"You are now my family."
So proclaimed Yannick Nézet-Séguin on Friday before the signing of the contract that made him the Philadelphia Orchestra's eighth music director amid long applause from musicians, board members, staff, his Montreal family, and his partner.
The 35-year-old conductor was in Philadelphia for the ultimate meet-and-greet day - with longtime subscribers in the lobby of the Kimmel Center, Mayor Nutter at City Hall, children from the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School (chanting "Yannick! Yannick!") at the Liberty Bell, Philly Pops conductor Peter Nero on the steps of the Art Museum, and then at the Academy of Music Ballroom.
"Nice signature!" remarked Allison Vulgamore, the orchestra's president and chief executive officer, adding that Nézet-Séguin was chosen partly because the orchestra's next music director had to be "someone who would imagine something different."
Photo opportunities were seized at every turn - with evening add-ons that included an orchestra neighborhood concert in Drexel Hill and his first official music-director gig, conducting the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at Citizens Bank Park during the Phillies game's seventh-inning stretch.
Nézet-Séguin seemed to enjoy pressing the flesh so much that he threatened to fall behind schedule, despite being ferried from place to place in a banner-bedecked trolley. He even autographed a City Hall visitor's pass from a woman, Mia Bird, who swore that only the day before, she had bought a conductor's baton for her baby girl, Chidima.
He also let a few cats out of the bag. When one orchestra subscriber pleaded for more operas performed in concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Nézet-Séguin assured, "It's in the works."
Often, he reaffirmed his commitment to the Philadelphia Orchestra's tradition. He says the orchestra has been in his bones from an early age, when he listened to an LP of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 conducted by Eugene Ormandy. The recording, he said at the contract signing, still "shows all the values that are important to me... . We can keep sharing what a worldwide treasure" the Philadelphia Orchestra is.
Then his voice dropped nearly to a hush. "And I'm not scared to say ... it's the best orchestra I know."
The Montrealer knows most of the best, having conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic, in addition to his regular commitments to the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Montreal's Orchestre Métropolitain, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
All along the way, Nézet-Séguin gave good-humored syllable-by-syllable lessons on how to pronounce his name (Yah-NEEK Neh-ZAY Say-GUN), a conflation of his mother's maiden name, Claudine Nézet, and the family name of his father, Serge Séguin. The day's best mispronunciation was at City Hall with Nutter: It came out something like "Unique Cezanne."
At every stop, Nézet-Séguin was introduced with his parents, who help manage his career and celebrated their 43d wedding anniversary yesterday. Usually in the same breath, the conductor's partner, Pierre Tourville, a violist in the Montreal orchestra, was also introduced. The two were visiting Philadelphia between Orchestre Metropolitain performances of the Mahler Symphony No. 8 in Canada.
The last stop of the day was the Phillies game, and Nézet-Séguin's timing could't have been better. By the time he arrived, on a cool clear night, Ryan Howard had hit two home runs on the way to the Phillies' topping the Minnesota Twins, 9-5.
He had missed his chance at the "Wedding March" from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream when a couple became engaged on the Jumbotron earlier in the evening. But donning a Phillies cap and trading a baton for a baseball bat, he led the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" while being shadowed by the Phillie Phanatic.
It went by in a blip, after which one fan, Walt Hahn of Warminster, observed, "I don't think he knew the words. He's from Canada."
In the course of the long day, surprisingly little advice was given to the young maestro. In the words of Nero, "He doesn't need any."
But Nutter had gentle words of warning: "Philadelphians clearly have an attitude, and they don't mind sharing it. You will never wonder what's on a Philadelphian's mind."