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'Exemplary and inspiring': Yannick Nézet-Séguin praises Met conductor James Levine

Matthew Parsons

Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been one of Canada's major classical exports for years, but his appointment earlier in 2016 as the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera is his biggest gig yet. He's stepping into the shoes of outgoing music director James Levine, whose tenure of 40 years at the Met included over 2,500 performances.

In a piece posted yesterday to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra's website, Nézet-Séguin wrote about what he learned from Levine's conducting, and the way he worked with musicians:

"One of Jimmy’s many inspiring qualities is that he truly loves singing and singers. This might sound like a given, but actually, sadly, it isn't! Loving the singers means anticipating everything they do, breathing with them and having the entire orchestra do so, and creating the conditions in which every singer will feel most comfortable, most able to give their best. To me, this is the golden rule, absolutely necessary to make the most of this extraordinary art form. When I started conducting, I realized that I shared that goal with Jimmy. I think this is why I have always been attracted to his way of making music."

Nézet-Séguin also shared a story about Levine's particular brand of leadership:

"Back in 2009, many months before my Met debut with Carmen, I expressed a wish to perform the opéra comique version of Carmen (with spoken dialogue). Jimmy asked for a phone conversation with me. Of course, I was very impressed by this gesture, and I was looking forward to finally speaking with my hero! When we spoke, he told me that he understood my wish, but at the same time he explained why he thought that at the Met it was actually preferable to remain with the grand opéra version (with sung recitatives).

"He did this in such a collegial way, infectiously convincing, that I was convinced by his arguments! Of course, at the end of the day, he was the music director, but most of his colleagues in such a position would have done this in a very different, much less collaborative way. He talked to me with a blend of experience and a genuine feeling of dialoguing between musicians, which I think tells a lot about Jimmy’s human qualities."

Read Nézet-Séguin's full piece here.

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