Philadelphia Orchestra fashions relationship with new music director

On Thursday evening, the Philadelphia Orchestra started its season with a bang—opera superstar Renee Fleming took a turn on stage with new music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin

The follow-up was a death mass.

After opening night, the Orchestra began its first concert series – Verdi’s Requiem, a 90-minute roller coaster of grief and wrath, which displayed Nézet-Séguin’s ability to lead the Fabulous Philadelphians through fragile, breathy melodies and explosive fists of percussive power.

“This is a very different feeling than opening night, which is much more formal, with speeches and everything,” said cellist Yumi Kendall, while putting her cello case in her backstage locker before the Friday night concert. “This is the beginning of the regular season. It’s got this longevity feeling to it. We’re looking forward to a relationship with Yannick.”

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Coming in as associate principle cellist under Charles Dutoit in 2004, this is the first time Kendall will experience a change of artistic leadership.

All eyes are on the Orchestra, which has just emerged from bankruptcy court, and many wonder if Nézet-Séguin can help it stay solvent.

Kendall is ready.

About an hour before a performance, Kendell cools down from her day and chooses her attire based on the mood and feeling of the concert. For Verdi’s Requiem, she’ll choose something subdued, rather than a flamenco-inspired dress she might wear for a Frühbeck de Burgos concert.   

“I do have to check and make sure everything is back from the dry cleaners,” said Kendall. “That’s the first thing: what’s available?”

Kendall and all Orchestra musicians are contractually obligated to wear certain attire for performances, mostly black in color. Kendall says most women wear long black skirts and 3/4 –sleeve black dresses, but she likes to exploit her options.

“It’s really weird to go cello-dress shopping, because I do the sit-down, and all the people in the store are looking at me . . . I have to sit like I’m playing a cello,” said Kendall, who is in her 20’s, with a petite frame. “It can be difficult because many are mermaid-shaped, and you’re supposed to just stand there. But I gotta play the cello.”

“If anybody knows where to get A-line dresses that are 3/4 length, we need full skirts,” implored Kendall.

Apparently the tiny niche market of fashionable cello players is overlooked by fashion designers.

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