One of Us: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

The 39-year-old maestro opens up about his love of Whitney Houston, his tattoo, and his secret talent, which may or may not involve parallel bars.

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Yannick Nézet-Séguin, since I was 16. I was born Yannick Séguin, but I decided to legally add my mother’s last name, Nézet, because we were the only family in North America with that name. And my mother is the only child of her family, so I wanted to make a future for that very strange name. People assume I am Egyptian or Hungarian or Turkish, but it is very plainly Celtic French.

My friends call me … Yannick. I was desperate when I was younger to get friends to call me Yan or Nick. But I never got anyone to do it.

I am a … lover of life.

I grew up in … Montréal, in the city and very close to everything — so much so that I never bothered to take driving lessons. I still don’t have a driver’s license. A conductor but not a driver.

My secret junk food obsession is … poutine. But the problem is, I am lactose-intolerant. So when I have those cheese curds and poutine, I assume the consequences.

The thing most people don’t understand about my job … is how much psychology is involved. I have a mysterious job to begin with, but everything has to do with using the right amount of psychology and diplomacy.

If you force me to pick one composer as my favorite, I would have to say … Brahms, without hesitation. Normally, for a musician, the fashionable answer is to say, “I can’t choose one.” But no, Brahms is really number one, and it has been this way since I was 12.

My tattoo is … of a turtle that holds a baton. I got it in Tahiti, on my right shoulder.

The last pop concert I went to was … years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Radiohead, in a 3,000-seat hall in Montréal. Extraordinary.

The biggest similarity between Philadelphia and Montréal … is the size, the way we feel it has everything a real metropolis has but on a smaller scale, and is therefore more human-sized. That’s probably why I feel so good in Philly.

My partner, Pierre, is always telling me … to always be authentic and always be myself. I am so lucky to have someone that can do that.

The most overplayed classical piece is … Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” The problem is not so much that it’s overplayed, but that people start thinking it’s not so good because it’s overplayed. It’s a victim of its own greatness.

People would be surprised to know that I listen to … quite a lot of R&B. I listen to some Usher, and I go back to more vintage, like Whitney Houston.

My secret talent … is sort of an unfulfilled one. I would have been a good gymnast. But it was sports or music.

I buy most of my clothes at … Barneys Co-Op. I go in for a t-shirt and unfortunately come back with many bags.

The first time I got a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall, I was … really very, very wet. All I could think was, “How do I look?” I sweat so much.

My drink of choice is … champagne. All the time. Not before the concert, but apart from that, all the time.

When I want to eat French food in Philly, I go to … Parc, for a reasonable French influence. It has the right feel with just the right American twist.

If you really want to annoy me … complain.

Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.