Classical music Montréal achieved an apotheosis when Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted his hometown Orchestre Métropolitain in a concert Hollywood couldn’t have scripted better nor the Cirque du Soleil made more fantastic. It was the meteoric Nézet-Séguin in his native habitat; a native Montréaller who deeply loves the city, he had well deserved the honor of being first Canadian conductor to lead a Top Five American orchestra, since 2010 when he was named music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The audience, who were buzzing about the news announced only days before, that their Yannick would be the next Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, roared when he ran out on stage, like Montréallers greet their hockey stars.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin © Orchestre Métropolitain
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
© Orchestre Métropolitain

Nézet-Séguin opened appropriately with the Overture to Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni, like he, the musicians and the audience were celebrating his new job. And though it was the last concert of the season, it was in no way a farewell. He has already signed up with the OM through to 2021, and is continuing his Bruckner cycle with them for Johanne Goyette’s ATMA Classique. Mozart’s overture began ambiguously but soon the orchestra was moving together to a pulse not a beat, the bassoons playing beautifully in tune, and the strings matching direction and speed as if dancing with the balletic figure on the podium. After perfectly gauging their momentum, he threw them headlong into an exhilarating, light Allegro; it was Don Giovanni for a Champagne night, and the audience was breathless with delight when Nézet-Séguin took the microphone and spoke of the “buffet d’amour” – the love affair – he has with them.

The feelings were mutual when Berlin Philharmonic principal Andreas Ottensamer, another GQ type, played Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. It was a different magical; instead of being a lachrymose reflection on death – Mozart wrote the Concerto only a few months before he died – it was an optimistic embrace of mortality. Partnering the lithe young soloist, the OM laid down an appropriately heavenly, sleek and slightly breathless skein of radiant, pastel sound, miraculously transparently, like chamber music. The subtlety of movement and phrasing that the musicians achieved was more than the result of mere rehearsals; they reached in every measure for that golden extra 10% which ideally happens only during performances. In the last movement, Ottensamer let loose with such a torrent of trills and turns, that the musical hilarity was swallowed up at the end in the applause.

Andreas Ottensamer and Yannick Nézet-Séguin © Orchestre Métropolitain
Andreas Ottensamer and Yannick Nézet-Séguin
© Orchestre Métropolitain
After intermission, there were a few anxious moments and a few minutes’ delay when the management announced that Ottensamer's clarinet had suffered a minor mechanical injury; but a roll of double-stick tape from the OM’s clarinet section came to the rescue and Ottensamer celebrated Nézet-Séguin’s new Met job by playing an intoxicating operatic fantasy on themes from Verdi's Rigoletto composed by Luigi Bassi in 1865. Ottensamer and his silvery tone flirted and warbled through the elaborate introduction, and when the first of the opera’s famous themes sounded, the audience laughed. It was circus music at its best, and the crowd went wild.

The ruckus had hardly died down when Nézet-Séguin returned to the stage, leapt onto the podium and ignited the fuse on Richard Strauss’ own Don Juan with explosive timpani strokes that could have sold 10,000 audiophile speakers. He then sculpted the music into fast, surging waves of phrases so compelling that even the five French horns’ two sets of glorious calls were momentarily lost in the combined orchestral energy before ringing out in golden perfection in the Maison Symphonique, itself sounding pretty grand. 

It was Strauss as an exuberant, intoxicated poet, not a profound German Romantic. There was a glow and an aura to the orchestral texture and fabric. The strings played their impossible parts, chief fodder of orchestral auditions, with passion, courage and precision. Every member of the orchestra gave it everything they had. It was Montréal.