- Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one-of-a-kind in the world of conducting.
- Type designer Tobias Frere-Jones disagrees with your 1st-grade teacher.
- Singer, songwriter, actor, and director Hayley Kiyoko.
Tobias Frere-Jones is a renowned designer of typefaces. His most widely used font, Gotham (released 2000) was used by the Obama presidential campaign in 2008.
Born in 1970 in New York and raised in Brooklyn, Frere-Jones comes from a family of writers: his father was an advertising copywriter, his maternal grandfather was a publisher, his great-grandfather was a bestselling author, his brother Sasha Frere-Jones is a music critic. He earned a BFA at Rhode Island School of Design in 1992 then worked as a type designer for the Font Bureau in Boston. His font Interstate (released 1995) was used by the Weather Channel, Southwest Airlines, Soundcloud, the U.S. Army, and other organizations. After working with designer Joseph Hoefler from 1999 to 2014, he founded his own firm in 2015.
Frere-Jones’s best-known typefaces include Whitney, designed as the institutional typeface of the Whitney Museum; Retina, designed for the Wall Street Journal; and Archer, designed for Martha Stewart Living. He teaches type design at Yale School of Art.
Hayley Kiyoko is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, dancer, and actor.
She was born as Hayley Kiyoko Ashcroft in Los Angeles in 1991. Her father was comedian Jamie Alcroft of duo Mack & Jamie; her mother was Japanese Canadian figure skater Sarah Kawahara. Kiyoko acted in commercials as a child. Her big acting break came in 2009, when she played Thelma in Scooby-Doo 3: The Mystery Begins. She reprised the role for the 2010 sequel. She has appeared in numerous feature films and TV shows since, with lead roles in CSI: Cyber (2015–2016) and Five Points (2018–2019).
In 2007 she was recruited to join girl group The Stunners, who toured the world in 2010 as an opening act for star Justin Beiber. The Stunners broke up in 2011 and Kiyoko focused on her solo career. Her single “Girls Like Girls,” about coming out as a lesbian, was certified Gold on the back of 100 million streams of the music video, which Kiyoko directed. Her first full-length album, Expectations (2018), reached number 12 in the Billboard charts.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a world-famous conductor and pianist. He has conducted over forty-five recordings of orchestra, vocal recital, and opera, winning three Grammy nominations, and has worked with many of the major orchestras of Europe and North America.
Born in Montreal in 1975, Nézet-Séguin began to study piano at age 5 and decided to become an orchestra conductor at age 10. He studied at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec and at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ. He became the musical director of the Chœur polyphonique de Montréal in 1994. By age 25, he was music director of the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montréal. He was named as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2010 and was principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008 to 2018. After conducting regularly at New York’s Metropolitan Opera since 2009, he became music director there in 2018.
He was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor, in 2012.
- Art & Design
Welcome to Articulate, the show that brings you candid, thoughtful insights into the human condition from some great creative thinkers.
On this episode of Articulate, Yannick Nézet-Séguin is today one of the most in-demand conductors around. Thanks, in part, to the way he defines a good performance.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: This is the greatest thing in conducting, is to make sure that everyone there is just expressing freely.
Type designer Tobias Frere-Jones respectfully disagrees with your first grade teacher.
Tobias Frere-Jones: I think of the alphabet as camps of like-minded shapes.
And, Tori Marchiony talks to Hayley Kiyoko whose overnight success was a lifetime in the making.
Hayley Kiyoko: My talent is not singing and dancing. My talent is creating.
That’s all ahead on Articulate.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one-of-a-kind in the world of conducting.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is getting rock star responses to concerts of music written a century or two before there even were rock stars. Today there are few major orchestras in the world he hasn’t conducted. This, in addition to music directorships with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Montreal’s Orchestre Metropolitain and as of fall 2018, the Metropolitan Opera. Wherever he goes Yannick Nézet-Séguin can be counted on to coax the best out of musicians and audiences alike.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: We definitely are too uptight about how we should react to a symphony. The fact of it being a monument, a symbol of our society, should not make people stiff and afraid of letting it go, even maybe follow the music with their bodies.
And over the four years that we’ve been keeping up with him Nézet-Séguin has expressed evolving theories on his alchemistic profession.
Nézet-Séguin: To me, conducting is about making everyone feel secure, self-confident, empowered, also, to express at the best of their capacities. And this is the greatest thing in conducting. And this is my highest task, in a way, is to make sure that everyone there is just expressing freely because I’m not expressing anything, the orchestra is.
Nézet-Séguin: I believe in telepathy I believe in a certain energy that is the one that we still don’t understand, that other energy and where music is. This is also why music is the language it is and why music is so important to go beyond words, or in parallel with words and with body language and all of this. If I look at my close friends and family and partner in life, I don’t need to talk with Pierre to share what we love, what I marvel at, what makes me speechless, what makes me sad, what makes me angry and same for him.
“When I started to make music I was your age, maybe even younger, about the same age. And we all did when we started music. And we make music because we think it’s the best language.”
Nézet-Séguin: I decided, at 10 years old, I’m going to become a conductor. There’s no logical answer as to why I said that, except that I had a gut feeling and I had the right environment, probably, just to allow me to listen to that gut feeling. My parents were putting classical music records–– Beethoven Pastoral, Beethoven 5, Mozart 40, 41, Tchaikovsky 6 with Ormandy, Philadelphia, a lot of Bach, organ Bach with Karl Richter. So, a wide range of things. Chopin as well, and I decided, like my sisters, that I wanted to have piano lessons. I was just playing any song from memory, or just my ears, and not really practicing what I needed to do. So, my teacher was constantly after me for that, and the good thing is that my parents were not they were behind me there, trying to encourage me, but never forcing me.
AJC: You were the baby of the family as well.
Nézet-Séguin: I was, yes—
AJC: So you were getting away with a lot of things that your sisters weren’t getting away with.
Nézet-Séguin: Probably, but the fact of not being forced, I think, was what made that eventually became my love, music. But, it became love just when I started singing in a choir. And that came also almost by accident. It’s just, I happened to be in my regular elementary school and there were some people visiting from that choir and just say, ‘oh, we’re looking for new voices, so, if anyone’s interested.’ I thought, ‘yeah, I’m interested’ and then it became a family affair. I could also bring all my family there and evolve and develop through that channel of chorus and making music in a group which is probably what really turned me on.
It was, as a prodigious 25 year-old that Nézet-Séguin took charge of his hometown’s Orchestre Metropolitain de Montreal, an underdog that had only had regular concert seasons since 1985.
Nézet-Séguin: Sometimes when I’m asked, “Don’t you think it’s really fast? Your career went fast?” Internationally, yes, I cannot complain that it went slow, but it was rooted in a long 10 years of being in one city and doing the repertoire and making my own mistakes and my own personality that was, you know, I was able to define at that time.
Those mistakes proved fruitful and today musicians have myriad exclamations for his chemistry with them. One of the most inclusive comes from his frequent collaborator, the internationally renowned pianist, Hélène Grimaud.
Hélène Grimaud: Whether it’s the musical intelligence, the energy, the heart, the intuition, they’re all there on a high level and in equal proportions and it makes this instant… He has the ability to just tap into whatever is necessary to get the result from the partners that are in front of him. It’s not even to get it, it’s to invite it, and that’s also wonderful because he’s very clear. He has this natural authority, but without being bossy or obnoxious about it.
All Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s virtues will be called upon as he takes on the cultural behemoth that is the Metropolitan Opera.
Nézet-Séguin: I walked through the Lincoln Center Plaza and looked at the big arches and I actually couldn’t look. This was too overwhelming. And I had so much doubts then of, ‘What have I done, this is way too big for me.’ And then, of course, as soon as I step on the podium and I establish this rapport, then all of these thoughts just evaporate. To this day, of course, and I’m sure it’s going to stay, I still think there’s another person, you know? Is it really me, am I really there? It was so much a dream that it was not even a dream and then it’s happening.
The time between first waking and an encounter with a typeface is usually really short.
Tobias Frere-Jones: It’s probably the numbers on the clock that woke you up. And then from there until pretty much the time you go to bed you are surrounded by letters that someone somewhere has drawn.
Someone like Tobias Frere-Jones the designer responsible for some of the world’s most widely recognized typefaces including Interstate, Poynter and Gotham, among others. Frere-Jones was born into a family in the business of words; writers, editors and publishers. But from an early age the young Tobias fostered a secret love of images. And the impulse to paint and draw threatened all his assumptions about who he was destined to become. Then, as a teenager, he found what would turn out to be the perfect solution.
Frere-Jones: It was almost by accident that I discovered that there’s this tiny, tiny field called type design where people decide what the letters look like. And it occurred to me that this could be, this seemingly impossible, sort of, midpoint between being a painter and being a writer and I wouldn’t have to leave any of these behind. And that just settled it right there. I could still work with the language and I can draw stuff.
But years before a career in typography would come onto his radar, a young Frere-Jones was tuning into the nuances of type design in his daily life.
Frere-Jones: I think I was about 10, we made a visit to the UK to visit my grandmother and I remember noticing at her home in Kent, in being in London, there’s something about the words all around us that just tasted British somehow. My mother would bring home little jars of marmalade or little skeins of yarn and they would still look British. You would open up the cupboard and see that this jar came from down the road and this one came from London and this other one came from down the road and I just didn’t understand how that could work. It had nothing to do with the words themselves. I tried turning the labels around to see. So, I was looking at the back of them so I didn’t see what the actual names of any of these things were. And so, you just see just the overall impression of the letters and it was still there. And I realized later on that I was, you know, identifying typefaces.
These British influences combined with his American upbringing to create Mallory, what Frere-Jones now refers to as his autobiographical font. But his real masterpiece of applied design was Retina, a very particular commission from the Wall Street Journal.
Frere-Jones: They needed a new design for the stock listings section of the paper and they needed something that would fit more text on the page because the page was shrinking, but also list more data in columns and in rows. And deal with the sort of unpredictability of ink on newsprint, just not an ideal medium. And also anticipate the readership of that part of the paper which is older than it is for the rest of the paper. Because the folks who are doing this for a living are getting their stock quotes online. The people who are getting their stock quotes out of the paper are most likely, for the larger part, retired and their eyesight is not as good as it used to be and this is five and a half point.
AJC: Close up when you really dig into this, it sort of looks Arthurian almost. Right? Because there’s almost like a Round Table type cross there. Which, close up, without my glasses on it disappears.
Frere-Jones: That’s the idea.
AJC: And it just makes, that intersection just works fine because it’s not cluttered.
Frere-Jones: Mm-hmm, that’s the idea.
But for all his brilliance and 25 years of experience Tobias Frere-Jones still starts each letter set as it’s been done for hundreds of years, but it’s not how we, the reader, have been taught to approach our ABC‘s.
Frere-Jones: I think of the alphabet as camps of like-minded shapes. So, there are all the square, orthogonal shapes, the E, F, H, I, L, T. The round things like the O and the C and the S. Then the diagonal things like the V and the X and then there’s one letter that lives in the middle. This is why it can be so informative about, sort of the personality and the strategy of the design is the cap R, because you got a straight, you got a round, you got a diagonal.
AJC: Is that where you start?
Frere-Jones: It’ll be among the first ones that I’ll draw just to see what I’m in for, in this design. But I would often start with the most-simple representatives from these camps. So, the cap H, the cap O, and a cap D, for something that lives in between those two. And just in those first three letters there are global decisions to be made about how heavy things are, how wide they are, how weight moves from its heaviest to its lightest parts and what kind of difference that is. If there are serifs, what those are about. Very importantly, the space between one letter and the next. As much as we’re designing these black shapes, we’re also designing the white shapes inside the letters and in between the letters so that that has to be part of the foundation that we lay down.
AJC: Least favorite letter?
AJC: Interesting. What’s poor little zed done to you?
Frere-Jones: It’s never happy. Every time I think I’ve got it where it needs to be, I’ll run a proof, I’ll put this on paper, I say no, that’s too heavy, I got to go fix that. Now it’s too light, now it’s too wide. It comes down to just the direction of that diagonal through the middle of it. If, somehow, we could all agree that the Z would be flipped sideways, this would be a dream.
And Tobias Frere-Jones continues to live his own dream mastering a craft that combines his love of fine art and his love of letters, all of them from A to Y.
(‘Curious’ by Hayley Kiyoko)
I can handle things
Like I wish that you would
You’ve been out of reach, could you explain?
I think that you should
What you been up to?
Who’s been loving you good?
Since she was little Hayley Kiyoko’s inner world has been musical and cinematic.
Been looking through the texts and all the photos
Hayley Kiyoko: I’ve always lived in this fantasy world. My friends make fun of me because they tell me that I live in music videos ’cause I just, I like to dream.
If you let him touch ya, touch ya, touch ya, touch ya, touch ya, touch ya
The dancer, singer, songwriter, director and actor had her first hit back in 2015 with the viral video for her song “Girls Like Girls”. The lyrics were personal, rooted in her own experiences with coming out. But it was the video, which she directed and cast, that most embodied her creative visions.
Tell the neighbors I’m not sorry
If I’m breaking walls down
Building your girl’s second story
Ripping all your floors out
Saw your face, heard your name
Gotta get with you
Girls like girls like boys do
And this take-charge attitude is nothing new for the 27 year-old.
Kiyoko: I just kind of told people what to do when I was young, if I’m going to be frank with you. I would boss people around in a good way, but I’d be like, ‘okay this is the vision. We’re going to be ‘N Sync. I’m Justin and this is the dance and Dad, you’re going hold the camera here.’ And so, I would kind of like, create the space.
(performance of ‘Feelings’)
I’m sorry that I care, care
I’m sorry that I care, care
It’s really not that fair, fair
I can’t help but care
I over-communicate and feel too much
I just complicate it when I say too much
I laugh about it, dream about that casual touch
Sex is fire, sick and tired of acting all tough
I’m hooked on all these feelings
Dance was Hayley Kiyoko’s earliest passion, but she faced a major setback as a preteen when she was diagnosed with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.
Kiyoko: I will never forget the day when they were like, ‘If you don’t wear a back brace you have to get surgery and you won’t be able to dance.’ And, at the time, dancing was my outlet. I was devastated and I had to face reality. And in middle school, go to school every day with this huge plastic, oval, I don’t even, it’s just, it was over my whole body. I appreciate that experience because I feel like that was a pinnacle moment where I could have crumbled and I found my confidence through that. I went to school and I was like, ‘punch my stomach, I’ve got abs of steel. I’m cool, I’m correcting myself.’ And I had to convince myself and other people that I was cool because I was taking care of myself. But it was hard.
But Kiyoko has never been one to back down from a challenge. A fact that’s brought a variety of opportunities her way over the years. As an actor she’s landed roles in film and TV projects including–– the Scooby-Doo live action series, the Disney Channel movie Lemonade Mouth, CSI:Cyber and recently, a lead in the Kerry Washington produced show, Five Points. This, in addition to a spot with the now-defunct pop group, the Stunners. But, while there were benefits to her obsessive dedication, there have also been downsides.
Kiyoko: I crash and burn all the time, lots of injuries. I was that kid growing up who had an injury every month. I was very, you couldn’t count on me because I kept running myself down and that was something I had to learn to not do because it’s not sustainable.
But learning to look after herself didn’t come naturally and in 2016, she sustained a serious concussion.
Kiyoko: It was a life-altering experience. I’m completely different. I would say I was very disappointed in my body. So many people are going through way more intense and life-threatening experiences than what I’ve been through, but losing my ability to think for myself was horrifying, because that’s my talent. My talent is not singing and dancing. My talent is creating and thinking. And when I couldn’t do that it was awful. I felt like my life was taken away from me, because I was like, ‘if I can’t think then what’s the point?’ And so it was a very depressing moment for me. It’s been an over two-year journey and I’m still recovering from it. But it really made me rethink my whole life and have to learn to communicate. That was a moment I had just released my Citrine EP. I had a tour lined up. I had all these things. If I couldn’t think for myself I had to communicate what I needed or what people could do for me. And I really learned to rely on other people and not myself, because I didn’t have myself for a very long time.
These days Kiyoko is learning to care for herself a little bit better every day. All this in the hope of burning bright instead of burning out. The trick now will be letting herself enjoy the fruits of her success.
Kiyoko: The past couple of months have been amazing. And I’ve had to be open to being happy and letting, allowing myself to embrace that. And it’s very hard for us to do that because it’s like, as soon as you’re happy, you’re like, ‘Why am I happy? What’s gonna happen next? And, do I deserve this?’
(performance of ‘Girls Like Girls’)
“I wanna see everyone’s hands in the air. Swing with me to the left! Sway! Yeah! You’re beautiful! Are you ready? One, two, three, four!”
Saw your face, heard your name
Gotta get with you
Girls like girls like boys do
Isn’t this why we came
Gotta get with you
Girls like girls like boys do
Girls like girls like boys do