NEW YORK - Equal parts family reunion, pep rally, and Christmas party, Tuesday's 55th annual Musical America Awards at Carnegie Hall hosted the typical cross-section of classical music's movers and shakers, but this year had Yannick Nézet-Séguin in the center of it all.
Named artist of the year, he was full of his usual French Canadian charm that promoted Philadelphia as one of the symphonic bright spots on the globe.
When the Philadelphia Orchestra music director was introduced, along with his many credits from the Metropolitan Opera to the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Musical America editor Sedgwick Clark summed up his resumé as that of "a very busy man."
"Busy? Really?" Nézet-Séguin said when he took the lectern. Busy gathering awards, for one thing. His first two Grammy nominations were announced Monday. Recently, he received the Medal of Honor from the Québec Parliament - the highest honor that can be given to a civilian in his native Canadian province.
"I would like to thank the academy," he began, aping the typical Oscars speech. Soon, though, he went off script with a more elegiac tone, talking about the importance of artists amid current events.
"Our world is threatened; our peace is threatened," he said.
"Such an honor . . . comes with the responsibility of getting people together," he said later. "We have the power - maybe, us musicians - to get back to our values . . . how music can, in these moments, be as powerful to change things . . . as it is fragile and threatened."
Speeches before his addressed the financial perils that are present in the classical world, but underscored repeatedly that in purely artistic terms, excitement runs high for all the new work that's happening.
Many parties from Nézet-Séguin's various worlds were on hand, including a Philadelphia Orchestra contingent with concertmaster David Kim as well as Québec governmental officials.
"We feel so close to each other because he's so authentic . . . and so perfect in his musical art," said Helene David, Québec minister of culture and communication. "I had to be here."
Of course, Nézet-Séguin's parents were there. And just as other award recipients thanked their wives for giving them their best ideas, Nézet-Séguin thanked his partner, violist Pierre Tourville, from the lectern. That might not have happened five years ago. "It's, yeah, it's great," Tourville said.
Nézet-Séguin's fellow Musical America award recipients included Tod Machover (composer of the year), violinist Jennifer Koh (instrumentalist of the year), tenor Mark Padmore (vocalist of the year), and Boston Modern Orchestra Project (ensemble of the year). Though all are distinguished in their worlds, they have never worked together.
Nézet-Séguin talked about inviting Machover to Philadelphia to write a symphonic work. Though scheduling conflicts had kept him from working with Koh and Padmore, new bonds clearly were forged. While Nézet-Séguin was shaking hands with Padmore (one of the greatest living art song interpreters), the tenor was heard saying, "I'd love to."
The Musical America cover shows Nézet-Séguin standing on the stage where he conducted a concert for Pope Francis during his visit, with Center City in the background. "Seldom have the stakes been higher or the transformation more dramatic than with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin," said the accompanying story by New York-based journalist George Loomis, painting a somewhat rosier picture of the post-bankruptcy orchestra than recent reports have indicated.
But the story's ending had a ringing commitment from the conductor: "I hope to stay in Philadelphia for a very long time."
The Musical America trophy will go in Nézet-Séguin's studio. "We keep them to remember their encouragement for all we do," he said.
Sir Georg Solti, the famous longtime Chicago Symphony Orchestra director, piled up so many awards and Grammys over the years that he began to lose them.
"I'm not at that point," Nézet-Séguin said.