The young maestro’s star has never been higher. He’s already been artistic director and principal conductor of Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal as well as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, and now the 41-year-old Quebecer has just been named the Metropolitan Opera’s music director in New York City. We chat with a man who’s used to the highs, but who keeps both feet firmly on the ground.
Do you enjoy travelling or is it a burden?
I could conduct the Orchestre Métropolitain and teach here without it involving too much travel. But I chose to embrace travelling, to make the most of my life as a conductor on the international stage. I’m a good traveller and I don’t get jet lag. But I travel in the best possible conditions. Finding the nicest hotel online has become one of my favourite sports. And I’m fortunate enough to treat myself to wonderful suites, often in boutique hotels, where everything is sophisticated and catered to guests. On top of that, I can move around or go jogging... and call room service, day or night!
Are you rough and ready or highly organized Adventurous or a creature of habit?
For the longest time, I would leave everything to the last minute. But I came to see that planning ahead avoids a lot of stress... And since my job is full of surprises and new experiences, I like to restore some balance and vacation in familiar surroundings. I still dream, of course: a safari, the Seychelles. But for the moment, whenever I travel south, I almost always go to St. Barts, where I often rent the same house. In Europe, I also have my favourites, like Positano and the Amalfi Coast—the most beautiful place in the world!—the great Italian lakes, the Côte d’Azur. But my all-time favourite will always be the family cabin in Saint-Calixte, in Lanaudière. I spent every summer there as a child. I have some wonderful memories, so much so that even today I often dream of being back at the cabin.
Is there anything you always carry around with you?
In 2007, the New Zealand National Youth Orchestra, which I conducted, presented me with a hei matau. It’s a traditional Maori greenstone carving, which is shaped like a hook and said to keep fishermen safe out on the water. Every family member would wear it on their heart before giving it to someone, to fill it with positive energy. All the young people in the orchestra wore my hei matau before giving it to me. Ever since, I’ve had it around my neck every time I fly over an ocean. It’s become a talisman for me.
What do you miss most abroad?
Montréal, the city where I was born, and my family, friends, the members of the Orchestre Métropolitain. My three cats are my home base: Mélisande, who’s 14; Rodolfo, 4; and Rafa (named after Rafael Nadal), a two-year-old Highland Lynx. I rarely spend more than two weeks away from them.
Do you think in sounds?
I don’t know. But sound is the first thing I notice [he has absolute pitch]: the sound of my feet when I start running, the chiming of bells when I arrive somewhere. I find it easy to pronounce a new language because it’s so musical. And I have an ear for rhythm, too.
Do you always have a piece of music running through your head?
Yes. Often it’s the program I finished a day or two earlier. It could also be jazz, maybe some neo soul from the 1990s or 2000s.
How would the soundtrack to your life sound these days? The Fairy Garden by Ravel. I’ve been playing it on the piano ever since I was little. And I’ve often conducted it. It’s a brilliant piece, full of joy, but calm too. I try to bring a little calm into my life, despite all the wonderful, thrilling things that happen to me.
“It might not be the prettiest city in the world, but it’s such a great place to live! I love its size (not too big, not too small), its energy, the vibe, the mindset, and the big-hearted people who live there. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m so attached to the Orchestre Métropolitain: the hearts and minds of the people who make up the orchestra.
When the musicians of Orchestre Métropolitain take over three floors of Le Germain Hotel Montreal—official hotel to the orchestra—going to bed has never sounded so good. The intimate concerts vary from floor to floor, but the experience remains for guests only.
Saturday, December 3
Orchestre Métropolitain Performances at Maison symphonique de Montréal Grimaud and Nézet-Séguin: Shared Emotions. Thursday, October 6, 7:30 p.m. Mendelssohn: The Colours of Romanticism. Friday, November 4, 7:30 p.m. Yannick Nézet-Séguin: The Russian Soul. Sunday, November 27, 3 p.m. Christmas with Valérie Milot. Sunday, December 18, 3 p.m orchestremetropolitain.com