BSO debut for a rising Canadian
The career of the French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been moving at light speed, though American symphony audiences are just now starting to get to know him. At just 34, he is in his first season as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, attempting to fill the shoes of Valery Gergiev, and this season he also began as principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 2000, he has been leading Montreal's Orchestre Métropolitain. Last night, he made an auspicious debut leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra in works by Ravel, Liszt, and Dvorak.
Walking out onto stage Nézet-Séguin cuts a diminutive figure but once the music begins he is a whirl of irrepressible energy. His podium approach is vividly demonstrative and almost dance-like yet his gestures seldom seem designed for the audience's benefit rather than the musicians'. At least last night his technique served him very well as he drew vibrant performances from the orchestra, at once structurally coherent and viscerally exciting.
The program opened with Ravel's "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" in a reading that seemed to relish this music's luxurious textures and rich palette of color. But the center of gravity on the first half was Liszt's brief but capacious Piano Concerto No. 2, with the French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Given this soloist's reputation for keyboard elegance, one would hardly expect a brash firebreathing account of this virtuoso work, and true to form, Thibaudet delivered a graceful and nuanced reading that strived for much more than pyrotechnic display. The work's passages of soft-toned reverie came across as cherished moments of repose, though Thibaudet did not shy away from the flashy and thunderous runs, dispatching them with a clear and forceful technique. Cellist Martha Babcock made the most of her solo turn.
After intermission, Nézet-Séguin led a robust and dynamic account of Dvorak's Sixth Symphony, full of shape and detail without sacrificing a sense of overall sweep. The occasional balance was askew but the performance brimmed with energy. The slow movement had its own completely distinct mood and character, distinguished by long lines and shapely phrases from the woodwinds. Dvorak's Scherzo is a blast of chest-thumping musical nationalism, here vigorously dispatched. In both outer movements, there were moments when Nézet-Séguin daringly pushed the tempo to the limits but the orchestra was with him every step of the way.