A selection of NYC-ARTS Greatest Hits: Paula Zahn in conversation with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the dynamic music director of the Metropolitan Opera; followed by a tour of the exhibition “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth,” about the work and life of the creator of some of the most imaginative stories of English literature.

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♪♪

Next on 'NYC-Arts,' a look back at some of our favorite segments, featuring the best in arts and cultural events in our area.

We all need, as human beings, moments where we can just stop, breathe, feel that we're with other people, sharing the same sense of community.

♪♪ [ Wistful folk music plays ]

Tolkien started writing 'The Hobbit' probably about 1929.

All of the manuscript and illustrative material in the show is in Tolkien's own hand.

We have the original five watercolors he produced.

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'First' refers to our first priority -- the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree -- be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

♪♪ ♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Philippe de Montebello at the Tisch WNET Studio at Lincoln Center.

It's been my pleasure, along with my colleague, Paula Zahn, to bring you the very best of arts and culture in the tri-state area.

Whether it's music, dance, film, theater, the visual arts, classic or contemporary, well-known or newly discovered, 'NYC-Arts' has provided unique access to the people and places that represent the richness of our arts community.

In this program, we'd like to share with you some of our favorite segments.

We hope they are some of your favorites, as well.

♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn, on the stunning Grand Tier staircase of the Metropolitan Opera, vibrant home for the most creative and talented singers, conductors, composers, musicians, as well as stage directors, costume designers, choreographers, and dancers from all around the world.

There is some very exciting news here as the 2018/19 season is unveiled.

The charismatic young French Canadian, Yannick Nézet Séguin, becomes the Met Opera's music director -- the third in the opera house's 135-year history.

[ Cheers and applause ] The 43-year-old maestro is renowned throughout the orchestral world.

He's led performances of the London Philharmonic, the Salzburg Festival, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, La Scala, and the Royal Opera House.

There is tremendous passion and joyful energy surrounding Yannick's performances.

When he made his Met debut in 2009, it was for a new production of Bizet's 'Carmen,' and, since then, he's returned every season -- which brings us, of course, to this season, where he will conduct a new production of Verdi's 'La traviata' and revivals of Debussy's 'Pelléas et Mélisande' and Poulenc's 'Dialogues of the Carmelites.'

I recently spoke with the celebrated conductor right here on the elegant Grand Tier.

Maestro to the pit, please.

Maestro to the pit.

[ Applause ]

Maestro, it is an absolute pleasure to meet you.

Congratulations on your appointment here.

Oh, thank you.

Thank you so much.

So, today you are a very busy man, leading a life at a dizzying pace.

You play key roles in orchestras in Montreal, Rotterdam, Philadelphia, and now this big post here at the Met.

I know that, when you take to the stage, you're keenly focused on the music.

But are there times, when you raise your baton, where you have no idea what city you're in?

[ Laughs ] Fortunately, that didn't happen yet, and maybe, as busy as I am, the whole idea now is to try and focus on the few institutions.

So, actually, having the responsibility of the Met and Philadelphia means I'm doing less guest-conducting, means I'm doing less traveling, means that I'm actually more focused.

I'm not denying it will keep me busy, but in a more concentrated way and where I think I can develop more with roots.

This really has been a dream of yours, hasn't it, conducting as a calling.

And nothing illustrates that better than some amazing video we have of you in a classroom at the age of 10 in Montreal, conducting a make-believe symphony in your classroom.

[ Up-tempo orchestra plays ]

Music came into my life very early.

There was a piano at home.

My parents would play a little bit.

My sisters would play.

I would play piano.

What got me really into music was singing, and, right away, I saw choral conductors.

And I made the conscious decision at 10, 'I want to be a conductor.'

I was so passionate about it.

I never had doubts that this would happen.

There was this little confidence that that was my way of expressing myself.

But you have to admit, when you look at the video, you had it.

You had that touch, that passion, that feel.

Are you a grown-up version of this young man that fell in love with music?

I think it's almost disturbing, in a way, that I didn't change that much.

[ Laughs ] [ Carmen's 'March of the Toreadors' plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ As a conductor, what we have to do is to let the music speak through our whole body.

We talk a lot about the baton and the hands.

This is what people see, but it's all in the eyes.

It's all in the shoulders.

Look at 'Lenny' Bernstein.

I mean, he was always dancing and living and talking about it, how the conductor, every pore of the skin, every muscle, every bone should express music.

And that is an immediate reaction of expressivity, which is not unlike dance, if you think about it, but just in a different way because it has to inspire the musicians, who really produce the sound, to express it in all the same way.

Let's fast-forward to last year, when you conducted 'Elektra' here.

And we have the last two minutes of that extraordinary performance.

And I think, as the audience -- as I have -- focuses in on your face, they will see that you are channeling every single note in that score.

What are you feeling when you conduct?

That's a beautiful question because there has to be this blend with what I like to call the cold head and the warm heart.

So you can't completely lose yourself in the music, especially as a conductor, because there is still a hundred people in the pit, and sometimes you add another hundred onstage who really depend on a certain degree of clarity.

But what is clarity?

Of course there's rhythmical clarity, which is really the beat, which that's the cold head.

You need to make sure that you don't get lost completely in the score.

But, most importantly, clarity is about the clarity of the intention, of the expression.

[ Soft music plays ] [ Music intensifies ] [ Music calms ] In order to do so, I have to feel that I'm completely in the music in my heart, in my soul, in my expressivity, and not holding back at any time.

[ Soprano singing ] [ Soft music plays ] [ Music intensifies ] ♪♪ [ Flourish ] [ Song ends ]

It's striking to me just how physically demanding your conducting must be.

And I know countless hours go into your preparation of the music.

Yeah.

But do you train to stay strong physically?

I do take care of my body because we need, as musicians -- and especially as conductors, because it's a little more violent, we need to be strong physically in order to feel completely free with our emotions.

[ Soft music plays ] The thing I would hate is that I would be injured and then I wouldn't be able to express the way I want because it hurts.

So, I mean, this is wood, so knock on wood.

It hasn't happened yet.

But judging from the pictures I've seen of you training on Instagram, you like you're giving your trainer a workout.

[ Laughs ]

Big time.

Well, the interesting thing is that I was not a sports person at all when I was young.

Growing up, I was only about piano and singing and conducting, never did any team sports.

My father tried in Canada to have me do ice hockey -- didn't work.

But now this healthy aspect of physicality has come in my life, and I'm very grateful.

You're joining the Met at a time when arts institutions across the city are facing a whole range of challenges.

Mm-hmm.

What do you see your role here on making sure not only that the Met survives but thrives?

It's a reality in this city, but I think there's a simple factor that we, unfortunately, have forgotten in past decades, which is we are orchestra.

We are opera house.

We are there for you.

That may be, but you've got to fill this house.

Yeah, but that is -- You know, the first problem is that some people feel not welcome here.

I'm not saying it's only the Met, but it is part of it.

It's such a beautiful, grand building, and everybody's proud of it and, in the city, say, 'Oh, that's great, but it's not for me.'

'Why?'

'Oh, because I don't know anything about music, because it's only for the rich, because it's only for the educated, because it's long and because it will be boring.'

And you'll have all these myths, and my goal is to make everyone feel welcome.

Do we say this when we go to the movies?

Do we say, 'I don't go there because I don't know about directing and editing and lighting, design'? We don't say that.

So there is something that, unfortunately, we still project as classical-music institutions, that it should be only for the initiated.

I think it's also an illusion to try and say, 'Oh, we're gonna have mostly 18-year-olds come to opera and 22-year-olds.'

There will be some really hard core, and I want them to come at the Met because they will feel it's also a place where there's experiment, there is some edge to it.

But you have to concede it's gonna take a long time to cultivate that love of music in this generation you're talking about.

In the meantime, you have an aging patron base, and you also have a target audience that is living in a world controlled by technology, which opens, you know, with a fingertip, hundreds of different experiences.

My experience, being in this world and myself being very much about fast-paced and technology, I realize that it is taking us so much attention that, even in the younger generation, they all and we all need as human beings moments where we can just stop, breathe, feel that we're with other people, sharing the same sense of community.

I believe that, actually, opera and a symphony by Mahler or Bruckner or an opera by Verdi is actually like a retreat.

[ Soft music plays ] It quiets you down, and it's this two, three, four hours where you're off your phone.

It's giving you something to think about, making you feel like you're part of a bigger world.

You've always looked at it that way, right, that music is a unifying force.

It's unifying, and it's actually -- it does you good, but I think it's also a mistake to try and say, 'Oh, it's gonna be short and fast-paced.'

It isn't.

And precisely because of this, even for a younger generation, it might be the right relief.

Because nobody can spend their lives completely with something 30 second, 30 second, 30 second.

The brain will explode.

And we're starting to see the effects of this right away, so I'm very optimistic.

What are your musical goals here over the next five years?

I think the Met has an increased role in being at the center of the creation in new operas and being also the reflect of our society.

I think the Met will become and is already becoming but will become more inclusive, more welcoming, also, not only in the audience but also of who the audience sees onstage, whether it's more presence of women on the podium or more presence of people of color in our casts and in compositions, as well, you know?

So the subjects that we choose -- and I'm passionate about it -- new operas and commissioning more new works and also getting musically the Met not only in our beautiful house but also of our house.

So do you believe that community outreach is in fact your number-one goal?

It is.

Our art form is -- It's nice to listen to a recording, but that's not what it's about.

What it's about is feeling that we are together.

It's a unifying force, and, as such, community outreach is at the core of this, the same way as it is to feel that our house will be completely filled, the seats will be filled with people of every generation.

Yannick, I wish you the best of luck.

It's gonna be so much fun to watch you reach for the stars, especially those here at the Met.

Thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

♪♪ ♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Philippe de Montebello, location at the Morgan Library & Museum on Madison Avenue and 36th Street.

'In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.'

So begins one of the most famous stories of English literature, but while 'The Hobbit' begins with that simple line, the origins of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and the world they inhabit are far more complex.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, a scholar of English language and its history, created the realm of Middle-earth to give his own invented languages a home.

This winter, the Morgan Library & Museum examines Tolkien's life and work.

On view are rarely seen materials from the Bodleian Library in Oxford, home of the Tolkien archive.

Visitors can witness the creation of one of the most ambitious and influential tales of the 20th century.

And now curator John McQuillen takes us 'far over the Misty Mountains cold,' into the world of Middle-earth.

We are standing in 'Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth,' an exhibition that celebrates the life and creative process of one of the most famous authors of the 20th century, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien, in his day job, was a professor of medieval English, literature, and language at the University of Oxford.

In his evening job, he was the author and creator of Middle-earth, of the world we know through the three main stories of 'The Hobbit,' 'The Lord of the Rings,' and 'The Silmarillion.'

He was actually born in what was then the Orange Free State, in what is now the Republic of South Africa, to English parents.

At about the age of 4, his mother took him and his younger brother back to England, at which point his father died while he was still in South Africa.

He always said that landing in the green, verdant English countryside was a real eye-opener, and there are illustrations we have in the show, from his childhood, of a tree by a stream.

[ Wistful folk music plays ] The rural English countryside was the direct inspiration for Frodo and Bilbo's home in the Shire.

When Tolkien was 12, his mother, Mabel, died from diabetes.

As an orphan from a very early age, he really desired the stability of a family unit.

He really developed a close bond with his wife, Edith, who was also an orphan.

And so he was a very close part of his children's lives.

For over 20 years, every year, Tolkien would produce these very elaborate letters and illustrations to his four children from Father Christmas.

He would include tales of Father Christmas' adventures at the North Pole with his friend the North Polar Bear and his helper elves.

You can see, in the letters, Father Christmas's hand shakes because it's cold at the North Pole.

♪♪ Tolkien started writing 'The Hobbit' probably about 1929.

It was originally a story for his children.

All of the manuscript and illustrative material in the show is original and in Tolkien's own hand.

We have the original five watercolors he produced, actually originally for the American edition, although they came out in the English edition before the American.

And so you can really see, in his visual production, his real creation of the complete world that Bilbo lived in -- the landscapes, the settings.

He's striving to help the imagination of the reader really grasp the setting of Middle-earth.

Tolkien produced the original dust-jacket design for 'The Hobbit,' one of almost iconic pieces of 20th-century book arts.

He was sort of worried about what any other artist might do, and so, ultimately, cover to cover, the entire first edition of 'The Hobbit' is Tolkien's creation.

Tolkien began writing what became 'Lord of the Rings' immediately after 'The Hobbit' came out.

The publisher was very interested in having a sequel, and so it was about 1937 when Tolkien starts thinking about what is going to be Bilbo's next adventure.

Within a year of writing, the story kind of outgrew just Bilbo.

The writing of 'Lord of the Rings' took about a dozen years, but the first thing Tolkien produced for this was the map of Middle-earth.

And he said repeatedly in letters that he began with a map and made the story fit.

The first map, the main map for 'Lord of the Rings,' is quite incredible because it is the map that he used over this 12-year period, and almost every day, you can see how much it is folded, refolded, torn, taped back together, corrected.

It is really almost a living document of the story.

It grew as the story grew.

'The Silmarillion' is a great history of the elves and what he really considered was his life's work and greatest achievement.

He was attempting to create a mythology for England.

There was this sense of an almost biblical epic in terms of creation.

It goes from a creation myth through to battles and romances, great wars that really physically shaped the landscape of Middle-earth, that then is the land that 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' are set in.

Tolkien is very unusual in modern authors for the world building that he did.

There is a history to the languages.

His timelines and the sort of production notes are, again, another effort to maintain the complete veracity of the world.

A world is not a superficial thing.

It is a fully realized entity.

And that was a depth of creation that I don't think any other author has ever matched.

♪♪ ♪♪

I hope you've enjoyed our program.

I'm Philippe de Montebello, at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Good night, and see you next time.

[ Mozart's 'Overture to the Marriage of Figaro' plays ] To enjoy more of your favorite segments on 'NYC-Arts,' visit our website at nyc-arts.org.

[ Music continues ]

Leonard, what a privilege to be able to sit down and talk with you.

I love being here with you, too, Paula.

Where are we?

We're at a moment to take nothing for granted.

Well, it's a pleasure to be with Marci Reaven, the curator of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some of the greatest sculptures by the iconic names.

Classical and modern dance are extremely different, and I have so much more to learn before I can really articulate the differences.

And when I listen to Yip Harburg's lyrics in that, I suddenly thought, 'That's what I want to do with my life.'

My pictures reside in very intimate, very private moments.

My primary way of playing the piano is by improvising.

You are, in some respects, on sacred ground.

A woman came to see me perform and said, 'How would you like to play Billie Holiday?'

I think one of the essential things that we learned is that Matisse used pens to compose his work.

You always are surprised when you are in opera and you're doing a piece that's a hundred years ago and you think, 'Oh, my gosh, this could be now.'

The 'Cardboard Guitar' is the very first of that moment of realization.

Suddenly, you come and present something, and you get applause.

Great. You know?

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible, in part, by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'First' refers to our first priority -- the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree -- be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.