Yannick Nezét-Séguin Brings Both of His Orchestras to Carnegie Hall
For all his youthful energy and ambition, could Yannick Nezét-Séguin have taken on too much by simultaneously holding the music directorships of the Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra?
He maintains that he can handle both, and even sees potential advantages. The proximity of New York and Philadelphia could generate collaborative projects, he has said.
Audiences at Carnegie Hall got a glimpse of how this might work when he led a French program on Monday with the Met Orchestra and a Russian one on Friday with the Philadelphians. He conducted both with tireless stamina and palpable spontaneity. The players of each orchestra seemed and sounded inspired.
I was curious about how similarly, or differently, these two orchestras might come across under Mr. Nezét-Séguin’s direction. But these questions were pushed aside by his urgent, every-moment-matters approach on both nights.
The Met Orchestra concert ended with a radiant, sometimes blazing and excitingly impetuous performance of Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” Suite No. 2. The revelation, though, was Mr. Nezét-Séguin’s account of Debussy’s “La Mer,” which opened the program. Conveying impressions of the sea seemed less important to him than making a case for this score, completed in 1905, as pathbreaking. Even during stretches of hazy colorings and harmonies, Mr. Nezét-Séguin brought out pungent dissonances and wayward inner voices with startling freshness.
The “Play of the Waves” movement was so turbulent it sounded more like roughhousing. “Dialogue of Wind and Sea” came across as downright dangerous. Debussy here seemed to be offering Stravinsky a playbook for “The Rite of Spring.”
The program also featured the mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, in lovely voice, singing Henri Dutilleux’s “Le Temps l’Horloge” song cycle, completed in 2009, haunting music that retains refined French impressionist colorings while speaking a boldly modernist language. She also sang an alluringly sensual account of Ravel’s “Shéhérazade.” Her appearance may have been a reward for exemplary work at the Met this season, singing leading roles in Nico Muhly’s “Marnie” and in two (of only three) productions Mr. Nezét-Séguin presided over: Debussy’s “Pélleas et Mélisande” and Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites.”
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s concert began with a dark, grimly powerful account of Stravinsky’s “Funeral Song,” an early work long thought lost but uncovered in 2015 over a century after its premiere. Mr. Nezét-Séguin ended the evening with a different kind of rescue job, leading a fervent and brassy account of Rachmaninoff’s seldom-heard First Symphony, written when the composer was 24.
The work had a disastrous 1897 premiere, led by the composer Alexander Glazunov, who was baffled by the piece and may have been drunk. This 45-minute symphony can still seem confusingly episodic and excessive. But the music is impassioned, defiantly mercurial and full of ideas. Mr. Nezét-Séguin drew exuberant playing from the orchestra.
The highlight of the concert, though, was the performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the fast-rising, stunningly-gifted Italian pianist Beatrice Rana as the soloist. Her recital debut in March, at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, was among the most memorable events of the season in New York.
In the Prokofiev, she dispatched the tangles of passagework, pummeling chords and arm-blurring bursts of octaves with excitingly effortless virtuosity, while also highlighting the music’s moments of lyrical richness and poetic musing. Mr. Nezét-Séguin and his players just barely kept up with the fearless pace she set in the driving final section.
As an encore, she gave a shimmering performance of Chopin’s Étude in A flat (Op. 25, No. 1). Mr. Nezét-Séguin sat on the podium to listen, a disarming gesture of admiration.