Then, board chairman Richard B. Worley presented the recipient of this year's Philadelphia Orchestra Award: the entire ensemble.
Speaking for the musicians, concertmaster David Kim said the night was the start of a new era.
"The storms have passed and the sky is clearing at last," he said, referring to the 15½ months in bankruptcy court that resulted in the orchestra's renegotiating several of its contracts, including the one with musicians.
Kim then said that if he could, he would turn the award over to the orchestra's supporters.
"Without you, there would be no us," he told the audience, which included patrons Sidney Kimmel, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, and Joseph Neubauer, as well as Kimmel Center architect Rafael Viñoly.
The concert was a relatively short one, and rehearsal time for it this week had to jockey with the ambitious Verdi Requiem, which Nézet-Séguin will conduct Friday through Sunday and then on Tuesday at Carnegie Hall, in his debut there.
Soprano Renée Fleming paid her own nod to the orchestra when, after a climax in Ravel's Shéhérazade, she visibly luxuriated in the sound on stage around her. Nézet-Séguin drew warm breezes in the first of the three songs, "Asie," and the orchestra, perhaps half-remembering Charles Dutoit's special handling of Ravel at the end of last season, achieved some extremely delicate texturing.
In "Mein Elemer!" from Strauss' Arabella, Fleming deployed her trademark purity. Her luscious sound seemed like a rare commodity in Strauss' ever-transforming score. The greater part of her acting, though, is done through visual means. For all her vocal beauty, she is not a risk-taker.
Here, again, no one neglected crediting the orchestra. The conductor stayed behind to let Fleming take her bows, and when she signaled for him to take his, he came out and asked the orchestra to rise. (Eventually, he did take a brief solo bow.)
Nézet-Séguin's big artistic statement of the evening was Brahms' Symphony No. 4. As a distinct interpretation, parts of the symphony were more meticulously detailed than others. He worked up a good head of steam at the end of the first movement, an energetic if not subtle stroke.
The last movement ended with the kind of bat-out-of-hell pace we've come to expect from him in the work he has done here in the two-plus years since his appointment.
But the conductor brought a gentle sway to tempos in the second movement, and, more impressively, some meaningful fragility to one section in particular.
Here you could feel a personal stamp. And here, as much as anything anyone did or said all night, one could sense that a leader has arrived to point the way forward.
Contact Peter Dobrin
or 215-854-5611. Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.