Interview / Robin Ticciati, conductor

British conductor Robin Robin Ticciati conducts the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in two works on The Mozart Festival: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in c minor, Op. 67; and Mozart’s Concerto for Piano & Orchestra in C, KV 503, with piano soloist Paul Lewis.

Wesley Horner:  I want to talk with you about Beethoven and Mozart. Beethoven, of course, was the first conductor of his fifth symphony. If Beethoven walked in the door, what would you ask him about this piece, if you had the chance to ask him one question?

Robin Ticciati:  What a wonderful question. Let me just think a little bit. I know it’s to do with state of mind, it’s to do with the journey from minor to major, and it’s to do with why. Somehow, when I attempt to conduct this piece, you very much have to question your innards as to why go on and put that first down beat down. Because it seems to be packed with so much that it is extraordinarily extra‑human. I would somehow love to have a real personal insight into his psyche at the moment of conception and the moment of completion, to be able to give me an even greater understanding of the journey that the piece goes through.

Wesley Horner: What an opportunity that would be.

Robin Ticciati: That’s the thing. On one level you get one question, life is too short. Try to get to know the man.

Wesley Horner: You’re not the first person to perform this piece after Beethoven. What did you do to make it yours?

Robin Ticciati: It’s really a good question. I didn’t think it’s mine yet without a shadow of doubt. My journey with Beethoven I very much started with Mozart when I was younger. I didn’t understand these granite blocks, the revolutionary idea of his harmonic language.

I think there was just a moment, the last couple of years where I really began to feel these emotions were welling up within me where I could face him. I could face him in the score. It took me to the “Pastoral” first. It took me then to the “Eroica” and then to the fourth symphony, and the fifth symphony has come quite late in my journey through the symphonies. But I suddenly felt able to relate to some part of its darkness, struggle, and the anger, like building blocks that give life to light at the end.

I suddenly thought I want to attempt this now. I find it remarkably hard. I find it really hard. I know everyone says that about lots of things, but honestly, I find this really hard. I don’t own it at all, and I’m at the shrine of it. I hope I don’t destroy it actually.

Wesley Horner: Your job becomes a very different job when you’re conducting the Mozart piano concerto. How does your job change?

Robin Ticciati: I suppose the beautiful thing about accompanying is that you have to try and get inside the psyche of the soloist. Once you know what they want to say, then you can be a communicant. You can respond, you can negate, you can challenge.

But it all starts with first listening what they want to say with the piece. Then the dialogue plays from there. It’s a different type of listening on one level. That’s how I would say it begins.

It’s a different type of work which lends itself to a different type of gesture. On one level, does the ego take a slight back seat? You have to be equal in a great concerto when there are equal partners out there.

But somehow it’s wonderful to clothe the soloist in saying something that lets them be so free to express themselves. That’s why I love accompanying, actually. I love it. I love it. It’s a real, real challenge.

Wesley Horner: You’re not so alone out there.

Robin Ticciati: Yeah.

Wesley Horner: What’s more fun for you, performing or rehearsing?

Robin Ticciati: That’s, as you might say, a no‑brainer. Without a doubt, performing.

Once you get a flow, rehearsals can be beautiful in terms of the energies between musicians and the idea of discovery. If you’re with a group that want to excavate and see what’s there, or you’re with a group that’s on a flip side, just responds with the hands, no talking or anything, that can be beautiful. But for me, I only feel my heartbeat leaps out of my body when I perform, because that is when it becomes alive.

That’s when we give it to people and I think that’s what it’s all about. Music can get so wound up in the intellect and the rehearsing and the details. At the end of the day, we’re doing it to change people’s lives. If they’re not there, then it’s a bit selfish to do it for yourself.

Wesley Horner:  Mozart strikes me as a little bit terrifying because his music is so exposed. In this music, there’s no place to hide. What do you find more difficult, Mozart or, say, Strauss?

Robin Ticciati: I think it’s so important to remember that this guy was a rogue. The moment you start to dance with him, he will trip you up. You must be incredibly bold with him. But the great thing about this is, if you listen to him, if you let him sound, if you let it out, it carries you.

But it’s an incredible type of balance between doing and letting it happen, I find with Mozart. It’s not all comfortable; it mustn’t all be beautiful.

That’s the problem, sometimes the beautiful halls, the instruments – We forget the 18th century cow shit on the cobbles. We forget the urine‑infested streets, disease and everything that was going on. You’ve got to hear that. People munching their food in the first row when the overture is going on. In other words, I just think it’s important not to put him in a glass box when you conduct him but to make him real, to make him live.

Wesley Horner: Anything you draw from the experience of being here in Salzburg, in this, Mozart’s hometown?

Robin Ticciati: Just a big smile, for lots of reasons.