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After a Punishing Sprint, Yannick Nézet-Séguin Can Celebrate

During a phone call while en route to New York on Saturday, Nézet-Séguin reflected on that much-needed hiatus, and how he got through his recent grind. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What made you want to say yes to Vienna?

My first instinct as a conductor is that I want to help.

I have been making some hard decisions in the past decade, about certain opportunities in Europe with orchestras that I have developed relationships with, like Vienna. But my first responsibility is to the institutions that I am the leader of: It’s the Met, it’s Philadelphia, it’s Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal.

So I end up having to say no very often. And now here they are, and Carnegie — which has been such a great partner of mine at the Philadelphia Orchestra — needs my help. It didn’t take much time for me to say yes.

How did you use that 75-minute rehearsal?

When I said yes, I knew that if I took a two- or three-hour rehearsal in the morning, the energy needed would be too much. So the orchestra told me what they needed most from me, and we fixed two or three obvious spots in the Rachmaninoff symphony. But this appeals to what a conductor should be doing. You just make things work. The Rachmaninoff thrives on being free and beautiful. Some things need to be clear, but some things just need to be in the moment. I could never be stressed, because if I start to be stressed, then everyone is, and the result is bad for the audience.

Because of the Vienna concerts, you were suddenly holding seven additional works in your head. How did you manage that, on top of “Don Carlos” and “Tosca”?

It takes a lot of discipline, because I have music constantly in my head, but rarely the piece that I’m about to do. When I’m juggling a lot of pieces like this, I have to almost press play on a recording, a mental recording. So the day of the Rachmaninoff, I had to force myself to open up the score to get in the right mode. I had a bit more time on Saturday to recuperate and study, but I purposefully decided to not prepare for Sunday. If you take it one day at a time, it really helps.

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