From Beyoncé to Debussy, Yannick Nézet-Séguin shares music that inspires him
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. My guest, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, won two Grammys this month. He's the music and artistic director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the music director and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. He also continues to lead the Orchestre Metropolitain in Montreal, where he's from. One Grammy was for the Met's recording of the new Terence Blanchard opera, "Fire Shut Up In My Bones," which made history as the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met. The other Grammy was for best classical vocal performance, featuring duets with opera star Renée Fleming and Yannick at the piano.
Last year, he won a Grammy with the Philadelphia Orchestra for a recording of "Two Symphonies" by composer Florence Price. In 1933, she became the first Black woman to have her music played by a major American orchestra. Last week, the mayor of Philadelphia presented a declaration commemorating Philly Loves Yannick Week in celebration of him extending his contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra for four more years. He is not only a great conductor. He has a gift for explaining what's technically happening in music that translates into deep emotions. So I'm happy to say he's made a playlist for us of music he loves that's inspired him. It includes pop music as well as classical. And of course, I'll be asking him to talk about each passage that he features from that list of recordings.
Yannick, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It is so great to have you back on our show. Congratulations on the Grammys. Congratulations, and thank you for re-upping on that contract (laughter).
YANNICK NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Thank you so much, Terry. It's such a pleasure to talk to you again.
GROSS: So since the Grammys were so recent and you just won two of them, let's start with the Grammys. But before we get to your Grammy, let's hear a song from your playlist that was part of the big Grammy news. It's a song from Beyoncé's album "Renaissance," which won four Grammys, enabling Beyoncé to break the career record for the most Grammy wins of all time. She is beloved, but I wonder if you, as the conductor of the Philly Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera, hear things in her music that most of us probably don't. So tell us why you love the track that you chose, which is called "Cozy," or tell us about why you love the whole album "Renaissance" and what you hear that maybe we don't.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Well, it's probably not a surprise if I'm telling you that I listen to pop music much the same way. I can't help it. I hear harmonies. I hear details of instrumentation and mixing. And because I love also operas, as you know, and I love long symphonies, I loved an album as a concept of something that I like, that it's from start to finish. It's not only a good song, but as a whole, it's greater than the sum of its parts. And I felt this way with "Renaissance" by Beyoncé . I always liked her music, and I liked very much "Lemonade" a few years ago also because there was a concept behind it.
Now, it was difficult to choose just one song out of the album. But I also like the messaging of the album, and I think that "Cozy," at this moment, is a great message that talks first to women in general and empowers women and empowers all of us, quite frankly, regardless of gender, and also have feelings that we - it's self-love, but it's also about mental health. And I think self-love is the starting point of mental health. And, you know, to be able to have this point across while still being able to make us dance and have a catchy melody, I think, you know, that's just the mark of, you know, what makes pop music great when it's great.
GROSS: All right. With that, let's hear Beyoncé's "Cozy" from her latest album, "Renaissance."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COZY")
BEYONCÉ: (Singing) Been down, been up, been broke, broke down, bounced back. Been off, been on, been back. What you know about that? Been the light, been dark, been the truth, been that King Bey energy. I been thick, been fine, still a 10, still here. That's all me. Back like love too deep. Dance to the soles of my feet. Green eyes envy me. Paint the world pink. Blue like the soul I crowned. Purple drank and couture gowns. Gold fangs, a shade God made. Blue, black, white and brown. Paint the town red like cinnamon. Yellow diamonds, limoncello glistering. Rainbow gelato in the streets. Renaissance, yachting in Capri. You're a god. You're a hero. You survived all you've been through. Confident, damn, you're lethal. Might I suggest you don't mess with my sis 'cause she comfortable. Comfortable in my skin. Cozy with who I am. Comfortable in my skin. Cozy. Cozy. Comfortable...
GROSS: So that's "Cozy," one of the songs on the playlist that conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin has brought with him today, and he's the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. You know, you said one of the things you love about the whole album "Renaissance" is that it has a concept. And I want to read her dedication for the album. It's dedicated in part to her uncle Johnny, who was gay and died of AIDS-related causes, I think, toward the beginning of her career. And she wrote, (reading) he was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album. Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long. This is a celebration for you.
And so it's really a celebration of, like, dance music and music that became popular in gay clubs during the AIDS epidemic and after. So what do you relate to about that concept of the album?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: You know, at the Grammys, she, as you know, also in her speech, thanked the queer community in general. And there was something about giving space, giving the voice, to a certain community while herself not necessarily belonging to. I relate to this also - well, obviously myself as a gay man, that really is close to home. But also, I think always of better ways of being a leader, what it means in classical music, in my field - how can I be a better leader? - and especially in more recent years, but I think all through my career. But I take it even more at a full speed recently. I think I want to be the leader who makes space for others and other communities to shine and to be rediscovered and to have their own space. And that's really what I've been doing whether at the Philadelphia Orchestra, at the Met, and even at Orchestre Metropolitain - shining a light on other communities and artists. And I believe when - you know, Beyoncé, she's at the top of the world at the moment, and she's been for a while. And she's using this to raise awareness to other people. And I, of course, respect and admire, and that's something that really resonates deeply with me.
GROSS: So one more thing about this album, which is, you know, inspired by dance music and is dance music. You told me once that when you were 10, that's when you realized you wanted to conduct. But you just thought of the visual part of the conductor on the podium, kind of dancing as the conductor, you know, does his thing. So do you love to dance? And did you go clubbing a lot in your earlier years? Or are you too busy, like, practicing?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: So here's the secret, dear Terry. I - on the dance floor, I'm hopeless.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: And it's funny because - it's true. I can't deny that on the podium, I have kind of a balletic approach, and I do feel the music in my body, including my lower body, which is, you know, basically where dance is happening. And I conceive music always with dance, whether even it's baroque or the slowest part for me. I conceive music as primarily dance moves. It's - the rhythm is the most important thing in music. And even when I conduct some baroque music, like Bach or something that people think is very serious or very slow, I always try to remember that, quintessentially, this is a dance. But if you take me out of that context...
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: ...I need quite a few drinks before I'm at ease on the dance floor. But my husband, Pierre, is the best dancer ever. He can dance any kind of dance. And he went clubbing a lot in his youth, and I did not. And when we started being together, I asked him to teach me to dance because I didn't want to - I don't know - I didn't want to embarrass him. And those dance lessons never really happened because he would laugh so hard at me. So it's interesting how I try to make up for it on the podium (laughter).
GROSS: So you won two Grammys this year. Let's hear music from one of them. And this is duets with you at the piano and opera star Renée Fleming singing. The album is called "Voice Of Nature: Anthropocene," and it won for best vocal performance. So this is on your playlist, and I assume you chose this because you find Renée Fleming inspiring. What makes her voice and her acting in operas so special?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: We're talking with Renée Fleming - legend. She is larger than life. And, I mean, I don't want to embarrass her by saying that. But I told her, you know, one of the first recordings I bought as a CD was her Schubert set of songs with Christoph Eschenbach, former music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, as it happens, but on the piano. And I remember buying this for Christmas present to my mother.
And when Renée - many decades later, after we collaborated on stage many times in opera and in symphonic, she was my first soloist here in Philadelphia for my first opening night back in 2012. But when she called me during the pandemic and said, look; Yannick, we should make a recital together at the piano, I could not believe it because I never saw myself as a pianist that could make it at the piano to the top like this. You know, for me, I'm primarily a conductor. And to have the opportunity, I couldn't say no to that. And this became a project that we - became so dear to both of us. And one of the - my favorite songs that I dreamt of playing, especially with a voice like Renée's, is this Grieg song, "Zur Rosenzeit," and that's why I chose it.
GROSS: So this is from the album "Voice Of Nature: Anthropocene," and Anthropocene is the era we're in now, where humans are the determining factor in climate change and environmental changes. So let's hear a track from this Grammy Award-winning album with my guest Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the piano and Renée Fleming singing. And this is a piece by Grieg called "Zur Rosenzeit."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ZUR ROSENZEIT")
RENÉE FLEMING: (Singing in non-English language).
GROSS: That was a track from "Voice Of Nature: Anthropocene," the new Grammy Award-winning album with singer Renée Fleming and my guest Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the piano. He's the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. We need to take a short break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. We'll hear more music from the playlist he's put together for us after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. And I am one of the very many people in Philadelphia who is thrilled that he just extended his contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra for another four years.
You told me in an earlier interview that you took piano lessons. You studied piano when you were younger, but you didn't love it. You love conducting, but you didn't love piano. So what's your relationship to the piano now? You play beautifully.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: (Laughter) Thank you. It's true. I just didn't fall in love with the piano at age 5 or 6 or 7. But I guess I loved music. But the piano was a way to get to another goal, which became very quickly conducting, music in a group, music - sharing music with others. And that's my real love. And still to this day, that's what it is. But recently - and I guess those years of pandemic are important. And that journey for me is that I had more time to spend at home on my piano to make music because I couldn't be with the groups. And so I went back to the piano and for the first time in my life, really falling in love with the sound of the instrument.
GROSS: I guess studying piano is important because there's chords and there's treble and bass clefs. The piano in a way is the instrument that most closely parallels the orchestra.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, there are many conductors who are not pianists, especially nowadays, you know. You get percussionists. You get flutists. You get viola players. You get everything. And that's great.
But the harmony, the fact that there are chords, as you rightly said, that is why piano is so great. But it's also its downside. You spend your life on the piano trying to imitate the cello, imitate the horn, imitate the human voice. And it's kind of an illusion, but it helps create a sense of color. Maybe because of that, I always considered piano to be kind of neutral because I had to think of another instrument to make it sound right. And maybe that's why it took me up until I'm in my mid-40s to really try to understand the beauty of that particular sound without thinking that it was a neutral one.
GROSS: OK. So we've heard from two divas. An opera diva, Renée Fleming, and Beyoncé, who is, you know, like a rhythm and blues hip hop pop diva. So I want to play somebody else from your playlist who I think you consider a diva, too. And that's Celine Dion. Now, most people know her as you know, primarily or originally from "My Heart Will Go On" from the movie "Titanic." You've chosen a French song. She, like you, is from Quebec and speaks French as you do. And so this is a French song. And I'd like you to tell us why you chose it.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Celine Dion is our diva in Quebec. She is the one. And also, when - you know, if you look at it, she's a little older than I am, but she started so young. And therefore, when I was a child, it was when she started to be really popular in Quebec, which was understandably quite a few years before she made a successful transition in becoming a global megastar, and - you know, in the United States market, but, you know, everywhere in the world, really. And the song I chose is from one of her latest albums, you know, the one that she released back in 2016.
And that's a song - I attended the show that she gave in Montreal. And that was not so long after her husband and agent René Angélil passed away. And so I think it was a highly charged show. And I don't know - this song just reminds me of being there, meeting her before the show, being there, feeling the love from an entire city, an entire nation for their diva, our diva Celine and I think this is very special.
GROSS: My guest is Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. Let's hear some of the song we've been talking about, the title track of Celine Dion's 2016 album "Encore Un Soir." We'll hear more music from the playlist he put together for us after a break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENCORE UN SOIR")
CELINE DION: (Singing in French).
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music and artistic director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and its conductor. He's also the music director and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. He won two Grammys this month. One Grammy was for the Met's recording of the new Terence Blanchard opera, "Fire Shut Up In My Bones," which made history as the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met. The other Grammy was for best classical vocal performance, featuring duets with opera star Renée Fleming and Yannick at the piano. Last year, he won a Grammy with the Philadelphia Orchestra for a recording of "Two Symphonies" composed by Florence Price. In 1933, she became the first Black woman to have her music played by a major American orchestra. Yannick has put together a playlist for us of music he loves that's inspired him.
So let's change it up a little bit. Up next from your playlist is Lil Nas X's recording "Montero...
GROSS: ..."Montero (Call Me By Your Name)." And he, of course, became famous for combining hip-hop and country in his first recording, "Old Town Road." And he's also kind of famous for being gay and very out in the hip-hop world. And his clothes are, like, wild costumes, sometimes sexually ambiguous costumes. So you chose the song "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)." His birth name is Montero. So tell us why you love this song and why you chose to put it on your playlist.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: I think I just love the person or the persona of Lil Nas X. For me, it's inspiring to see that in the field where it was still quiet and repressed and not accepted to be anything but this kind of a certain way of seeing masculinity, that he can be so successful by being so upfront, you know, without shame, being who he wants to be.
And OK, parallels is - are always a little, you know, rocky. It's not exactly the same, but I'm still one of the very few out gay conductors out there. And I think it's about time that these symbolic figures, like Lil Nas X - it's only this way that we're going to have young people really embrace it and probably understand or make decision-makers maybe understand that they should stop saying to everyone, oh, if you're outing yourself, you're going to have your fan base reduced and everything like this.
I think it's insane. There are so many young people at the moment who are in desperate need. They feel ashamed of being who they want to be. And there's problems with suicide and still so many issues. And I'm - that's why I want to be more out and about about it because I want to be an example that, yes, we can make it to the top by being who we want to be. And we should love whoever we want to love. And I feel like this is, in his own way, what Montero, Lil Nas X, is doing.
GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is Lil Nas X, "Montero."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONTERO (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME)")
LIL NAS X: (Singing) I caught it bad yesterday. You hit me with a call to your place. Ain't been out in awhile anyway, was hoping I could catch you throwing smiles in my face. Romantic talking, you don't even have to try. You're cute enough to - with me tonight. Looking at the table, and I see the reason why. Baby, you living the life, but, baby, you ain't living right. Champagne and drinking with your friends. You live in the dark, boy. I cannot pretend. I'm not phased, only here to sin. If Eve ain't in your garden, you know that you can.
(Singing) Call me when you want. Call me when you need. Call me in the morning. I'll be on the way. Call me when you want. Call me when you need. Call me out by your name, I'll be on the way like (vocalizing). Hey, hey. I want to sell what you're buying. I want to feel on your - in Hawaii. I want the jet lag from - and flying. Put a smile on your mouth while I'm - oh. Why me? A sign of the times every time that I speak. A dime and a nine, it was mine every week. What a time, an incline, God was shining on me. Now I can't leave. And now I'm acting hella elite. Never want the - that's in my league. I only want the ones that...
GROSS: That was Lil Nas X doing "Montero." And it's one of the songs on the playlist that Yannick Nézet-Séguin has put together for us. He's the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who has just thankfully extended his contract. And he's also the conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. You've seen the video for this, right?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: (Laughter) Yes, I did.
GROSS: So the video has a lot of biblical imagery, like satanic imagery, which probably a lot of people would find sacrilegious - also a lot of phallic imagery. (Laughter) He's riding a stripper pole to hell. He gives a lap dance to Satan. And as I said, there's, like, lots of phallic imagery in it. You grew up very Catholic, and...
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: (Laughter) I like your segue here.
GROSS: Yes. Right. And I think now you call your religion music. But would you have found this offensive when you were in your early teens?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: You know, the concept of offensive is maybe something I didn't grow up so much with. I believe, even though my parents and my family are still very religious and we believe in God - and, yes, our religion is Catholic - it's not about being shocked by things. And therefore, I don't think, even back then, it would have been offensive. I'm not sure my parents would have left me (laughter) watching it that much, you know, at that certain age, which - that's fine. That's another - you know, that's another discussion, which is a good one.
GROSS: So the next piece I want to play from your playlist is an excerpt of a symphony by Bruckner, Anton Bruckner. And it was written during the final years of his life. He died in 1896. And apparently, he was working on it in the last days of his life, but didn't complete it in time. So tell us about the piece and why it inspires you.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Well, speaking of Catholic...
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: I like it. I like it. I think, you know, from a Lil Nas X to Bruckner, I - you know, that's very Yannick. Bruckner is probably the most Catholic composer ever. He's the most religious, was an organist. So - and as we know, organ is - because big organs, great organs, are very often in churches, it's closely associated. And if - on the street, if you say organ, most people will say, oh, that church or that wedding ceremony or something. And that's right. So I feel like Bruckner symphonies are like organ works, but orchestrated for a full symphony orchestra. And because of this, that music can be very spiritual, very nourishing.
I love conducting Bruckner. I recorded all nine symphonies. But this ninth symphony, especially the excerpt I chose, is something that's one of the most menacing, threatening ever music that's been composed. It's where an orchestra can be, oh, get scary, and not in a spooky way, just because it's quintessentially impressive and imposing. It's one of those last days of judgment that we can see in paintings, and especially performed like my - with my favorite conductor, Carlo Maria Giulini, who I had the honor of having as a mentor when I was very young.
GROSS: You know, before we hear it, I want to say maybe it's because I know he was composing it as he was dying, I hear this passage as alternating between fear receding and then exploding and then receding again and then exploding again, or pain, you know, receding and then exploding again.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: I agree with you completely, Terry. That's really someone who is closer to - yeah - his last days. He's aware of it. And I have a very, shall I say, romantic idea about this. I think geniuses, composers, when they are close to their own death, a little bit like Mozart with his own requiem or Schubert with his unfinished symphony, even though he was writing sketches for his finale, he knew that this was the last moment, and it is translated into music. And I think that should be how we receive it, we perform it and also how we listen to it.
GROSS: So this is a passage from Bruckner's "Symphony No. 9 in D Minor," from the second movement, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIENNA PHILHARMONIC PERFORMANCE OF BRUCKNER'S "SYMPHONY NO. 9 IN D MINOR")
GROSS: That was a passage from Bruckner's "Symphony No. 9 in D Minor." It was chosen for us by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera, who we are grateful put together a playlist of music that inspires him. So we need to take a short break here. We'll hear more music from the playlist he's put together for us after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTAV MAHLER'S "SYMPHONY NO. 4 IN G MAJOR")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. Yannick has put together a playlist for us of music he loves that's inspired him. Something else on your playlist is music from Debussy's "The Little Shepherd." And I know you like to play Debussy for your cats. Is this one of your cats' favorites?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: I have one of my cats who is - they're both very musical.
GROSS: Oh, you're the father. Of course you think that.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: (Laughter) I swear. I swear. They're the most musical. I have one who has the perfect voice. He's called Rodolfo - so, like their hero in Puccini, "La Boheme." He's a great tenor. He has the perfect voice, but his ears are so sensitive that when I play piano, he loves it. But he usually has to go in another room because it's too loud. But when I play this piece, it's so soft that - and gentle, he stays around.
And Rafa on the other hand doesn't have any voice. He's playing tennis, doesn't sing, but he loves music, and the louder the better. We had friends the other day coming to rehearse chamber music at home with the piano and with some strings. He just stayed the whole time and sat on each and everyone's lap. And just - he still - he asks daily, when are the friends coming to make the concert again?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: So they're both musical, I'm telling you.
GROSS: Is it true that you leave music on even when you're not home, when nobody's home, for your cats?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: It's very important.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: It's - yeah, but they are - I realized when we started doing this that they were more calm. They were more happy. They're actually more fulfilled and less stressed that someone - or stressed or bored.
GROSS: So this is music by Debussy. Debussy is one of the French impressionist composers. What does that mean?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Painting in music. That's what it means. It means having a story, and instead of being completely real, it's all about poetic colors and something that makes us immediately between the reality and the dream. And that's what Debussy does to me.
GROSS: Why did you choose this piece, an excerpt of "The Little Shepherd"?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: So this is from a set of pieces called "Children's Corner" by Debussy. So as you can probably guess, I played this piece when I was very young. And when I arrived with my second piano teacher at the Montreal Conservatory, I played her the whole suite of "Children's Corner," and she liked especially my "Little Shepherd" interpretation. So even years later, when I was not a child anymore, she would ask after group classes - she would say at the end, Yannick, why don't you - to finish, as a dessert, why don't you play "The Little Shepherd," please? I don't know. She was particularly attached to that piece and with me playing it. So it stayed with me, and when I play it, I think of her.
GROSS: So this is "The Little Shepherd" from Debussy's suite "Children's Corner," performed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin from his 2021 album, "Introspection: Solo Piano Sessions."
(SOUNDBITE OF YANNICK NÉZET-SÉGUIN PERFORMANCE OF DEBUSSY'S "THE LITTLE SHEPHERD")
GROSS: So that was "The Little Shepherd" from Debussy's suite "Children's Corner," performed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin from his 2021 album, "Introspection: Solo Piano Sessions," and Yannick is at the piano on that, of course. And he is our guest today, and he's put together a playlist of music that's inspired him, music he loves, and Debussy is on that list. We'll hear more music from the playlist he's put together for us after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIES IRAE")
METROPOLITAN OPERA: (Singing in Latin).
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music and artistic director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and its conductor. He's also the music director and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. Yannick has put together a playlist for us of music he loves that's inspired him.
I have to say, one of the songs on the playlist that surprised me most, the playlist you put together of songs that inspire you, is Olivia Newton-John's song "Physical." So I have to ask you, what is that doing on your playlist?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: (Laughter) Olivia Newton-John was my first crush.
GROSS: Really? OK.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: You know? Oh, oh, boy. I loved her. And I'm so sad she passed away now a few months ago and after being - a very courageous, I think, and outspoken, you know, journey through cancer. And Olivia Newton-John, I think I was aware, as many kids my age then, because she played in "Grease," the movie, and that song, "Physical" - I don't know. I couldn't stop listening to it when I was a kid. And I think my older sisters, my two sisters, Sylviane and Isabelle, who are five and six years older than me, they would put that song and ask me to dance on it or something like that, move on it at least. And it stayed with me.
And recently, I watched the video again and saw all the gay imagery that goes with it and, in many ways, think that maybe there was something that I did not understand at the time which actually stayed with me. And it's also, I think, very entertaining and very energetic music that's inspiring for all the more physical side of my life now, where I go to the gym, and I try to stay in shape to make sure that I don't get injured when I conduct. So it's all this put together that really inspired me to put it on the playlist.
GROSS: Great setup. Let's hear it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PHYSICAL")
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (Singing) I've been patient. I've been good, tried to keep my hands on the table. It's getting hard, this holding back. You know what I mean. I'm sure you'll understand my point of view. We know each other mentally. You got to know that you're bringing out the animal in me. Let's get physical, physical. I want to get physical. Let's get into physical. Let me hear your body talk, your body talk. Let me hear your body talk. Let's get physical, physical. I want to get physical. Let's get into physical. Let me hear your body talk, your body talk. Let me hear your body talk.
GROSS: That's Olivia Newton-John's hit "Physical" from 1981, one of the songs on the playlist put together for us by Yannick Nézet-Séguin of music that he loves, music that's inspired him. And he is, of course, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera.
So I have to ask you something very, very musically important. Yes. You decided to go platinum.
GROSS: You've been bleaching your hair for how long?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Yeah, I think maybe three years now, three, four years. Sometimes I want to stop. And then my husband says, no. You're a blonde now.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: I'm with a blonde. I want to stay with a blonde. I say, OK (laughter).
GROSS: So what do you like about it?
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: It's funny. I don't think I thought very deeply about it. I think, at first, it was more a phase where it was almost like a challenge. I had my hair dyed in many colors back in the early 2000s, when I was in my late 20s, early 30s, I dyed my hair silver, platinum, red, blue, not green but almost. And I had almost everything and then stopped, of course. And I thought, that's not my age anymore. And I went to a barbershop with a very young owner of the barbershop - he's very good - in Montreal. And I was discussing, saying I'm too old for it now. And instead of saying - you know, when you say something like that to someone, usually the person looks at you and says, oh, no, you're never too old.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: And he looked at me and just stared at me - and he was 23-year-old - and said, yeah, maybe you're too old. In another life. And I didn't like it. I just thought, well, here we go. I'm going to do it to prove you I'm not too old. So - and then he liked it. And I don't know, it just makes me feel more alive. And maybe that's helpful for the kind of image that I still want to undo of what a conductor should look like.
GROSS: Yannick, thank you so much for coming back to our show and for putting together this playlist with us and talking to us about the music. And thank you for extending your contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Thank you for conducting the Met. It's just been a pleasure to talk with you again.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN: Terry, you're the best. Thank you so much for - it's an honor always to come to your show.
GROSS: Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the music director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. You can find Yannick's full playlist on our website, freshair.npr.org. This month, he announced he would be extending his contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra for four more years. Earlier this month, he also won two Grammys. Let's close with an excerpt of his recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra that won a Grammy last year. This is from the first movement of Florence Price's "Symphony No. 3 in C Minor."
(SOUNDBITE OF THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF PRICE'S "SYMPHONY NO 3 IN C MINOR")
GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, Marc Maron returns to our show to talk about his new HBO comedy special, "From Bleak To Dark." It's very funny and very dark. Maron deals with climate change, threats from the far right, anti-Semitism, his toxic relationship with his father and the darkest part of his personal life, the death of his girlfriend, TV and movie director Lynn Shelton. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF PRICE'S "SYMPHONY NO 3 IN C MINOR")
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