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RORY MACDONALD INTERVIEW

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The news.co exclusively interviews conductor Rory MacDonald as he prepares to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time at the Brighton Dome.

By Andrew Marc Collins

London Philharmonic Orchestra (Photo credit - Benjamin Ealovega)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Photo credit – Benjamin Ealovega)

Rory MacDonald, a young, talented and ambitious conductor, takes the helm of the prodigious London Philharmonic Orchestra next weekend as they continue with their 14th season at the Brighton Dome.

Rory MacDonald - conductor

Rory MacDonald – conductor

The affable and self-assured 34 year old Scotsman, born in Stirling in 1980, already has an impressive repertoire of performances under his belt, including the BBC Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic, Bournemouth Symphony, Nagoya Philharmonic, Copenhagen Philharmonic, West Australian Symphony, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, BBC Scottish Symphony and BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Operatic experience was gained with the Canadian Opera Company and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

RORY MACDONALD BIOGRAPHY

He entered the musical field as a violinist, learning his craft with the National Youth Orchestra. Here he met the acclaimed Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer. Immediately warming to his style – “in the best possible sense, just a little bit mad!” – MacDonald completed his conducting master class.

On the back of this, Fischer suggested the young talent further his skills by working as an apprentice with the Festival Orchestra. Rory agreed, spending the next two years honing his talents with them. He also worked as an assistant to Sir Antonio Pappano and Mark Elder.

Pappano proved to be one of his biggest supporters, helping him conduct three productions at the Linbury Studio when Rory was on a two year placement on the Royal Opera’s Young Artist Programme.

He then moved north to Manchester and worked with the Hallé and its director Mark Elder, before finally going freelance and gaining international experience.

ON CONDUCTING

“There’s nothing better than the adrenalin you feel when everything’s going well …”

Rory Mac Donald (Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega)
Rory Mac Donald (Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega)

I asked Rory about his approach to conducting and the challenges he finds in his profession.

“There are many challenges. One has to know the pieces inside out of course (Rory spends many months to do this), and then decide in detail how they should be played. There is also the more ‘human’ element – collaborating with all the musicians in the orchestra and somehow inspiring everyone to work together in the same way on a piece.

“That can be a challenge – in any large group of people there will always be a variety of different ideas about how something should sound, and it is ultimately the conductor’s job to decide between them. For me, the joy of conducting comes when all these difficulties are surmounted to achieve an exciting and beautiful performance.

There’s nothing better than the adrenalin you feel when everything’s going well.”

He has a wide range of classical tastes born out by his extensive repertoire, but seems particularly enamoured with some of the moodier, grandiose composers and their Romanticism.

“I love conducting Sibelius – his seventh symphony is one of my favourites, and I would love to do the fourth, which is less often played and very dark in character. I am a big fan of the Czech composer Janacek – his operas are amazing. I also love Wagner, Bruckner, Stravinsky, Debussy … it’s a long list!

But I also love doing symphonic concerts. I enjoy doing almost everything, from Mozart right up to contemporary pieces.”

THE CONCERT

“The final, optimistic coda of that movement is a stroke of genius!”

London Philharmonic Orchestra (Photo credit: Richard Cannon)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Photo credit: Richard Cannon)

MacDonald’s debut with the London Philharmonic will see him conducting Humperdinck’s Prelude – Hansel and Gretel, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Dvo?ák optimistic Symphony No. 8; all composers with a strong national pride and two of whom draw heavily from their country’s classical and folk music heritage – Humperdinck’s Wagernian edge and Dvo?ák’s love of Czech folk music.

Rory has already tackled Humperdinck’s fairytale symphony Hänsel and Gretel before in 2011 at the Royal Opera Christmas show at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It’s a piece he clearly loves: “… it’s so gloriously well written for the orchestra and they love playing it so much that it never seems like hard work … Humperdinck is a great way to start the concert.”

He also has high admiration for the other two composers. “There is great sophistication in the music of all three composers, and Humperdinck at his best is as good as Wagner (whom he assisted for a period), and Dvo?ák is, to my mind, the equal of Brahms, who was a close friend.

Above all, their music touches the soul very directly, and all three have the gift of writing great, memorable melodies. These are three composers who have been great ambassadors for their respective countries.”

MacDonald’s enthusiasm becomes most apparent when I ask about how he intends to interpret the pieces on the night.

“In terms of interpretation, I try to pay close attention to what’s written in the score, and try to find the right style for each piece. I also find it very interesting to listen to historical recordings. For example, you can learn a lot by listening to how a Czech orchestra might play Dvo?ák, or the richness of a good German orchestra playing the Humperdinck.

DVO?ÁK’S SYMPHONY NO. 8

“One of things I love about this symphony is the wistful cello melody in the first and last movements. It sounds almost as if it’s being improvised on the spot. I like it when Dvo?ák is played with a certain lightness of touch – then the charm of the music really comes out.

“I love the cello melody in the outer movements. The slow movement is one of Dvo?ák greatest, and the scherzo has a wonderfully melancholy, Central European feel about it … the final, optimistic coda of that movement is a stroke of genius!”

Previous reviews speak of his ‘idiomatic direction’, ‘decisive clarity’ and ‘punchy performance’ when conducting. This man is clearly boiling with enthusiasm for each piece, combining a high, vigorous functionality with an obvious joy and passion for his craft.

It’s tantalising to imagine how he will interpret these three wonderful pieces – it’s bound to be enriching. What’s for certain is that Rory MacDonald, at just 34 with yet another world class debut forthcoming, has already made a great success of his career and has a glittering future ahead.

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London Philharmonic Orchestra logo

THE LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORHESTRA AT THE BRIGHTON DOME, BRIGHTON

7.30pm Saturday 17th JANUARY 2015

Humperdinck Prelude, Hansel and Gretel

Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2

Dvo?ák Symphony No. 8

Tickets start from £10.

Visit : http://brightondome.org/event/5571/london_philharmonic_orchestra_201415/ for more information and to buy tickets.

Brighton Dome

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