Yannick Nézet-Séguin – Biography

Not many people have their life plan set out at the age of ten, but that was when Yannick Nézet-Séguin decided he wanted to become a conductor. Twenty-nine years later he continues to realise his dream with spectacular results. Ten probably didn’t seem too young – he had already been studying the piano since he was five, and went on to win many prizes at the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec in his native Montreal. But the turning point in his musical life came at 19, when he met the great Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, who became his mentor.

Quietly imbibing the older maestro’s wisdom, he developed his career firm in the view that a conductor is there to serve the music, not the other way round. This modest approach swiftly made him a favourite choice for both audiences and orchestras. 

By the time he made his European debut in 2004 he had cut his conducting teeth with local choirs and had founded his own professional orchestra and vocal ensemble, La Chapelle de Montréal. In 2000 he became Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain and went on to conduct all the major ensembles in Canada. But it was clear that the world stage beckoned.

There followed invitations from the Dresden Staatskapelle, Berliner Philharmoniker, Staatskapelle Berlin, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker (in Salzburg, Lucerne and Vienna), Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He made his BBC Proms debut in 2009 with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, returning the following year with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, where he has been Music Director since 2008, the year he also became Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. 

He has also appeared at festivals in Edinburgh, San Sebastian and Grafenegg.  Engagements in summer festivals in North America include the Lanaudiere Festival, Vail Valley Music Festival, Saratoga Festival and Mostly Mozart Festival.

In 2013 he extended his contract in Rotterdam through to summer 2018 and was also announced as Artist-in-Residence at the Konzerthaus Dortmund for three years, where projects include a Mendelssohn concert series with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 2014/15, followed by a Bruckner cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in 2015/16.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin began a long-term partnership with Deutsche Grammophon in summer 2012, launching a major new cycle of recordings of Mozart’s seven mature operas which started with Don Giovanni (“strongly recommended” – BBC Music Magazine) and continued with Così fan tutte, starring Rolando Villazón (“The superb young conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin draws a dynamic, nuanced and miraculously natural performance” – New York Times). It will be followed by Idomeneo, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Le nozze di Figaro, La clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte, all featuring Rolando Villazón in the lead tenor roles. 

His debut orchestral recordings with Deutsche Grammophon were released in September 2013. In the first he conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he became Music Director in 2012, in the orchestra’s first studio album with a major label since a recording with Deutsche Grammophon in 1997. It features Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Leopold Stokowski transcriptions of music by Bach and Stravinsky. The second recording, with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, offers Tchaikovsky’s heartfelt Pathétique Symphony and Lisa Batiashvili is the soloist in selected Romances from op. 6 & 73.

His Deutsche Grammophon recording of the complete Schumann symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is released in 2014, as is Gounod’s Faust with Jonas Kaufmann and the Orchestra & Chorus of The Metropolitan Opera on Decca.

Nézet-Séguin’s inaugural concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra got rave reviews and included his Carnegie Hall debut, conducting the Verdi Requiem. Alongside regular subscription and touring programmes, he leads three Carnegie Hall concerts each season. When he first returned after the triumphant Verdi, Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times: “The concert, following Mr Nézet-Séguin’s acclaimed Carnegie debut with the orchestra in October, was phenomenal. The ensemble, famous for its glowing strings and homogeneous richness, has never sounded better.”

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is equally at home on the concert platform and in the opera pit. He made his debut at the Salzburg Festival in 2008 with a new production of Roméo et Juliette, returning to the city for the 2010 Mozartwoche and for Don Giovanni at the 2010 and 2011 summer festivals. For The Metropolitan Opera, where he returns each season, he has conducted Carmen, Don Carlo, Faust, and La Traviata.

He made his debut at Teatro alla Scala in 2011, has also conducted at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Netherlands Opera, and has a major opera series for the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden.

The early months of 2014 have seen much work in the USA and Canada, including Rusalka at the Metropolitan Opera and concerts at Carnegie Hall. In addition to his regular orchestral commitments in 2014 he is touring with his Rotterdam Philharmonic throughout Europe and returning to the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. In May/June he undertakes a major tour of China with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Other appearances include a concert performance of Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Anna Prohaska and Rolando Villazón at the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus in July and Der fliegende Holländer with Bryn Terfel at the Vienna Staatsoper in September.

His honours include a prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Award; Canada’s highly coveted National Arts Centre Award and the Prix Denise-Pelletier, the highest distinction for the arts in Quebec, awarded by the Quebec government. In 2011, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Quebec in Montreal and was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2012.

It has been a long journey from determined ten-year-old to becoming one of today’s brightest young conducting stars. Interviewed by the Guardian, Yannick Nézet-Séguin said: “The funny thing is that when you’re that young, you dream of something without really knowing what it implies. But, on my way to becoming a conductor, I haven’t had many surprises. I had a dream, and that dream has come true.”

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a contemporary conductor with a firm regard for the past. His meeting with Carlo Maria Giulini, which came about when he wrote to the Italian to enthuse about his conducting of Bruckner, was a significant step, and he also has a special place in his heart for Charles Dutoit, who he has always seen as his inspiration. His singular, enthusiastic approach to all his music-making stands him apart and spells great promise for the future.