In a fall season that promised to begin a year of living glamorously, maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin canceled a Vienna State Opera engagement in September, raising concerns over his forthcoming Philadelphia Orchestra season openers, on Wednesday at Carnegie Hall and Thursday at the Kimmel Center.
The problem: Recurring arm tendinitis — and he’s getting off easy compared to colleagues such as Lang Lang.
“I am fully present,” said Nézet-Séguin in a phone interview last week. “I feel strong. I feel fine for opening seasons in Rotterdam and Philadelphia.”
On health matters, Nézet-Séguin, now 42, is old school: It’s private. So little is known about his two-month absence during the 2013-14 season that even gossip-based theories aren’t in evidence.
Significant health worries are hard to imagine. His Facebook page often looks like an exercise video. But among classical musicians, no one’s robustness is a guarantee.
For Wednesday’s Carnegie Hall opening, Lang Lang will perform despite right-arm inflammation in a two-piano version of Rhapsody in Blue with Chick Corea. Lang Lang’s 14-year-old protege, Maxim Lando, will handle his right-arm duties.
The price of ignoring injuries was exemplified recently by 53-year-old conductor Gianandrea Noseda, a frequent Philadelphia visitor who is now leading Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra: He had emergency surgery in June for a herniated disk, and, according to the Washington Post, is doing physical-therapy exercises in his dressing room.
Nézet-Séguin‘s tendinitis began during this year’s Far East tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra. “When I got back to Montreal and we did some tests, I had to rest for a couple of weeks. I conducted Parsifal [in a summer festival outside Montreal] and it went just fine,” he said. “When I conducted the Bruckner Fifth to open the Orchestre Metropolitain season, it came back. More tests, more therapy. I didn’t want to leave this problem hanging. I have all the tools to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
His schedule, as presented on his newly refurbished website, yannicknezetseguin.com, looks far saner than in past years, when Nézet-Séguin seemed like a candidate for Overconductors Anonymous. Seemingly in denial, he would exclaim, “I am not Gergiev!” (referring to the constantly traveling and conducting Valery Gergiev).
This season, Nézet-Séguin is sticking closer to his homes: Montreal, Philadelphia, and Rotterdam. The current season is his last with the Dutch orchestra (he’s been chief conductor since 2008), and he’s spending more time there than in past years. He’ll also tour Europe with his Orchestre Metropolitain, with whom he recently recorded a Deutsche Grammophon-label collection of opera duets with Rolando Villazon and Ildar Abdrazakov.
At New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where he’s music director designate, he’s planning to take days off between some performances of the five-hour-plus Parsifal (Feb. 5 to 27, 2018). “I have down time to study,” he said, “and not be like a wheel and a hamster.”
He will have two doubleheaders on March 9 and 17, conducting Strauss’ formidable Elektra at the Met in the afternoon and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the evening, the March 9 concert including Michel van der Aa’s acclaimed but still unfamiliar 2014 Violin Concerto.
That’s not grounds for an intervention. “Elektra is short,” he said. “It’s fine. Put it this way: I know myself better now.”