Saturday, March 08, 2014

20-year-old conductor wows London

How often do you go to an orchestral concert and find you're on the edge of your chair, smiling at the warmth and passion bounding off the stage, thrilling at the sounds of early Shostakovich slaloming around the percussion, and watching, enchanted, a real rapport between the soloist and the conductor that makes the most familiar of piano concertos go leaping off the page like a March hare?

And then you realise the conductor is younger than your nephew who hasn't done his uni finals yet.

Meet Ilyich Rivas. Maybe you already have. I saw him conducting in Verbier several years ago and was impressed with him then; in the intervening time he has conducted for Glyndebourne Touring Opera, among other things, and been mentored by Vladimir Jurowski. Now he's been signed by IMG.

Last night's programme with the LPO - his first big London date - was carefully and beautifully chosen. They kicked off with Dvorak's Scherzo Capriccioso, continued with Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 with Simon Trpceski - who has also been following Ilyich's career with great enthusiasm for a while - and in the second half, Mahler's Blumine and Shostakovich's Symphony No.1.

The fresh air swept into the hall with this engaging young Venezuelan, who jogged onto the platform, had perhaps the clearest beat of any conductor I've seen in the past year and led the way through the pieces with some fairly extraordinary freeze-frame gestures that are certainly unusual yet seemed to work a treat. He let the music's passion, beauty and visceral élan sing out to his and our hearts' content. Particularly impressive was the way he handled gear-changes with smooth assurance, maintaining an impeccable sense of timing, and ultimately - best of all - leaving us marvelling at the wonders of the music, first and foremost.

Simon Trpceski's account of the Tchaikovsky would take some bettering. He is a fabulous showman, of course, but his special sound involves a remarkable lightness - there's swift, fierce motion, yet he scarcely seems to touch the ground and his pianissimo touch is at its loveliest in the slow movement. He made a little speech before his encore about the joy of working with Ilyich and seeing his promise coming to fruition; the encore itself, which he dedicated to the young conductor and his family, was from Album for the Young by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Simon's own breakthrough moment arrived in the same hall, with the same orchestra, when he was about Ilyich's age and won the (now sadly defunct) London International Piano Competition. That added a certain poignancy to the evening. It may be a cliché to say "history in the making" - but honest, guv, we don't say such things too often.

Ilyich's grandparents flew in from Venezuela for the concert and received a round of applause to themselves. Incidentally, Ilyich, rarely among young Venezuelan conductors, hasn't been through El Sistema. His father is a conductor and the lad absorbed the art at his knee, mainly in Denver, Colorado.

So come on, orchestra bigwigs - form a nice orderly queue, please. A decade from now, might Ilyich Rivas have the best job in the world? Place your bets.