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Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director and artistic director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.GEORGE ETHEREDGE

When it comes to orchestra conductors, there is no one quite like Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Except for his new bobblehead doll. The resemblance is uncanny, from the top of the thing’s bleached-blond head to the bottom of the red-soled shoes.

“My goodness, that came as a surprise,” Nézet-Séguin says of his doppelganger mini-me. “I’m not embarrassed by it, though. It looks okay.”

The bobblehead is a promotional item put out by the Philadelphia Orchestra, which recently signed the superstar Montrealer to a contract extension that will keep him in the land of cheesesteaks until 2030 as the renowned symphony’s music director and artistic director.

Philadelphians are a tough breed. They once booed Santa Claus. But they love as hard as they hate, and they adore Nézet-Séguin seemingly as much as they do local sports celebrities Joel Embiid and Bryce Harper. Indeed, the orchestra recently organized a “Philly Loves Yannick Week.”

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Yannick bobblehead. Courtesy of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center

Yannick Nézet-Séguin bobblehead.Courtesy of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center

But it is not just a Philadelphia fling. The maestro is having a moment, universally.

At last month’s Grammy Awards, he took home trophies as a conductor (for Blanchard: Fire Shut Up In My Bones, recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera) and as a pianist (for Voice Of Nature – The Anthropocene, with soprano Renée Fleming).

Nézet-Séguin, 48, has been with the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2012. He is also the music director at the Met and holds the same position with the Metropolitan Orchestra in Montreal, where he is principal conductor as well. His baton is busier than wind in a tornado.

If his calendar is not full enough, he has been on film sets as a consultant on Netflix’s forthcoming Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro (directed by and starring Bradley Cooper) and as an artistic advisor to director Chloé Robichaud in Happy Days, in which Sophie Desmarais stars as a conductor.

(Yes, Nézet-Séguin saw Tár, last year’s psychological drama that starred Cate Blanchett as a conductor accused of sexual misconduct. “I love Cate Blanchett and I thought her performance was great,” he says. “I just wish that the film would have showed a different side of classical music. It’s always the bad side in movies.”)

This weekend he conducts Wagner’s Lohengrin at New York’s Lincoln Center before a date with the Orchestre Métropolitain at Montreal’s Bourgie Hall on Sunday for a program of Bach cantatas.

“These are,” he says, speaking from New York, “crazy days.”

That he is in high demand is nothing new. When the Met nabbed Nézet-Séguin to succeed James Levine has its music director in 2016, they had to wait until the 2020-21 season for him to officially take up the position because his schedule was so heavily booked in advance.

The Financial Times once trumpeted Nézet-Séguin as the “greatest generator of energy on the international podium.” American opera star Joyce DiDonato bestowed upon him the unofficial title of classical music’s “Mighty Mouse.” And in a world where conducting remains mostly an occupation for buttoned-up straights, the modestly tattooed, openly gay Nézet-Séguin represents a progressive future.

“Yannick is an artist at the top of his powers and at the very top of the classical music world,” says Matias Tarnopolsky, president and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. “He uses his artistry and his platforms to show that if we give space for music in our lives, we can make the world a more just, inclusive and peaceful society.”

That is a lot. One hopes Nézet-Séguin received a big, fat raise for all of it.

“Let’s just say we’re very happy he’s staying in Philadelphia,” his boss responds with a chuckle.

Tarnopolsky describes Nézet-Séguin as a “visionary leader.” To many, the son of two Montreal university educators is a generational icon schooling the world on new possibilities for classical music. Though it is a heavy load for a relatively young man – “I’m flattered you describe me that way, but I’m not so young any more,” says the world’s oldest wunderkind – it is a challenge he accepts.

“My role as a leader of these institutions is enabling the need to redefine some of the guidelines for the next chapter in classical music. I take the responsibility seriously, but also gladly. I don’t feel it as a pressure.”

One of the things Nézet-Séguin is doing is championing under-represented and overlooked composers such as Florence Price (the first Black woman to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra, in 1933) and Canada’s Barbara Assiginaak, from Odawa First Nation. Last month, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed William L. Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony.

When Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones made its Metropolitan Opera bow in 2021, it became the first opera by a Black composer ever performed by the Met. According to Nézet-Séguin, first-time Met-goers accounted for half the total ticket sales.

“Making society grow together is what our art form can do. There is a pent-up desire to see something on stage that reflects people’s reality.”

Nézet-Séguin believes in welcoming, not imposing. That attitude applies to musicians as well as audiences. On the podium he is considered to be less dictatorial than the conductors of previous eras.

“It used to be that conductors would treat musicians like idiots,” says Mervon Mehta, executive director, performing arts, with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. “But Yannick has a collaborative way of working, and I think musicians at this level appreciate that freedom.”

Mehta and the conservatory are bringing Nézet-Séguin and Philadelphia’s finest to Koerner Hall next spring for a program of music by Price and Rachmaninov. Fans pining for the maestro to make an appearance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will have to wait, however. His baton is spoken for, for the foreseeable future.

“The TSO is one of the orchestras I miss the most,” says Nézet-Séguin, who last took temporary charge of Canada’s biggest symphony in 2009. “I have so little time for guest conducting. But one day I will find a way to get back there.”

It could be a while. Best buy the bobblehead.

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