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17 Jun 2013
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16 Jun 2013
Q&A with conductor Rory Macdonald
Elgar’s Enigma Variations remains one of the most popular works in the classical repertoire and includes one of the composer’s most famous and beautiful melodies, Nimrod. Completed in 1899, the work consists of an ‘Enigma’ and fourteen variations. Elgar dedicated the piece to “my friends pictured within”, each variation being an affectionate portrayal of one of his circle of close acquaintances.
British conductor Rory Macdonald will make his debut with the ASO conducting Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Janácek’s Taras Bulba, Dvorák’s Nocturne and the Adelaide Premiere of Paul Stanhope’s Piccolo Concerto performed by the ASO’s very own Julia Grenfell.
We spoke to conductor Rory Macdonald ahead of his performances with the ASO...
Tell us about the path you took to become a conductor?
My training was mostly in opera houses. I began as an assistant and rehearsal pianist, and then gradually did more and more conducting. That used to be the traditional way for conductors to learn their craft, and I think it’s a good way to learn the ropes gradually. I also spent many years assisting different conductors such as Ivan Fischer, Mark Elder and Antonio Pappano - and I learnt a huge amount from each of them.
Why do Elgar and the Variations hold a special place in British music?
The Nimrod variation is often played on its own at important state occasions in the UK, such as remembrance services and funerals. I think another reason for the work’s popularity is the idea of the enigma itself. Elgar placed a riddle inside the piece, saying that the principle theme “never appears” and that “the main character isn’t on stage”. Lots of people have tried to solve the enigma, looking for clues in the opening theme and elsewhere, but nobody knows exactly what Elgar meant. I think if the ‘Enigma’ was ever solved, the piece would lose some of its mystery!
How do you keep a piece of music that is so well known, fresh?
I think the only way to keep it fresh is just to play it really well! There’s so much character, wit and energy in the piece, with its individual portraits of Elgar’s friends and acquaintances. There’s such a variety of colours and you can really feel the personalities of all these people that Elgar knew. I’m looking forward to doing it in Adelaide!
What have you heard about Adelaide?
I’ve heard about the great weather - I’m from Scotland, and therefore more used to rain than sunshine! I also think of Adelaide as being a real centre for culture of all kinds - the Adelaide Festival is famous around the world. Most important of all, I’m really looking forward to trying some of your fantastic wines!
If your life was a piece of music, what would it be and why?
Perhaps Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams, because I spend a lot of time travelling!
Listen to the variation Nimrod played here by the Berliner Philharmoniker & Sir Simon Rattle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQWAO9d43LY
WHERE Adelaide Town Hall
WHEN Thursday 20 June 6.30pm, Friday 21 June 8pm & Saturday 22 June, 6.30pm
BOOKINGS BASS www.bass.net.au 131 246