Nezet-Seguin to become Met Opera music director in 2020-21

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The 41-year-old Canadian will become the Met's music director. (WPVI)

Having just been announced as James Levine's successor at the Metropolitan Opera, Yannick Nezet-Seguin thought about the legacy he might establish.

"Hopefully, maybe I'll be there as long as James Levine," he said Thursday.

In a generational change at the United States' largest musical institution, the 41-year-old Canadian will become the Met's music director - but not until the 2020-21 season, when he starts a five-year contract that includes options for extensions.

Nezet-Seguin will be music director designate starting in 2017-18 and start to collaborate on planning the company's schedule, often done five years in advance or more. He will conduct two operas per season as music director designate and at least five per season once he assumes the role.

"He's young, full of energy," Met general manager Peter Gelb said. "We expect that energy to have an infectious quality for the whole company."

Levine, who turns 73 on June 23, was music director or artistic director of the company from 1976-77 through the season that just ended. The company announced April 14 he was stepping down because of Parkinson's disease and last month he took the title of music director emeritus.

Considered the favorite to succeed Levine, Nezet-Seguin has been music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra since the 2012-13 season, and on Thursday his contract there was extended by four years through 2025-26. He also has been music director of his hometown Orchestre Metropolitain in Montreal since 2000. He has been chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic since 2008-09 and intends to give up that role at the end of the 2017-18 season.

"I'm embracing obviously from 2020-21 a very, very northeastern American life," Nezet-Seguin said in a telephone interview from Osaka, Japan, where he conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra on Thursday night.

Nezet-Seguin owns apartments in Philadelphia and Montreal, where he lives with his partner, Pierre Tourville, an Orchestre Metropolitain assistant principal violist. Nezet-Seguin will be a frequent commuter on Amtrak's Acela.

"In due course, I will own an apartment in New York, which always has been also on a personal level a dream of mine," he said.

Nezet-Seguin said he attended his first Met performance when he was 17, Franco Zeffirelli's staging of Puccini's "Turandot," and he made his Met debut on Dec. 31, 2009, in a new production of Bizet's "Carmen."

He next appears there for a revival of Wagner's "Der Fliegende Hollaender (The Flying Dutchman)" starting April 25, and in autumn 2018 is to conduct a new staging of Verdi's "La Traviata" starring Diana Damrau.

"In the productions that I'm conducting I do have complete agreement and control of what we're going to present," he said, adding that Gelb also had asked him to give input on the stagings that he is not personally involved with.

Nezet-Seguin intends to outline his artistic vision this fall, around the time the new Met season starts.

"It's difficult for me to know what I will bring differently," he said. "Of course, I am a different person. I'm from a different background. I also have more ties with the baroque repertoire, a different view maybe on Mozart and a different view on certain aspects of the style, and it's normal. I'm not going there thinking, oh, I will do this differently than Jimmy. It's more about respecting very much how he made this house the best in the world and with my own personality make it a mission to nurture and to keep this highest level."

He will become the third person with the music director title at the Met following Rafael Kubelik in 1973-74 and Levine. As Levine's health declined due to back injuries, kidney and shoulder surgeries and Parkinson's, his role outside his own conducting had lessened. Nezet-Seguin intends to be more involved in connecting the Met to the greater community.

"You can't plan and then expect that there is marketing on the side. It has to be in the same circle, in the same breath," he said. "I know it makes it more difficult than the artist dreaming something in his head and expecting the marketing team to come after, but I do believe this is not what an institution nowadays should be doing."
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