The news traveled fast.
Minutes after the appointment of Yannick Nézet-Séguin to the Philadelphia Orchestra began appearing on websites in the United States and Canada on Sunday morning, reaction began bouncing among BlackBerrys.
In the airport lounges of LAX, people returning from the Opera America conference in Los Angeles cursed the Philadelphians bitterly: The more time Nézet-Séguin spends here, the less time he'll be at the Metropolitan Opera (or so the reasoning goes). And isn't it bad enough that the Philadelphia Orchestra already stole clarinetist Ricardo Morales from the Met?
The 35-year-old conductor's five-year contract, starting 2012, was officially announced Monday, though word slipped out on Sunday, reportedly because one of the musicians from Nézet-Séguin's Rotterdam Philharmonic tipped off the Montreal Gazette. Then the race was on: The Philadelphia Inquirer posted extensive coverage at 10:30 a.m., as soon as musicians were notified. Many others followed.
Much was made of the Philadelphia Orchestra's break from its history of venerable European conductors. "Yet another orchestra has opted for the excitement and uncertainty of youth," wrote the Washington Post's Anne Midgette.
"It's cool to see the grand old Philadelphia Orchestra take a chance on someone not only still quite youthful in conductor years, but relatively unknown," wrote Tim Smith in the Baltimore Sun.
Unknown? Not in his native Canada, where the Winnipeg Free Press calls him "Montreal classical music phenom," and the Ottawa Star reports that the "Canadian superstar conductor" will receive the Governor General's Performing Arts Award on Wednesday prior to a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 ("Symphony of a Thousand") in Ottawa.
In Philadelphia, where Nézet-Séguin will formally sign his contract on Friday, meet with orchestra officials, and attend the scheduled neighborhood concert in Upper Darby, little unanimity could be expected over the first choice for the orchestra's next music director. Vladimir Jurowski made a strong impression, while Simon Rattle inspires eternal longing. But on one point there was general agreement: relief that the orchestra's leadership crisis is over with the arrival of president Allison Vulgamore, board president Richard Worley, and now a music director.
"It's been a stressful time," said violinist Paul Arnold. "I'm relieved that a person of great quality . . . was appointed.
"I think we're on a roll, and this is the start of it," said violinist Davyd Booth.
Some musicians playfully proclaimed a victory for the Canadian takeover of the orchestra; three key members, including principal flutist Jeffrey Khaner, are from north of the border.
Though chief conductor Charles Dutoit has rarely inspired more affection than in recent weeks, "a longer tenure . . . is a possibly critical need now," wrote frequent orchestragoer Ed Dougherty in an e-mail to The Inquirer. "I would call Nézet-Séguin a strong Number Two," his number-one choice being Jurowski.
Nézet-Séguin's conducting expertise is only one key component to a potentially successful tenure. He needs to connect with the musicians on a level that inspires them well beyond their basic professionalism.
He has started on the right foot, partly because the musicians feel included in the selection process, said principal percussionist Chris Deviney.
"You look at his website and he's doing a lot of repertoire," Deviney says. "So I think it's a mischaracterization to think that what he brings to us is only limited to what he's shown us already."
It's also known that Nézet-Séguin's most recent program with the Philadelphia Orchestra - which was less well-received than his first - wasn't entirely his choice, as is sometimes the case with week-to-week concerts.
"We've had two strong weeks with him," said principal timpanist Don Liuzzi. "We've seen enough to know he has a vitality about him and musical intelligence that we're excited about."
The other key component is fund-raising. Nobody can yet say if he'll be a money magnet among corporate leaders or on the Main Line. But as Liuzzi put it, "Vitality is good. People respond to vitality."
"I don't want him to lose his sarcasm," said violist Judy Geist. "I don't want him to placate us. I want him to be as demanding as he was the first time he conducted us, before he had any inkling that he was being considered. I remember he looked at the first row of winds and said, with his Quebecois accent, 'I can tell that you are characters!' "
Most frequently asked question: What do we call him for short? In Rotterdam, he's just "Yannick." The moniker that already seems to be catching on in Philadelphia is "YNS."