“Rory Macdonald’s conducting was admirably muscular and wholehearted, drawing fiercely impassioned playing from the orchestra.”
One of the brightest stars of the younger generation of conductors, Rory Macdonald’s career was launched following assisting roles with Ivan Fischer, Mark Elder and Antonio Pappano. Equally at home on the concert platform and in the opera house, he draws out distinctive interpretations of classical and romantic repertoire, and brings passion and intellectual insight to contemporary scores.
Recent guest conducting engagements have included the BBC Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic, Bournemouth Symphony, Wiener KammerOrchester, Nagoya Philharmonic, Copenhagen Philharmonic, Adelaide Symphony, West Australian Symphony, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, BBC Scottish Symphony and BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
In December 2013, Macdonald stood in for Mariss Jansons for two concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing and at the Sydney Opera House, marking the end of the orchestra's Asia and Australia section of its world tour celebrating its 125th anniversary. Orchestral debuts in the 2014/15 season and beyond include the London Philharmonic, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National, Vancouver Symphony, Queensland Symphony and Japan Century Symphony Orchestras. In summer 2015, Macdonald will tour China with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.
Macdonald has also built up an extensive operatic repertoire and is in demand in some of the world’s leading opera houses. Following his highly successful North American debut with the Canadian Opera Company, Macdonald made his US debut that autumn at Lyric Opera of Chicago, conducting a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Subsequent US debuts have included new productions of The Rape of Lucretia at Houston Grand Opera (where he returned for Carmen in 2014) and Die Zauberflöte at San Francisco Opera. In 2014 he made his debut at Santa Fé Opera conducting Carmen (where he will return in 2016/17).
In 2011 he conducted Il barbiere di Siviglia and Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, (where he has also conducted Fidelio, Das Rheingold, Owen Wingrave, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Orphée (Philip Glass), and opened English National Opera’s 2011/12 season with The Elixir of Love. In 2012, he conducted Delius A Village Romeo and Juliet at Wexford Festival and The Cunning Little Vixen with the Bergen National Opera. In spring 2014 he conducted Britten The Turn of the Screw for the Vienna Konzerthaus with a cast including Mark Padmore.
Future operatic highlights include Die Zauberflöte with both Royal Danish Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Il barbiere di Siviglia with the Canadian Opera Company, and his debut with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.
Rory Macdonald studied music at Cambridge University, and plays violin and piano. While at university he studied under David Zinman and Jorma Panula at the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen. After graduation from Cambridge he was appointed assistant conductor to Iván Fischer at the Budapest Festival Orchestra (2001-2003), and to Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra (2006-2008). He was also a member of the Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House (2004-2006), where he worked closely with Antonio Pappano on major projects such as the complete Ring cycle, and conducted performances of several operas.
Rory Macdonald is represented by Intermusica worldwide.
September 2014 / 524 words. Not to be altered without permission. Please destroy all previous biographical material.
Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Beethoven, Coles, Elgar, Beamish
“Rory Macdonald, making his RSNO conducting debut – which included a fresh, broad and unhurried account of Elgar’s Enigma Variations – had a deeply impressive command of the scale, shape, pace and flow of Beamish’s multi-section work, welding it into a gripping, if horrifying, entity.”
Herald Scotland, November 2014
“The orchestra crackled with commitment in assured playing under Rory Macdonald’s urgent direction.”
Scotsman, November 2014
Santa Fe Opera / Bizet Carmen
“The orchestra, under the direction of Rory MacDonald, is flawless. The areas where timing is critical are spot-on, and the sound and intensity are wonderful.”
LA Monitor, July 2014
Vienna Konzerthaus / Britten The Turn of the Screw
“Conductor Rory Macdonald elicited from the Wiener Kamer Orchester subtle colours and visual moments of sound. Exciting!”
Kronen Zeitung, March 2014
Sullivan: The Beauty Stone / BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales / Toby Spence, Rebecca Evans, Alan Opie, Elin Manahan Thomas
“The biggest joy comes from the BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales under the direction of Rory Macdonald, which render Sullivan's effervescent melodies with sheer, smile-inducing perfection.”
Opera News, July 2014
“The BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales are on great form, inspired by Rory Macdonald’s committed and idiomatic direction… It is an important work offering much to enjoy, deserving of this first-class advocacy. Chandos is to be thanked and congratulated on a very worthwhile and rewarding endeavour.”
International Record Review, December 2013
Hallé Orchestra / Britten, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
“Rory Macdonald conducted with decisive clarity, seizing the initiative right from the first bars of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra when he created wonderful surging sforzandos through the first statement of the theme. He then injected yet more vigour for the madcap whirl of the final fugue. The same power came through in the louder, faster passages of Shostakovich’s First Symphony and towards the end of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini.”
Bachtrack, October 2013
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra / Bartok, Bach, Mendelssohn
“[Bartok’s] Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste received a stunningly alert and punchy performance. There was an underlying tension throughout that allowed one to really be grabbed by the performance... The fugal lines benefited from great clarity throughout and Macdonald’s control was exemplary in judging the swell and ensuing diminution of volume...
Under Macdonald’s leadership, the counterpoint in the last movement [of Mendelssohn Symphony No.3] seemed to hark back to the Baroque, yet there were other times when one could hear early Wagner. When the hymnal mood of the first movement returned with increased splendour, it was almost like Tannhäuser. Mendelssohn was thus positioned as a sort of conduit between the Baroque and the Romantic in a most intriguing way... Macdonald imbued the symphony with almost every bit of insight possible.”
Simon Holden, Bach Track, July 2013
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra / Janáček, Stanhope, Dvořak, Elgar
“Guest conductor Rory Macdonald engaged in a spacious reading of Elgar's evergreen Enigma Variations allowing the ASO's strings plenty of opportunities to extract maximum tonal depth throughout Elgar's memorable thematic material. I've rarely heard them play better.”
Adelaide Now, June 2013
“Guest conductor Rory Macdonald made his debut with the ASO in grand style with an eclectic program that comprised Janáček’s dramatic Taras Bulba, Dvořak’s dreamy Op.40 Nocturne, Elgar’s luscious Enigma Variations and a new, well, ‘quirky’ piccolo concerto by Australian composer Paul Stanhope. Macdonald is only 32 years old but he displayed an understanding of the texts that transcended his comparatively tender years...
Under Macdonald’s baton, the colour, turbulence and high emotion of the music [Janáček] was palpable. The dark trombone and tortured clarinet in the second movement surrealistically captured the dialogue between father and son in the second movement, and the French horn and solo violin section of the third movement depicting Taras Bulba’s capture was sublime.”
The Barefoot Review, June 2013
Wexford Festival / Delius A Village Romeo and Juliet
“The Wexford orchestra, under the direction of Rory Macdonald, gave a stunning reading of the heavily chromatic score, particularly in the famously excerpted interlude, “The Walk to Paradise Garden”, and in the finale, a muted but profoundly moving Liebestod.”
Opera News, February 2013
“The real ‘action’ is found instead in Delius’s emotive score, which the Wexford Orchestra under the baton of Scotsman Rory Macdonald brought to life masterfully with all its intricacies. The music does not hide its rootedness in the sound worlds of Wagner and Debussy: there are numerous allusions to the Ring, Parsifal and of course – given the subject matter – Tristan und Isolde. With great care Macdonald traced how Delius’s compositional craft combines its own distinct harmonic language with the subtle, yet close-knit web of leitmotivs. With his conducting Macdonald made a more than compelling case for the prevalence of the symphonic over the vocal parts of the opera, in particular with his glowing rendering of the ‘Walk to the Paradise Garden’ interlude.”Seen and Heard International
, December 2012
San Francisco Opera / Mozart The Magic Flute
“Conductor Rory Macdonald made a dynamic company debut, supplying much-needed momentum and lilting elegance in the sustained lines. The young Scot seems destined for a stellar career.”
Opera News, August 2012
Chisholm Recording (Hyperion)
Piano Concertos 1 & 2 / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Danny Driver
“Danny Driver is partnered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under one of the most exciting young British conductors I have heard for some time. I have been badgering record companies to use Rory Macdonald for many months and this, his first recording, is an unqualified success with regard to the orchestral participation."
International Record Review, April 2012
“Danny Driver’s deft and sensitive playing, along with the magnificent support from Scottish-born conductor Rory Macdonald and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, show off both concertos to their very best advantage.”
WAMC Public Radio, June 2012
English National Orchestra / Donizetti The Elixir of Love
“Rory Macdonald is the man who’s revived this production in more ways than one, and he guides the ENO Orchestra through a whizzing account of this most frolicsome of 19th-century scores. Balance, tempo, pace, idiom and warmth – every imaginable quality is exactly right and the musicians play like angels under his baton. Such a talent should be grabbed and glorified in some permanent capacity by one of the major houses.
The evening is replete with delights (not least a splendidly-sung cameo from Ella Kirkpatrick as Giannetta) and Rory Macdonald’s spry baton work ensures that Kelley Rourke’s Americanisation of Romani’s libretto is substantially less obtrusive than last time.”
Whatsonstage.com, September 2011
“In the pit, another talented young artist - conductor Rory Macdonald - impresses with the fluency and bounce he brings to the melodious bel canto score. It’s a delightful evening”.
The Stage, September 2011
“The ENO Orchestra's performance, highly spirited throughout, was led with obvious enthusiasm by Rory MacDonald... the performance was cheering evidence of the standard that ENO, at its best, can now boast.”Musicalcriticism.com, September 2011
Hallé Orchestra / Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov & Walton
“Rory Macdonald again revealed evidence of his impressive conducting credentials in both works, while finding a nice sense of mystery in the opening pages of Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night Overture before the music fairly danced at times.”
Shefield Telegraph, June 2011
Hallé Orchestra / Sibelius, Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov & Stravinsky
“Rory Macdonald – previously the Hallé’s assistant conductor and now making an international career – is in charge of the final Opus One programme of the 2010-11 season.
Very much in charge, too. His laid-back, personal style hides a maestro who has precise ideas about his music and a precise ability to get what he wants. He has the gift of being able to embody the nature of the music in his movements, at the same time as giving the players the technical signals they need.
I guess it helps that he knows how the orchestra sounds in the Bridgewater Hall as well as anyone. And he’d made sure that the first piece (Sibelius’ tone poem, ‘Pohjola’s Daughter’) set the standard very high indeed: it was disciplined, rhythmically buoyant, with vivid atmosphere and a marvellously gentle ending...
Macdonald had the second half to himself, Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night overture sharing the same performance qualities as the Sibelius. Stravinsky’s Firebird suite (in the longer, 1945, version) had moments of glory – Laurence Rogers’ horn solos among them – and a finale that stabbed to its conclusion with a considerable flourish.”
Manchester Evening News, May 2011
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Dvorak, Grieg & Sibelius Symphony No. 3
“Rory Macdonald's performance with the BBC SSO yesterday shows that the young Scottish conductor absolutely gets the point of the piece. Sure, his pacing of the electric opening was modest, but it was only moments before it began to feel volcanic in a full-blooded though raw and lean SSO performance, really erupting in the recapitulation in the first movement. …
The finale, with its phenomenal build-up and its extraordinarily abrupt ending, was red meat, and powerhouse stuff right to the close.
In Dvorak's Symphonic Variations, opening the concert, Macdonald balanced the concise elements in the variations with an overall feeling of breadth: ergo, the piece didn't sound bitty.”
The Herald, February 2011
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Rossini Il Barbiere di Siviglia
“The overwhelming source of satisfaction was the marvellous conducting of Rory Macdonald, so that even the Overture sprang some surprises, and not perverse ones. The action onstage is pretty broad comedy, though well executed, and the team of singers this time round is decent without anyone remarkable, at least as yet. But the support they received from the pit, the timing of the ensembles in particular, and the range of colours from the orchestra, and emotional nuances, were an entrancing delight … This is far too good to miss.”
The Spectator, January 2011
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel
“That the performance still gives enormous pleasure is due to the radiant conducting of Rory Macdonald.. full of grace, merriment and charm.”
The Telegraph, December 2010
Lyric Opera of Chicago / Britten A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“Young Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald conveyed a sense of deep, unsettled magic from the opening bars of Britten’s vividly coloured score. The lazy, queasy sway of Lyric’s strings immediately set us on uncertain ground, as shimmering and treacherous as an icy sidewalk. We didn’t know exactly where we were, but the hint of danger was both frightening and enthralling.”
Musical America, November 2010
English National Opera / Bizet The Pearl Fishers
“Rory Macdonald’s conducting was admirably muscular and wholehearted, drawing fiercely impassioned playing from the orchestra.”
The Telegraph, June 2010
“Rory Macdonald in the pit drives Bizet’s score with impulsive ardour firing up the rabble-rousing choruses and fervent hymns of praise.”The Independent
, May 2010
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Vivier, Carter & Dillon
“All of the music, conducted by Rory Macdonald with direction and purpose, was lucid and intelligible. Elliott Carter’s Adagio Tenebroso was gobsmacking, ruminative and electrifying. Under this remarkable conductor, it was an astounding display of the SSO’s expertise and musicianship.”
The Herald, March 2010
Welsh National Opera / Donizetti L'Elisir d'Amore
“Lilt, sparkle, togetherness: these are the defining features of the WNO orchestra under Rory Macdonald.”
The Times, February 2009