Robin Ticciati the ‘British Dudamel’? Hardly


Like Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel, 26-year-old Robin Ticciati possesses an impressive résumé, boyish looks, powerful supporters and even curly dark hair. Still, for the London-based conductor who makes his L.A. Phil debut Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, any expectation of him as the “British Dudamel” is a little fanciful.

“The comparison is really touching,” says Ticciati, the principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and, beginning next season, the principal guest conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in Bavaria, Germany. “But at the same time, I know that I’m a completely different musician.”

In conversation, the slender, brown-eyed Ticciati immediately shows an articulate, thoughtful side, combining both the earnest demeanor of youth and the distinguished manner of an established maestro. In fact, if any comparisons are to be made, it should be with Simon Rattle, the British conductor (and erstwhile percussionist) who discovered Ticciati, then a teenage timpanist and violinist in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Word of Ticciati’s talent as an emerging conductor had already spread. Since then, both Rattle and veteran conductor Colin Davis have taken an active role in Ticciati’s musical development. That has coincided with his almost lightning rise in the classical music world.

As equally comfortable with opera as he is with orchestras, Ticciati is the youngest to have ever conducted at the Salzburg Festival and the La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy. Last summer, he made his New York debut at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival to positive reviews. More ambitious projects await, including Britten’s “Peter Grimes” at La Scala in 2012.

Ticciati is almost invariably cited in any list of phenomenal young conducting talent, joining such names as the French-Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Latvian Andris Nelsons and, of course, Dudamel. “I think we have a mutual respect for each other,” Ticciati says of his Venezuelan colleague. “We’ve met a couple of times. It’s been very special. He is, it seems to me, blessed with such amazing gifts for communication and this incredible energy.”

In spite of their shared admiration, it’s in repertoire that Ticciati and Dudamel most diverge. Rather than the brawny, high-octane symphonies of Mahler, Shostakovich or Prokofiev, Ticciati seems to prefer the more reflective late Romantic music of Brahms, Dvorák, Bruckner and Sibelius, as well as the classical style of Mozart and Haydn.

For his three concerts with the L.A. Phil, Ticciati is playing to other strengths, leading the orchestra in one of the most quintessentially English works, Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” The program also includes an all-Scandinavian half featuring Grieg’s Piano Concerto (with pianist Lars Vogt) and pieces by Sibelius and contemporary Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg.

So, what qualities are most essential to a young conductor? “The first thing is to be honest to the music, to the notes and not what anyone is thinking,” says Ticciati. “Because as a young conductor, when you stand up in front of an orchestra for the first time, it’s so easy to think, ‘What are they thinking of me?’ And the whole point is that it’s completely rubbish. It’s what they’re thinking about the music you’re doing.”

It’s also a question of patience, he says, not allowing yourself to be pushed into repertoire or engagements that can mean learning music on the fly. “The only thing that makes one a good conductor is if the notes are in your body, they’re in your soul,” he says, adding that it’s a process that can take years, not months. “The thing we mustn’t forget is that music is hard. I’m convinced of this.”

Sadly, the classical music industry has a history of marketing young talents only to give up on them by the time they reach their 30s. Ticciati says that his “nervous” love for the music, plus cooking and nature hobbies, as well as his family keep him grounded. He grew up in a music-loving household with two siblings who played instruments. His father, whose family is originally from Rome, is a barrister specializing in personal- injury law. His mother is a psychotherapist.

“If I get back home and my head gets blown out of proportion, it will soon be boxed into shape,” he says.

He’s also felt lucky to have mentors in Rattle and Davis, with whom he occasionally discusses questions of repertoire and interpretation. For instance, when struggling recently with a sense of fluidity in the final movement of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony, both men steered Ticciati toward an earlier Wilhelm Furtwängler recording for guidance.

In spite of such help, Ticciati says he’s become much more comfortable with his own gifts as an interpreter.

“I’m working so much with myself at the moment that actually I’m not so obsessed that I know where other people are,” he says. “Just recently I found it really wonderful being able to become Robin.”