During a phone call on his way to New York on Saturday, Nézet-Séguin reflected on that much-needed break and how he got through his recent rut. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Why did you want to say yes to Vienna?
My first instinct as a conductor is that I want to help.
I’ve made some tough decisions over the past ten years about certain opportunities in Europe with orchestras I’ve developed relationships with, such as Vienna. But my primary responsibility lies with the institutions I lead: it’s the Met, it’s Philadelphia, it’s Orchester Métropolitain in Montreal.
So in the end I have to say no very often. And now they’re here, and Carnegie—who has been such a wonderful partner of mine with the Philadelphia Orchestra—needs my help. It didn’t take me long 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 required would be too much. So the orchestra told me what they needed most from me, and we made two or three clear spots in the Rachmaninov symphony. But this appeals to what a conductor should do. You just make things work. The Rachmaninov thrives on being free and beautiful. Some things need to be obvious, but some things just need to be in the moment. I could never be stressed, because when I start to get stressed, everyone is, and the result is bad for the public.
Because of the concerts in Vienna you suddenly had seven extra works in your head. How did you manage that, on top of “Don Carlos” and “Tosca”?
It takes a lot of discipline, because I constantly have music in my head, but rarely the piece I’m going to do. When I’m juggling a lot of pieces like this, I almost have to press play on a recording, a mental recording. So on the day of the Rachmaninov, I had to force myself to open the score to get into the right mode. Saturday I had a little more time to recuperate and study, but I consciously decided not to prepare for Sunday. If you take it one day at a time, it really helps.