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When operas turn up on a symphony orchestra’s season prospectus, some listeners are thrilled, and others—those who believe that the business of an orchestra is the great symphonic repertory—don’t quite see the point. Opera, they would argue, is a specialized, theatrical art that requires a small army of carpenters, electricians, designers, directors, and coaches to stage, and those are just the people you don’t see. Out in the house, the audience is focused primarily on the singers, and the world they are creating on the stage; the orchestra, relegated to the pit in an opera house, is of secondary interest; moreover, in some of the operatic canon, the orchestra is used, for long stretches, as little more than a magnified mandolin.

A poster for the premiere of Tosca, which took place in Rome in 1900

But that argument, however logical it may seem, is also remarkably shortsighted, and every now and then conductors like Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who believe that opera is a crucial element of musical life, make that point by programming one of the major works. In the greatest operas, after all, the orchestra is a character in the drama—more than that, really: Think of it as a kind of three-dimensional, interactive map that not only shows all the characters and the relationships between them, but also tells us what they are thinking, feeling, and planning. How better to demonstrate the orchestra’s role in conveying the work’s psychological underpinnings than to have one of the world’s great ensembles present the score in the best possible light?

That, certainly, is what lies behind Nézet-Séguin’s decision to lead The Philadelphia Orchestra in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca on May 12, 16, and 19. Like his 2014 presentation of Richard Strauss’s Salome, this Tosca will be symphonically staged, with James Alexander directing a starry cast that includes Sonya Yoncheva in the title role; Yusif Eyvazov as Tosca’s lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi; and Ambrogio Maestri as Scarpia, the heartless chief of police in this story of revolution and repression, love and lust, set in Rome in 1800 during the Napoleonic wars.

Tosca has a special relevance now, set as it is in a country caught between radically different political ideas (the Republicanism of Napoleon, the royalism of the Hapsburgs), and depicting Tosca as the object of a powerful man’s lust, believing that Cavaradossi’s life depends on whether she succumbs. Tosca’s #MeToo moment is violent—“This is Tosca’s kiss,” is how she describes it as she stabs him. But Scarpia’s mendacity triumphs, nevertheless—unless you interpret her final line as she leaps from the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo, “Oh Scarpia! Before God!,” as a promise that the battle will continue on a higher plane of existence.

The interior of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome, where the first act of Tosca takes place

These performances are not The Philadelphia Orchestra’s first encounters with Tosca: Riccardo Muti, whose opera performances with the Philadelphians are among the most memorable concerts of his tenure, presented the work in 1991. Eugene Ormandy conducted the full opera in 1953, and singers have performed its most popular arias with the Orchestra going as far back as 1912—12 years after the work’s premiere—when Edna Harwood Baugher sang Tosca’s wrenching second act aria, “Vissi d’arte.”

Tosca is a magnificent object lesson in how central the orchestra’s role really is. There is no curtain-raising overture here. Instead, Puccini plunges directly into the drama, and to do that, he has the orchestra work its magic with three imposing, fortissimo chords—B-flat major, A-flat major, and E major, the last marked tutta forza and underscored with tremolando strings and timpani—followed by tense, descending figures, during which Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, runs into the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle.

The music just described accounts for the opera’s first 15 seconds, but it is packed with information. The three chords, which we will hear throughout the opera in many guises, represent Scarpia, who, besides pursuing Angelotti, has designs on Tosca, the great diva of the time.

Soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who portrays Tosca in the Orchestra’s performances. Photo by Nathalie Gabay

As the opera unfolds, we will learn how vile Scarpia is, but at this point—before he is even seen onstage—Puccini has told plenty with those three chords. The distance between the first and last is the musical interval of an augmented fourth, known as diabolus in musica, or the devil in music. But even if you’re not up on your music theory, the chords sound terrifying. And by putting them first, Puccini shows us that Scarpia will loom menacingly over the whole drama.

Angelotti’s theme shows us what that terror feels like on the receiving end. A few moments later, when his friend Cavaradossi tells him of a well in his garden where he can hide, we hear Scarpia’s chords again—this time in a fleeting, light-textured version that dissolves gently, showing us both Angelotti’s fear and loathing of his pursuer, even as he begins to believe that he may have found safety. Puccini accompanies the discussion of the well with a rising, five-note motif, which we hear again in Act II when Scarpia forces Tosca to reveal the hiding place—tentatively and gently at first, as she resists, then in a fast, loud burst when she finally tells him (and again when Scarpia sadistically reveals to Cavaradossi that she has).

The score is packed with these touches. Cavaradossi’s first aria, “Recondita armonia,” persuades us of the depth of his love for Tosca, but one of its motifs turns up, transformed, later in the first act, when Scarpia, in a deceptively courtly gesture, offers Tosca holy water. Tosca’s own love motif, first heard in Act I when she enters the church in search of Cavaradossi, is also hauntingly present in Act II when Scarpia weaves his web around her as Cavaradossi is heard being tortured.

No character is too insignificant to have a telling motif. The minor character of the Sacristan, in Act I, for example, is portrayed as a bumbling old man, with a silly theme that suits him; yet there are hints of menace around his music, too, because his sympathies are with the State and Scarpia, rather than with Napoleon’s Republican advocates like Cavaradossi and Angelotti.

View of the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, by Pierre-Antoine Demachy. The third act of Tosca takes place at the Castel.

You might think that conveying the characters’ thoughts in his orchestral score would have been enough to keep Puccini busy, but he lavished nearly as much attention on depicting Rome, the opera’s setting. When the choristers sing a Te Deum at the end of Act I, Puccini took care to use the Te Deum melody that was actually sung at the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, where the entire act takes place.

He also researched the bells of Rome’s many churches and how they would sound from the Castel Sant’Angelo, where Act III takes place. He wove those bells into the depiction of dawn at the start of the act—ending on the low E of the largest bell of St. Peter’s Basilica, which sounds during the orchestral introduction to Cavardossi’s aria of love and despair, “È lucevan le stelle.”

Given all this carefully crafted detail, it seems odd that Joseph Kerman, in his indispensable book Opera as Drama, dismisses Tosca as a “shabby little shocker.” One thing that bothered Kerman, and has bothered other commentators, is the work’s final page. As Tosca stands on the castle’s parapet, about to jump to her death, you might expect the work to end as it began, with a triumphant burst of Scarpia’s three chords. Instead, Puccini has the orchestra return to the strains of Cavardossi’s despondent “È lucevan le stelle.”

But let’s give Puccini the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he considered a return to the Scarpia chords but found that too tidy and obvious a solution. Scarpia is dead, and Tosca’s next move is her own final act of defiance. Though she was not present when Cavaradossi sang his aria, the sentiments it expresses are now hers as well. This is their tragic but unified moment, and Scarpia’s malevolence has no power over it. It may not be the ending you expect, but it’s pretty close to perfect.

Allan Kozinn writes frequently about music and musicians.

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A Q&A with Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Photo by Chris Lee

From the April/May 2018 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about His Friendship with Pianist Hélène Grimaud.

You’ve known and worked with Hélène Grimaud for a long time and have a wonderful relationship with her. Friendship in music is the most wonderful gift. I believe that what makes an orchestra special is the friendship, or knowledge, of each other, the musicians having a history that they share with each other, day after day, week after week, and year after year; also between the conductor and the musicians. But there is also the relationship and the friendship between a soloist who regularly visits an ensemble. Of course this is felt by the audience as well. Hélène Grimaud has been visiting Philadelphia for many years. But when we first met, for Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic, there was an extra intensity there, a profound respect and understanding that very quickly turned into friendship. Since then we’ve explored much repertoire together with many orchestras, and I have toured with her many times. Now all of these elements are reunited, Hélène, me, this Orchestra, two concertos [Beethoven’s Fourth and Brahms’s First], and we also go on a tour of Europe afterwards with her. I’m sure this will be an extra special time because it will be yet another opportunity for us to deepen our connection together. Not only me and her but all of us with the music we are going to play.

Hélène Grmaud is a poet, but she is also an incredible force of nature. She is a citizen of the world. She is a long-standing defender of human rights and animal rights. She is also a writer. She has an imagination like no other artist I know. And yet she is also a consummate pianist, and what I find incredible is the passion with which she goes into the keyboard. It stops even being piano—it’s just something that is like an orchestra. When I was growing up studying piano I very much wanted to play like this, like a full orchestra. So I feel that when we have Hélène with us it feels like there really are two orchestras on stage, the piano with her and The Philadelphia Orchestra. This will be a joy to be able to make music this way and exchange those very special feelings with our audience.

Hélène Grimaud performs Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto and Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with the Orchestra May 10-20.

From the March 2018 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.

What is it about Schumann’s music that you love? I was originally a pianist, so Schumann was my bread and butter for many years as a student. Nowadays, he is much more associated with chamber music, piano music, smaller pieces, or collections of smaller pieces that are absolute masterpieces for the piano, and also for the voice. His symphonic production is really important and his four symphonies are crucial in the development of the German symphonic repertoire. However, Schumann’s symphonies still have a bad reputation, that they are supposedly not very well orchestrated. Actually, I disagree. When I did the first Schumann symphony with this Orchestra it was the “Spring” Symphony a few years ago. Last season we programmed the Second, and now the Fourth. I work with the musicians to not only retain the richness of their sound but also to have them approach it more with their ears. It’s about the balance and the chamber music, and also maybe even more crucially, the kind of freedom Schumann has with rhythm. Usually with symphonies we tend to make everything very square so that everything stays together. But Schumann is this wonderful Romantic man, who in one split second can change from being this dreamy and contemplative artist to someone who is completely ready to conquer the world and is in a frenzy, like talking too fast to get the words out of his mouth. Those split-personality moments are so effective in Schumann’s piano music. In this Fourth Symphony, there are such intimate moments, such as in the second movement when the cello, oboe, and violin solos have a dialogue as if they were alone onstage, with the rest of the orchestra gently supporting them. And then fast forward two movements and the transition between the third and fourth movements is this gigantic and slow rise—it feels almost like the call for the last judgement. Within a few moments you go from this intimacy to the greatest vision, and this is what I deeply love about Schumann. I feel honored to explore more and more of this repertoire in general. To combine my vision of this composer with The Philadelphia Orchestra, which recorded this repertoire with Wolfgang Sawallisch before me, makes it a very, very interesting way of sharing ideas and maybe even having more Schumann fans in the world.

Schumann’s writing is very vocal in a way. The vocal element in Schumann is crucial, like it is in Schubert, for example. Brahms is important in that sense, too. I believe that always imagining there is a singer, a soloist, someone who has these gorgeous melodies, and imagining words with these melodies when we play them—whether it’s the oboe, the cello, the violin, or even the trumpet or the horn—helps very much to get to the core of the special spirit of Schumann.

Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 will be performed March 16-18.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has a long and rich history with Rachmaninoff and his works. Tell us what it’s like to conduct them in this repertoire. To conduct The Philadelphia Orchestra in Rachmaninoff’s symphonic works is like entering a shrine, it’s like touching the origin of this music. The Orchestra served as a muse to Rachmaninoff, in terms of inspiration, of how an orchestra can sound, or what the possibilities are on a technical level. The Second Symphony was composed before he met the Philadelphians, but I don’t know any other orchestra in the world that can really match the breadth of sound and the richness of the melodies and the virtuosity of all the counterpoint underneath than The Philadelphia Orchestra.

What’s your personal background with the piece? It happens to be not only one of my favorite symphonies but one of the most important in my own history as a conductor. When I was first invited as a guest conductor to lead the Orchestre Métropolitain, of which I was to take the reigns as music director two years later, I chose this Second Symphony as the very first symphony that I would conduct. This was daring for a guy of 23 years old, because of the length and the dimensions of the Symphony, which are enormous—it’s close to one hour. But I loved the music so much. Being a pianist probably helped me understand the rubato, or ebb and flow, of the melodies and its fabulous construction. Still today when I conduct the Adagio (the third movement) with the wonderful melody of the clarinet and strings adding certain little waves of sound underneath and all the climaxes, I feel exactly the same passion, the same shivers that I had when I first conducted it close to 20 years ago. So this kind of repertoire, of course, will always hold a special place between me and The Philadelphia Orchestra and I’m looking forward so much to revisiting this masterpiece.

Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 will be performed March 8-10.

From the January 2018 Playbill

Tell us a little about the “Scottish” Symphony. It’s very interesting to me that some of the most famous Scottish-influenced music is actually not from Scottish composers, although there were amazing Scottish composers and people who could capture the folklore of their own music. But the “Scottish” Symphony is clearly from a German composer traveling to Scotland and being so impressed by it that he was searching, maybe not to go into the folklore of it, but more about the poetic impact it had on him. The very opening of the Symphony is very much about the ruins, and it almost has a religious feel of going back through centuries of history. When the movement starts to really take flight, it feels like you’re traveling all around the landscape. The Scherzo, the second movement, is one of Mendelssohn’s most famous. It has a tune that invokes a Scottish melody, but it also demands great virtuosity. The third movement is Mendelssohn maybe at his most lyrical, the same as found in his Song Without Words—it feels like an orchestral song without words. And the last movement is almost a call to war with its relentless rhythm, finishing with what is almost a male chorus going to sea with its lilting 6/8 meter. It’s a very, very rich symphony—viola, lower strings, bass, a lot of horns (four different horn parts). It’s also an expansive symphony. It’s not a short one, compared for example with the “Italian,” No. 4. This one has larger dimensions. All the movements are attacca, none interrupted, so there is a sense of a very big tone poem. And yet the structure is so clear.

What appeals to you so much about this work? I’ve always been in love with this Symphony. It’s one of the most satisfying pieces to conduct, not only to listen to or to play. There’s something about the exhilarating quality not only of the second movement, but also the end of the first movement, which has an almost storm-like effect in the coda and makes me think of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Mendelssohn and Wagner were not necessarily friends, but musically a lot can be compared or related between the two of them. It’s also a symphony that orchestras know very much, the public knows it, and yet there is always something to go and search for that is new and exciting. So hopefully with the Fabulous Philadelphians this will be a very deep and fascinating journey into the real sound of Scotland and Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 will be performed January 18-20.

From the December 2017 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1.

This piece with its numerous solos offers a great opportunity to spotlight the Fabulous Philadelphians. What do you think our talented musicians bring to this emotional work? What about the piece resonates with you? The Philadelphia Orchestra is really closely associated with Sibelius’s music. Ormandy was a great admirer and champion. We tend to associate the Orchestra with symphonies like the Fifth or the Second, which are the best known. But the First Symphony also has an interesting connection with the sound of the Philadelphians, because it takes Tchaikovsky’s world and transforms it into something that is more personal. Sibelius’s music is about nature, geography, glaciers, fjords, seas, and the cold, and yet it is also about the warmth of feeling a fire when we are outside and need to heat ourselves. There’s nowhere that this is more appropriate as a description than in the First Symphony because Sibelius was at the beginning of his own journey with this kind of music. There are some moments that are truly passionately romantic and yet there are others where we feel like we’re taking off and riding in a plane or helicopter looking at all the landscape close to us but yet we’re not touching the ground. It’s a fascinating symphony and I want to play more of Sibelius’s music in Philadelphia to meet this wonderful and truly unique sound of my orchestra with this truly unique sound world of this composer.

Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 will be performed December 7, 9-10.

From the November 2017 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8.

What is it about Bruckner’s work that you feel connected to? Bruckner’s music is like no other music I know. This is probably why it touched me right away when I was a younger student. I conduct his music because it transports me somewhere else. It’s like flying above great spaces of nature. It’s like being in the sky close to God or whatever it is that is spiritual in us. Listening to a Bruckner symphony played by The Philadelphia Orchestra is the best of both worlds. You get the true, rich sound of the Orchestra and yet you have the sense that it doesn’t belong to the material world.

What is it about the Eighth Symphony that makes it “the summit of his art,” something you’ve been quoted saying? All of Bruckner’s symphonies are special, but maybe the Eighth is the most special because it’s the last one that he finished—the Ninth is unfinished. The last movement especially has a way of finishing a great world that Bruckner created. The last moments of the Symphony are for me like all the bells of all the churches in the world ringing at the same time. And they create not a cacophony, but rather the contrary, the greatest harmony in the world that we can imagine. And for this reason I’m sure, already I can guarantee, this will be one of the highlights of my tenure with The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 will be performed November 9-11.

From the September/October 2017 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Bernstein’s West Side Story.

What is it about the emotional connection our audiences have with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 that makes it a fitting finale to our opening week? Revisiting the pieces that have made the history of my orchestra is something extremely special and I feel privileged to do so. To always present our audiences with another way of looking again at these masterpieces, hearing them with fresh ears, is what we do. We take time to reflect on what they mean and what the composers meant through them, and also which traditions within those pieces we want to keep or maybe question. A piece like Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is one that many concertgoers know very well. For example the second movement—which is so gorgeous because there’s such chamber music between the solo oboe, the solo bassoon, and all the strings answering each other—has a very pure melody and yet is so heartbreaking. There’s the famous third movement with the pizzicato. There’s a lot to do with plucking the strings—there are various ways of doing it and various ways of phrasing it. And of course the grand finale of that Symphony is the ultimate virtuoso piece for our great Orchestra. I’m looking forward to kicking off the season with this great masterpiece. 

This is your first time conducting West Side Story with the Orchestra. Like many people, I know West Side Story since my youth—I’ve known the movie, I know the music, I conducted many times the Symphonic Dances. The Orchestra has performed on many occasions the Symphonic Dances, as well as the film music with the film being projected. But now this is a totally different experience, to have all the original music that was composed by Leonard Bernstein. We will present the complete score of all the music in concert format because we want people to just listen and enjoy musically the inventivity [sic] of the melodies, the rhythmic novelty of it, and the way the scenes are integrated. We’ll have a fabulous cast and it won’t be static, of course. Our audience knows us; we always have a theatrical way of presenting things. But most importantly we will have the true Philadelphia Sound expressed through the music of Leonard Bernstein, who is one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century. So to celebrate the centennial of his birth this way will be an amazing event to launch our season.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 will be performed October 6-8 and Bernstein’s West Side Story in concert will be performed October 12-15.

From the April/May 2017 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Mahler's Symphony No. 3.

Mahler famously said “A symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything.” The Third Symphony might embody this the most. The first Mahler symphony I ever listened to, and I also ever conducted, was his “Resurrection” Symphony, the Second. When I started discovering and loving all of his symphonies, there was one right after the Second, the Third of course, that grabbed my attention in a very unusual way. I first fell in love with the last movement, which you can’t really understand if you don’t have all the other movements. It’s his longest symphony and it’s said to be the absolute longest symphony in the standard repertoire. It should not scare people that it’s so long though, because as in any Mahler symphony the Third is an entire world. And in this case it was really designed to embrace and embody the entire universe beginning with the creation of the world. The first movement has a lot to do with the mineral life, which eventually becomes the elements. The second movement is one step further, with the vegetables, flowers, and fruits. And the third movement is about the animals. Gradually it moves to human life and we have the sound of the mezzo soloist for this, then the female and children’s choruses, which represent paradise and the afterlife or eternity, in the last movement.

This work is very special to you. Up to this day every time I conduct this I can’t hold my tears, because to me the final words are the most beautiful that Mahler has given us. They are full of nostalgia but they are also full of hope. And to finish our season with such a powerful piece, after having done so many Mahler symphonies together with The Philadelphia Orchestra, and having this grand finale send us into the summer season, looking forward to many more seasons together, I’m sure it will be extra meaningful. And this is why I’m very eager to share with the Philadelphia audiences maybe one of my top three favorite symphonies ever in the entire repertoire.

Mahler’s Third Symphony will be performed May 18-21.

From the March 2017 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

Bartók’s opera is a very dramatic and intense work. Bluebeard! That legend inspired quite a bit of literature and artwork. And in music, I think the best-known work is Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók. It’s his only opera, and it is a work that can be fully staged. But very uncharacteristically for opera, it has only two characters, Bluebeard and his new wife, Judith. That builds up the tension in the piece, which is also due to its length—it’s about an hour—so the drama is really concentrated. Bartók’s music is always so refined and very detailed and crafted, and that enables him to create tension in the drama and the music each time one of the seven doors is opened. For those of you who don’t know the story: Whatever happens that last door is bad, it shouldn’t be opened!

Tell us a little about the Philadelphia performances. I’m excited to present this because we have truly fantastic singers—Michelle DeYoung and John Relyea—who I would say at the moment are the best performers worldwide of this piece. And they are both well known here in Philadelphia. We’ll be able to hear our Fred J. Cooper Memorial organ in the work, and it will be my first performances of the piece. I’ve always dreamed of conducting this. So to do this and under these circumstances with The Philadelphia Orchestra is special.

Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle will be performed March 2-4.

From the February 2017 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and Bach’s Cantata No. 150

Tell us about the connection between the Brahms and Bach pieces. Brahms’s Fourth Symphony is especially famous for its last movement, which is based on a chaconne and is a tribute to Bach. For years it was quite vague what Brahms’s model was, and even what a chaconne or passacaglia is (two different ways of talking about the same thing, which is a set of variations over a melody or bass line in this case). The genius of Brahms was to take this and put it in a very Romantic and dramatic context. Then it was discovered that the precise piece that inspired his chaconne was the last movement of Bach’s Cantata No. 150. In the Bach cantatas, their numbers have nothing to do with their chronology, and one important thing to know, and which makes me even more excited to bring this to Philadelphia, is that the 150th Cantata is among the first three or four he composed. So Bach must have been something like 16 or 17 when he wrote it. So it’s a very early cantata, very early Baroque, and therefore has this form of variations on the same bass line. Brahms took that bass line and used it more as a melody instead of as a harmonic base. He was not only an admirer of Baroque music but was also very knowledgeable about it. He collected all the [François] Couperin pieces he could find and kept them in his library. He would study very early music in order to inform his own writing.

You’ve rounded out this concert with more Brahms. I feel the best way to complete this program is to take a set of organ preludes that Brahms wrote at the very end of his life and have them orchestrated as a certain transcription, in the same way he transcribed in a way Bach’s music. So this concert has the work of three generations of composers—Detlev Glanert will do the orchestrations for us—and I hope this will shed a new light on the Fourth Symphony, which we think we know so well. It’s always a great masterpiece to play with this Orchestra but maybe we can understand more how it came about and how it informs us today.

Excerpts from Brahms’s Eleven Choral Preludes, Bach’s Cantata No. 150, and Brahms’s Fourth Symphony will be performed February 23-25.

From the January 2017 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne and Schmitt's The Tragedy of Salome.

You’ve included two lesser known selections in the first week of the Paris Festival. Tell us about the Schmitt: It’s exciting to focus on French music with both pieces we know and pieces we know less. I’m happy to be able to reintroduce to Philadelphia audiences the Tragedy of Salome by Florent Schmitt, a work not heard here since 1919. The first thing that’s really important to know is when it was composed—around 1912-13, when the Ballets Russes was commissioning composers in Paris, which brought so many incredible pieces: Debussy’s Jeux, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, most famously Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. And right around that time, the Tragedy of Salome was performed by the Ballets Russes. This work has received a little less play than those other pieces, maybe because Schmitt was not as prolific a composer. But now we’re rediscovering his larger pieces. I’ve already had the chance to record this in Montreal with the Orchestre Métropolitain and I played it in Paris with the Orchestre National de France. I really love this work because it has the exotic feel that is closely associated with the Middle-Eastern world of Salome, and yet it has all the components of ballet music in the best sense of the word. It’s very French, of course, with the writing, especially the woodwinds, and the string colors and harmonies. But it’s also a very dramatic piece that has a certain energy and tension, which I think brings the best of what French music can give us.

What makes the Canteloube songs so evocative? There’s another piece I wanted to include in this program, which is excerpts from a series of songs by Joseph Canteloube, Songs of the Auvergne. This is an unusual set of melodies for voice and orchestra. It’s not written in French but in the dialect from this region in southern France. Immediately because of the language—even if we don’t really understand, or even if we speak French we don’t understand all the words—we hear in the accents and the way it’s set to music and the vocal line things like the lavender, we hear the sound of the little insects everywhere, or the grass in the wind. People who have traveled there will recognize immediately that landscape. Susan Graham has agreed to sing some of these songs for us. She’s, of course, one of the greatest singers alive. She has a special feel for French music, which combined with the colors of our Orchestra will make for an unforgettable performance of these pieces.

Selections from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne and Schmitt’s The Tragedy of Salome will be performed January 12-14.

From the December 2016 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4.

Tells us a little about pianist Yefim Bronfman. Of course Yefim Bronfman, Fima to his friends, is one of the greatest pianists alive, and he is adored and admired everywhere, including in Philadelphia, where he has played for many years. Soon after I was named music director designate here I made my Berlin Philharmonic debut, with Symphonie fantastique, a work by Messiaen, and Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto, with, for the first time, me working with Fima. What he brings to every type of repertoire, but especially the Russian repertoire, is this incredibly beautiful sound in music that is often so percussive and demands so much of the performer. An example is this great cadenza at the end of the first movement of this Concerto that is so long and actually written on three staves for the piano. This is where generally pianists can get so intense that they start being quite rough with the keyboard. And Fima, to get power and immediacy to his sound, doesn’t need get rough. I think this is one of the marvels of his playing. He was so humble and such a great chamber musician, and he helped me through my debut. He would always say backstage beforehand, “I’m sorry if I make any wrong notes,” and I would say “I’m more sorry if I don’t follow you well”—it became a sort of running joke. I’m so excited to be doing this piece six years later here with Fima and my orchestra in Philadelphia.

Is there a particular passage in Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony that really speaks to you? Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony is one of his most important symphonies and one of his largest creations for orchestra. It has everything Shostakovich ever did, with several layers of understanding of his message, darkness, also irony. One of my favorite passages in this Symphony, which I think is unlike any other symphony, is this fugato, almost right at the beginning. It’s so fast and so high, it starts with the violins playing all repeated notes extremely fast and has a message of almost panic. Usually when there’s a fugue in symphonic music, it’s more like a tribute to the Baroque. Shostakovich has a completely different purpose. It’s famously difficult to play, but with the Fabulous Philadelphians it will be peerless.

Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony will be performed December 1-3.

From the November 2016 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé.

Daphnis and Chloé is a very symphonic piece, isn’t it? First, I’m a huge Ravel lover. I love all music Ravel ever composed, from the very small Ma Mère l’Oy [Mother Goose] to Daphnis and Chloé, which is arguably his largest-scale work. It’s a one-hour ballet but to me it’s more like a symphony. French musicians at that time wouldn’t call it a symphony because that form was considered too Germanic, and French musicians and composers wanted to separate themselves very much from German music and German-oriented music. This is why we have such a wealth of impressionistic music from Ravel and Debussy, most famously. This piece is such an entity to itself, it’s more than a ballet. All the thematic developments hold together so well.

This is such an important piece in the history of music. Can you point out a few interesting things? The very first notes, which are barely audible, are the harp playing a slow arpeggio that is like a tableau of the most beautiful nature opening up in front of our eyes and ears. The place of the chorus in this piece is really interesting, because it’s wordless. It only sings “ah” and “oo” and “oh” and doesn’t really have, most of the time, a place in the storytelling. It’s more about being another section of the orchestra, like the woodwinds or the brass or the strings. There are also a lot of instrumental solos, most famous of all at the end of the ballet, where there’s a flute solo that is maybe the most gorgeous flute solo ever written—very sensuous, sensual. It’s followed by this incredible dance that is very complex, the bacchanal at the end. The year after Daphnis was composed, there was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and the dancers in Paris could dance the Rite very well, but they complained just one year before that they couldn’t dance the final scene of Daphnis and Chloé. So that tells you how groundbreaking that piece was in history even if it didn’t cause a riot like the Rite of Spring. But this was a period of time when the combination of French literature and French music with a Russian-trained ballet company in Paris gave us one of the greatest masterpieces of all time.

Ravel’s complete Daphnis and Chloé will be performed November 10-12.

From the September/October 2016 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Mozart’s Mass in C minor.

Tell us about the background of the Mass: We all know of this legend of Mozart who was always composing so fast and apparently so easily. Yet he left two incredible masterpieces unfinished. One is, famously, his Requiem, because he died before finishing it. But earlier in his life was this Mass in C minor, which, even though unfinished, is in certain ways one of his greatest masterpieces. Mozart wanted to marry Constanze Weber and felt that his father did not approve. Also at this time Constanze had become quite sick. But the wedding did take place anyway. So this piece was intended as almost a wedding present to her, and also a present of gratitude to God, because he allowed her to become healthy again—and to his father, who allowed the wedding to happen. Constanze even sang in the first performance of the Mass.

Why was it left in this state? It was such a fantastic torso that was left, so in a way he couldn’t complete it because even for his own standards the piece had such large proportions. How do you treat crucifixion? How do you treat resurrection, especially when in the first movement the music is already so rich and powerful? We can thankfully still perform the piece even in its unfinished format because it feels complete in its own right. And every movement is something that is so special within Mozart’s body of work, that it’s something I always like to conduct.

What’s your experience with the piece? I had the chance to sing it as a boy soprano and then eventually as a tenor, and I conducted this work in the church in Salzburg where it was first performed. That was really amazing. So I have a long relationship with this piece. Now to do it with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Westminster Symphonic Choir will be such a treat. We’ve done a lot of vocal music together, and years ago we did Mozart’s Requiem. This piece I think goes even further than the Requiem, because there are many references to Baroque music, a lot of fugues, double fugues, things that are really complex in the writing. And yet because Mozart is the genius he is, he makes it sound just like the inside of a beautiful Baroque church. All the decorations may be so rich and yet, as we often say with Mozart, there’s not one note too many. This is one of my favorite pieces in the whole world.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor will be performed September 29-October 2.

From the April/May 2016 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Weill's Symphony No. 2, Prokofiev's Symphony No. 7, and Mahler's Symphony No. 10.

Tell us a little bit about Kurt Weill. Weill is a composer who has always fascinated me. Of course what we know of him are The Threepenny Opera or his songs. Sometimes we don’t even know they are composed by Weill, like “Youkali” or “Pirate Jenny.” But it’s more popular music. He was one of those composers at the early stages of what we today call “crossover,” people who were completely classically trained in a certain tradition but were able to bridge their talent to make it more accessible to a different audience. That is basically what we’re trying to do now and doing increasingly all over the world. This is why to introduce to our audience this Symphony by Kurt Weill is something I’m really looking forward to.

Not many people are familiar with Weill’s more “classical” works. Why did you program it? This symphony is a jewel. It was premiered by Bruno Walter at the Concertgebouw [Amsterdam], the same person who premiered some of Mahler’s symphonies. But we’re talking about something much shorter—a relatively small symphony. Sometimes it’s like Stravinsky and some other times it’s indeed like smaller Mahler. But more importantly I think we can recognize Weill and an almost rough aspect of late-night cabarets in Berlin. The lyrical inspiration of it and the construction—the structure and architecture—and even the dramatic input are of someone who really completely mastered the symphonic world. To introduce Kurt Weill in the 1930s in a program in which there are better known works from the same era—Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand—I think will hopefully serve to convince people that he is really a first-rate composer.

Weill’s Second Symphony will be performed April 8-10.

Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony is not one many people know well. Can you tell us about it? When we say Prokofiev and symphonies, we think huge orchestrations, quite loud, like the Fifth or Sixth symphonies. There are also some lesser known symphonies that are quite aggressive and serve a certain way of defining the world. But then there’s the First Symphony, the “Classical,” which is so elegant and pure and quintessentially classical. His last symphony is so underestimated because nobody plays it, and actually it’s as gorgeous as the “Classical” Symphony. It’s as if Prokofiev was coming back to his roots, or coming back at the end of his life to a sense of purity. The Seventh Symphony is not necessarily a happy work, but it’s a work that has very defined melodies—almost like an empty way of orchestrating (there’s only one line in the violins and the very low strings are accompanying, and there’s a big part for the tuba). So there’s an emptiness and nostalgic aspect to this music, which is very moving. And yet there is all the dance and rhythmic vitality we associate with Prokofiev and the balletic aspect, too, which was very important to him.

There are two endings to the Symphony, which will you perform? The Philadelphia Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of the Seventh and recorded for the first time a new ending, which was a faster and brighter one. There’s a complicated story about this Symphony being written to get an award, which would give Prokofiev some money at the end of his life, which he really needed. Someone advised him that if he was to write a fast ending it would get more applause and maybe more money. But he did ask that after his death the new ending never be played. So even though our history is closely associated with the fast ending, we will do the original one, which I think is much more moving and touching about one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.

Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony will be performed April 14-16.

How many symphonies did Mahler write? He wrote nine complete with numbers and he wrote a tenth one, which is The Song of the Earth. He was actually avoiding the number nine, so he wrote The Song of the Earth first because he was superstitious about the number nine, after Beethoven, Schubert, and Dvorák. And then there’s the Tenth.

The Tenth is only a fragment. Can you describe it? It’s a torso, uninterrupted, of sketches of five movements, all from Mahler’s hand. The first movement is complete, and as we go through the Symphony there’s less and less information, and by the last movement there is more or less only one melodic line and a few rhythmic or harmonic indications. But still the entire structure or overview is by Mahler. I personally believe that even though some passages that Deryck Cooke has re-orchestrated or arranged to complete the torso sound like Mahler might have done it a little differently, it’s more than worth playing because some of the passages are perhaps the most beautiful that Mahler ever wrote. A few highlights: In the very last movement the cellos and violas accompany a solo flute, which lasts a few seconds but is so heartbreaking. It’s a soliloquy that’s so intimate and yet it’s not necessarily dark. It’s just very lonely and it’s as if Mahler speaks more simply and directly to our soul and heart, more than in some of his other symphonies where he uses all these extra doublings and large orchestrations. There are also a few striking moments with a big drum, which marks an interruption of a very melodic line from the tuba. And there’s a very short movement in the middle of the Symphony with nice solos from the flute and oboe, which are dancing. And now I’m back to the Adagio, which is the only really completed movement by Mahler. It’s very poised and has longer lines, almost like Bruckner but with a very deep and personal take on it, famous for its viola section solos. There are four times the violas have a very long line without accompaniment. I think from the first note to the last we feel it’s the work of afterlife, someone who’s lived very much. Yes it’s still an exaggerated or hyper-active work in many ways, but it’s also a work that goes back to a certain purity, like one would expect from a genius at the end of his journey.

Mahler’s Tenth Symphony will be performed May 12-14.

From the March 2016 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 ("Spring").

Tell us about the first time you heard Schumann’s First Symphony: The first time I heard the “Spring” Symphony in concert was actually in the middle of winter in Montreal. I was very young and struck by one thing—the use of triangle. It’s so unusual in repertoire of that time, I discovered later. Brahms did use it eventually in his Fourth Symphony. It’s an instrument that, of course, adds a lot of brilliance but also something magical.

Schumann had bouts with ill health and depression throughout his life, but this work is quite joyful. It’s a very happy work. It’s a work of a man who was in full possession of his powers and who was very optimistic for a brief time in his life. This is what we can hear through the B-flat major. Even the slow movement, which is in E-flat major, is more a romance where one can imagine the cooler nights of early spring when you still need a blanket or a fireplace at night to make sure you stay warm. There’s also a feeling of dance and virtuosity in the Symphony. It’s a great display of the talent of our Orchestra, partly because the string writing is extremely rich and complex and virtuosic. I had the pleasure to record this piece recently with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, which has a smaller string section, and we really could hear the clarity of the orchestration. This is the first Schumann symphony I will conduct with The Philadelphia Orchestra and I intend, of course, to use the rich sound of the Orchestra without sacrificing the clarity of the counterpoint, which is informed by smaller sections. So I’m really excited to see what that blend will create, and it will become a very personal offering.

Schumann’s First Symphony will be performed March 3-5.

From the February 2016 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7.

There’s a great connection between Dvorák and Brahms: The Orchestra and I have visited together all four Brahms symphonies. This is very important in any relationship between a music director and an orchestra, to have such a stable of repertoire that we can revisit and find common ground. I, of course, can’t hold all the repertoire for myself, and I was happy to agree to give a Dvorák symphony to Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who is one of the most wonderful younger colleagues I have. And for his debut with the Orchestra he chose the Seventh. I’m talking about Brahms because this is the most Brahms-influenced of Dvorák’s symphonies. He loved Brahms, and, I wouldn’t say he copied him, but he really learned how to orchestrate by studying his music. And Brahms, in return, had a lot of admiration for Dvorák, and also a little bit of envy because he was this North German with a very cerebral tradition, and Dvorák had much more of a Czech flavor, much more folklore inside him. Brahms always wished he had this natural gift for folklore. There are many stories of how both composers influenced each other and loved each other. The first movement of this Symphony, with its meter in six beats, which is quite unusual for a symphony, is very Brahms. And it’s in D minor, which is also the key of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, the first and second movements of which are also in six. So there are many similarities across the Symphony. And yet, in the third movement, this folklore and the dancing aspect often found in Dvorák are so clear. You can’t mistake this. It wouldn’t be Brahms whatsoever. And I think that unusual combination of rhythmic flair and the serious, dark, and quite heavy approach, which is very much influenced by Brahms, makes this Symphony something very, very unusual. Since Andrés Orozco-Estrada is himself especially good at rhythmical music, I’m sure audiences are in for a treat.

It’s natural then to pair this work with something by Brahms: The presence of Dvorák on the program called for having some Brahms, especially because of this particular Symphony. The Brahms Violin Concerto, like Dvorák’s Seventh, is infused by the influence of central European folklore. The last movement is virtually a Hungarian dance. Of course it’s not Czech but I think this is a movement where the violin is so virtuosic and the orchestra feels like a crowd dancing and provides the real rhythmical grounds above which the violin is able to fly. And this is the same idea that Dvorák had in his Seventh Symphony. The unusual blend of those two sides of the same coin will make an unusually good combination for this concert, like two dishes in a meal that make perfect sense.

Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony will be performed February 4-6.

From the January 2016 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4.

Tell us a little about Bruckner and this Symphony: Bruckner is one of those composers who is so close to my heart, as a musician, as a human being, but especially as a conductor, of course. So far we’ve done with the Orchestra the Seventh and Ninth symphonies, but this Fourth might be the most approachable and easily accessible of all his nine symphonies (plus the ones he named 0 and 00, so there are actually 11). The Fourth is called the “Romantic,” not in the sense of romance and of people loving each other, but in the real, pure German sense of the word, which has a lot to do with the symbolism and imagery of the forest and nature. The third movement is maybe the most telling about this. It’s a hunting scene, and we hear the horns announcing the hunt very early; it’s a very distant sound that comes closer and closer. I feel there is a lot of action in the music. I always see a bunch of dogs coming toward us, just as they are about to launch the hunt. There is a trio section in the middle that is the most calm and mysterious aspect of the forest—we hear the wind, nature, water. This makes Bruckner more of a secular composer, as opposed to the sacred composer that is found in many of his other works. He was such a devout man that his symphonies are very often like unspoken Masses. But in the Fourth Symphony there is very little of this.

You have a very personal memory of the Fourth: The first time I bought a record of a Bruckner symphony was the Fourth because I had read somewhere that it was the easiest one to listen to. And I have to say at first I really did not like it. I remember telling my piano teacher, I must have been around 16 years old, I don’t get Bruckner. And she said, “You know you may want to consider going to a concert and hearing it live, because Bruckner is one of those composers where you have to be there and feel the vibrations of the music.” When a few months or years later I finally attended my first concert of a Bruckner symphony I was completely in love. This is why we should say to our audiences that if you still have reservations about Bruckner, you should come and hear it played by this Orchestra with me in this hall, and I think you’ll be convinced.

Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony will be performed January 21-22.

From the December 2015 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Handel’s Messiah.

Tell us about your early experiences with Messiah: In Montreal, as in Philadelphia as well as almost everywhere in North America, the tradition of having Messiah at Christmastime is very, very important. It was when I grew up and still is. I got to discover this wonderful score when I was a child. I got to sing it when I was in my choir and conducted it for the first time with the ensemble I founded, La Chapelle de Montréal, which was doing mostly oratorios of the Baroque era. As the years went on I had a different approach to it, because I understood this was very popular in the English-speaking world, but was originally meant for Easter, because it’s the life of Christ but all his life, not only his birth. To me it’s still special that we take time around Christmas to do this piece. But I think we do it because we need in our society and in our world moments where we can be together and reflect. Christmastime is also about tradition, and we want to keep alive traditions, and whether you are religious or not, that doesn’t really matter. We need this time to hear beautiful music that helps us reflect on the beauty of our lives and feel a sense of celebration.

What do you hope to bring to these performances in Philadelphia? Tradition is something that can live by itself for a few years. The Orchestra knows this piece and we’ve had really great guest conductors who also know the piece very well. They put this together in a certain way, and it gives a beautiful result for our audiences. But for me, as music director, when I get to work on something like this with the Orchestra the idea is also to somehow revisit the work, to look at it with fresh eyes and try to take that tradition and move it slightly forward. Not to do something completely different than what used to be, but to regenerate the tradition with fresh ideas. Because we’ve been doing some Baroque music in the past few years, especially the two sets of performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, I think we will build on this new tradition I’ve created with the Orchestra and apply this. In other words have a way of looking at Messiah with the same eyes and ears we did for the Passion.

Handel’s Messiah will be performed December 11-13.

From the November 2015 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Hannibal’s One Land, One River, One People.

Tell us a little about Hannibal and your work with him so far on this piece. One Land, One River, One People: First, I think this is an extraordinary title. I think it sums up who Hannibal is as a person. He embraces the whole world, and when one meets him you feel embraced by him. And by doing so he is embracing many different musical genres. In music, so-called “classical” music in general, we tend to put things in small boxes. And that’s perhaps a metaphor for what happens in our world today. Everybody wants to define who they are and stay there but at the end of the day we live together. And there’s a force that is beyond everything, which is harmony. And music is harmony, and Hannibal uses music to break all boundaries and bring everyone together. Hannibal is just an open heart and his music is an open heart. When I communicate with him he’s very specific about what he wants. But it’s never in musical terms—it’s never about being faster, or slower, or louder—it’s about being more driven or drawn to a different energy.

How does Hannibal’s piece fit into the entire program? The Sibelius [Symphony No. 5] and Copland [Appalachian Spring] on this program is music that has been strongly associated with a certain love of country. Music, we have to remember, is a powerful force to bring us all together. And season after season, we need and want those projects (last season was Bernstein’s MASS). And I’m looking forward to having this piece by Hannibal bring us all together in Philadelphia and in the world.

Hannibal’s One Land, One River, One People will be performed November 13-15.

From the September/October 2015 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade.

How does this piece speak to the Philadelphia Sound? Sheherazade is the ultimate symphonic poem, and the ultimate piece to show off an orchestra. Of course Russian music always shows all the colors of an orchestra. But in this case, because it’s related to the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, it has this dreamy and vaguely fearful aspect to it. It’s all about a special world that is foreign to Rimsky-Korsakov and therefore to us. It’s one of those fascinating works, and has been so for many decades because it encompasses many different cultures inside it. Therefore it’s closely associated with the history of The Philadelphia Orchestra and its sound. Every music director before me, from Stokowski and Ormandy onward, has put their stamp on this piece with the Orchestra. So I’m eager now to put my own stamp on it and step into this tradition.

Why did you choose this piece to put on the opening subscription concerts? One of the features of this piece is that it has the full orchestra always evoking the sea and the landscape. But the characters, especially the solo violin, the concertmaster, which portrays Sheherazade herself, has this way of narrating the story and connecting all the parts together. The same motifs vaguely repeat each time but in a different mood. We can imagine the storyteller just narrating the story and indicating the emotion that’s about to happen. Other instruments come and go: There’s a famous bassoon solo, a famous clarinet solo, and a famous solo for the second trombone. So there are slightly unusual combinations, which make the story interesting to hear, and to listen to as a whole. But the piece also features different soloists and every section of the Orchestra. In short this couldn’t be more ideally suited to the opening of a season of our great Philadelphia Orchestra.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade will be performed October 1-4.

From the April/May 2015 Playbill

This month Yannick talks about Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

What was your first experience with this Concerto? It was not a piece which was part of my learning. With Shostakovich I knew the symphonies, the string quartets, the piano music, the piano concertos, the cello concertos much before I heard his First Violin Concerto. The first time I really got to know the piece was when I was assigned to conduct a concert of the laureates of the Queen Elisabeth Competition. It was in Luxembourg and two winners that year were two wonderful violinists. One of the two was Sergey Khachatryan, he’s been here with the Orchestra a few seasons ago, Armenian violinist, and he played the First Concerto of Shostakovich. I couldn’t believe it. Beautiful from the very first note. I think it’s Shostakovich at his best. Each movement has such a profound message, meaning. There is also the interaction between the orchestra and the violin. The finale and the second movement are both very difficult to put together because they are so virtuosic and have a lot to do with solo winds dialoguing with the solo instrument. Of course the centerpiece of it is the passacaglia, which is this bass line that’s coming back and coming back, almost like an entire nation marching to something that’s inexorable and which we don’t know exactly how it will end. There’s a sense of threat and yet a sense of weight. But with Shostakovich there’s always a glimpse of hope, too. And in the hands and talent of this young violinist from Armenia, this was extraordinary.

Are you looking forward to performing it in Philadelphia? Here in Philadelphia it was important to do this piece with a musical partner that combines all the qualities of the greatest violinists but also a very deep human connection to what this Concerto means. I’m so thrilled that we will be performing with Lisa Batiashvili. Lisa is a great friend of the Orchestra, for years now, and she’s a great personal friend of mine, for years, too. I believe when she plays, anything she plays, she gets beyond the notes, beyond even the first degree of significance of the piece. And doing this Concerto with her will be the first time that we collaborate on that particular piece. But I can not imagine a better way for me to get to know this piece even better and to bring it to our audiences.

Why is Russian music so perfect for The Philadelphia Orchestra, and how does Nico Muhly’s new work fit in? Russian repertoire is always and will always be closely associated with this Orchestra, because of its sound, because of its generosity. Also because of great conductors who’ve been nurturing the right way of having this impressive, imposing sound and attitude toward this music. Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony is a great display for this Orchestra. It was intended to be this way, similar to the Symphonic Dances. By the end of his life, I think we can feel Rachmaninoff’s nostalgia and the pain of being increasingly estranged from his own country, his own nation. And in that sense, that piece of Rachmaninoff relates very deeply and closely to the Shostakovich, which is a very dark work, but I have to say also a great display for the qualities of the Orchestra on a pure technical basis. And when I imagined this program, I immediately asked Nico Muhly to write a piece to open such a concert. And I wanted him to know the context of this Shostakovich and this Rachmaninoff precisely. And he is coming up with this wonderful piece, called Mixed Messages. Because message is a key word I think in both of the bigger pieces in this program, it proves to be the perfect fit for all three.

Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 will be performed May 13-16.

From the March 2015 Playbill

This month Yannick talks about Haydn's Symphony No. 92 ("Oxford").

Why is Haydn so important? As a young student, before I was allowed even to touch a Mozart piano sonata, my teacher made me play a lot of Haydn sonatas. They’re lesser known—it still is the case. And it’s the same for the symphonies—we know Mozart better than we know Haydn. But Haydn is actually the “father” in a way of Mozart. And he is precisely the “father” of the symphony, the “father” of the symphonic repertoire that we play all the way through the 21st century. It all originates in Haydn’s music.

Is there a reason you’d like to conduct more Haydn here? His 104 symphonies would be a fascinating journey to do. We can’t do all of those 104 symphonies in one season but I think doing more Haydn with this orchestra serves many purposes. The first is to go back to a more intimate way of writing. To play Haydn means to listen to each other a lot so it helps understanding even playing Beethoven better, it helps understanding playing Brahms better, and the list goes on. It’s also I think a fascinating journey for an audience, because Haydn has a lot of humor. His music is not about being only very proper. The way we understand the word Classical nowadays is slightly wrong because we think it’s something perfect and ideal that is difficult to touch. But it’s rather the opposite. It’s something that’s full of life, full of spirit. To play Haydn is finding with little means, orchestration-wise, a lot of different colors because of the meaning and the spirit. This is why I believe that the virtuosity, which is one of the great qualities of the Philadelphia Sound, is especially well-suited to Haydn.

Why did you pair this work with ones by Beethoven and Vaughan Williams? In one of my very early programs with the Orchestra I combined a Haydn symphony, No. 100, with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. So I think this time, because Haydn was very popular in London, and in England in general, he dedicated this symphony to Oxford (its name is “Oxford”), and because we are having Vaughan Williams on that program, we thought it interesting to see how the English native composers were influenced by Haydn’s music—the Austrian—and by extension another Viennese-oriented German composer, Beethoven, on the same program.

Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony will be performed March 5-7.

From the February 2015 Playbill

This month Yannick talks about Debussy’s La Mer.

What was your early experience with the work? When I was a music student I did not understand La Mer because I always thought it sounds more like rocks than water. But I guess I was just completely wrong and never was in a performance that completely inspired me until I heard it under Charles Dutoit. I fell in love with the piece and understood that it’s much more about what’s under the water—yes there are waves and reflections of the sun on it—but it’s mostly about the inner world, a very busy world, of an ocean, so that helped. Also knowing that this was actually inspired by the English sea, which is not necessarily turquoise, or green, or light blue. It’s more a stormy one, with shades of gray. I started conducting the piece a lot and even recorded it with my Montreal orchestra.

Tell us a little about your thoughts on the piece. I happen to think that it’s really not only a picture of the sea but a symphony with three movements and it has a real narrative to it: the explosion at the end and the storm of the third movement and the way it resolves in the rays of light with the oboe and flute duet at the very end, which also makes the piece finish in a complete splash. I think it gives the whole orchestra something to do, something to chew on. It’s the ultimate poetry but it also requires so much discipline in the playing, with lots of divisi strings and lots of unusual use of the brass and winds. I can’t wait to conduct it myself with the Orchestra, but I’m also very happy to leave this to my friend Robin [Ticciati], who is developing a great relationship with this Orchestra. And in the context of the rest of this program it will shed a new light on this absolute masterpiece.

Debussy’s La Mer will be performed February 20-22.

From the January 2015 Playbill

This month Yannick talks about Turnage’s Piano Concerto.

You premiered this Concerto with Marc-André Hamelin and the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 2013. Can you tell us a little bit about the character of the piece? Among all the premieres that I have done, this is one that most immediately got my attention. I was fortunate to have commissioned this piece in Rotterdam for Marc-André Hamelin, our soloist also in Philadelphia. I was struck by great qualities that are not so usual in new music. For example, immediacy of rhythm. It’s something where one wants to dance and it immediately goes right into the stomach in terms of impact and enjoyment. It’s connected to jazz very much. I think Turnage had as a model Gershwin and his treatment of piano and orchestra, whether it’s in Rhapsody in Blue or in the Concerto in F. I think it’s also very, very personal and it doesn’t repeat itself too much—that’s also a great quality. There’s not one note too many, I find. There are some great moments where the piano goes alone, on its own, not really like a cadenza, but more generating the impulse where the orchestra is just taking it and bringing it to another level. It was an immediate success when we performed it in Rotterdam and I expect at least that success when we perform it here.
The piece is part of our St. Petersburg Festival, performed with works by Rachmaninoff. So there was some specific thinking about this pairing. When we talk about Gershwin, which is a connection to Turnage, we talk also about a very specific era where the roots of concert music, which now we call classical, and jazz were still common. And there was an ebullience at that moment where composers were taking this into different directions and eventually it became like two branches of the same tree. So now we’re just there where the tree is about to divide in branches and there is this specific era, which applies not only to Gershwin but to Rachmaninoff. And Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, which is paired with the Turnage, might not be his jazziest, because he had not spent much time in North America, but you can feel already that kind of thinking rhythmically. That will allow later Rachmaninoff to develop in a different direction, which is closer to jazz and Gershwin—therefore Turnage. And it was interesting for us to underline this connection in this program.   Turnage’s Piano Concerto will be performed January 22 and 23.

From the December 2014 Playbill

This month Yannick talks about Brahms’s Symphony No. 3.

You have often said Brahms is your favorite composer. How does his Third Symphony rank among his other symphonies? The most beautiful Brahms symphony, out of the four symphonies he wrote, is always the one you just heard or played or conducted. I am no exception. This is the way I feel with each of these wonderful masterpieces. However, if really called to choose one, No. 3 is my favorite because to me it’s the secret garden of Brahms. It’s where what makes Brahms Brahms: in his language, in his atmospheres, in his doublings. Where he is the most specific is really in this Third Symphony. It’s not a symphony that finishes loud and is not made to have rousing applause at the end, even if we play it very well or not. It’s more about poetic images and lower woodwinds, horn solos, complex rhythm. In the first movement there is a lot of disorientation rhythmically, so that, unless we look at the page, we think the first beat is there, but actually no, it’s there. It makes it also extra complex to perform, to understand, to conduct, to play as chamber music. Maybe for all these reasons I find it a real gem and treasure among his symphonic works.

How does the Symphony fit in with that specific concert program this month? Because of its nature, I was curious to program this Symphony not as a concert ending, but more as an opening. First of all those chords at the beginning of the Symphony—there’s a great feeling of introduction, of taking two big breaths of fresh air and then launching into that wonderful first movement, and then going into some hidden woods in the second and third movements. The ending that leaves the imagination going. I think this fits well with the second half of our program, with Haydn and Richard Strauss, who influenced Brahms, and who was influenced by Brahms, also with this Viennese thread with the three composers on that program. I want to keep exploring how we get out of the pattern of overture, concerto, intermission, symphony, and I think this is the ideal piece to experiment with this. 

What is something people may not realize about the work? People don’t always realize that they already know the melody of the third movement of the Third Symphony. It’s been used in movies, in jazz, in crooning songs. To me it’s closely linked to this wonderful movie, Goodbye Again, that was also a book, Aimez-vous Brahms (Do You Love Brahms), and this is all based on this wonderful, very simple melody that has the most profound and touching effect.

Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 will be performed December 4 and 6. 

From the November 2014 Playbill

This month Yannick talks about Alexandre Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra.

In early talks about the Art of the Pipe Organ Celebration, the Guilmant First Symphony was one of the first pieces that came to your mind. There’s not much repertoire when you first think about organ and orchestra together, but if you search there is actually quite a bit. Everybody knows the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony and Poulenc’s Organ Concerto with strings and timpani, but the Guilmant is a piece I came across at an organ festival in Toulouse in France at the beginning of my career as a guest conductor. The organ was actually a church organ and was not in the same location as the orchestra. Technically it was very complex to realize and I remember thinking, one day I want to do it properly with the organ on location.

How do the organ and orchestra interact in this piece? This performance will be a great opportunity to see how that piece works symphonically, because the organ is completely integrated with the orchestra in the same way a piano or violin concerto would be. It’s really a dialogue with the two instruments instead of finding other ways to combine organ and orchestra, which is like some of the other works we’re playing this year. This is a real Romantic concerto, it just happens to be with organ.

How do you describe the piece, coloristically and stylistically? The development of organ repertoire is really influenced by the development of the symphonic organ, which happened in France sometime in the course of the 19th century. The French always were intrigued by this idea of colors, whether they were writing for the keyboard or the orchestra, or operas, like Bizet and Massenet. Similarly the organ was developing as an instrument that would imitate all the instruments of the orchestra. It has stops that sound like flute, and oboe, and trumpet, and gamba, and on and on. So I envision the Guilmant color wise as two orchestras speaking to each other in a way, because the organ part is trying to imitate an orchestra. The orchestra, at the same time, is trying to take the organ out of its religious context, which was the instrument’s historic use. This is why it makes sense for us to play it because it connects the purpose of this organ being in a concert venue so we can hear the instrument with different ears than those that only associate it with church service.

Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra will be performed November 7. 

From the September/October 2014 Playbill

This Month Yannick Talks about Mahler’s Symphony No. 2

Mahler’s Second was the first Mahler symphony you conducted? Yes that’s true. I randomly bought this recording as a young boy, and it was Leonard Bernstein. It had the most wonderful effect on me. And I became interested in hearing more Mahler symphonies. The ending, partly because of my choral background, is something that always gave me goose bumps. It starts from such a pianissimo, but the crescendo and the bells—for me there was nothing more powerful. I already wanted to become a conductor and at that moment I could imagine that it was the most rewarding piece to conduct. That is why I chose it as my first Mahler symphony ever to conduct, when I was in Montreal. And, yes, I did get goose bumps when I conducted it and I still do in that finale. 

Other than the finale is there one specific moment in the piece that you absolutely fell in love with? There are many moments, especially in the first movement, which is lengthy and can stand on its own—the famous Totenfeier that we programmed last year. It’s in sonata form, so when the beginning comes back—the recapitulation as we say—there are these Gs that are repeated by the entire brass. This insistence is so rhythmical and nothing is exaggerated and yet it’s the most powerful effect. Also the very beginning of the movement, with the cellos and basses. I think the Second Symphony has everything that we like in Mahler’s music—the dreamy aspect, the influences from its Austrian roots, such as the second movement Ländler [a dance similar to a waltz]. And in the fourth movement the Lieder, the songs, such as “Urlicht” sung by the contralto. So in a way it sums up all Mahler. If this was the first Mahler symphony that someone heard, that would be the entire world.

Why are you excited to bring the Second to Philadelphia? The first Mahler symphony that I conducted with The Philadelphia Orchestra was No. 5. Then we did Nos. 6, 4, and 1. And now we’re moving to this wonderful No. 2. It’s actually the first choral one I’m conducting with the Orchestra and maybe the subtitle “Resurrection” makes sense this season as we are having this apotheosis of our requiem series with Bernstein’s MASS later in April. I think these two anchors speak to each other beautifully in how they go spiritually above any defined religion. And this is always a very big part of the message of Mahler.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) will be performed October 30-November 2. 

From the April 2014 Playbill

What makes The Philadelphia Orchestra unique, apart from other ensembles with which you’ve worked?
Orchestral sound is something mysterious and great orchestras retain their own very strong personalities. I’m happy to say The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the very few orchestras that has such a strong personality in its sound. And I’m here to nurture it and make it evolve.

How much time did you dedicate to practicing as a young music student?
Between age five and age 10 I barely did my half hour a day. But I did sit down at the piano to improvise and explore the sounds, in addition to that. It was when I started singing in a choir that it motivated me more to practice longer. And obviously from age 13 onward it was never less than four hours a day.

If you had only one final opportunity to conduct, what pieces would you choose for the program?
The great Claudio Abbado passed away earlier this year and his final concert was the most beautiful and meaningful program ever, with Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and Bruckner’s Ninth, also unfinished. But I would never answer this question for myself because I’d be too superstitious to do so.

Your worst habit?
I’m a “snooze” specialist. I have several alarm clocks. I like it when I wake up and can say, “Oh I still have 10 more minutes!”

Favorite place you’ve traveled for work?
Australia and New Zealand—there is something very special and magical there. To visit is a wonderful thing, but I think I wouldn’t be able to live there full time. I would miss America and Europe too much.

From the March 2014 Playbill

How do you deal with increased media interest as you become more famous?
The orchestra world has a very public face—many people comment on our performances. I am happy to be recognized on the street as I walk to the hall! But it is also very important to guard your personal and private time. There must be a balance.

What is one thing concertgoers would be surprised to hear about you?
If for some reason I couldn’t be a musician anymore I’d be a florist. I always loved the smell of flowers and I used to garden a lot when I was a very young child. Not that I’m planning on retiring any time soon! 

How do you prepare for each rehearsal, and how do you prepare for each concert? How does this differ?
For me the greatest preparation is the one prior to the rehearsal. Rehearsals are where my vision of the work has to be combined with the tradition and expressivity of the orchestra. Once rehearsals are done I feel that there is no more pressure, it’s only about bringing it to life for the audience.

If you could go back to when you were a teenager and give yourself some advice, what would you say?
Believe in yourself and believe in your own path. And only try to discover what is your path and learn how to accept it and assume it and work for it.

How do you go about learning a score (what are the steps)?
I start by identifying the structure, which means the period, the phrases, the sections. And then I identify the leading lines of every section and then go afterwards to the next layer, the counterpart, the harmonic foundation, and then the orchestration.

What’s something you thought you would never have the guts to try, but did?
To eat blowfish in Japan (which can be poisonous). I did and survived and found it very good!

From the February 2014 Playbill

This month we revisit some of the most popular questions and answers from past Beyond the Baton features.

1) Which recordings would you bring to a desert island?

Bruckner Ninth Symphony with Carlo Maria Giulini and the Vienna Philharmonic; Chopin Nocturnes with Claudio Arrau; J.S. Bach Cello Suites with Jean-Guihen Queyras; Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony with Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra

2) If you had to pick any century to live in, which would it be and why?

Definitely early-20th-century Paris. I would love to have lived in the time of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky, and also to have experienced the dancing of Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes—all of this, leading the way into the modern era, into the 1920s and Kurt Weill. That time was such an explosion of artistic innovation and creation!

 3) Who is your favorite composer?

Brahms has always been my favorite composer, the very first. In second position, Bruckner, Mahler, Bach, Ravel …

4) Who are your non-classical musical influences?

Some early ones were Radiohead and Bjork, and the great divas of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. 

5) Why a turtle tattoo?

In Polynesian culture the turtle means good luck. And I think it must have helped me here, because I have a lot of luck!

6) What’s the one thing you always have to do before going onstage?

I don’t have a special ritual, however I wear my grandfather’s ring on my finger, always. And before going onstage I have a moment where I touch the ring and think of him. He passed away before seeing me conduct, so this is a small way of sharing.

From the January 2014 Playbill

1) When did you decide to pursue music as a career?

I had many many interests, of course, even when I decided that music would be my life when I was very young, 10 or 11. I was very interested in so many things, but at age 15 I realized I couldn’t spread eggs in so many baskets. I realized that I needed to focus my energies on only one thing and I had to make that decision myself.

2) What do you love the most about your hometown of Montreal?

Montreal is similar in size and feel to Philadelphia, and perhaps this is why I love both cities so much. You have the best in restaurants and cultural life, but it is still a humane size. I can also tell you that I love to be near the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, and of course here in Philadelphia we are blessed with two rivers!

3) Do you think music plays a role in calming people or relaxation?

Music has the power to influence many emotions—it excites and energizes us, fills us with joy and sorrow, inspires dance, and yes, can also relax and calm us. It also has a profound healing effect and helps us express ourselves spiritually. Each of us has a unique experience with music—I know that I certainly play a very different type of music when I am working out than when I am relaxing at home. But I wonder if you are asking a more specific question, which is whether CLASSICAL music when played in public spaces has a calming effect. And to this question I have to say that I do not know, but would not be surprised if this were true.

4) What contemporary, popular artists would you most like to collaborate with?

Collaborating across musical genres helps stretch our creativity so working with contemporary popular artists is very appealing. When we do collaborate with popular music artists I like to work with people who are absolutely tops in their field, the best in their genre—this makes for the right combination with our own world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra musicians. So I am delighted that we will collaborate with Philadelphia’s own R&B/jazz artist, poet, and actress, Jill Scott, for our Academy Anniversary Concert this month.

From the December 2013 Playbill

1) What are your plans to expand the repertoire to include more works by modern, living composers?

My philosophy is that it is important to renew and add to the repertoire and we’re expanding the Orchestra’s reach in every direction, both with new works and also with works written earlier that haven’t been performed by us. I think it’s important to integrate new music in a thoughtful way, programmatically or through things like our recent Philadelphia Commissions Micro-Festival. I also believe strongly that we should not just premiere a work and never play it again—we must continue to perform these pieces so that audiences can hear them more than once. What are our plans? Well, you should stay tuned for our season announcement in February—I think you will be pleased!

2) What’s the most important attribute you listen for in a candidate’s playing when sitting on an audition panel?

Attention to everything a composer wrote is something that we look for alongside solid technique. But at the end of the day, after we’ve heard dozens and perhaps hundreds of candidates, what stands out is the one who is really telling a story with the music. You must have both. 

3) Why a turtle tattoo?

In Polynesian culture the turtle means good luck. And I think it must have helped me here, because I have a lot of luck! 

4) Who is your favorite clothes designer that you like to wear?

I’m very comfortable in Prada shoes. I love Ralph Lauren or Lacoste polo shirts for rehearsals. I like to have very beautiful tuxedos but unfortunately even beautiful ones don’t last long because they are subjected to very difficult conditions. 

5) Have you ever been in a position where you and the soloist disagree over the interpretation of a piece? If so, how did you resolve the issue?

I like to embrace and support the vision of a soloist and help the orchestra believe in it as well—that produces the best result. There isn’t only one right way to do it. So it is not a matter of disagreement, but instead it is a way of working together.

From the November 2013 Playbill

1) What two words would you use to describe yourself?

Can I have three words?! I would say fortunate, honest, and optimistic.

2) Can you remember a time in your life when you heard the word “no,” didn’t pay attention to it, and were all the better for it?

When I was offered the position at 24 of being the music director of the Orchestre Métropolitain many people told me I shouldn’t take it, and that I should go to Europe and study with a well-known conductor. But my feelings were that in order to develop you need an orchestra. The future has proven them wrong.

3) With all this jet-setting, how do you find the time to study the score?

Obviously it takes a certain discipline. I’m a good student. Every time I find myself studying on the plane. There’s not one single day when I’m not studying a score, even on holiday. A conductor must love being alone with a score. And that’s okay. So far, even on vacation it’s not being about taking a holiday from music.

4) What is the one food you can’t live without?

Eggs. If I could I would eat breakfast all day. 

5) How do you keep your energy level high? Do you have any routines that keep you focused and fresh?

Sometimes I would love to take a nap, but I’m not good at napping and wake up feeling worse. I have a personal trainer and she sometimes travels with me. I try to keep fit, running and some weight lifting to balance my body. My first responsibility is to maintain my energy level, otherwise how can I expect the orchestra to do the same.

6) What do you do right before bed?

When I’m on the road and I need to unwind I watch episodes of Modern Family that I download from iTunes. 

From the September/October 2013 Playbill:

1) Which five recordings would you bring to a desert island?

Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony with Carlo Maria Giulini and the Vienna Philharmonic, Chopin Nocturnes with Claudio Arrau, J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites with Jean-Guihen Queyras, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony with Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra.

2) If you had to pick any century to live in, which would it be and why?

Definitely early-20th-century Paris. I would love to have lived in the time of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky, and also to have experienced the dancing of Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes—all of this, leading the way into the modern era, into the 1920s and Kurt Weill. That time was such an explosion of artistic innovation and creation!

3) How important is a baton to your conducting? Do you have a lucky baton, or certain ones you use for certain pieces?

Actually I’m as comfortable with a baton as without. In fact, this season I intend to experiment a bit with the Orchestra, sometimes to use a baton and sometimes not. When I do use a baton I do not always use the same one, because for me there really is no connection between a baton and a conductor, it’s not personal. 

4) What’s the most nervous you’ve ever been for a performance, and how did you shake those nerves?

Usually I’m nervous before the first rehearsal, more so than before a performance. When I made my debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, the rehearsals went very well. But 10 minutes before the performance I looked out at the stage and thought of Karajan and all the legendary conductors that had been on that podium and in that hall. And it really shook me! I just went out and began conducting, and the music brought me back and helped me shake those nerves.

5) If you could walk in someone else’s shoes for one day, whose would you choose?

I would like to be an orchestra musician. As a pianist it was never something I considered for a career. For me it is still a little bit of a mystery.

From the April 2013 Playbill:

1) What was the first piece of music you conducted, and where?

The first time I actually stood in front of a group was when I was nine, and I “conducted” the national anthem of Canada in a rehearsal. I was dying to try it, and it worked! So that was when I knew I could have that ambition. The first time I conducted a concert, with choir and organ, was the Fauré Requiem, when I was 18. And the first time with orchestra was Bach’s St. John Passion.

2) What is the hardest piece you’ve ever conducted, and why?

Berg’s Wozzeck. I was excited to be given this opportunity, but I was very young. I started studying a few months ahead of time and remember my panic when I looked at the first page—I couldn’t understand a thing! I spent two hours on that one page! It was very difficult, but eventually, of course, I did it. 

3) You conduct a lot of opera. Do you have a favorite?

Oh, it is so hard to choose, because of my love for choruses and big ensembles. I love so much, from Mozart to Strauss, but perhaps I can say that I feel especially at ease with Puccini’s Turandot.

4) What would you do on an unexpected night off?

I’m still trying to get a real night off to go and see a show on Broadway. I have never seen a Broadway musical, and I would really like to have that experience. 

5) What instrument(s) do you play?

The piano is my real instrument. I had cello lessons and trumpet lessons, but never consider that I really play these instruments.

6) Do you have a favorite movie?

The greatest movie I’ve ever seen, and my favorite, is Dancer in the Dark by Lars van Trier, starring Björk.

7) Do you play any sports?

When I was in school in gym class, the thing I succeeded at the most was gymnastics because I have the build of a gymnast. But now I also consider myself very good at wind surfing. And I’ve had a few tennis lessons, but I would need to do more to become really good. 


From the March 2013 Playbill:

1) How do you cope with jet lag since you travel so much?

My trick is to consider I am in the new time zone as soon as I deplane. I don’t think, “Oh, I am jet lagged” or “I am so tired!” It is the only way—just  embrace and accept it.

2) When and where were you happiest?

I am very lucky. I have had so many happy moments in my life that I can’t really single out one!

3) Have you ever injured yourself conducting?

I wasn’t conducting yet but was just waiting to go out to the podium for a rehearsal of the Orchestre Métropolitain. I was holding my baton upright and I moved my arm suddenly and the baton jerked upward and went inside my nostril! My nose started bleeding, and I was so embarrassed!

4) Who are your favorite writers?

Oscar Wilde and Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and philosopher. His writing is very beautiful and I feel when reading it both a passion and an acceptance of the world.

5) What one app could you not live without?

FlightTrack. It is great for all the travel that I do. It lets you know if there will be any delay, in real time, anywhere in the world! 

6) What is your greatest fear?

To be honest, my fear is to die. I love life so much, and while this has not changed as I’ve grown older, I think that one day I may find a different feeling about this.


From the February 2013 Playbill:

1) Who are your non-classical musical influences?

Some early ones were Radiohead and Bjork, and the great divas of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.

2) What book is on your nightstand?

Music scores.

3) Who do you consider to be your greatest musical influences?

The great Carlo Maria Giulini, with all his humanity and his way of respecting and loving the musicians, was very inspiring for me. And my piano teacher for eight years at the Conservatory of Music in Montreal, Anisia Campos. She taught me music and discipline, very old school, and was simply a marvelous human being.

4) What is your greatest extravagance?

A good massage! It’s so worth it after a day of hard, physical work.

5) If a movie was made of your life, who would you want to play you?

A young Michael J. Fox. 

6) What languages do you speak?

French and English, of course, and I am also reasonably fluent in Italian and German. I also understand Dutch. And I would like to learn to speak Finnish, because it sounds so beautiful, and maybe Korean as well!


From the January 2013 Playbill: 

1) What piece of music have you always wanted to conduct but haven’t had the chance to yet?

I delayed conducting Wagner operas because they are such a whole world on their own. But in a few months I will finally be starting my first Wagner opera. 

2) What’s the first thing you do when learning a new piece of music?

Studying scores is a lengthy and layered process, but the first step is to divide the phrases, the sections, in order to get a sense of its structure.

3) Do you have a favorite visual artist?

David Altmejd, a sculptor who is a Montreal native and who has represented Canada at the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Biennial. Increasingly he is creating outdoor sculptures, a little bit like all the public art we have here in Philadelphia. He is now gaining much more notice because of his recent installation, The Eye, in front of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. 

4) What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

I have actually received some excellent coaching from pianist Yundi Li. He advised me that I should eat a dish of tiny chicken bones because it would be good for my skin!

5) Which talent would you most like to have?

I would have loved to become a dancer and I definitely wish I had a real talent to play tennis.

6) Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

One of the most wonderful was Bora Bora—the closest to Paradise!


From the December 2012 Playbill:

1) Who is your favorite composer?

Brahms has always been my favorite composer, the very first. In second position, Bruckner, Mahler, Bach, Ravel …

2) What are you currently listening to on your iPod?

On the popular music side it is Frank Ocean. He is somewhat new on the R&B and hip hop scene, and widely recognized for how special his music is. And on the classical side I’m listening to the first edit of the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony I just recorded for Deutsche Grammophon with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, before its commercial release.

3) Do you have any pets?

Three cats: Mélisande, Parsifal, and Rodolfo.

4) If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Well, if I could I’d like to be taller. But you know, many of the conductors I admire most were not that tall, for instance the great Eugene Ormandy!

5) What do you like to do when you go on vacation?

Lie on the beach! 

6) Do you work out? What’s your favorite routine?

Of course, yes. Many people think I get my cardio workout through my conducting but I actually do have to do cardio in order to have the stamina to conduct the way I do. So, I am a jogger and I balance it with weight training, and this helps me avoid injuries.

From the November 2012 Playbill:

1) If you could be any profession other than conductor, what would it be?

Before I decided fully to become a conductor I wanted to be an architect. I think the two are very similar in that one builds physical structures and one builds a performance or a concert, taking a combination of different elements to shape the whole. I also wanted to be a dancer, because dance moves me a lot. But I don’t have a dancer’s body!

2) What piece of music never fails to move you?

I’m moved by music in a very different way when listening than I am when I conduct. For me it’s a different emotional process; conducting is transferring the emotion to others. In particular the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony is really really special for me. While studying this piece before I conducted it for the first time I cried and was wondering, “How am I ever going to conduct this?” But when I got on the podium there was no problem, because of this difference in listening vs. conducting.

3) What is your favorite type of food?

I really like Italian food. I like fish cooked in a little lemon and olive oil, and salad with fresh basil. I prefer food that is fresh.

4) What do you most value in your friends?

I’m always traveling and I constantly meet up with people who do the same. It’s easy to make ties with these people. You see them for a month or two and then maybe not again for a long time. What really makes a friendship special is when you pick up right where you left off when you don’t see someone for a long period. This requires a certain level of trust. It’s a deeper kind of relationship than you have with people you see on a daily basis.

5) What’s your favorite sport to follow? Do you have a favorite athlete?

I love tennis and Rafael Nadal is my favorite player. We both started our international careers at about the same time. I was making my conducting debut in Monaco and the day before the concert was the Monte-Carlo Masters Championship. My father also loves tennis so I bought tickets. Nadal won and that was the launching of his career. I think he and I are similar in that he always goes for every shot just as I go for every note. I met him very briefly in Rotterdam but would love to meet him again and speak longer with him.

From the October 2012 Playbill:

1) What is your earliest musical memory? My earliest musical memory is of transgressing the family rule that children were not allowed to touch the stereo. I was always a good boy but I just couldn’t resist the lure of that machine and I was always putting on records so I could listen to music. I think I was around two or three.

2) If you could ask one composer one question, who would it be and what would you ask them? Definitely Bach. And I would ask him: How was it possible for a single human brain and soul to compose all you composed while having so many children?

3) What piece of music could you conduct over and over again? There are some works I really feel that I have a need to conduct—I always want to program them. The Verdi Requiem is one, and also pretty much all the Mahler and Bruckner symphonies. When I finish a performance I feel much emotion, both exhilarated but also somewhat drained. So I couldn’t jump right into another performance. However, by the next day, I am ready to conduct the same piece again and again!

4) What’s the one thing you always have to do before going onstage? I don’t have a special ritual, however I wear my grandfather’s ring on my finger, always. And before going onstage I have a moment where I touch the ring and think of him. He passed away before seeing me conduct, so this is a small way of sharing.

5) Do you have any hobbies? Jogging has become a favorite hobby. It is not only a way of staying fit but also gives me a chance to get to know the cities where I conduct. And already I have discovered the wonderful Schuylkill Trail along the river here in Philadelphia!

6) What’s your favorite Philadelphia restaurant? There are quite a few that I like, but I will say that I feel very welcome already at both Estia and Girasole. The food and the atmosphere at both are superb. However, I look forward to the chance to explore more of Philadelphia’s great restaurants!

Photo: Chris Lee

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18 days ago |
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Each month in the Orchestra’s Playbill, we feature one musician in a question-and-answer segment. Below is that feature in its entirety.

Where were you born? I was born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. It’s a small town near the border with McAllen, TX. I grew up in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, until my early teens.

What piece of music could you play over and over again? This is a hard question. If I had to pick, my favorite piece would have to be Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5. I could play the Swan Theme from the finale forever!

What is your most treasured possession? My three adorable dogs: Cleo the Husky, Sammy the German Shepherd mix, and Francis the Border Collie mix. They shed so much but we still love them. Wanna see pictures?

What’s your favorite Philadelphia restaurant? My wife and I haven’t been here long, but out of the ones we’ve tried Bing Bing Dim Sum on Passyunk Square has been the best! We live in the area and are excited to keep exploring different cuisines. 

Tell us about your instrument. I play a Daniel Rauch double horn. He recently retired and is no longer making horns. I was very lucky to get his second to last horn ever made. It is number 431 out of 432 horns made in his lifetime.

What’s in your instrument case? I actually just got a new case. It’s lighter and better for travel. But it means that I’ve had to cut down on what I carry. Now it’s just my music and scores for the week, a couple of mouthpieces, a tuner/metronome, breath mints, and five pencils. (You always need to have a pencil).

What piece of music never fails to move you? The opening of the third movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 4. I’m a romantic. For me, that’s as good as it gets.

When did you join the Orchestra? I joined the Orchestra in the middle of this season. My first official concert as a full-time member was on January 5, 2018.

Do you play any other instruments? I can whistle and get into a little trouble on the guitar, but I’m not very good. 

What’s your favorite type of food? I love food, but I must admit Mexican is my favorite. My wife and I love cooking tacos, salsas, brisket, mole, tamales, tortas (Mexican hoagies) … you name it, we make it. Recently, we have been having a great time altering all of our recipes to be lactose free. It’s rather difficult being a recently diagnosed lactose-Intolerant Mexican; cheese and butter run thick in our culture. 

What books are on your nightstand? Hard copy or e-reader? Right now I go to bed every night reading and studying musical scores of the pieces we’re playing. Definitely hardcopy!

Do you speak any other languages? Spanish was my first language, so technically, English is my “other” language. I started learning English when I was seven in Monterrey. My private teacher was from New York, so I don’t have very much of an accent. I’m very grateful my parents had the opportunity to teach me another language from such an early age. I also grew up learning French in private school. But, as they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. When we moved to the U.S., I had no one to practice my French with, so I lost it fairly quickly. I can still understand a little, but I am by no means fluent.

Do you follow any blogs? I follow my sister-in-law, Katie's, blog, Post Modern Missionary. She is a missionary in Sierra Leone and she shares her experiences and daily life. It is so interesting to get to know new cultures.

Do you have any hobbies? I like to play disc golf whenever I get the chance and attempt to solve Rubik’s cubes … very slowly.

Do you have a favorite movie? I really love the Back to the Future trilogy. The third one is my favorite.

What’s the last recording you purchased? CD or download? One of my best friends from university gave me a mixed CD for the drive from Houston to Philadelphia. It is KILLER!

When was the first time you heard The Philadelphia Orchestra? The first time I heard The Philadelphia Orchestra live was this season, in October, when I was auditioning for the fourth horn position. Little did I know, the next day I would have to perform the opening of the Symphony in the section round (when I got to meet Maestro Yannick and play with the entire horn section for the first time) in my audition. 

Photo by Jason Bartlett

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18 days ago |
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A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family

When it comes to helping his beloved Philadelphia Orchestra, Board member Robert Mortensen likes the human touch. During intermissions at the Kimmel Center, armed with the knowledge of where a regular subscriber is sitting (courtesy of the Orchestra’s Development office), “I’ll go to them, introduce myself, and chat a bit on a broad range of subjects. It’s helped, especially in fundraising, or getting an additional gift.”

Of course, that’s not the only way Mortensen contributes to the Orchestra’s well-being. He sits on the Board’s Executive, Finance, and Development Committees, and he co-chairs the Maestro’s Circle Committee. He’s a generous donor as well.

Mortensen’s road to The Philadelphia Orchestra began at Rutgers, where he sang baritone in the mixed choir. In the early ’60s, Eugene Ormandy called on singers from Rutgers and several other colleges to perform Orff’s Carmina burana with the Orchestra. “We did a lot of hard work, line by line, until he was satisfied!”

Aside from music, another key element of Mortensen’s Rutgers education was ROTC. He graduated in 1963 as a second lieutenant and went on to serve in Vietnam, where he won the Bronze Star. (He remained in the Reserves for 28 years). After four years of active duty, he joined the New York Central Railroad as a management trainee. A series of mergers led him to relocate to Philadelphia, where, just shy of his 65th birthday, he retired after 30 years in the railroad business.

Getting involved on the Orchestra’s Board came naturally, given his musical background. He’s been a generous supporter of the music program at Rutgers (Robert E. Mortensen Hall is the first home of choral music at the school.) And it certainly helped that he was one of the original tenants at Academy House, right next door to the Academy of Music. The best part about serving on the Board? “Clearly, it’s my ability to support, at several levels, one of the greatest orchestras in the world.” A current challenge is building up the endowment, something he relishes. “I enjoy fundraising. I can make a cold call without much problem. We’ve gradually been able to add to our donor base, as well as get people to commit to increasingly larger annual gifts.”

One of his latest generous gifts: He endowed the Robert E. Mortensen Chair in the first violin section, currently held by Barbara Govatos. “I wanted to do something more for the Orchestra than just my annual gift. This is a long-term commitment to the Orchestra, and to its musicians.”

Mortensen’s message to others who’d like to contribute? “Everyone in this area has a positive attitude about The Philadelphia Orchestra. It is representative of this city and the U.S. when it goes on tour. It’s important for everyone to ensure that it survives and prospers. That includes both financial support and buying tickets and attending performances.”

Mortensen looks forward to his continued role as a Board member, including “trying to build that base of support, especially seeking people who’ll commit to an endowment gift.” And of course, you may meet him at intermission, dropping by for a friendly chat about his beloved Philadelphia Orchestra.

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18 days ago |
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The Philadelphia Orchestra recently received extraordinary pledges from two generous donors, Peter Benoliel and Hannah Henderson, to name and endow important chairs in the ensemble. Named, endowed chairs are critical to the artistic excellence of the Orchestra, providing sustained annual income that allows us to recruit and retain the very finest musicians in the world.

Peter A. Benoliel, a well-known and respected figure in the Orchestra family, has endowed the Joseph Brodo Chair in the second violin section. Benoliel is a distinguished civic and business leader, serving as CEO of Quaker Chemical, as a director of numerous leading companies, and as a director and chairman of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve. He’s played an equally impressive role as a volunteer leader, serving as an emeritus trustee of the Curtis Institute, chairman emeritus of the Settlement Music School, and former chairman of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Board of Directors.

Peter grew up loving classical music, attending Philadelphia Orchestra concerts conducted by Leopold Stokowski as a young man. He began taking violin lessons from Joseph Brodo, who served as a member of the Orchestra from 1918 to 1924 and then again from 1943 to 1960. Peter’s gift to endow the Joseph Brodo Chair, currently held by violinist Booker Rowe, pays tribute to his former teacher. This is the second chair he has endowed in the Orchestra—the first was the Peter A. Benoliel Chair, currently held by Principal Second Violin Kimberly Fisher.

Hannah L. Henderson, a long-term subscriber who is passionate about music and the arts, has endowed the Hannah L. and J. Welles Henderson Chair in the horn section of the Orchestra. Hannah, a native of Boston from a family that always supported music, art, and education, has been a subscriber and Philadelphia Orchestra fan for 40 years. Her late husband, J. Welles Henderson, led a distinguished law career, serving as a partner at Palmer, Biezup & Henderson and as honorary consul general to Japan. Welles was also the founder and chairman of the Independence Seaport Museum and served on the boards of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the World Affairs Council, the Independence Hall Association, and the Fairmount Park Art Association, among others. Hannah and Welles were married for 57 years before he passed away in 2007. The Henderson Chair will be held by Associate Principal Horn Jeffrey Lang.

The Orchestra Family is deeply grateful to Peter and Hannah for these commitments to sustain and strengthen the artistic excellence of our ensemble.

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19 days ago |
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Last week, four musicians from The Philadelphia Orchestra who can typically be seen (and heard) from the rear of the stage took center stage for the first Philadelphia Orchestra performances of Jennifer Higdon's Low Brass Concerto. The piece was co-commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, and the Baltimore Symphony.

Pictured here after the Philadelphia premiere performance, the soloists (from left; bass trombone Blair Bollinger, Drs. Bong and Mi Wha Lee Chair; Co-Principal Trombone Matthew Vaughn; Principal Trombone Nitzan Haroz, Neubauer Family Foundation Chair; and  Principal Tuba Carol Jantsch, Lyn and George M. Ross Chair) are joined by composer Jennifer Higdon, conductor Cristian Macelaru, and Susan and Frank Mechura who generously supported the commission.

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“Crowdsourcing” as a term for the tech age was coined as recently as 2005, but as a broad concept it’s as old as human society itself. Any social contract, any set of organizational by-laws, even any national Constitution, is the result of the coming-together of a multitude of ideas, opinions, voices: a “crowd of sources.” Wikipedia, which is quotable here perhaps only because it is itself a sort of modern triumph of crowdsourcing, defines the term as “a sourcing model in which individuals or organizations obtain goods and services, including ideas … from a large, relatively open, and often rapidly evolving group … to achieve a cumulative result.”

In the arts, roots for crowdsourcing were planted, perhaps, by anthologies of stories by various authors, or by murals painted by multiple artists, or even (in music) by the variations that Anton Diabelli commissioned from 51 different composers in 1819 and published as a gigantic mish-mash. In the modern era, composers have taken this to a new level by including natural sounds, poetry, and storytelling—from the recorded bird calls in Respighi’s 1924 The Pines of Rome to the seemingly random chatter in Luciano Berio’s 1968 Sinfonia and the recorded conversations that morph into instrumental melodies in Steve Reich’s 1988 Different Trains.

Some might say that none of these relatively controlled settings constitute crowdsourcing per se. Certainly none of them could have prepared us for Tod Machover’s “crowdsourced symphonies,” which take to heart the concept of egalitarian openness by soliciting material from everyone and everywhere, which the composer then forms not only into the very building-blocks of his music, but into the text for the piece as well. The way these collected elements fit together, and the collaboration that evolves between all the participants, is at the core of Machover’s vision.

Composer Tod Machover getting some sound from the Drexel Young Dragons. Photo by Rebecca Kleinberger

This April 5-7 (at the Kimmel Center) and April 10 (at Carnegie Hall), The Philadelphia Orchestra presents the world premiere of Philadelphia Voices, the seventh in Machover’s series of crowdsourced “City Symphonies” and perhaps the most comprehensive in scope so far. For nearly a year, the Juilliard-trained, MIT-based composer has spent countless hours in Philadelphia-area schools, community centers, museums, workshops, cafés—talking, listening, collecting, recording. Last May the Orchestra launched a Philadelphia Voices app (developed by Machover’s team at the MIT Media Lab) that has collected some 8,000 recorded entries—from poems and stories to natural sounds and urban chatter that represent the unique feel of the city that calls itself the cradle of American democracy.  

“It’s an incredibly creative place, and I did get a huge amount of text,” says Machover, adding that he listened to every single one of the recordings from the app (some of which were quite lengthy). But he also says that his face-to-face conversations with Philadelphians from a broad spectrum were just as valuable, if not more. “And part of that is because it’s called Philadelphia Voices: We made it clear that we were looking for sounds of the city, yes, but we were also looking for the sounds of people’s voices. And I was really, really impressed with the variety of different things that people did with their voices. Some of them sang, a lot of people just made sounds with their voices, and some were actually speaking. And that’s exactly what I was looking for: stories about the people themselves, about their personal lives. Stories about Philadelphia that were unique and that could be conveyed with the voice. I took my favorite texts collected from throughout the city and created a kind of ‘libretto’ that forms the backbone of the symphony.”

Machover and members of The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Philadelphia Voices app launch in Perelman Theater in May 2017. Photo by Pete Checchia

To some extent, the emphasis on the voice grew from the enthusiasms of Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is also music director designate of the Metropolitan Opera and one of the great vocal conductors of today. (Yannick met Tod at the 2016 Musical America Awards, where the conductor was dubbed Artist of the Year and Tod was named Composer of the Year. After an animated conversation about music and orchestras, the two enthusiastically agreed Tod should do a work for Philadelphia.) “First of all, I love the voice,” Yannick says. “Our Orchestra, of course, is at the center stage of this. But there’s so much vocal talent here as well, that we commissioned Tod, one of our most important composers, to write a community-oriented piece, a large-scale one that will have The Philadelphia Orchestra and all the talent of the city—of various origins and ages and backgrounds. Commonwealth Youth Choirs will be part of it, as will Sister Cities Girlchoir and the Westminster Symphonic Choir, and they all will collaborate with the Orchestra in this very special world premiere.”

Philadelphia Voices is part of a larger vision: Community Commissions is a pioneering initiative designed to meld community and artistic voices on stage on a regular basis. Driven by Nézet-Séguin himself, the program began with the establishment of Hannibal as the Orchestra’s Music Alive composer-in-residence and continues with the Machover premiere and a Hannibal commission, Healing Tones, scheduled for March 2019.

Adjunct to the commissions is a series of concerts that regularly embed artistic partners from all backgrounds and genres into regular season performances: Bernstein’s MASS in 2015 invited such groups as the Temple University Concert Choir, the Rock School for Dance Education, and Temple’s Diamond Marching Band. More recently the Orchestra included bagpipers from the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums into performances of Peter Maxwell Davies’s An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise. Hannibal’s Healing Tones will include intimate collaborations with schools, churches, detention centers and other organizations.

The Philadelphia Voices app with some entries.

Each of Machover’s “City Symphonies” is tailor-made for a community and its concerns. (He now counts Toronto, Edinburgh, Perth, Lucerne, Detroit, and Miami among the cities “covered,” and after Philly will come Boston.) For the Symphony in D, the Detroit Symphony invited poets and storytellers, including some who remembered the Motor City’s economic heyday, to appear onstage and recount their memories. In Lucerne, one of the city’s Fasnacht ensembles (a sort of Swiss version of the Mummers) was invited to interrupt the piece with a raucous parade-through.

In Philadelphia, Machover was supplied with such an abundance of choral and miscellaneous vocal talent that he decided to set many of the spoken entries to song. “We have 250 people onstage, as kind of my choral collaborators.” In addition to texts and recorded sounds (bird-cries at the Philadelphia Zoo, traffic, cheesesteak meat sizzling at Pat’s), the various choirs he’s been working with all year “have become collaborators in a way that is deeper than in any of the other projects.”

Machover says he wants to utilize both the poetic and the vocal gifts that he was hearing throughout Philadelphia to express what was, for many, the crux of the city’s legacy: “The birthplace of democracy.” He encouraged contributors to “reflect a little bit on what it meant to have had the country start here, and to be where we are now. And does Philadelphia have any particular role to play in rethinking where we’re going at this particular moment?” What he found was an enormous variety of commentary about the subject, but also plenty of opinion “about how people treat each other in Philadelphia, and about how the structure of the neighborhoods is so important to people’s identity.” And about SEPTA—which received both opprobrium and (mostly begrudging) praise. “Philly is a place where people are in their neighborhoods,” Machover says, “but they also feel like the whole metropolitan area is open to them, and that they have the resources and the public transportation to get there.”

Machover talks with an actor dressed as James Madison at the Constitution Center’s National Constitution Day in 2017. Photo by Xi Wang

He was also struck by the extent to which William Penn’s ideals, and the genius of the American Constitution itself, seemed to be “more in the DNA here than anywhere else.” It wasn’t an accident that the country started here, he says, and even jaded locals are proud of that. “So I really went in wanting to know how much of that has persisted, how it is shown in the institutions, and what it means for people today.”

To no one’s surprise, Philadelphians—from savvy teens to pensive, fast-talking adults—were more than willing to speak. In the Philadelphia Voices finale, which the composer describes as “a kind of hymn to brotherly and sisterly love,” Machover said he found himself inexorably drawn to a forthright poem by a 16-year-old from the Mighty Writers program: “She basically cries out, ‘When are you going to f**king listen!?’ Because when we come right down to it, we’ve never had a period where democracy is actually in question. Who would have thought? So it seemed important to look at Philadelphia through the lens of democracy.”

In particular, he says: “How do we set up a situation where we’re willing to listen to anyone, let alone someone who disagrees with us? That’s part of the feeling that I want to come across. That here we are, listening to this symphony, but we’re listening to each other onstage, listening to each other in the city. … Having a place where we feel what it’s like to hear other voices happens to be a value I think we should leave people with, at the end. A value that is central to Philadelphia, and to me.”

Tod Machover’s Philadelphia Voices receives its world premiere April 5-7. For more information and to purchase tickets please visit

Paul Horsley is performing arts editor of the Independent in Kansas City and writes for several publications nationwide. During the 1990s he was program annotator and musicologist for The Philadelphia Orchestra and subsequently served as music and dance critic for the Kansas City Star.

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Each month in the Orchestra’s Playbill, we feature one musician in a question-and-answer segment. Below is that feature in its entirety.

Where were you born? I was born in Elmhurst, IL. 

What is your most treasured possession? Besides my family, my five-octave Marimba One. It lives on the first floor of our house. Every other percussion instrument we own is stored in the basement!

What’s your favorite Philadelphia restaurant? Any Stephen Starr restaurant. They have great food with fun themes. 

Tell us about your instrument. My husband and I are both percussionists, so we own eight timpani, three xylophones, two marimbas, two glockenspiels, a vibraphone, shelves of snare drums, rows of cymbals, and drawers of bells and whistles! 

What piece of music never fails to move you? Two pieces for two very different reasons: the second movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major because it gives me peace and serenity, and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony because it terrifies me.

When did you join the Orchestra? In 1999.

Do you play any other instruments? Piano and I’ve also taken some organ lessons. I was looking for an instrument even louder than percussion. 

What’s your favorite type of food? I don’t have a favorite, but I miss my Chicago pizzas and Portillo’s beef.

What books are on your nightstand? Hard copy or e-reader? I listen to audio books now since my commute into the city is long. My favorite author of the moment is Joyce Carol Oates.Do you have any hobbies? Driving a taxi—mom’s taxi.

What’s the last recording you purchased? CD or download? I recently downloaded Lady Gaga’s album Joanne. My daughters and I are all “Little Monsters.” 

When was the first time you heard The Philadelphia Orchestra? In 1997 when I auditioned at Temple University. I was so impressed with the lush sound quality. It was the best blend of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion that I had ever heard. I strive to perpetuate that sound.

Other than Verizon Hall, where is your favorite place to perform? Carnegie Hall. I always imagine the history of the impressive artists that have played there. Their music still resonates in the hall. I’m blessed to be able to add my voice. 

Photo by Jessica Griffin

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A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family

Philadelphia born and bred, city arts official and Philadelphia Orchestra Board member Kelly Lee vividly recalls the first time she heard her world-class hometown orchestra. It wasn’t at a concert. “I was watching the classic Disney film Fantasia when I was young. At the time I didn’t realize it was The Philadelphia Orchestra! But I really enjoyed the entire experience of the animation, because of its connection to the music.”

Who knows what sets people on their career path? But that early encounter with the Fabulous Philadelphians surely had an effect on Kelly. School at Germantown Friends led to the University of Pennsylvania, and then a fascinating series of positions promoting and supporting the arts. “I’ve worked at Innovation Philadelphia, a non-profit that supported technology-based creative businesses. I also worked in economic development at PECO Energy and the City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce, promoting the arts as a business attraction strategy. As director of communications of the Pennsylvania Convention Authority, I leveraged the arts in Philadelphia in marketing the Convention Center and the city, to attract conferences and conventions to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.”

Today, Kelly is head of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy. “That title is all-inclusive in that the office focuses on the diversity of creative industries, both nonprofit and for profit. Creative economy includes the support of professionals in the sector, and those who will be in the sector in the future.”

Two years into her tenure, Kelly points to progress in several areas: “Expanding high-quality performances in neighborhoods where people live; collaborating with other city departments including Parks and Recreation and the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education, to infuse the arts in their activities; and promoting the high-quality, free programming that arts organizations are doing all around the city, to provide access to everyone.”

Kelly also serves on The Philadelphia Orchestra Association’s Board of Directors. “I’m relatively new to the Board, and consider my seat a privilege. I would love to highlight the other work the Orchestra does besides perform, such as its educational and youth programs. Not many people know that the Orchestra offers programs like these through partnerships with the School District of Philadelphia. I’m very excited about the work the Orchestra does, and look forward to helping them to reach their goals to increase visibility and diversity.”

Her busy career hasn’t always left time for going to concerts. “I’ve always enjoyed listening to classical music while relaxing, reading, or cooking, but hadn’t attended Orchestra concerts on a regular basis until recently. Now, I’ve come to realize that hearing them live adds another level to the experience. My favorite concert to date was the Opening Night Concert and Gala last October. I really loved the diversity, with compositions by Bernstein, Beethoven, and Brahms, as well as the impressive performance by the eight-year-old protégé pianist [Albert M. Greenfield Student Competition winner Harmony Zhu].”

Kelly stresses, you don’t have to be a high-powered city official to get involved with The Philadelphia Orchestra.I would say it is a privilege for anyone who is fortunate enough to see the Orchestra live. I encourage the current audience to find ways to support the Orchestra financially, so that they can continue their programs to reach those less privileged.”

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As part of its commitment to cultural diplomacy, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will tour Europe and Israel from May 24 through June 5, 2018. The visit to Israel—in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia—coincides with the country’s 70th anniversary and marks only the second time the Orchestra has traveled there; its inaugural visit was in 1992.

From its earliest days, The Philadelphia Orchestra has traveled beyond its hometown borders. Just four days after its first concert, in November 1900, the ensemble dipped its toes into the touring pool by performing in nearby Reading, PA. Over the next 27 years the boundaries gradually expanded to include such metropolises as New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, and Detroit, as well as smaller cities such as Lima (OH), Meriden (CT), North Adams (MA), and Ypsilanti (MI). 

Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra leave on the 1936 trans-continental tour, during which they traveled 11,000 miles and performed 33 concerts in 30 days. Photo: Thompson (Philadelphia Orchestra Association Archives)

Then, from April to May 1936, under Leopold Stokowski’s baton, the Orchestra undertook a mammoth transcontinental train tour, traveling 11,000 miles and performing 33 concerts in 30 days. Since then the Fabulous Philadelphians have become one of the most widely traveled orchestras in the world, performing across America, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and South America.

This spring, when the Orchestra returns to Europe, it will be 69 years after its first visit, a voyage by boat to Great Britain consisting of 28 concerts in 27 days. The 2018 Tour brings the Philadelphia Sound to devoted fans in Brussels, Luxembourg, Paris (a debut at the Jean Nouvel-designed Philharmonie de Paris), Düsseldorf, Hamburg (a debut at the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Elbphilharmonie), Vienna, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. Click here for a complete listing of concert information.

The Orchestra embarking from New York on its first overseas tour, to Great Britain in 1949, performing 28 concerts in 27 days. Photo: Jules Schick (Philadelphia Orchestra Association Archives)

The Philadelphia Orchestra is only the third major American symphony to visit Israel since its founding, and the only major American symphony orchestra to travel there during this anniversary year. This tour continues a tradition of Philadelphia Orchestra celebrations of important Israeli anniversaries. The ensemble marked the 50th and 60th Israel anniversaries with special concert programs in Philadelphia, including a 1998 “side-by-side” concert with the Israel Philharmonic.

“To have this remarkable opportunity to travel to Israel with the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra is a dream come true,” said Nézet-Séguin, who will make his first visit to Israel on this tour. “I also look forward to returning to Europe, where classical music is so deeply admired, and where we will bring our distinctive sound to some of the world’s most esteemed concert halls.”

WRTI 90.1 FM, the Orchestra’s radio partner, will bring the excitement of the tour to audiences back home when it simulcasts concerts in Vienna (June 1), Tel Aviv (June 4), and Jerusalem (June 5). Additionally, the June 1 and 4 performances will be recorded for delayed broadcast across Europe through the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF, and throughout Israel on Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation KAN.

In addition to delivering exceptional performances, the Orchestra is committed to cultural diplomacy, using music to bring people and cultures together in ways that would not otherwise take place. While in Israel, Orchestra musicians will participate in residency activities, which will include master classes with students from the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, a pop-up concert at Tel Aviv University, and an arts administration roundtable. These activities in residence have become a hallmark of the Orchestra’s tours and have influenced its work offstage in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Orchestra and Riccardo Muti acknowledge the audience's applause following a concert in Tel Aviv on the ensemble's first tour to Israel, in 1992. Photo: Jean Brubaker

The Israel portion of the itinerary will also include a special patron tour and mission from June 1 through 7, 2018, led by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. An immersive exploration of music, food, history, and Israeli modern-day life, the patron tour will include Orchestra events and a culinary adventure led and curated by renowned Israeli-born chef Michael Solomonov, known for his landmark Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav. Highlights of the patron tour include a walking tour of Jaffa with dual perspectives from Jewish and Arab guides; a briefing on the state of Israel today with journalist Alon Ben-David; and culinary tours of the Negev and Jerusalem, and a prepared dinner in the desert. For more information about the patron tour, visit

In partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia, the tour will also bring a business delegation to promote state and city trade and tourism. This group of business leaders will develop and strengthen bonds with key European and Israeli counterparts. Business delegation trips on past tours have resulted in foreign investment in Pennsylvania and the creation of new jobs.

Touring is an important part of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s mission as cultural diplomats, and its work has been recognized by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and by numerous ambassadors and the Commonwealth. Cultural diplomacy benefits Philadelphia by bringing new arts and business opportunities to the region and the markets where the Orchestra performs, and is uniquely fulfilling to the musicians. Being on the road helps The Philadelphia Orchestra offer its music to patrons around the world, and creates real home-town pride for all Philadelphians.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2018 Tour of Europe and Israel is supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Team PA. PHLCVB is a supporting sponsor of the Europe portion of the tour. Lead support for the Israel portion of the tour comes from the Neubauer Family Foundation and Constance Smukler, with additional support from John H. McFadden and Lisa D. Kabnick; Sandy and David Marshall; Joan N. Stern in memory of Clarence and Diana Stern; Miriam Klein Charitable Foundation; the Leslie and Richard Worley Foundation; the Paul E. Singer Foundation; Tobey and Mark Dichter; the Moses Feldman Foundation; Rachelle and Ron Kaiserman; Lynn and Joe Manko; Sherrie R. Savett; Adele K. Schaeffer; Linda and Harold B. Yaffe; and Joseph S. and Renee M. Zuritsky. Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) is the official education and healthcare partner for the Israel portion of the tour. The trip is being coordinated with the formal inauguration of the Jefferson Israel Center, one of several multi-institutional collaborations with Jefferson and Israel.   

Tags: 2018 Tour of Europe and IsraelGallery small size: 1Blog Category: In the NewsTopic: Tours and TravelsPromote to Menu: True
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