Earlier this year 15-year-old Roberto Ruisi became the youngest ever leader of the National Youth Orchestra. The young King Edward's School scholar talks to Christopher Morley.
Two days after he turns 16, Edgbaston-based Roberto Ruisi leads the National Youth Orchestra as its youngest-ever concertmaster at Symphony Hall on Wednesday.
We meet in the wonderful new Ruddock Performing Arts Centre at King Edward’s School in Edgbaston, where Roberto has just taken his GCSE’s. Half-Sicilian, he is the youngest of a trio of musicians who have all achieved great success, “though my parents are virtually tone-deaf”, as he comments affectionately before telling me how this prestigious NYO appointment came about.
“I’d been in the NYO for the previous two years, and I decided I’d audition for second violin principal for this year, and then they said ‘we want you to come back tomorrow to audition for leader’ -- which was something I didn’t expect. And it was something of a shock when I got it!”
So how will he exert authority over the bigger guys who may have been in the orchestra longer than he has?
“The orchestra has undergone a change in recent years, under the direction of Sarah Alexander,” he says, “and I think, now that this is my third year, I’ve gained enough experience that if someone has had one year more or two years more, it becomes quite negligible. We’ve all had the same experiences together. I’ll have to re-audition every year up to the age-limit, but hope I’ll be successful!”.
Roberto steps into the leadership of the National Youth Orchestra with a huge work, Messiaen’s ‘Turangalila- Symphonie’, a massive ten-movement celebration of love, life, death and the stars, and something which not so long ago was beyond the competence of many professional orchestras.
“The first two courses in winter and Easter helped me for this. It works for the NYO quite well with its huge orchestra and the fact that it’s so intense. It’s certainly going to be a challenge.”
Vassily Petrenko (whom I’m seen galvanise with his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra an audience in a torpor after a gutless Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra concert with a conductor lacking in personality) is conducting. “We all think of him massively,” says Robbie.
Robbie has been a stellar student at Birmingham Junior Conservatoire, performing and leading in all kinds of concerts, and one of his colleagues there is co-principal of the NYO second violins.
“It’s a really good tribute to the institution, and for King Edward’s, too, which has been really supportive over the years, with some of the best music from a ‘normal’ school that you can get in the country.”
Altogether the King Edward’s Schools in Edgbaston, boys and girls between them, can boast no fewer than five current members of the National Youth Orchestra: brother and sister James and Olivia Kuo, Adam Phillips, Sophie Cheng, and Roberto Ruisi himself. “It’s a really good showing for this place,” says Robbie proudly.
Robbie leads the Symphony Orchestra at Birmingham Junior Conservatoire, where his teacher is Nathaniel Vallois, but goes on to explain how he sometimes does so without a conductor: “I’ve also led many chamber concerts there, which we play usually without a conductor, which is really great, because there’s a lot of pressure on the players, but it’s a really good experience.”