Win or lose, a conductor can always walk away.