Yannick Nézet-Séguin honors Fab Phil maestro
Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin doesn’t take over the full musical directorship of the Philadelphia Orchestra until this fall, but he has been creating so much orchestra buzz and glamour in the lead up concerts, that it feels like his tenure has already begun.
In January, the youthful and out Canadian maestro conducted what can already be deemed an historic performance of Mahler’s 6th Symphony, a structurally intricate orchestral behemoth that many conductors avoided tackling it since its premiere in 1906, including storied conductor Leopold Stokowski.
And speaking of Stoki (as he was affectionately known) Nézet-Séguin is kicking off the orchestra’s year long celebration of the Stokowski Centenary, starting with a performance of Dvorák’s ’New World’ Symphony followed, the next night by a program of Brahms, Ippolitov-Ivanov and Wagner.
Creating the Philly sound
It is the same play list conducted by Stokowski in 1912, which one reviewer ecstatically reported in the musical press at the time that the "reception was not that of an audience merely glad that it had a competent conductor, but wildly enthusiastic because it had discovered a genius."
Indeed, Stokowski was key in creating the internationally acclaimed sound of the Fabulous Philadelphians. The orchestra will also be playing a series of tribute concerts to the conductor in the Academy of Music, where they performed for 100 years, before moving into their new concert hall in the Kimmel Center in 2001.
Another touchstone of the Stoki that Yannick (as he is already affectionately known) is performing in the Academy this month are the eternal Fab Phil favorites immortalized in the Disney animated classic "Fantasia," in which Stokowski conducted clips of Tchaikovsky’s Suite from "The Nutcracker" and Dukas’ "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice." Video feeds from the film will accompany the orchestra on screen during the concert.
Making his mark
Nézet-Séguin will also revive Stokowski’s audience choice concerts, something that Stokowski programmed at the end of each season. There will be performances in the Fantasia programs of Stokowski’s orchestration Bach’s "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" Bernstein’s Dances from "West Side Story" and Wagner’s "Ride of the Valkyries."
Meanwhile, Yannick has been putting his artistic imprimatur on the orchestra as it moves from under the cloud of administrative and fiscal mayhem. His expansive symphonic-choral repertory and initiatives in contemporary classical, approaches that were championed by Stokowski, have been drawing new audiences already.
In honoring Stokowski, you have to wonder if the new conductor will insist on complete silence in the hall before he would raise his hands to cue the orchestra. As the legend goes, his predecessor would lower his arms until you could hear ’a tissue drop’ in the Academy. Yannick is much more relaxed on the podium- although during a concert last winter, the usually effervescent maestro did flash a scalding glare at a cell phone user.
Watch Yannick Nézet-Séguin talk about Leopold Stokowski: